Tag Archives: business and marketing

Creating A Killer Portfolio Discussion

freelance design portfolio nubby twiglet

freelance design portfolio nubby twiglet

On Monday night, I was invited to be part of the Creating A Killer Portfolio panel discussion at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) and shared my experiences with creating a portfolio and building a freelance design business. The conversation was moderated by Kelly Coller, the founder of OFFICE PDX, a business specializing in portfolio covers and design goods.

Currently a marketing director at a multidisciplinary design firm, Kelly has worked with clients including Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Purina and Whirlpool. She has been doing business development, marketing and branding for over fifteen years for internationally-recognized design firms in architecture, industrial and retail design. During this time, Kelly has has put together over 2,000 portfolios for client pitches. And, as if that’s not enough, she has met, critiqued, hired and / or turned down 500 to 1,000 creatives. In short, this woman knows what she is talking about!

Kelly started out the discussion with a quick summary of how to create a killer portfolio. I found her information about formatting do’s and dont’s especially helpful. Kelly relayed that a simple portfolio cover is fine for showcasing your work (I am a big fan of Pina Zangaro). Projects mounted to cards and fancy, handmade books are much harder for an interviewer to navigate and can show wear. Additionally, a portfolio cover with pages is nice because projects can be quickly reprinted without much fuss.

Also, Kelly had some advice regarding how much work you should show when making initial contact with a client. She said that the first correspondence should be kept short and sweet; emailing a PDF ‘teaser’ with 1 to 3 pages is fine. If a client shows an interest, it’s then okay to show more. But, save the full scope of your work for the actual meeting. If you give it all away immediately, there are no surprises left!

For the second half of the discussion, Kelly and I had a Q&A session. Here are some of the questions she asked and a quick summary of my responses:

freelance design portfolio nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

I’ve been actively freelancing since 2005. Some of the clients I have worked with both on my own and in an agency setting have included Forever 21, Virgin, Nike, New Line Cinema, Skullcandy, Smith Optics and Fuel TV. Currently, I run my design business full-time and split my time working with my own clients as well as a handful of agencies around town.

Originally, I wanted to attend PNCA for fine art, but my lack of interest in drawing or painting made that route difficult. In 2000, I wasn’t aware that graphic design was an option and decided to go to school for business instead. In 2006, I decided to go back to school for graphic design and graduated in 2008 from a two-year community college program.

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

For a print portfolio, I try to limit the content to no more than 10 to 12 single page projects with an absolute max of 15 pages if there are some with multiple layouts. It’s important to remember that the interviewer’s time is extremely valuable and that you may have a half hour total to meet. Because of this, you should be able to talk your way through the entire portfolio in 15 minutes or less. If you’re in New York, chances are that you’ll have less than 5 minutes, so be prepared and practice!

For initial contact, I email a PDF version of my portfolio and resumé. Agencies are busy and these days, art directors and the people in charge don’t have time to flip through many unsolicited books; a PDF is quick and relatively painless. Once a meeting has been set up, my print portfolio and a selection of physical samples (products, catalogs, etc.) come out at that time.

It’s nice to include a brief description about each project in your portfolio. One to four sentences should be sufficient. Remember to include the project title / overview and client name as well. If you’re going to include any in-depth sketches and further insight regarding your solution, this may be better suited for an accompanying process book.

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

I have always used an 11 x 17 format for my print portfolio with a Pina Zangaro presentation book in Vista Snow. I had a unique situation when I graduated because I didn’t have to show my portfolio to potential employers. I was hired immediately by the agency I’d interned with so my portfolio was literally delegated to the back of my closet until a year into my career. This spring, I finally began the process of reworking and updating the contents and I am probably on my fifth revision.

When you’re in school and building your portfolio, chances are that you want to ‘wow’ everyone. But with time, you may realize that simple really is better. Plain backgrounds and minimal type will let the projects that you’re showcasing speak for themselves.

When I began showing my portfolio, I was really conscious of replacing most of my school projects with client work as soon as possible. I wanted to show that I could handle real world briefs, feedback and deadlines and I think that this helped me immensely. One note: when showing your portfolio, ALWAYS turn it to face the client, even if you’re flipping through the pages for them.

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

I’ve been incredibly blessed to have almost all of my work come to me directly through my blog and word of mouth. After discussing the scope with a potential client, I follow up through email or over the phone. I work remotely with almost all of my personal clients.

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

With my personal clients, communicaiton is made over the phone or through email. With agencies, we try to set up in-person meetings as often as possible. Each interview is different, but it’s important to dress the part, to be on time, to have a portfolio that isn’t too precious (it’s meant to be flipped through, after all!) and to always be honest about what you can and can’t do; the design world is smaller than you think! Naturally, a big chunk of your interview is based on what you can do and how good your portfolio is. The other part is much more subtle and often personality–based; do you fit in with the corporate environment and can you get along with the team? Are you a hard worker and can you handle agency hours?

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

I keep a daily planner with due dates and a list of projects that need to be done, dutifully save every business receipt in date order and invoice my clients immediately once the job is finished so that I don’t forget! I am pretty lo-fi in this area and try to keep things as simple as possible.

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

When I am working with my own clients, I usually do everything on my own unless there’s a need for a web developer. I have a huge network of friends that are all a phone call away, so if more help is needed in the future, I can find it very quickly. I like balancing working on my own with time spent at agencies. Being in a collaborative environment with other designers and art directors really helps push the boundaries of what seems possible.

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

typography moschino fashion nubby twiglet

Marketing is one of my passions, so this is one of the favorite parts of running my business. I always carry business cards and stickers with me and have actually gotten jobs by handing them out. I also blog five days a week, regularly share my portfolio with placement agencies, designed my own media kit and make a point to go out and network with people I know in the industry. My business is very much personality-based and as a designer, it’s okay to let people know who you are. Go out of your way to make that personal connection!

Thank you to PNCA, Kelly Coller and Jason Resch for making this seminar possible.




Freelancing 101 for Graphic Designers

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

Photo by stickathing

Often, I receive questions from my readers resembling the one below:

I am a graphic designer that recently graduated and I just got a design job a few weeks ago. Eventually, I hope to be able to freelance. I was wondering how one should go about freelancing. What was your transition like going from working for a company to becoming a freelancer?

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

Freelancing can be a hugely rewarding experience but it also takes a strong sense of knowing who you are as a designer and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Looking back, my transition from working full-time to freelancing was about a six month long process. Though I already had my own clients including Virgin Records and Forever 21, it took some serious time to rework my portfolio, resumé and blog. Once these components were updated, I moved on to making appointments with placement agencies and potential clients.

When starting any new business, the first year is usually the hardest. It has the potential to make or break you. You have to be extremely focused and driven; working around the clock should be expected. This is your future, after all!

Below, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you navigate the often murky waters of freelancing.

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

My home office space where I work on freelance projects

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

Before you jump into the world of freelancing, remember the golden rule: NEVER put all of your eggs in one basket. As a freelancer, do not depend on one source for all of your income. At some point in your career, you’re bound to hit a snag and lose a client; don’t let your business crumble because of it! I am incredibly lucky that I have never had to do a pitch to gain potential clients. I’ve always made it a point to diversify my clients into three areas and because of this, the work has been very consistent. The three areas are as follows:

01. Personal Clients. My personal clients find me via word of mouth or through my blog and contact me directly.

02. Ad Agencies. A few local agencies are familiar with my work and if they are in need of help in the studio, they give me a call. Sometimes, it’s just for a day while other engagements can stretch on for weeks at a time.

03. Placement Agencies. It is always helpful to have your portfolio on file at as many placement agencies as possible. The agencies are a fantastic resource because they WANT to help you to find work. I work closely with three agencies in Portland and New York. All of my agents are super friendly and call or meet with me on a regular basis. Agents are also a great resource for a recommendation if you land an interview since they tend to be on a first-name basis with many of the best firms and ad agencies in your city.

There are other ways of branching out to find work as well including searching freelance job boards and Craigslist, but I don’t have direct experience in either to vouch for the results. Use at your own risk!

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

There are probably a million other freelancers out there. What makes you stand apart from the competition? Look and act like you mean business and have a clean, well executed portfolio. A solid web presence helps, too. Make sure you have a print and PDF version of your resumé and portfolio readily available. Need some tips? Seven Tips for Creating a Print-Based Portfolio can help!

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

Though most of my freelance work is generated through working at local ad agencies and taking on my own clients, I also keep my portfolio on file with a few placement agencies. The bottom line is this: if your portfolio is solid and you have a non-abrasive personality, you will get called. Remember to keep your agent in the loop by letting them know when you’ve updated your work.

Placement agencies are noticeably different in every city. In Portland, the agents really want to get to know you. They slowly flip through your book and ask questions about your background, what your strengths are and where you’ve worked. It’s a very intimate, one-on-one meeting. The goal of these longer meetings is to make sure that they find the right fit for you work-wise. The agents know that if you’re happy, you will more than likely make their clients happy and they will want to keep you around.

On the other hand, in New York, it took me longer to fill out an application than my entire meeting. I walked into a well-known placement agency this August and after a quick handshake, the agent flipped through my book so fast that I had to stop her repeatedly to point out various accomplishments. I secretly wondered if she’d even noticed half of it. But, those New Yorkers have a sharp eye. They really are all-knowing. After closing my book, she got up, raced across the office and within five minutes, I had agents offering to pitch me to Showtime, The Food Network, and perhaps best of all, for an art director position at a rap mogul’s ad agency. My mind was boggled. New York, I love you!

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

If you get offered a fantastic paying job that happens to not be part of your core skill set, it is better to pass versus taking it on, disappointing a client and never getting called again. If the client is looking for a retoucher and you usually spend your days designing logos, ask yourself if it is a good fit not only for you, but for them. I’ve turned down a job to create iPhone icons and days later, picked up another that involved a type-based project for the Wall Street Journal. Never feel bad for saying no; there is always more work lurking around the corner.

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

This is all common sense but is worth repeating. If you’re freelancing at an agency, show up at the predetermined time. If you’re running late (this happens to everyone at some point), call ahead and let them know when they can expect you. Bring the necessities; some things that I always carry with me are pens, snacks, headphones and a notebook full of tutorials and key commands.

In a way, as a freelancer, you are the equivalent of a guest staying at someone’s house. You are welcome, but don’t overstep your boundaries. Leave your space in the same condition that it was in when you arrived.

First impressions are everything. Though talent is important, personality plays a huge part in getting call-backs. You may be the most amazing freelancer ever, but if you don’t work well with others and are argumentative, people will notice. Remember that you’re getting paid to complete a job, not to change the world!

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

I always carry a notebook of tips and tutorials with me when freelancing.

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

When I am freelancing, I am never afraid to ask a question. It is ALWAYS better to ask and get clarification than to jump in, accidentally overwrite important documents, screw up someone’s files or waste valuable time in general. Asking a question doesn’t make you look like an idiot. On the contrary, it should be viewed as an affirmation that you are committed to getting the job done right the first time.

If you’re freelancing at an agency, always check in and thank them at the end of the day. Once you’re finished, let your contact know where your finished work is located and thank them for calling you in. It’s okay to reach out and ask if they need any further help at that time as well.

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

Once your work is complete, as a freelancer, it is usually your responsibility to bill the client. If you don’t invoice them, you don’t get paid. Your rate is based on a multitude of factors including your level of experience, your skill set and how desperate you are for work (let’s be honest!).

Remember to ask who is in charge of payments and forward them a copy of your invoice. Items that you may want to include on your invoice are the number of hours you worked, the dates you worked, your rate, the client or job description, an invoice number, the total and perhaps most importantly, your contact information along with a mailing address.

week in pictures

freelancing graphic design nubby twiglet

For more freelancing information, I highly recommend reading Freelance Switch, Freelance Feed and Guerrilla Freelancing. And, How To Be A Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessey is full of timeless advice, much of which can be directly related to freelancing.

week in pictures

Readers: Are any of you freelancers? How long have you been freelancing? What do you enjoy about it? What have been your best, most rewarding experiences? What have been your worst?

nubby twiglet signature


Exploring the Nubbytwiglet.com 2010 Identity

link love typography

I am currently in the beginning stages of formulating the look of my 2010 Identity. I’ve decided to drop Helvetica and switch to DIN for a sans serif typeface. And for a serif, I’m considering Bodoni Ultra. The black and white palette will most likely shift to a series of grays. Some older elements like the Kors Firebird wedges that have been featured in my blog header and business cards will return on some pieces, as will the portrait from my 2009 media kit.

The look I settle on will carry across my blog, media kit, portfolio, presentation decks and promotional materials. More to come as the look progresses!

link love typography

Super Identity Featuring Nubbytwiglet.com

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

I just received a copy of Super Identity, an amazing new book of branding concepts. Published by All Rights Reserved out of Hong Kong, it features nearly 300 pages jam-packed with the branding of top companies including American Apparel, Saks Fifth Avenue, Maison Martin Margiela, House of Holland and Uniqlo. It’s no secret that I am a bit obsessed with corporate identity and branding and own many books on the subjects. Super Identity is the best that I’ve found to date because the authors have left the writing to a minimum while letting the work speak for itself.

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

To make things even more exciting, the corporate identity that I created for my business, Nubbytwiglet.com is featured in a two page spread. This is the first time that my design work has been included in a book and I am flattered that it is in such good company (Saks Fifth Avenue is featured directly after my spread!)

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

Some other spreads that I found to be particularly compelling are below:

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

super identity nubbytwiglet.com nubby twiglet branding

More information about the publisher of Super Identity can be found here.





Media Kit Book

A solid resumé and a portfolio are standard issue these days. What can you do to push the boundaries, to go that extra mile? In my case, I was doing media kits for companies fairly regularly and then I had a light bulb moment; why not make one for myself? From what I can tell, media kits for individuals are pretty rare. But I have no shame in marketing myself and for a good reason. As a designer, you are your most important brand.

After creating a media kit, I turned it into a little book for mailing out to clients. While a PDF is great, some love to hold the actual product in their hands instead of staring at a screen. Here are some details of the results:

Right now, I’m preparing for a trip that’s going to be filled with many meetings and I am making a stack of these to bring along for leaving behind.

Readers: Do you have any unique and inventive ways that you market yourself?




What is Nubby: 2009 Media Kit

I’ve just finished my 2009 media kit, What is Nubby and below is the final outcome. It’s been coming together over the last few months and though the layouts started out very simple, I later decided to add some more drama to a few of the pages. The pages that are packed with advertising details and frequently asked questions are deliberately kept clean so that the information can get across while their counterparts with stats and short sentences are more bold.

In this lagging economy, many designers and agencies are playing it safe. They want to hold onto what they have and to keep everyone satisfied. In contrast, I think that now is the time to stand apart from the competition. Now is the time to build a brand that is bold and unique, that dares to take a fresh approach. A media kit is a great way to inform potential clients and advertisers about what you have to offer as well as a chance to convey an artistic style that incites interest.

As I have previously mentioned, though a media kit isn’t for everyone and a resumé along with a peek at your portfolio will usually suffice, sometimes it’s fun to step outside of the box and to experiment with different formats.

The 2009 Media Kit is available for download here.




Selected Components of a Corporate Identity

Have you ever considered how you can use color palettes, logos, trademarks, typefaces and page layouts to make your brand come alive? If you have, you’re touching upon the building blocks of a corporate identity.

According to Wikipedia, “A corporate identity comes into being when there is a common ownership of an organizational philosophy that is manifest in a distinct corporate culture. At its most profound, the public feel that they have ownership of the philosophy. In general, this amounts to a corporate title, logo and supporting devices commonly assembled within a set of guidelines.”

Today, I am breaking my 2009 Corporate Identity down to the core elements to demonstrate how the visual language is used to reach across multiple platforms including my blog, stationery and 2009 portfolio.

When building a corporate identity, keep it simple, memorable and make sure that it projects an image that’s in line with your values. Though the colors and typefaces throughout my identity are consistent, the outcomes don’t need to be boring. To create visual interest, consider using varying scales of type and reversing out color schemes.

Give some consideration to the colors that will best represent your brand. For me, black and white were necessities because of my love of classic & stark graphic design and along the way, I picked a combination of three grays as accent colors.

If you need some help deciphering what the meanings are behind various colors, Color Wheel Pro and and Color Meanings can provide insight.

Sum up your brand in a logo. The logo should be simple, unique, legible, easy to read no matter the size and reversible, all while standing for your vision. Wikipedia has a fantastic page of information dedicated to logos and Logo Design Love is a must-read blog on the subject.

A logotype is a uniquely set and arranged typeface. The logotype for Nubbytwiglet.com is set in two different weights of Helvetica Neue and is consistent with the type that is used in the rest of my branding. Since ‘Nubby Twiglet’ is a made up entity, it is purposely kept clean and readable to make memorization easier.

The two typefaces that are used in all of my branding are Helvetica Neue and Poster Bodoni. Helvetica is used in varying weights on everything from titles to body text while Bodoni is only used for numbers (the year, page numbers, addresses, etc). Pick typefaces that you really love because you’ll be using them a lot!

When establishing your identity, web presence is a must-have. Pull your chosen typefaces, colors and imagery through your online presentation so that it’s consistent with its offline counterpart. The image of the shoes on my web header has been used on the backside of my business cards for the last three years.

When I was focused on fine art, I used a press kit to promote my work and sent off artist cards featuring my new series. Now that I’m focused on freelance graphic design, I use a portfolio that features some of my best work. Usually, for a teaser that you’re sending through email, I’d recommend including no more than 10 to 15 of your best pieces. If you’re called in for a meeting or interview, then use that opportunity to bring along your print portfolio to show a larger selection.

The above examples consist of the cover, an introductory page and an example of the page layout for the projects. You may notice that on my newly branded pieces (portfolio and web header) I am using much more leading in the caps. I’ll be slowly changing everything over for next year so that it’s more legible.

Keep the portfolio interface as uncluttered as possible so that it doesn’t interfere with the work that you’re presenting. The focus should be on the amazing pieces that you’ve crafted, not on how cool the look of your portfolio is!

In closing, remember that no matter what your business is like behind the scenes, a corporate identity is a chance to present a cohesive vision to the world and most importantly, prospective clients. Have fun but always remember the core principles of your visual language and how they relate to new implementations.