Day 96

Day 96

We can now design our lives to communicate who we are, what we believe in, and how we will contribute to the world. Our lives are our portfolios.

— Kern and Burn

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As the 100 Days of Design Entrepreneurship comes to a close, and we think about how we want to transition our site to continue to provide inspiration and resources to our readers, we are taking time to define themes that we have uncovered. Yesterday, we took the opportunity to expand on one of our principles and encouraged designers to Write More. Today we write: You Are Your Portfolio.

Technology has made it an easy and fulfilling practice to record our lives and daily experiences on our websites and social media platforms. And in doing so, we are also exposed to the intimate details of others’ experiences. We follow people through their daily lives—through their Instagram photos, Twitter updates, and Facebook wall posts—and we can learn so much about someone from his or her online presence. We all know the complainers, the compulsive oversharers, and the genuinely funny people that we follow, whether we have met them in real life or not. Occasionally, we’ll find ourselves commenting on someone’s life, saying, “Did you see so and so is speaking in San Francisco, and they were just in Houston last week, and didn’t you think that pasta they had looked amazing?” It’s quite ridiculous in some sense, but its exciting in another. Our entire lives are our portfolios.

Our portfolios are no longer limited to shiny representations of work collected on a personal website. We are a collection of our experiences, and potential partners, employers, and funders have the opportunity to learn about who we are before they decide if they want to invest time into us. They are interested in our process, our perspectives, and our personalities. We could allow this idea to lead us down a path towards pessimism and a post about filtering your weekend activities on Facebook, but we’re going to choose optimism.

Design is at its core about communication. We can now design our lives, to communicate who we are, what we believe in, and how we will contribute to the world. Our contributors are authentic and transparent about their lives, and their work. They have openly shared their failures, told us that they don’t know what they are doing, and that sometimes, they just like to have fun. We find this refreshing and inspiring, and we encourage others to do the same. If you’ve failed, share it, if you have a perspective, share it, and if you feel like complaining, make something to fix the problem, and then share it.

We hear a lot of talk about portfolios in the halls of MICA, and showing your work is great. We are designers after all. But we have found that many designers today are often involved in one or two projects that propel their names and reputations, instead of a polished body of work. Our favorite portfolios are the ones that show evidence of a person’s values—their perseverance and dedication to a project, their beliefs instead of just aesthetic choices—and these value driven qualities are what many startups look for first.

The Fast Company article, “8 Reasons To Choose A Startup Over A Corporate Job,” by Kerrin Sheldon, reinforces what Josh Brewer told us on Day 70, which is that you need to be self-motivated, willing to adapt, and to stretch yourself, and the risks of working for a startup will pay off. Startups themselves are ships in motion, changing in response to user feedback, and evolving over quick periods of time. Sheldon writes, “[At a startup] you’ll be able to do a lot of different things. Working at a startup will allow you to try on a lot of different hats, even that weird one that you didn’t think you would ever like.” For the startup world, the idea of the “T-shaped designer,” someone with a vertical stack of narrow design expertise, learned over time (like a mastery of typography) in combination with a broad horizontal range of skills may be shifting toward the “asterisk-shaped” designer (which Frank Chimero pointed us toward on Day 49). The asterisk-shaped designer is one with a perspective, and a solid passion at his or her core—and works toward it in many different ways, branching out with different skill sets, interests, and methods. Showing a broad representation of yourself online will allow others to see things in you that you may not even see yourself. Maybe there’s a weird hat that someone else thinks would look great on you.

Josh Brewer writes for The Manual in “The Sky Ain’t The Limit,” about the death of the design rockstar and the dawn of the design team. Designers are trying to solve problems that are often too big for just one person to tackle. How do we create portfolios that share these collaborations, and the experience that they provide? What does it mean to have a portfolio when you are not the sole “owner” of any of the work? We don’t quite know yet, but it’s clear that the idea of the portfolio is moving away from the work and toward the person and teams behind the work. To us, that sounds amazing. Those are the team players that we want to meet.

So here’s to less glossy images of our school projects, and more evidence of designers willing to collaborate to make things that benefits others. Use your portfolio as an opportunity to tell your story. If it’s not a story worth telling, take time to experience something that will change you. Document it, and write about it, and then maybe your portfolio will change us too.