Managing a portfolio & online presence for design students

Last month, Carole invited me to come in, lecture and help her graduating MA Textile Futures students understand the value of building an online presence of their own. I ended up putting together a few presentations to explain the value of what the internet was about, how it could help them in their career, etc. I learnt a lot and observed a lot along the way. Some of it shocked me, some of it are service ideas that are just screaming to happen and I thought I’d share. Feel free to reap the benefits :)

It’s 2010. The golden age of technology right? Well, managing an online presence, understanding what it’s all for when you’re not a web designer or involved in web design or “social media”, turns out to be more obscure than in 2005. Let me explain.

In 2003, I took a Flash class in my product design course. Horrible, obscure stuff where the end result was a Flash website. Need I say more? In 2005, half way through my master’s in IDII, I learnt how to code my own website (thanks to the many hours I spent with Didier who had the patience to teach me HTML & CSS). The year after that Yaniv made it compulsory to use WordPress to communicate our progress in our thesis work. I still find PHP a horrible thing to understand, but the hours spent paid off eventually. I moved on to being Karola’s sysadmin and web designer (I get jewellery in return you see) which keeps me coding once in a while. So all in all, that’s 5 years worth of investment that unless you’re in a “media” course of some sort, you’ll never encounter. This is a problem.

1. The internet’s ultimate designer package.
Most students will access the internet to have access to particular social communities (FB, Twitter, etc), do google searches for images and check email. They have no real understanding about the value of having their own URL (nevermind that they don’t know what URL means) until you ask them to Google themselves. Then they get it. If there’s a business idea here, its a packaged “registration, hosting and wordpress/tumblr/whatever installation” package. Having that will compete and just eat up horrible sites like indexhibit.org (i don’t even want to link to them) to stop taking advantage of creative people who just want a “box” to put images and captions in. Designers want to worry about the right things, want some degree of personalisation and want to get on with the business of designing quickly.

2. Ignorance is not bliss.
Reliance on “IT support” is strong in the creative industries. This means the IT sector takes the piss and doesn’t educate designers. There is no knowledge exchange, there are only service providers who make designers totally dependant. Explaining to a designer what FTP is, getting them to write their first index.html page and upload it and see it there, means they can then understand what happens behind the curtain and can have a creative discussion about it. Again, not talking about anyone involved in the “new media” sector but everyone else, photographers, textile designers, product designers, etc. Some of the women I spoke to about this (was an all-women course) were amazed and happy to build a vocabulary that made that world of acronyms make more sense.

3. Portfolio communities are horrible.
One of the missconceptions of design graduates, is that shoving their work into online communities for other designers will help them build a voice online. Looking at my own experience, when I graduated from product design school, core77 and if you were a bit cool, Computer Love or if you were really cool K10K were the places to go. What changed soon after that, was that your best friend online became Google and the blogs that linked to the work ( think WMMNA, Cool Hunting, Swissmiss or Mocoloco). In 2010, well it’s partially about Twitter love, but still very much about Google, not about walled gardens but about rich networks of relationships.

4. Flickr’s golden opportunity.
I just spent the day with Karola rethinking her website, and in the end, we found that it was easier to ask her to update Flickr and for her website to just link to slideshows of work. She understands HTML because I bullied her into it ;) , but she’s obviously now much more active and at ease thinking about Flickr, managing an image around her work, and thinking about the power of imagery. So we redesigned her website to basically end up being a “wrapper” around Flickr sets. It’s not Flickr, so she feels its her own space. If you Google her, you’ll get her website first, which is what she wants, but all the assets end up living elsewhere, in a space she’s happy to manage and where customer support is easy to handle through commenting. If Flickr was interested in monetizing at all, this I think would be a nice way to do it.

5. Education
In the end, I was happy to come and talk to the students about this, because noone had really bothered to give me such an introduction when I was a student. I’m not sure to what extent this shouldn’t become a compulsory module for design course “Online identity management” as so much of our work as professionals relies on promoting our work as much as possible, and this isn’t only through publications in magazines anymore. With the recent cuts in education, I doubt this idea will have any traction, but hey, that’s my 10 cents.

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designswarm

Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London, Head of Bulb Labs till May 2019.

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