.: 11 February 2016 :.

8 Steps To More Useful Design Portfolio Reviews

Feedback is the key to growth. Your attitude towards feedback is what determines your growth. So if you want to develop yourself, you should always be seeking for feedback. Regardless of your experience.

Feedback on your portfolio often comes in the form of an portfolio review. The one factor to an effective portfolio review is how you approach your portfolio review. You are responsible for the usefulness of the feedback you receive.

So don’t hide yourself from reviewers. Don’t enter a review session unprepared. Don’t blame your reviewer for being critical. Don’t start an argument.

Even though your portfolio is the most personal piece of work you have ever created, don’t take the critique personal.

The more feedback sessions I attended, the more I realized that reviewers telling the honest truth are extremely hard to find. Most reviewers can only give compliments. They are afraid to hurt you. Ironically, the people being honest will boost your development. You need to appreciate them.

Knowing what you do well is not going to help you improve your weaknesses. It is only going to make you feel good.

Below are 8 steps to more useful design portfolio reviews.


1. Make sure your portfolio is ready

Make sure your portfolio is ready before diving into a review session. When is your portfolio ready? Your portfolio is ready when it represents the best possible version of yourself. It is ready when you think it is the best you can do at that moment.

It’s a waste of time if your reviewer keeps pointing at parts of your portfolio that you know are unfinished. For the reviewer, it will be hard to distinguish finished and unfinished work.

As a result, you will spend a large part of the session trying to explain what you haven’t finished. Just make sure your portfolio is up to date.

The more your portfolio represents the best you can do, the more useful the feedback will be.


2. Be reviewed by your target audience

It can be tempting to show your portfolio to any experienced designer you can find. However, even though a designer has twenty plus years of experience, he might not be part of your portfolio’s target audience.

You don’t want to be reviewed by a designer, you want to be reviewed by a user.

Do you target your portfolio at recruiters in order to land a job? Try to get feedback from a recruiter. Understand what he or she looks for in a portfolio and how to address that.

Is the goal of your portfolio to land clients? Ask a client to review your portfolio. Try to understand what makes him decide to hire someone.

Do you want to use your portfolio to connect to people in your industry? Find such a person and ask him to critique you.

Do you target your portfolio at senior designers? Sure, go ahead and approach one of them. However don’t just approach him simply because you can.

Group portfolio sessions are rising in popularity. However, after attending these myself, I was often left with a lot of cluttered and contradicting feedback. It confused me. I did not know who to listen to. I did not know how to act upon it.

After attending group portfolio sessions, I was often left with a lot of cluttered, contradicting feedback.

That is why instead, I would recommend you to pick just one reviewer. Go into depth instead of trying to cover breath. It will also be easier to put feedback of an individual into perspective. You are more likely to be left with clear and actionable improvements.


3. Attend the review session in person

It can be easy to send your portfolio’s URL to you reviewer and wait for his feedback to show up in your inbox. However, in that case, the feedback you will receive has already been processed multiple times.

In reality, your visitors won’t take the time to process their thoughts. They may have just two minutes to review your portfolio and will rely very much on their first impression.

By sitting next to your reviewer, you can capture his unprocessed, honest thoughts. If you can’t make it physically, make sure you can be present digitally, through Skype.


4. Instruct your reviewer

You are responsible for the usefulness of your session. How you instruct your reviewer will greatly impact this.

First of all, you want to be clear about the goal of your portfolio and of the session. Don’t show your portfolio yet, you want unbiased feedback.

There are two possible ways a session can be ineffective. Either you aren’t open to critique or your reviewer is being too nice. First you need to fight your own fear. Embrace it. If you expect to be burned, it won’t be that painful. You won’t take it that personal. Secondly, ask your reviewer to be very honest. Tell him that you will appreciate his feedback, both positive and negative.

Next, make your reviewer describe a typical portfolio visit. Does he visit a portfolio just before lunchtime on his smartphone with on a slow WiFi? Or does his daily job involve reviewing portfolios on his cinema display? His ritual greatly impacts his experience. That is why you want to ask him tosimulate this ritual to capture a realistic response.

To receive a realistic response, you want to encourage your reviewer to simulate a real situation.

Simulating a real situation also involves ignoring you. In a real situation, you won’t be there sitting next to your reviewer. You won’t be there to tell him what to click on. You won’t be there to clarify confusions.

Finally, ask you reviewer to speak his mind. This is how you can capture honest, unprocessed thoughts.


5. Record your session

I have never had a reviewer who didn’t allow me to audio record the session.Having an audio recording to take home is very useful. In the moment of the review, you might be more emotional towards critiques. If you can listen it back at home, it is easier to be more rational and act upon it.


6. Start the observation

Instead of starting the review by arguing about let’s say the color of a button you should focus on observing your reviewer using your portfolio.

I like to set a timer, based on the reviewer’s average visit. It not just represents a real situation, it also marks a clear end.

If the session takes too long, the reviewer will start to think more like a designer, instead of a user. This type of thinking will be saved for the next step after the timer rings.

It is important for you to keep your mouth shut. In a real situation, you won’t be there to talk either. You don’t even have to take notes if you have your recording device running. Listen and observe.


7. Discuss and ask questions

Once the timer is over, you are allowed to talk. Rather than starting a rant based on how you watched the reviewer struggle, limit expressing your opinion. Ask questions instead.

Ask questions in relation to your portfolio’s goal. If your portfolio’s goal would be to get hired, you could ask your reviewer questions such as:

“Would you hire me based on this portfolio and why?”
“For what position in your company would you think I am most suitable?”
“How could I improve the chance of getting hired using my portfolio?”
“Do you think it is a good decision to put this project first?”
“Do you have an example of a portfolio that approaches this issue better?”


8. Process the feedback and make it your own

After the fruitful session, you are left with your recording. You will notice that listening to recording another day, will really change your perception of the session.

Rather than mindlessly applying all the advice, it is important to understand the feedback from the reviewer’s perspective. A visual designer will probably encourage you to improve your visual design and a developer will value your code.

The more review session you will attend, the more you will realize that people often give you contradicting feedback. That is why it is important to process the feedback and make it your own.

You will never be able to make everybody satisfied. The only person to satisfy is yourself.

© 2018 Martijn van den Broeck
All rights reserved.