Let me start this off by saying that I do not claim to be an authoritative expert on the subject of graphic design. Sure, I know some things. I’m technically a professional. But I also personally know at least a dozen people more qualified to write this list than I am. And I am going to express a few opinions with which they may disagree. So the following advice is mine, and it comes merely from my looking back at my own time as a graphic design student and the work it produced, with the benefit of a little bit of perspective and time. Hopefully it will be helpful in navigating you through the pitfalls I failed to avoid. (In other words, I can write this, because I’ve personally made just about all of these mistakes myself.)
8) Skimping on Cost
It’s obvious when you take shortcuts in design. Nowhere is it more apparent than your student design portfolio, the thing that should represent the absolute premium of all that you have to offer from your time in school.
By the time you’re building your student design portfolio, you know that every aspect of a design communicates on a nonverbal, sometimes even unconscious level. The feel and weight of the paper, the type of ink, the way the pages are held together and the cover itself—all of these things contribute to your overall impression as a designer.
So when you decide to buy a bargain bin book and have the pages printed at the cheapest place you can find, you’re making a decision that communicates your priorities—and coming off like you care more about a few dollars than giving the best possible presentation is not a good impression. How is a potential employer going to trust you with real, paid client work when you clearly cut corners on what is supposed to be the apex of your own work?
Resourcefulness is a valuable quality to any employer, especially in design. Show that you can solve your own problems to make something impressive on a budget, and it will have at least as much of an impact as anything in the book itself.
Now, I understand that not everybody has a lot of income to spend on their book. That’s ok. The point isn’t that you need to prove you spent money; the point is that you need to prove you care. While you shouldn’t skimp on print quality, if you can’t afford a premium book, show your creativity by making one of your own. Or find an innovative way to utilize the one that you can afford. Maybe there’s a tactic to show your work effectively that’s not a book at all. Brainstorm options to stand out on your budget. After all, that’s what your career as a designer will be anyway: working within inflexible parameters to achieve an optimal solution.
Some of the more impressive student design portfolios I’ve seen were hand-assembled by their designers. Another comes to mind that wasn’t even a book at all, but mounted presentation boards stored in a cool little thrift store briefcase. Truth be told, I’ve even shown my portfolio on a borrowed iPad—which I don’t necessarily recommend, but it demonstrates that you do have options.