Local Portfolio Design Expert: Harold Linton

In Fall 2009 I was so ecstatic to learn that Harold Linton, portfolio design extraordinaire, accepted the invitation to serve as a advisor for my thesis project:  A Folio Future, are you ready?…The e-volution of interior design portfolios.

Linton is an author of 18 books, including Portfolio Design, 3rd edition, and is based right here in the Washington, DC metropolitan area!  He is quite busy these days.  In addition to serving as Director of George Mason University’s School of Art, Linton hosts lectures and workshops across the U.S. and Canada.  The number of architecture and design students that have benefited from Linton’s input over a 20-year period is now well beyond 10,000+.

One of Linton’s latest endeavors, the newly revamped portfoliodesign.com, is rich with resources and real-time student portfolio examples.  I had a chance to catch up with him and ask critical questions about portfolio strategies that can help emerging design professionals land the job.

What led you to dedicating yourself to all things portfolio design?

That’s a long story but the short version includes 25 years in architectural education. As the Assistant Dean of Architecture at Lawrence Tech in Michigan, I could see where the curriculum needed support and I also was the “go-to” faculty member that all of the other faculty would send their architecture students to for portfolio help. I wound up designing our portfolio admissions process including the gate review from the sophomore year to the junior year. It all followed from there – lots of need, no formal course (until I wrote the syllabus), and students lined up all the time for advice and support. Needless to say, it caught on – the evidence of need is reflected in three foreign language editions (Spanish, Korean, Chinese) and the 4th English edition due in late spring or summer next year.

Considering the challenging economic climate for design students, what are the top three things we can do regarding our portfolio/personal branding strategy to stand out amongst the crowd?

A top quality design portfolio no matter what the medium – the layout design comes first! Use layout design software such as the Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop) to create a spacious layout that reflects clear organization (via the grid) of text blocks and visuals not too dense but open to positive forms (text and visuals) against negative (white) space that altogether demonstrates a sensibility to 2-d and 3-d design.

Second, make sure that your writing is unified and coherent – use an opening ‘design statement’ that briefly summarizes your interests, abilities, and direction in design and make sure your projects are briefly described and figure captions are short and to the point;

Third, your portfolio content should address comprehensive design experiences (either school work and/or on-the-job work) that demonstrates through documentation of project evidence, i.e., research, site context, alternative thinking and process, programming, plans, elevations/sections, details, material schedules/boards, lighting plans, 3-d illustrations, virtual or physical models, etc.

I understand Portfolio Design 4th Edition will be published in spring 2011.  What is new about the latest edition?  What updates should we anticipate?

Lots of things have changed in the design environment so the book has changed dramatically. All of the examples of the past editions have been thrown out in favor of a new survey of student work from around the country that addresses a full presentation of digital directions from introductory levels to graduate work and young professional portfolios, teaser or introductory portfolios and how to use them, web sites and Interactive directions, social networking, and so much more.

I recently heard from a hospitality design professional that she is unimpressed by the “black portfolio folder” and characterized it as “passé” and insufficient for landing the “top jobs.” Do you agree? What are some examples of the most memorable, creative, bar-setting portfolio executions you have recently reviewed?

In the real estate profession, there is an expression that says without foot traffic, the chances for sales are diminished! The same holds true in portfolio design, without a pleasing layout design, the chances for interest in looking through the entire book or web site are dramatically reduced. So, layout and content are really both paramount. The first project and the closing project should be quite strong to demonstrate consistent strength from beginning to close. Designing a portfolio is a golden opportunity to review and REVISE any of your work including process drawings to bring things up to your ‘gold standard’ – a level of professional and consistent excellence you can be proud and confident about.  Finally, it takes time to do all of this. The layout process, revisions, and production all require ample time. You also need time to digest things, revise things, test ideas, and gain excellence – be patient, work steadily along, and keep your standards high!

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One Response to Local Portfolio Design Expert: Harold Linton

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