My experience being a portfolio reviewer at the Montreal Behance Reviews

Sasha Endoh at Montreal Behance Portfolio Reviews

Aside from client work, personal work, and life in general I also get to participate in some great professional events. I guess you could call them “public appearances”. Last November, 2014, I had the pleasure of participating in a great global design event – the Behance Portfolio Review. In this post I’m going to share my experience and give some advice for those interested in participating in this kind of an event, for those who’d like to have their work reviewed and for those who’d like be reviewers alike.

A little background

If you’re in a creative field then you’ve certainly heard of Behance. Self-described as “the leading online platform to showcase & discover creative work” simply put it is an online service that allows creatives to create a free (or pro) portfolio. There are some social networking aspects like “appreciating” other members’ work that helps to create a community atmosphere. Behance is also all about getting exposure for their members by curating multiple online galleries.

Aside from being a great online service, Behance has taken it a step further with its Portfolio Review week: a twice-annual series of volunteer-organized international events, the goal of which is to bring together creative professionals off-line. Attendees get to hear a keynote address by a notable professional, those interested can bring their portfolios and have a professional (usually in a related field of work) give feedback and advice as well as discuss other participants’ work.

My experience

I was invited to participate as a portfolio reviewer by David ‘Nuff’ of Design By Nuff, who organizes the Montreal Behance Portfolio Review event. Naturally, I was flattered and immediately accepted the offer. Of course, i was also a little terrified – this is my natural reaction to new things, things that take me out of my comfort zone. But as usual in these situations, I forged ahead trying to take things one moment at a time.

The event took place at the beautiful Notman House. After a keynote address by Marie Bergeron those who brought their portfolios for review were broken up into groups. Each group was lead by a reviewer and was comprised of about 6-8 reviewees. Each reviewee presented a few pieces from his/her portfolio, the reviewer gave them some feedback and then opened it up to the group. Reviewers were given review/comment cards which I did my best to fill out so that there’s some sort of written record of feedback that could be taken home.

My group was a nice mix of people with larger portfolios and those just starting out. For the most part, these portfolios were of graphic and web word but some pieces were not at all related to web design.

Photos from Montreal Behance Reviews by Pete Photographie
Image credit:Pété Photographie

Overall, this was exactly the kind of event that inspires me, both because of the great work presented by young and talented designers, but also because hopefully, my words encourage them to create more great works. Chatting up a storm about this field of work that I’m so passionate about and meeting people who are equally passionate about it is always a great experience for me.

Advice for reviewers

Now on to more practical matters. If you’re going to participate in this sort of an event as a reviewer there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Keep an open and curious mind. Don’t have too many expectations as far as the quality of work you’ll be reviewing (either good nor bad). You will most likely see a mixture of both, your job isn’t to bash but to encourage.
  2. Keep your eye on the clock. We weren’t given a whole lot of time, so I made it very clear from the very beginning that we’ll have to move quickly and that if someone didn’t get a fair amount of time for the review of their portfolio – I offered to arrange a review session after the event. We ended up having enough time for everyone but it was close.
  3. Be honest. Your expertise is why you have been chosen to be a reviewer so be as honest as possible while remaining professional and courteous.
  4. Be fair. Just because someone’s work is more interesting doesn’t mean you should give them more of your time, so don’t play favorites.
  5. Be professional. You have a reputation and image – it’s up to you to uphold them. The event offered alcoholic beverages, and while that’s pretty standard in the design community it’s up to you to moderate your intake. Also, remember to bring business cards, this is also a networking event.
  6. Be yourself and have fun! You’re going to see some great work, meet some talented people – these are all very exciting things for a passionate design professional! But it doesn’t have to be all work and no play, be yourself, make real connections, and don’t forget to have fun!

Advice for reviewees

I was pretty nervous about being a reviewer, but I can only imagine how stressful it must be to bring your portfolio to one of these events! So, here are some pointers to alleviate some of that stress and help you get the most out of the review process:

  1. Be professional. This if the first thing to keep in mind as soon as you walk in the door before anyone looks are your portfolio. Regardless of where you are in your career, this is a professional event so behave accordingly. Watch your alcohol intake, bring your business cards, dress the way you would to a casual business meeting, be nice.
  2. Know your goals. I know it’s a toughie, but you’ll be asked what your goals are: do you want to be hired by an agency, do you want your work to be shown in galleries or museums, are you looking for better clients, why are you at this event and what do you want your portfolio to accomplish?
  3. Practice presenting your portfolio. It may seem like a piece of cake to talk about the work you’ve toiled over, but just try doing it at least once. There is a great chapter on how to do this well in Adrian Shaughnessy’s “How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul.” But in short: pick your best pieces, pick a format that makes sense for your work (it doesn’t make sense to present a website through a printout of screenshots, I’m going to want to experience it live), give insight into the client and your process.
  4. Focus. You’ll be given limited time to present your work – pick your best work and waste no time presenting it. I was completely blown away by one of the portfolios I saw because of how it was presented. The passion behind the work was immediately obvious which made me want to keep in touch with the person who made the work. Making a personal connection along with a professional one is a gift that will keep on giving.
  5. Be kind and thoughtful to other reviewees. You aren’t here to judge people or review their work. Of course you will have your own opinions, and of course, some work won’t impress you much. But do remember that this isn’t about you, it’s about all of you.
  6. Be yourself and have fun! That’s right, you might be nervous but this is supposed to be fun too. Be genuine about your interests and opinions, meet new people, make new friends, don’t forget to have fun!

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of participating in the Behance Portfolio Reviews, I would love to do it again, and look forward to making more “public appearances” when the opportunity presents itself. I believe that the design community is, at it’s core, a teaching and nurturing community, and these kinds of events are a great proof of this belief.

Quote about competition
Image credit: Moth Design

Did you attend a Behance Portfolio Review event? How was your experience? Did I miss any good pointers for reviewers or reviewees? I’d love to hear from you.