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Designing a Digital Portfolio: Delivery and Format

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Although the options for portfolio format and venue continue to expand, they boil down to one of three delivery categories: portable, email, or online. Cynthia L. Baron discusses these categories and general portfolio strategies.

One of a digitally based portfolio’s conveniences is its flexibility. The same content can be packaged in a delightful variety of ways, depending on your needs, knowledge, and time constraints. You can begin simply with a selection of work collected in a PDF, design a slideshow presentation for a client pitch, or move to an interactive website or DVD. A well-organized digital file lets you shift elements around for multiple formats almost as easily as you might slide a brochure into and out of a binder. Even nicer, the work you collect in one fairly simple format can become the basis for a more comprehensive and sophisticated portfolio as your technical knowledge and body of work increase.

There is no “right” portfolio solution. Nonetheless, there are preferred media and delivery methods in different creative fields. And there are a few wrong choices—decisions that are inappropriate for your specific market.

Although the options for portfolio format and venue continue to expand, they boil down to one of three delivery categories: portable, email, or online.

Portable media

If you want to make your digital portfolio part of your in-person presentation or need to send a high-resolution presentation to prospective clients or employers, you will need some physical medium to hold it.

CDs and DVDs

Standard-sized discs are familiar, easy to integrate into a traditional portfolio, and fairly sturdy. CDs are an inexpensive way of delivering a variety of types of relatively small files (PDFs and player files, for example). DVDs are the best choice for moving images.

People feel strongly—pro and con—about receiving a disc portfolio. The people who dislike them don’t necessarily dislike discs per se, but groan because so many people do a bad job of creating them. Typical complaints range from bad organization to unreadable file formats. Unlike a website, which can be revised as you learn from your mistakes, a badly conceived or executed CD will simply be tossed—or tossed around a shop as an example of “portfolio fail”—Chapter 5, “Organizing Your Work,” Chapter 9, “Structure and Concept,” and Chapter 13, “Presenting Your Portfolio,” address these issues, and will help you create a disc portfolio that won’t frustrate an art director.

Although discs are usually welcome in 3D and moving-image disciplines, they are less attractive in 2D specializations, where there are more concise alternatives for delivering a body of work. Graphic design professionals, for example, tend to prefer receiving work via email: PDF attachments or a URL link. A disc is a commitment. Unless someone has thoughtfully provided a table of contents, you don’t know how much it contains or how long it will take to look at it. And then there’s the problem of where to store it if it’s worth keeping.

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WWW.TOADSTORM.COM

These are enlarged details from two versions, at different resolutions, of animator Henry Foster’s portfolio reel. The lower resolution (360x243) on the left is fine for a quick view, but the higher resolution (720x486) version shows the realistic modeling details of the chicken’s eye and the plumage around it.

In contrast, people with positive disc experiences swear by, not at, them. Unlike a website, where you have to consider bandwidth and window size, a disc can be viewed anywhere, anytime, even without wireless access. The disc can hold work at a much higher resolution, so typographic or rendering details become accessible. Plus, if you author a DVD (with iDVD or some other application) rather than simply drag data onto it, the result will work in a standard DVD player, not just on a computer. That consideration is particularly important if you are sending a DVD to a large company where your work is likely to be viewed by people who aren’t technically savvy, or who don’t have the latest version of your software player on the computer they’re using.

In addition, discs have a physicality that can keep your work alive. Websites are great, but they aren’t always top of mind. Will someone who is inundated with portfolios and reels recall your name and remember to bookmark your website? Or if they did bookmark it, will they remember why a month later? A disc full of good work, attractively packaged, can and will imprint itself on a visual person’s mind. Rather than archive it in a box or file, the disc may find its way to a prominent place on a desk—ready to work its magic when the right position opens up.

One last thing: if you decide to put your portfolio on a disc for distribution, use some type of -R versus -RW disc. Not only are these formats generally cheaper, but you would rather not have someone treat your portfolio as a free storage space.

Laptop

Besides being an elegant way of transporting large volumes of work, the laptop gives you ultimate control of your presentation. You’re less likely to be plagued by technical gremlins because you’ve tested your environment. You never have to worry about platform issues or care if the people you are presenting to can tell the difference between a DVD and a coaster. There are no surprises in type size or player speed. You can show your work in an intimate setting or hook the computer to a projection system and present it to a filled room. For all these reasons, laptops are a great way to present to a client or prospective employer.

On the downside, walking in with a laptop also requires that you be ready to use it to present under any circumstances. Your VGA adapter becomes a crucial tool if a one-on-one interview suddenly turns into a department-wide command performance. Equally important may be an alternative presentation layout if the projector has a lower resolution than you use as a standard for presentation design. Color shifts between your laptop and the projector can create awkward moments if they affect the audience’s ability to see crucial details.

If you present without attaching your laptop to a projector, you’ll have different challenges. You may have to dance between watching the screen and connecting with your interviewer or client. The only way around that is to have rehearsed your presentation so frequently that it’s practically memorized—not a bad move in any case. You also have to take the flat panel display’s limitations into consideration. If your audience is sitting at an angle from the screen they may not see the presentation well.

If you plan to do regular laptop presentations, make sure that your entire computer is backed up regularly. Keep a copy of the presentation and any files it requires on a portable external drive that you carry with you in case Murphy’s Law comes crashing down on your keyboard. And remember that a laptop presentation means maintaining at least one other form of portfolio as well, since you won’t be dropping your MacBook Pro as a leave-behind.

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