A Strategist’s Foray into Portfolio Reviewing

banner_Review_728x410I recently participated in a portfolio review as a favor to an advisor at a nearby college: fifteen-minute individual sessions with eager students proud to show off their creative work.

Understand that, although I have worked closely with art directors and graphic designers for many years, hired a few for full-time or freelance positions, and – least importantly – know what I like, I am a marketing strategist with years of experience in marketing research, strategy development and management with some account oversight.

What struck me most about this experience was watching others in the room – clearly the other reviewers were artists and designers – dive into a critique of the layouts, designs and images in these portfolios. As I told the students, while I was not in a position to critique the work itself, I couldn’t imagine doing so without sufficient context. How could I understand an ad, package design or web page without knowing who the intended audience was? What should the audience think, do or believe after seeing the art? In other words, what problem were they trying to solve? And, how did the graphic elements selected contribute to solving that problem?

Without context, I was just looking at pretty pictures and was free to default to whether I liked it or not – and why should the client care whether or not I like their brochure? Shouldn’t they care about whether I was compelled to think or behave, as they desired as a result of seeing the material?