Friday, 2 September 2011

Why create an online portfolio?

Written for professionals, amateurs and students in visual creativity.


My interest in online portfolios stems from considering the challenges of collating a physical AND digital portfolio from scratch, following ten years of creative design work. After leaving employment with Virgin Life Care, collating a decade's designs raised key questions;
  • what was the scope of work I should select? (should they be the most recent, a variety or examples, should I include works-in-progress, only work done by me, etc.)
  • how should I give attribution? (for example, a poster for which I did a creative brief, must also credit its photographer and designer.); 
  • how should I acknowledge copyright? (Attributing appropriate copyright can be complex when Virgin Life Care's designs sourced work from Virgin Active SA, Virgin Health Miles and/or Virgin Management.)
  • what other information should I add? (like the design's date, size, media, print run, et al.)
In hindsight, answering these would have been easier if I had created a digital portfolio that required me to list this information. However, neither my Secondary School nor Tertiary Visual Arts education exposed me to using an online portfolio. This was arguably due to there being no free, easy-to-use, online portfolio software before the rise of Web2.0-based media from 2003...


Online portfolio sites are also poorly promoted in South Africa; although I use the internet intensively, I only became aware of them through assisting a Secondary School's Visual Arts Department to prepare an alumnae exhibition. The logistics and costs around organizing a physical exhibition being prohibitive, we decided to source only online portfolios for computer lab display. In researching free and low-cost options to potentially showcase alumnae's work, I stumbled across Carbonmade. In looking through some profiles under its featured portfolios, I then noticed several creative professionals had hyperlinks to portfolios with other services. As someone keenly interested in online media and the Visual Arts, I was surprised not to have seen such services before.

Today, many visual creatives* maintain one (or more) online portfolio(s). This popularity is reflected in the (self-reported) number of members using the biggest services; deviantart.com boasts of 12 million members, carbonmade.com over 393,000, cgisociety over 180,000 and coroflot.com cites 150,000. 


This popularity may be explained largely through creating and maintaining an online portfolio helping each member to ...:
  • collate one's work and reflect on one's creative trajectory;
  • learn from the work of creatives involved in similar work;
  • develop a more distinctive creative profile and better differentiated work;
  • do more (self-motivated) work;
  • personally distribute and promote one's work;
  • develop an online audience and interact with it;
  • improve your work by sourcing, listening to and acting on constructive criticism.
Lastly, developing an ongoing archive of one's work avoids the multiple challenges of creating one from scratch, in an already stressful time of change!


These benefits also apply to students (from architects to product designers, graphic designers to fine artists), who can use online portfolios as electronic learning portfolios (or e-portfolios). These can showcase their achievements to a broader audience, whilst overcoming some of the traditional portfolio's analogue media's shortcomings:
  • Through providing a creative profile and adding descriptors to one's artworks, one can learn to better contextualise one's own art;
  • As an online portfolio is essentially constructed from a database of one's works, it is easy to assemble (unlike a year-end exhibit, for example);
  • The digitized portfolio serves as a back-up of your work (which may be lost to fire, damaged by water, stolen, etc.) for markers to refer to;
  • One's e-portfolio can be widely distributed to anyone with (unblocked) internet access and need not rely on the viewing audience being in the same space as the originals; 
  • By viewing one's online portfolio statistics, one can study its popularity and use audience feedback to potentially increase its viewership;
  • There is often limited scope for Visual Arts students to include works done with reproduction (i.e. photography) and simulation (i.e. animations) tools in their exam exhibitions. The online portfolio provides a platform for students to experiment outside the syllabus' implicit hand-drawing/handmade medium biases and Fine Art-related subjects and themes.
Lastly, submitting digital portfolios is increasingly required as part of the undergraduate and postgraduate study application process. So even if one dislikes the effects of the "medium-shift" from a large, three-dimensional gallery space to a small, 2-D computer screen, one might still need to produce a digital portfolio to access future educational opportunities!


Do you think that these reasons are strong enough to motivate you with creating an online portfolio presence? If so, please add your comment, thanks :).

* I define "visual creatives" as professionals or hobbyists who communicate primarily using the image mode. As a broad category, this encompasses individuals with diverse skill-sets in visual creation: whether its creative direction for an animation, concept illustrations for film sets, renderings for architecture, drawings for an exhibition and more….  The term is preferable to "image creatives", which sounds a bit too PR and fashion-ista for my liking!

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