My advice to designers in need of portfolio pieces and jobs is to not do three things: Wait, Ask For Permission and Stop.
Don’t wait to get hired to start building your portfolio. Start right now. Ignore people who hide behind the old, recursive truism, “In order to get a job, you need a portfolio, and in order to get a portfolio you need a job.” This is bullshit and said by those who would rather wait for opportunities than to seize them.
If all of us could be so lucky to just wait and see.
It’s always excited me to know I work in an industry where we can create projects any time we choose. The most recent example of this is Andrew Kim, the young designer who took it upon himself to rebrand Microsoft’s core products. He was just hired by Microsoft for their XBox division because of this work. Oh, and he still has a semester left of college too.
So what exactly do I mean when I say “create projects any time we choose”?
What I mean is Design is solving problems, so if you see something that doesn’t look right, or work well, or read correctly, nothing should keep you from fixing it. I’m not encouraging a life of pro bono work, but if you find yourself in a situation where work isn’t coming in and you’re bursting at the seams with great ideas, get those ideas out an on paper and in Photoshop (For more on this topic ’1.0 Is The Loneliest Number’ is required reading).
Once you’ve solved a problem, it’s important to have it be seen by people in the design community. Which leads me to the other side of Don’t Wait …
… Don’t Ask For Permission
You don’t need it. The world wasn’t built by people who waited for approval.
Reach out to people, whether they solicited your input or not. Be professional about it, don’t be spammy. I’m old-fashioned and I still like to send emails to people. I introduce myself, I give a succinct description of my work and then I end with my name and phone number. Presentation isn’t just about design, it’s about everything you do—down to your tweets, emails, phonecalls and blog posts.
Get your work into the hands and in front of the eyes of connectors and influencers—people who can spread your designs to the rest of the world. These could be magazine editors, or book editors, independent bloggers. There’s hundreds connectors and influencers out there. Find them.
If your solutions are great, connectors and influencers will have no choice but to share your work. People love associating themselves with great work they identify with. This is foundation of most Tumblrs. If they don’t share it? Then your work probably isn’t good enough, which means you have to keep working. And working.
Which brings me to my last point …
… Don’t Stop
Ok, so you’re Not Waiting and you Haven’t Asked For Permission. Now you have to keep going. Don’t Stop. Don’t wait for approval, don’t wait for rejection. Keep producing.
Andy Warhol said it perfectly:
Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.
Don’t create crap for the sake of creation. Create great work, work you’re proud of. Then make it better.
Don’t Wait. Don’t Ask For Permission. Don’t Stop.
The designer’s mantra.