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  • Writer's pictureCrystal Soto

Don't Have Design Experience?

Updated: Feb 1

Graduating from design college is something to be celebrated! It is a significant achievement that can fill us with emotions ranging from excitement, relief, and sometimes fear from realizing the routine you've built over the last 4 to 6 years will soon be over. The beauty of things coming to an end is that it allows for new beginnings to start, and for you, that means entering the workforce.

Experiencing new things is always a little intimidating, but the reality is being "new" is also quite liberating. Because when you're new, there aren't many rules you place on yourself, which allows for a more fluid flow of ideas that you can build on to showcase your skill and personality to potential employers.

When creating a design portfolio, starting with where you want to apply and what you'll be doing for the role is crucial. This information will help you tailor the projects/work you want to showcase in your portfolio. You will only want to showcase your top 3 to 5 best pieces. Like a resume, most hiring managers need to be able to see your skill quickly and don't have the time to go through numerous items in your portfolio.

Submitting personal projects from freelance work, classwork, or concepts you've come up with are great places to start when curating your portfolio.

If you are unsure where to start or are not confident in what you have, here are eight projects you can add to your portfolio when you need work experience.

1. Typographic Poster.

Typography aims to communicate a message or messages in the right tone and style, otherwise known as visual communication. It is one of the most critical design considerations for a graphic designer because there is much to consider, from hierarchy to typeface, font, layout, legibility, harmony, kerning, and overall theme.

A successful typographic, flyer, or poster will capture a person's attention and should be easily identifiable to a particular brand. For this project, research a specific topic and brand for which you'd like to create a typographic poster. Research the brand thoroughly. What is their product, what font do they use, and how does their brand voice sound? These are things you'll want to know before starting your project. Doing this will help you plan your content (what you want the poster to communicate). For example, if you do a typographic poster for Disney's theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, how would that look, and what would it say? Remember that your chosen typeface, colors, and layout will impact your message.

Showing how you got to your finalized design is most important to your potential employer, as it gives them insight into your design process. It shows them you can think through a design from concept to completion and your skill level and ability to lead a project.

Lastly, this is a fun way to show off your creativity, eye for design, visual hierarchy, layout, and typographic know-how. Have fun and challenge yourself creatively to create eye-catching concepts. Visit Behance for inspiration from other fellow artists.

2. Iconography

Iconography plays a pivotal role in online user experience as icons quickly provide clarity and direction without using any text. Icons are visually appealing and can be stylized to match a brand identity while quickly relaying messages and removing clutter from having too much copy.

Today, you'll also find iconography used in print design. Business cards, for example, will not have icons of a phone, email, location pin, and glob for a website to eliminate clutter from the card and provide a high-design look and feel. The human brain processes icons six thousand times faster than text, allowing people to process information more quickly and easily.

For this project, pick a brand you'd like to develop an iconography set to be sure to stay within their brand guidelines. Decide if you want to redesign their icons if they already have some on their website, or you can develop something more modern while maintaining a consistent brand look and feel.

3. Infographics

The importance of infographics is their ability to convey complex information to be easily understood. For businesses, the infographic is a game changer! Consider this example, a Brewer trying to explain their brewing process on their website. As you can imagine, brewing is a complex process. An infographic would better serve the Brewers landing page as it will visually communicate the process and be visually appealing. The brewer can still put detailed information below the graphic, but the infographic will quickly convey the brewer's message.

For this project, research a company you feel could benefit from well-designed infographics on its website.

4. Geometric Vector Artwork

is a unique request that, when showcased correctly, can yield impressive designs. Check out some fantastic geometric artwork from the Behance community.

5. Photo Manipulation

(composite art) is a highly desirable skill. It's the bread and butter of the design industry, especially for those in graphic design, advertising, and film. Creating stunning visuals in Photoshop is a great project to place in your portfolio and a way to have fun while still being practical when applying your skills. Check out the following artist: Adriana Napolitano, Julio Martín Luiz Andrande.

6. Motion Graphics

are vital to the commercial industry, online advertisements, film, and TV, and they grab our attention through movement. Any time you can add a skill to your repertoire — do it! Using apps like Adobe After Effects, Animate, or even Apple Motion to add life to your graphics is a sure way to capture someone's interest in your portfolio.

7. Interactive Print Media.

There are many exciting ways to make print an interactive experience. Today, the two categories: print and web, are converging more, so finding unique ways for your audience to interact with print work is a great way to get them familiar with your design and creation. A great example is the 19 Crimes wine label when holding your phone up to the label audio play.

8. Email and Newsletter Design.

Email is still the number one way businesses connect with their customer base for marketing, keeping their customers informed, product launches, special offers, and more.

While the success of an email or newsletter comes down to various factors, such as email copy, layout, graphics, headers, intros, colors, etc., if you land a design role working with a marketing team, they will often set forth the guidelines for you. Email designs can be crucial to your first job as they can show your ability to interpret the needs of a department and team and your ability to collaborate. Your ability to meet expectations and deliver high-quality designs will significantly impact online sales goals and company news, product launches, and more.

For this project, remember to have fun, research current design trends, and keep the design compelling and mobile-friendly.

9. Brand Identity Package

Research a company you admire or a business you'd like to work with and develop concepts for a complete rebranding Brand Identity Package. Developing branding materials for a fictitious company is okay, too. Just be sure to disclose this in your portfolio. Brand Identity Packages typically include development and concepts for:

  1. Branded Social Media. For consistent presence across channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more)

  2. Stationery (Print Design). Business cards, letterhead, envelopes, flyers, postcards.

  3. Brand Guidelines. Brand guidelines provide companies and their employees with a set of comprehensive branding guidelines to help maintain a consistent brand and voice across all social media channels, platforms, and

9. Redesign a newsletter template

This may sound like a snooze fest, but I did this for my first portfolio while applying for my one of my first jobs in tech. One of the administrative duties of that job was to send out newsletters about events, interviews, breaking news, and other timely items so before I applied, I spent half a day redesigning the org’s newsletter, creating three samples and including it all in my portfolio. Needless to say, they were impressed. I got the interview (and two follow ups) AND the job.

To pull off a successful newsletter redesign, it’s helpful to remember a few best practices. First, put extra care in making your newsletter design short and simple—avoid long, impenetrable blocks of text and make sure there’s adequate white space in your overall design to make the text that is there appear streamlined and easy to read. Second, stick to the company's brand guidelines. Yes, this includes fonts! Don't stray from the brand. Be very cautious when using images or graphics—it’s easy to throw in stock photos or filler charts, but unless these images are integral to your design or critical to your brand identity they’re just going to distract from your message. Third, be mindful of the structure of your newsletter design. Remember to design for both desktop and mobile; Litmus Email Analytics reports that in 2016 mobile email opens rose to 56 percent (while desktop opens maintained at 19 percent). Meaning your design needs to be effective, mobile-forward, and content can be read as easily on either device.

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