For a number of reasons, we look at a lot of online design portfolios. The ‘work’ sections of designers and agencies websites are daily fixtures in our browsers and conversations. We sometimes look for a bit of inspiration, we sometimes look to check out what our peers in the industry are up to, but the majority of the time we simply look because we’re really big fans of good graphic design. And there’s plenty to look at.
Most decent portfolios feature multiple images in an effort to show a broad overview of the work. More often that not, a website project will show more than one screenshot, an editorial project will show more than one spread, branding projects will show various applications of the brand in-situ. Showing these is a big part of getting across the thought process behind the work and, if nothing else, makes the portfolio that much more interesting to look at.
One thing we often notice though is that the visuals are Photoshopped to show applications and executions of things that were never actually produced. Shots of business cards that were never printed are shown next to photographs of billboards and bus adverts that never made it past the concept stage. Posters that have only ever existed as digital files are comped onto existing photographs. Basically, you don’t have to look for long before you come across things that have been designed but not actually made.
Does this matter? Is it simply a better way to visualise the work and show the thinking behind it? Or is there something slightly misleading about filling your portfolio with stuff that has never seen the light of day? We’ve spoken before about how getting the client to buy into certain ideas and executions is a huge part of the design process and appreciate that sometimes budgets don’t allow for the physical objects to be produced, that’s part of the process and unavoidable.
Sometimes these visuals are labelled as concepts and it’s made clear that they’re purely there to convey an idea. Sometimes the work is Photoshopped in such a way that it’s obvious the designer isn’t trying to fool anyone, which is completely fair enough. But more often than not, there is the feeling that the designer is hoping you’ll assume that the piece has been produced and is out there in the big wide world.
A good friend of ours who worked at a very large, very successful agency once mentioned that around 80% of the work on their site were Photoshop mock ups. In the past, we have mocked up design work to illustrate how a certain project or piece of work could have rolled out, and this post is certainly not a criticism against the practice itself (the majority of designers reading this post will have done the same at some point) but 80%?? Too much surely? How much does this say about the designers ability to actually get work produced?
Perhaps none of this matters? Maybe if the work is good, it’s irrelevant if it became a reality or not? Maybe it doesn’t matter if the client never bought into it or never even saw it?
Does your portfolio contain Photoshopped images of things that don’t exist? Does it bother you if you see other designers work displayed this way? It’s a subject that rarely get’s spoken about and possibly a bit of an elephant in the room for many designers.
As ever, we’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading
Phil & Tom