Here I am, hat in hand

Here I am, hat in hand…

I’ve been kicking around the forum for a bit now and I’ve tried to be helpful. I’m asking for some now. I have been working on a portfolio and I need advice on how to shape this thing up. I would love to talk through how I got here, struggling with imposter syndrome and the learning curve so far… if anyone is interested. BUT, in the interest of brevity, I’ll get to the important points.

1. I am trying to market myself as a specialist in packaging design. — I have had exactly one design job which spanned nearly a decade, at an agency where I specialized in packaging design, retail display and variety of print marketing materials. Our clients have included folks like Hershey, Gerber & Serta. Since 2015 or so, the agency has been on retainer for Ferrero.

2. My intended audience are hiring managers or creative directors. I am seeking a new position and this will accompany my resume. It is not aimed at the public or non-industry folks. I am leaning toward an in-house position, but I loved working at an agency.

3. Much of my recent work was developing production art for print. The longer I worked at the agency the more technical my work became. It is important to me to communicate that I was part of a team and to credit that team where I can. I have work that spans the entire process from concept to production but, everything involved some amount of collaboration.

4. My last role at the agency was as a Director, really a technical adjunct to our Creative Director. I developed onboarding resources and drove some internal educational efforts on good design practices for print and to promote internal collaboration as well as improve workflow. I am unsure how to communicate that, though my former employer said it should be front and center in my materials.

Some other background if anyone one is interested: As I mentioned, I have had exactly one design job. When I started, I could barely use the software and by the time I left I had become a primary technical resource. BUT, I don’t know an awful lot about how how to get a senior design position. I was lucky and someone gave me chance. This is very much in-progress work and I’m making changes daily and I’ll be adding new projects. Thanks for taking a look. I know you guys are helpful & I appreciate you taking the time.
I have it behind a password temporarily while I’m developing. The pw is portfolio.


My overall impression is very favorable … with one exception that we’ll get to in a minute.

It’s a nice site. Clean but not boring. Easy to navigate.

Your work is very nice, and you did a good job presenting the work.

And I like that you make it clear that you are looking to join a team rather than present yourself as a company.

The one thing I’m not sure about is the above the fold content … the picture of you and your child and the copy. It doesn’t seem to match the professionalism of the rest of the site. It reads like an Instagram picture with a color overlay, and maybe that’s what it is. It just seems very home-spun, and that contrasts the rest of the site.

What about replacing the photo of you and your child with a montage or collection of your packaging designs? Include your portrait (and I’d make it more of a professional portrait of just you) where you have it with the contact form.

I’m a dad. I get it. You’re proud of your kid. But the website isn’t social media. The website is there to help you get a job. If you feel strongly that injecting some of your personality into the site would be helpful, I’d segregate that and add a short about me section beneath the contact form.

Also, the intro copy could be stronger.

“I believe my purpose is the make things.” should simply be “My purpose is to make things.” Or, better yet, “My purpose is to make packaging that drives retail sales.” Either way, “I believe” is not necessary.

The intro to the paragraph could be reworked into something like this: “As a painter turned packaging designer, my keen eye for color helps create solutions that connect with consumers.”

What I’m trying to get at is copy that is more purposeful and punchy.

Bottom line, you are off to a great start, you just need to tighten up a couple of areas.


Thanks Steve, that’s super helpful. It also echoes feedback on the headline I got elsewhere today almost verbatim. I put that photo in as a placeholder but I think I knew it couldn’t stay.

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I purposely didn’t read Steve’s comments before looking at your work because I didn’t want it to influence my opinion. After looking through your portfolio, Steve could have written my response for me. I had much the same reaction.

Your work is excellent, and your experience is solid. However, the combination of the family photo and the copy you’ve written reads a bit like a beginner looking for a first job. Your lead sentence suggests you’re a fine artist who’s turned to commercial art to make a living rather than design being your passion. The headline suggests you’re a hobbyist or a craftsman who likes tinkering in a shop. On an about me page, the photo, your painting background, your purpose, etc., might work well as an insight into your personality, but as the lead to your portfolio, they seem misplaced.

Instead, you might want to matter-of-factly state your qualifications, and that there’s a rare and fleeting opportunity to hire some great talent that isn’t often on the market.

I’m suggesting that you leave the “imposter syndrome” behind and promote yourself without a bunch of caveats. Yes, it’s good to share credit for joint projects. Still, you spent half the sentence on the Nutella Breakfast Across America label downplaying your role in the project. All you needed to say is that you worked with the creative director to produce the label while playing up your part in it.

Moving on…

You made no mention of education. Did you get a formal design education, or was it an on-the-job thing? If you don’t have a design degree, that would typically be a huge problem getting your foot in the door, and it still might be a problem at some companies. However, your talent, employment history, and proven work should help to make up for it.

Speaking of your work (which is very good), you’ve only placed five pieces in your portfolio. I might have expected more with ten years of agency work. I would also expect to see more real-life product shots than mocked-up comps. Some of each would be perfect (because they really are nice-looking mock-ups). I’m wondering, will the agency be OK with your public online portfolio displaying work that belongs to them? Many wouldn’t.

The production director position is fantastic, but it’s also problematic because it might pigeonhole you as a production artist rather than a designer. On the other hand, the guidebook looks great, and the job title and the book demonstrate your leadership abilities and the confidence the agency had in those abilities. I think you’ve probably handled it as well as possible.


You mentioned being open to either an in-house or agency position. Over the years, I’ve worked in both several times.

The agencies all had different personalities, but the routine was similar. Their structures were much the same, with the same divisions of responsibilities. The clients differed, of course, but within that diversity was an awful lot of sameness.

The in-house jobs differed dramatically from each other. Some were absolutely fantastic because we were essentially our own clients, which enabled us to dig deeply into problems in ways not usually possible at an agency. On the other hand, some in-house jobs were horrible because design and communication were not the companies’ focus. Consequently, the management regarded the marketing and communication teams as bit players in an artsy service group of order takers that carried out the inept marketing ideas of the higher-ups.

If you go the in-house route, I suggest checking into the situation before accepting an offer. Talk to the people who would be your co-workers to assess their skills, goals, and their general impressions of their role in the company’s operations.

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Thank you so much for that thoughtful feedback - both of you. It’s pretty clear where to start, I feel like you gave me a roadmap. While I’ve been working this, I have done something I would never tolerate in a design project. I have been working in a vacuum. I’m glad I changed that. I’ll begin reworking the above the fold content tomorrow.

Steve thank you again for those copy suggestions, those were a great reminder to tie this back to solving business needs.

Just-B, all of those points are well taken. I especially appreciated the advice regarding in-house positions. The point you made about the Director position was eerily accurate (like so many of the things you said) - that’s exactly what happened at my last agency. I rarely got to do creative work at the end.

I do have both in-store photos and product photos I was hoping to use, I will definitely do that. I also do have lots more work to add and that has been one of the biggest challenges - I had to organize it and sort through it. I was picking projects that I could use to tell a story or show in progress work because I thought that might be important to include.

As for my education, I have BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, after I began working at the agency I went through a 2 year certificate program at The University of the Arts for Communication and Web Design. It took me 5 years of night classes :slight_smile:. I don’t want to sell myself as a reluctant designer who would rather be an artist, This work is what I should have been doing from the start,


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For what it’s worth, my reaction when I saw it was exactly the same. Impressive work once I scrolled to it, but initially, although the delivery is sleek, the pic with son thing made me roll my eyes a bit. Great pic, but not for this. If you have one of similar quality, but just you and preferably in a slightly more less informal situation (without being too corporate), that would be better. Failing that, as Steve says, something more directly work-related. Getting that balance between the professional and the personal you is a real tight-rope walk. You need just enough to appear affable and easy to work with, but not too cold and clinical – and not too much so as to appear an emotional liability.

The second thing that jumped out at me was the sentence about ‘Painter turned print designer…’ what you do and want to be is far more important than what you used to be in a previous life. Of course that has bearing, but not as much as what you’ve been doing for the last ten years. Even simply changing it around to read something like ‘I am an experienced print designer, with a background in painting…’ would help. I’d probably drop the painter part even further down the pecking order. As I say, it has some bearing, but not as much as ten years of industry experience.

Overall, the imposter syndrome is coming across too strongly. Most of us have it at some point (for what it’s worth, by the time you have three decades under your belt, it pretty much disappears), but you need to shelve it and treat yourself like a client.

You’d never advertise tic-tacs by saying how minty-fresh they are, though some people prefer other brands. To my mind you need to push harder how much of an asset you are and what you bring to the party.

You work is undoubtedly of high enough calibre to, at very least, peak interest, but only once you get past the preemptive apology and – as Steve says – social media-esqe introduction.

Be pushy. You’re good enough for the position you want. Make it easy for them to see that – without flipping to cocky arrogance.

Dear god, I was only going to write one sentence to back up what the others have said. I bore myself sometimes!

Good luck

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Thank you Sprout, I think the lines got blurry because I am advertising myself and subjectivity is harder to come by when it seems personal. That tight-rope walk you mentioned… The reminder I’m hearing from all of you is that I am not in fact advertising myself. I am advertising a business role and skillset that is valuable. I’m so glad I posted it.

I saw it as “Hire me, I have a child to feed.”
Not a bad thing in my book, but maybe cheesy in the corporate agency field.
I’d interview you but a job here is not ‘creative’ it’s production, unless you fish for your own clients. Not hard to do, but no one I’ve talked to yet wants to be that ambitious, LOL! And the real estate/cost of living thing here absolutely blows.

Much has already been said, some of it I also noticed. What may not have been said (I just skimmed this) is: The 5 subpages could be linked more clearly (I’m on the iPad right now). I clicked only when the content seemed a bit little. Maybe you could even put the subpages on one page. There is still the third level of lightboxes anyway.

Now I want some chocolate :yum:

I agree with @Joe. I too want some chocolate.

I also agree that the links to the subpages could be more obvious. In my post, I mentioned your portfolio being a little light on examples. It wasn’t until after I made my post that I noticed that clicking on the large photos on the front page brought up more detailed information and more examples.

Oh, that’s really goood to know. I added a “read more…” statement to indicate the click thru. Thanks Joe! I’m not opposed to a more radical restructure, but I was thinking about adding more content and shortening the summary.

Agree with the feedback by others here, I think an “about” page would be a great place to put that photo of yourself, but I would also choose a more professional photo, reason being: potential employers might have a bias against you knowing that you have a young family and giving off the vibes that you’re dedicated a family man.

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Do you want to work for a company put off by a person with a family?
That doesn’t even register here.

Perhaps not, but would you bring your baby to a job interview?

Hmmm…with the cost of childcare these days? :wink:
I saw the photo as ‘man with family to feed’ kind of thing, which tickled my sense of humor more than being put off by a photo of a guy holding his kid in a job resume. Y’all are probably right it doesn’t belong on the front page, more the About Me type section, but still, the world has just gotta lighten up a bit. :slight_smile:

Well, that picture is going away. Perhaps it could be a slider of images from projects I’m not featuring.

My wife and I had a very similar conversation when I put that image in there. I was initially using it as a placeholder. But we also saw some humor in it, especially when tied with the original headline…and of course we loved it. So, I think I just convinced myself it could stay there and I would just make the intro more personal, so I tried to do that.

I think it’s really important to have a point of view and humor could be be part of that. But I also think, in terms of design, choices need to be strong and cohesive.

So in this case, all personal and silly or not at all. I could play it up, make the humor more obvious and make it work for me. I would just have to match the rest to that… but, I don’t think that’s truly a reflection of who I am with this work. I don’t want my voice to overshadow the brands.

Totally right, personally I wouldn’t care. I guess I was trying to look at it through the lens of a potential employer who may be concerned that he might need to take a lot of time off to look after his children.

I think the reverse is more likely to be true; a man with a family might be perceived as more settled, stable, and more inclined to stick with the job since he has a family to support.

Great case studies and examples of work. Clients want to know you’ve got the work experience so I feel that will sell you more than any particular design would.

From a website UX point of view - I would make external links (links that direct users to to other sites open in a new tab. This way users can explore your client’s websites in a new tab, rather than be taken away from your site by links opening in the same tab.

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