DT&G Magazine Editor's Column
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Becoming a design field professional, and getting jobs in the creative market is one of the more frequent topics we see discussed in all corners of the visual communications industry. An essential key to landing a good position in this competitive field is presenting yourself, your talent and examples of your work in an effective and persuasive manner. The portfolio is the key ingredient to this process.
      Ladies and gentlemen, even if you've got a good position in the creative fields, don't let your portfolio fall out of date. You may just need it some day. If you're currently in the job market, keep reading.
      We're very pleased to welcome Cynthia Baron into the pages of DTG for a visit -- and to share some important points about. . .

Designing A Digital Portfolio

... Cynthia L. Baron chats with DTG

DT&G   Greetings, Cynthia! -- it's wonderful that you could take time from your schedule to visit with us today! Thank you so much! I know you're busy so let's jump right in...

Cynthia:   Fred, thanks for the invitation! It's always nice to visit...

DT&G   Cynthia, I remember reading and reviewing your Creating a Digital Portfolio back in 1996 -- and at that time it was really a ground-breaking book. Few creatives were thinking about a digital format at that time. A lot has changed since then hasn't it?

Cynthia:   It sure has! Like many other things, technology and the Internet have matured.
      Back in '96, a digital portfolio was often a little floppy disk. Today, between CDs, DVDs and the Internet, you can show so much more, and show it better. You also have much more reach. A digital portfolio is more accessible than a traditional portfolio. You're not limited by geography, and many prospective employers or clients can see your work at the same time. Not to mention that you don't have to spend a fortune bulk-mailing samples.

DT&G   So, how can a digital portfolio make it easier to get that job?

Cynthia:   Lots of ways.
      One example: many large companies use placement firms or their HR department to make the first cut on applicants. If you have a digital portfolio, they're more likely to send your work to someone who has the expertise to review your samples. You're essentially pre-qualified.

DT&G   So the portfolio can move right along with the application. Makes sense.
      One of the frequent questions we see in the Designer's CAFE list is "Can I show work I've done for clients?" Cynthia I know you address this fully in the book, can you share just a few key aspects of client/designer privilege?

Cynthia:   Wow, you've jumped to one of the big digital portfolio issues.
      If you're employed full time, your design or art does not legally belong to you, it belongs to your employer. Freelancers working directly for a client do own their work, except for two circumstances: when they create the work under a non-disclosure agreement or when they've signed a work-for-hire contract. Such contracts frequently have a clause saying that the company that hires you owns the copyright to the work. That means you need their explicit permission to show your work in a digital portfolio.
      Some employers are more generous than others, but sometimes it's not a generosity issue. They can themselves be under contract to a company that doesn't want unauthorized copies of their work distributed. And a digital portfolio -- on the Web or mailed on a disk -- is definitely "in distribution".

DT&G   Hmmmm, so I'll bet many job seekers don't know that. When the issues come up, the designer is usually pretty upset. What's the best plan?

Cynthia:   This is a big topic and every situation can have its own complex legal issues. Sometimes you can wiggle around the issue by only showing the work in person, but not always.
      My advice is to try to negotiate the rights to show the work, even if you won't own it. Do it up front -- as part of the contract, or at the beginning of a work project. And do everything you can to avoid work-for-hire situations for portfolio-worthy projects.

DT&G   Make a note folks! Dot the 'i' and cross the 't' up front rather than later!
      Okay, so now I've got a pile of art and samples -- perhaps a few comps from college or design school. What do I want to zero in on for the main ingredients for my digital portfolio?

Cynthia:   You're looking to balance work to show your strengths, and to demonstrate that you have the abilities and talent people are looking for. A designer, for example, will want to show some variety. Those comps from school are good, because they're a way to show your process -- how you develop ideas. And of course, it should go without saying that all the work in your portfolio should be your best.

DT&G   Sounds good -- but many times people will say: "I just don't have enough outstanding work." Is it okay to invent or dream up portfolio samples?

Cynthia:   It sure is, Fred.
      Invention is creativity with another name, and it's a great strategy! Designers have to pay rent like anyone else, and not every job provides you with exciting and challenging projects. Creating your own projects gets you out of that rut, and gives you the opportunity to fill in portfolio gaps.

DT&G   Ah, good. Some of the most fun -- and best creativity -- is in those kinds of projects.

So now we have the pieces to incorporate in a digital portfolio, are there pros and cons of CD vs. DVD, vs. a web site?

Cynthia:   It depends on what kind of projects you do. CDs or DVDs may be your best medium if you work with moving image, if your designs or images rely heavily on detailed textures or if you need to show your work at a high resolution to emphasize typographic strengths.
      Web sites are great because people can view them anytime on their own desktops, without any problems with platform compatibility or some of the other problems you can run into with a CD.

DT&G   So, perhaps a mix of both might be in order. CD for portability and web site for accessibility. Of course you cover both thoroughly in the book.

Cynthia:   That's right.

DT&G   In your experience, what are the most frequent problems in getting print and traditional art into digital form?

NEXT: Cynthia Baron on Portfolio Problems & Solutions...


Cynthia's Designing A Digital Portfolio right now at Amazon or where ever the best books are sold. Cynthia has also co-authored several other books, most recently The Little Digital Camera Book with Dan Peck, and the FileMaker Pro 6 Advanced: Visual QuickPro Guide. Design students will definitely want to check out the Visual Arts Department (www.art.neu.edu) and the Multimedia Studies program (www.mmstudies.neu.edu) at Northeastern University, where Cynthia teaches.

copyright 2004, DTG Magazine, All Rights Reserved.

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