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How to build my portfolio when the work at my current place of employment is poor?

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  • How to build my portfolio when the work at my current place of employment is poor?

    Hi all.

    I'm new here. I've visited often but only today I've signed up.

    First off, happy October. I hope you all like the cooler weather.

    So I need to vent:

    I'm an interactive designer by trade. I do a lot of digital stuff: sites (obviously), mobile, interactive, UI, a tiny bit of UX, etc. I'm quite happy being in that part of the design field. I mostly do the design stuff, but I help developers at my current job with front-end as well, when needed. So I tend to stay up to date with what works in design and what doesn't, and as the only "digital" designer at my current job, I'm the liaison of sorts between the design department and development.

    Here's the scenario: I'm in one of those phases where I've gone as far as I can go at my current company, and thus it's time to seek greener pastures elsewhere. I've been there about 5 years, and while I cannot go into the details of why I'd like to leave, it's simply a bad work environment, it's bad for my career, and I'd simply like to advance my career at a better place. (When your own creative director tells you to your face "you really should get out of here, you've gotta think about your career", you know the place is a bit toxic...)

    But here's the problem: Everything I've done so far at my current job is terrible. I mean, awful. Just so so so awful.

    See, I work at a place where I simply don't have a whole lot of clout or power. I'll design something, and the "committee" (for lack of a better term) will tell me what they want changed, and it's usually very bad changes, but I have no power to say not to change it. I could make suggestions, but this is a very stubborn group of people, so I make the changes and that's that. My creative director mentally checked out years ago, so he's not much of a help when it comes to quality work (though he's an amazing designer, I suspect he's simply lost the will to care.) It's resulted in several sites that I simply cannot put my name on if I want to have anything that resembles a decent reputation. So I've decided this is bad for my career, and it's time to move on.

    And this doesn't mean I've got a portfolio that's out of date. I've constantly updated my portfolio, but the problem is it's all self-initiated. For example, one of my pieces is a mobile version of a site I designed for my job (totally self-initiated: I pitched a mobile layout for the site when I was designing it, but it was rejected because the head of the division wanted to give his friend at a mobile marketing firm the chance to make a mobile version of the site. Which is totally fine, but the desktop version of the site is truly awful.) Another example is how I'd take a project I did for a friend years ago, but it's not live anymore and I would redesign it and give it a new refresh: new identity, new site, new collateral, etc. Another example was I took an old print brochure I did years ago when I was first starting out, and I re-designed it as an interactive experience instead. (Prototype only; no live site.)

    Now the good news is: I guess my portfolio is good, because it gets me interviews. I've been on quite a few the last few months. But sadly I often don't get the job and I suspect it's because the fact that my portfolio is mostly self-initiated projects works against me. It's this weird catch-22: My best work is self-initiated projects, but that doesn't reflect my real world experience. But my real world experience consists of buggy, barely functioning, frankenstein's monster types of design pieces: many of which are still live sites, and I refuse to link them because I refuse to incriminate or embarrass myself here on my first post!

    So, what do I do?

    Thanks for listening to me vent. Enjoy your Saturdays!

    Sincerely,
    Me

  • #2
    Hi flat_is_phat and welcome to GDF.

    We ask every new member to read the threads posted HERE, particularly this thread to get acquainted with how things work on GDF. They will explain how the forum runs, the rules, frequently discussed topics and our inside jokes. Your first few posts must be approved by a moderator, so don't panic if they don't show up right away.

    I think you have done the best you can do. Hopefully your CV with work history will show that you have real world experience.

    Is there any chance that you could take some of your least awful work projects and rework them so that they are portfolio worthy? I've taken approved artwork and changed them to look better in my portfolio. Sometimes you do a great design and the client make weird changes that just don't make any sense. You have the power to present your preferred design option on your portfolio.
    It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" Winnie the Pooh

    Comment


    • #3
      I certainly can do that, but my concern is that when EVERYTHING I have is just a reworking, instead of projects in an honest-to-gosh finished state, wouldn't that come off a little shady?

      Comment


      • #4
        I don't necessarily think so. My prof in Design school said that in his portfolio, everything he had in there was his version and almost nothing was the final client product because of those weird client changes we all dread. I think you should put your take on the projects if you think show off your talent and work.

        The only other thing I think, and you kinda touched on it, is maybe the employers think that because you have no work form your current employment in your portfolio that you don't take directions or maybe you think "the committee" is incompetent. It sorta hints at insubordinate. I know your not, and totally feel your pain in this situation, but I think that maybe if you can kinda sugar coat it, say the type of work just isn't as challenging as you'd hoped. Not mentioning any of whats really going on. Show your take on work projects and say "I submitted this... blah blah blah" and don't say a word about bad changes. (not sure if you even did that, but just a thought)

        The one thing nobody likes to hear in an interview is complaints of past employment. Once I had an interview and the interviewer complained a lot about the previous designer (who I researched and did fantastic work). Hearing him complain sent me the other direction fast. If he said that about her, imagine what he'd say about me down the road, no thanks.

        I hope you find something soon, and can really put your talents to good work!
        If three designs are shown to a client, your least favorite will be chosen or any combination of worst components of each. If two designs are shown, a third will be requested. If provided, then one of the first two will be chosen.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Tiggy View Post
          I don't necessarily think so. My prof in Design school said that in his portfolio, everything he had in there was his version and almost nothing was the final client product because of those weird client changes we all dread. I think you should put your take on the projects if you think show off your talent and work.
          IMHO that's not the greatest way to deal with it, maybe present what you submitted and have a copy of what was finalized on hand for when an interviewer asks if that was the design that was used, I know I would ask that if someone I was interviewing presented work as "this is what I submitted". Having the final piece allows you to discuss the project and it's challenges further, we all know clients can be the detriment of a project but how you deal with that client wanting a picture of their cat on their business card is important. A large portion of design is client management, helping them see what they need over what they want (that could also read as "client services management").
          Design is not decoration.

          Comment


          • #6
            I can relate completely to your situation. I was at a point where I outgrew my position. Unfortunately for me, I was let go at the end of September. Even my boss admitted that I outgrew the position. I've also had upper management ask me to make really odd changes that ruined the design of what I was working on. Luckily, not everything I designed there was tampered with and I am able to show some work I did for them.

            I think kerningMatters suggestion is a good one. I've actually had the opposite issue where some employers only cared about my personal work than work I've done on the job because my personal stuff was much more creative and interesting to them.

            To be honest, the job market right now is really competitive. For every job I've gone on an interview for, the employer is interviewing at least a dozen candidates who all probably have the experience and qualifications for the position. Other times, they are also looking for project management experience which unfortunately I don't have. Everyone likes my work so it is frustrating when I am not offered a position or not called back for a second interview.

            Just keep improving your portfolio and your interview skills.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by it52 View Post
              I can relate completely to your situation. I was at a point where I outgrew my position. Unfortunately for me, I was let go at the end of September. Even my boss admitted that I outgrew the position. I've also had upper management ask me to make really odd changes that ruined the design of what I was working on. Luckily, not everything I designed there was tampered with and I am able to show some work I did for them.

              I think kerningMatters suggestion is a good one. I've actually had the opposite issue where some employers only cared about my personal work than work I've done on the job because my personal stuff was much more creative and interesting to them.

              To be honest, the job market right now is really competitive. For every job I've gone on an interview for, the employer is interviewing at least a dozen candidates who all probably have the experience and qualifications for the position. Other times, they are also looking for project management experience which unfortunately I don't have. Everyone likes my work so it is frustrating when I am not offered a position or not called back for a second interview.

              Just keep improving your portfolio and your interview skills.
              Thanks for your input, and I'm sorry you were let go. Hope it all works out for you!

              I suppose I should take all your advice and compare my proposed work to the final work. Although when asked why the final result is so different, I'll definitely have to find a more pleasant way to say "BECAUSE THEY'RE ALL CRAZY AND CORPORATE SAVAGES AND I'M SO VERY POWERLESS PLEASE HELP ME"

              Comment


              • kemingMatters
                kemingMatters commented
                Editing a comment
                Possible responses:

                "My position left me unable to provide further contribution and/or professional guidance."

                "The work environment discouraged client/designer communication in favour of client/CSR CSR/designer communication, in which the opportunity to discuss amendments was virtually non-existent."

                "Sometimes the client wants what the client wants and no amount of reasoning can persuade them. [provide an anecdote from the job, explain the compromise or areas where you've picked your battles and won]

            • #8
              I'm the creative director where I work, so I review portfolios and conduct interviews when we have an open positions. The most talented people often find themselves in jobs where they're stifled. It's perfectly understandable to want to find a better fit somewhere else that encourages taking chances, playing out further toward the edge and not being held back by corporate quicksand. Your situation is, unfortunately, not at all uncommon.

              When I look at portfolios from these people, I'm pretty much aware that I'm not seeing what they're capable of doing. Instead, I'm often seeing the very reasons why they're hoping to leave their current jobs. What I really want to see in those instances and from that kind of talent is what they're capable of doing if they were given the ball and told to run with it. A view of the actual work and their preferred version is ideal for helping me make hiring judgments. I see no problem at all in redoing work for your portfolio if it shows what you're capable of doing. You just need to be honest about it and not pass it off as something that it's not.

              Originally posted by flat_is_phat
              I'll definitely have to find a more pleasant way to say "BECAUSE THEY'RE ALL CRAZY AND CORPORATE SAVAGES AND I'M SO VERY POWERLESS PLEASE HELP ME"
              When that comes up, don't be negative and go off on some tangent about how bad things are. Just say that you've learned a lot from your current job but that you're looking for bigger challenges and the chance to improve your game and to do your best work. Any good creative director at a forward-thinking company/agency/studio/whatever will understand what you're saying and be looking for someone like that -- assuming that your work and general attitude also measure up.

              Comment


              • #9
                I get your concerns about coming off as shady with jobs that weren't used in your portfolio, but do you want your portfolio to show off your skills as a designer; or do you want your portfolio to sub-par and show the stuff that when to print?

                Personally, I want to show the very best I can do. I have no problem with showing my favourite parts of a project and omitting or reworking the stuff I don't like.

                Recently, I did a logo/branding project where the client picked a concept that I thought looked too similar to one of their American competitors. I had given them a much better option that moved away from their competitors branding and also gave it a distinctly New Zealand flavour (that's where the company is located). For my portfolio, I presented the one I thought was best, not the one the client picked.

                Many of the jobs I do are not portfolio worthy. But if a brief lands on my lap that could be, I work extra hard on the project to get it in there.
                It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" Winnie the Pooh

                Comment

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