Please note: I am not a university employee, nor have I ever been involved in the university admissions process. This is simply the advice I give my students on preparing their portfolios, gleaned from my (relatively recent!) stint at uni, my friends who are on various types of design courses and what has served past students well. This is not my typical style of blogging but having written this out to my own students so many times it feels easier to just be able to share the post. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
Students, please remember this is a guideline. Make sure you follow the instructions given by the university on your interview request. They may only ask for 4 pages – then only take 4! They also don’t normally have a preference on how you present your work. The best advice I can give you is to start early and then adapt as you get your offers. Students often start when they get the interview letter (typically a weeks notice), stress out, work themselves to the bone and totally neglect their coursework. Start during the summer!
- CV style page for your first page; print your personal statement on one side and a list of achievements/predicted grades/extra curricular activities. A professional style photo is good too – more often the tutors look at your folders without you so remind them who you are (and why they invited you in the first place!)
- If they have given you a design task (a common one is redesign a common object); put this here. They have asked you to do this to show off your skills. Don’t make them hunt for it! Depending on the instructions given, try to include pencil sketches, coloured sketches of any media and at least 1 CAD sketch.
- A display page with photos of all of your school work to show how much progress you have made. Include everything from year 9 onwards but MAKE SURE these are dated. You don’t want anyone thinking your year 9 project is your A-Level work!
- Pages of RELEVANT work. I’d suggest you lay these out in order of best to worst. Mix in your personal work along with school work. Think about any other design tasks you’ve done – did you have anything from work experience? Have you ever whipped up designs for a family friend? If you’re struggling for personal work try signing up to Fiverr or Etsy and actually selling your work. Ask around if local businesses need flyers or a new logo. Ask your teachers if there are any upcoming school events you can design posters for. Get creative!
On these pages, you need to include high quality photos of the final project and the year. I would also include an explanation as why you made your choices, the brief feedback. Suggest changes you’d made if needed! I would layout the pages as below:
- Social media pages. This one is controversial but a really nice touch if done properly. I would set up a blog (although my students always seem to chose Instagram instead!) as a design professional and post your work. The reason why this is controversial is that it needs to be kept 100% professional – no photos of friends (although ‘candid’ shots of you working in the studio look good!), delete any inappropriate comments and keep the language clean. You don’t have to set up a brand – literally just Firstname_Lastname or Firstname_Designs will do. Keep spelling and grammar pristine. Social media use is great to show the university tutors that you are a 21st century designer and that you can conduct yourself properly. (This goes without saying but put ALL of your personal social media on private ASAP). Feel free to include other types of work on this but keep it design themed. I prefer blogs purely because you can embed hit trackers that tell you where the people looking at your blog are located, which can be really comforting when waiting in the UCAS no-mans land. Just screenshot and print your blog/Instagram to show how you use them. Make sure to include a link in your personal statement! (Examples: https://hannahn.carbonmade.com/ or https://www.instagram.com/hannahndesigns/)
- Unrelated work: this is for you to include any creative work (such as art or photography) that you might have. This could have titles, briefs and years put on but it isn’t 100% necessary.
Good luck! 😊