May 13, 2013

Repositioning My Portfolio

The Portfolio As Explanation

There's no shortage of blog posts telling you how to make a killer portfolio. This isn't one of them. It's simply my personal experience showing my work online, and what I've learned while designing my portfolio. If there are any lessons here, they are intensely personal, and may not apply to you.

Still curious, dear reader? Then carry on.

I've always attached undue weight to my personal site. If I could just crop those images the right way, or just write that CSS a bit more cleverly, it would magically bring a wave of interest in my work. Since I don't have my own (internet) TV show, it obviously didn't work. What I've realized, slowly, is what my online portfolio is actually for. To prove (to myself) that I'm not a faker.

I joined the Art Directors Club about a year ago, on a whim. They seemed to have a few interesting events happening, and being new in New York, I figured it was an good way to meet people.

The ADC Executive Director Ignacio Oreamuno started having office hours, and invited members to come in and talk, have a cup of coffee, and get portfolio advice. I jumped at the chance, mostly because I needed some impartial outside advice about my work. He asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said an astronaut, but I was only half joking. So was he.

Pulling out my iPad and showing him a bit of my portfolio, we talked generally about the work, about technology, and digital art direction. The advice I got was straightforward. “You have a bit of everything in here. Anyone who says they can do it all is a liar.” he said. “You need to focus on one area, and get fucking awesome at it.” Being all over the place, trying to prove I'm capable, diluted my portfolio.

Ignacio suggested I look for radical digital ideas that organizations like MIT's Media Lab were working on, and design conceptual work around those. He said the in order to craft mind-blowing digital experiences, I needed to look years in the future, and not at today. Too much of what I produce seemed focused on chasing short-term successes.

The typography, color choices, interaction patterns in my work need to have real purpose, and my portfolio should showcase that. Not in that esoteric Art World way, but in the pragmatic, rule-based way that design calls for. Talking about my work more critically, more forcefully, is a skill I have yet to master. A small realization that came from an impartial observer, with no personal stake in me or my career.

Strangers can be your most honest critics.

November 25, 2012

Faces, Marks, and Brands

A few months ago, on a twitter rant, I commented on the mixing up of the words logo and brandAlexis Madrigal's reply, though, was a bit unexpected.

Animal husbandry is not my strong suit, but it did raise a very solid point. Our use of the words logo, brand, and mark seem hopelessly entwined.

Tribal Marks

Tribal marks in Nigeria were, for ages, a ready identifier or tribe and affiliation. They effectively served as your community brand, for lack of a better 21st century term. Not everyone was a fan. My father waited until he was in grade school to undergo the procedure (it started with small cuts around the mouth, in his case) but after they did just one, he realized how badly it hurt and chickened out. He still has a scar to the left of his mouth, but its hardly noticeable. Lots of others have written about their changing attitudes toward tribal marks, both physical and social.

Those marks signaled group membership to anyone who cared to look. But what is the difference between a brand as a mark of belonging, and a brand as a mark of ownership? Where is the line?

The Final Cut

In 2004, I saw a Robin Williams movie called the Final Cut. It was based on the idea that in the near future, all humans had bio-mechanical chips implanted in their heads at birth. The chips recorded everything you heard and saw. Robin Williams' character, called Hakman (yes it's a pun), met a group of dissidents who got heavy tattoos across their heads, in an attempt to prevent the chips from recording. That group of Neo-Luddites were happy to tattoo him up.

Although it is a commentary on our voyeuristic society, I found it interesting, that in this dystopian future, tribal marks became the only way of opting OUT, rather than joining.

Full Circle

So it comes full circle. From brand as a cattle mark, to the current social and personal tribal marks, and then (perhaps) to facial branding that prevents you from being watched.

Tribal marks are going way out of fashion in Nigeria. That permanence is being replaced by a more ephemeral mark of social status and wealth, marks that revolve around the logos on possessions, not on one's skin. Our new tribal marks are malleable, erasable, and over all, social. There's no guarantee, however, that they will remain that way. Neither will the language we use to discuss them.

©Senongo Akpem. All Rights Reserved.