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Student Economics

As a student, I was very lucky. I was charmed by circumstance and financial support: I could not work while in school, as there was no visa that would allow me to do both, and my parents were okay with that. Many, if not most, of my classmates were not as lucky, piling daily expenses on yearly loans. As a teacher, I am lucky again: I am surrounded by students that range in every aspect possible, giving me and the class a deliciously rich experience.

From my student days – more than eight years ago – to today I have constantly been bothered by a certain “unfairness” in the education system. As some of you know I attended the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, GA, whose reputation for hard work and unheard-of schedules has reached the far ends of the design community. With a smaller student body than other schools in the country, PC students seem to be spending the same yearly budget (per school) than its larger competitors.

Every quarter you are expected to present your work in a professional manner. You dress up and rehearse your presentation but, most important of all, you build your comps:
• Posters: Professionally printed at full scale and mounted.
• Logos: Rubdowns for perfect crispness and PMS color matching.
• Bottles of any kind (wine, perfume, incense, etc.): Rubdowns, again, plus the actual containers – as many as needed
• Books/Annuals: Full-sized Epson prints, meticulously mounted to be as “real” as possible.
• Packages: Seamless and beautifully printed. If you are packaging something large, you usually need a vendor to print it out for you.
• And the list goes painstakingly on and on.

No matter what you are presenting, the craftsmanship is expected to be perfect, and you lose points for its absence. How to deal with this if you are not handy? By paying for it, if you can. And if you can’t, you suffer the consequences, as your abilities fall short and your grades plummet as much as your sore and exhausted soul. This process – seven quarters of practicing and learning, gathering vendors and befriending photographers – leads to the big finale: focusing all your time and energy on your portfolio.

Having unlimited resources usually leads to better presentation (whether self made or hired), and better presentation leads to great first impressions. Recall when you sit before a student portfolio—be it from the Epson printer, silk-screened on unusual materials, or printed in a foreign country. You will usually notice the case, the materials used (the paper and the fabric, the wood or metal), the print quality, the way it all works together and how “beautiful” it all looks. Secondly you will admire the actual design work.

Having limited resources can lead to more limited (and sometimes more creative) solutions. The store-bought portfolio set before you, similar to the one your company keeps in the storage room, buried by boxes—yet, there is something unexpected about it that you can’t quite figure out. Every time I attend one of those mass Portfolio Reviews I am constantly surprised by what I see: Sometimes horrible and creative, sometimes beautiful and bland and others just right. While at PC, this was not an issue (nor a matter of choice) as students saved and scrambled in order to purchase The Box: a custom-built, wooden box with trays that fit every one of your hand-held pieces as well as your book, all nicely covered with the fabric of your choice – costing anywhere from a couple hundred dollars, to more than a grand. Size does not matter, although weight seems to impress more within the school than during interviews. The majority of us grads end up with the same style portfolio, yet each one is unique in how it comes together with our work and the overall display design.

Today, I experience both extremes with my students. I see one take a deep breath as another stands before the class, a perfect book in his hands– printed it in South Korea during the holidays, at a cousin’s-friend’s-uncle’s-neighbor’s shop. The other slowly gathering the black and white prints from the school-provided (usually sub par) equipment to be taped to the wall. Two scenarios: If the design level is the “same”, is the piece with the more generous production better? If the design level is NOT the “same”, can quality in design execution and thinking be correlated with deeper pockets? Or vice versa?

I believe each student has the responsibility to stretch their resources to the maximum, in order to make them better designers. The ability to have a 48-page oversized book silk-screened on rice paper, using five colors should be pushing design as much as the laser-printed, letter-sized pages glued together book. There is no excuse not to do this, but there is a sense of limitation. You see it in their eyes, and sometimes you even see it in their designs. And more often than not they stumble with it. I see students showering a project with techniques and tricks to a point in which the project drowns, and I see students using the same elements over and over, avoiding risks and staying in the safe area of what they know they can afford to produce.

It is my job to help them move on from these situations, guiding them to find the best unique solutions based on their (un)limitations. I know that much. But I still don’t know how to address the longing look on a student’s eye as they observe the larger budget being cashed class after class—and I keep wondering about its fairness.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ARCHIVE ID 3092 FILED UNDER Design Academics
PUBLISHED ON Mar.07.2007 BY bryony
Lauren’s comment is:

I remember this very well from my days in school. We joked often about how the "A"s always cost the most money. Attending a University, we would often scoff at our friends on the science and math tracks, complaining about the price of their books each semester, because we knew that when we got to our first day of classes, we would be confronted by a gigantic supply list that at the end of the semester was not returnable for resale. Don't even get me started on the difference between carrying a book across campus, versus a 4'x8' piece of cardboard on a windy day, or about having to explain to the guy on the bus why you would really love it if he didn't crush the fresh corners of your millionth piece of mat board with his backpack. I spent a lot of money on those projects and I've still got boxes of triangles, quill pens and compasses that I would have loved to slap a "used" sticker on and drop off at the student union for a few bucks.

Economic restrictions are a fact of life, of course. The solution is exactly what you said Bryony, "find the best unique solutions based on their (un)limitations." In fact, I think students will be better served by having limitations. I'd love to see what they might come up with when given a project with a specific budget. Most days, most designers are working with all kinds of ridiculous restrictions, time, budget, materials, etc. I know I can always come up with a grandiose idea and I am a pro at biting off more than I can chew, but the best lesson I ever learned in school was how to work within limitations. In fact, the best compliment I ever received was passed down to me by a professor who had been talking to my boss at my internship, they said that I "set realistic goals for myself and my work." Similarly, one of my most successful projects in school was to a display for our design gallery, it was not graded and we had 48 hours to complete it. I made mine with four pieces of mat board and an exacto knife in about three hours. The professor said, "Other people tried to make a display about design, you simply designed something." It seems kind of obvious, but I was so proud of what I did with so little, even if it wasn’t graded.

On Mar.07.2007 at 01:19 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Interesting quandary, Bryony.

Being able to afford the best print production is something I envy. As Lauren posted above, however, I’m not sure that it’s necessarily benefitting a student to get used to that scenario.

As you have correctly pointed out, you don’t want a student to get hung up on limitations. But the reality that I’ve faced in my career is that clients never have the kind of budget that allows you to do every cool thing you’d like...even if they’re in love with the idea. Oftentimes, you must design with the knowledge that there will be no spot varnishes, no spot colors, no special paper orders, and no die-cuts. Or worse, you find out after your design is ready to go to press that the client has to suddenly slash the production budget. At that point, you really find out how good your concept was to begin with. At that point, you really find out how creative you can be.

Exposing your students to those realities, while helping them circumnavigate the limitations, can be a gift to your students that they will make use of throughout their careers.

On Mar.07.2007 at 02:01 PM
Caren Litherland’s comment is:

Well stated, and an important topic. I wonder if most instructors think about this issue; your students should feel lucky that you do, Bryony.

I agree with Lauren that "students [and designers out in the so-called real world, too, for that matter] will be better served by having limitations." Figuring out ways to get the best production value for the least amount of money is a great creative exercise. Too much ease, too much "cush," can lead to laziness in other areas (pat solutions, derivative work). So that longing look you see in certain students' eyes: teach them to embrace it and use it as something that can make them more resourceful.

On Mar.07.2007 at 02:58 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

From my professional experience...simple-minded folks who are easily impressed tend to get caught up in the housing and production of a portfolio, but those who are more discerning and conscientious look past the construction and dig right into the details of the actual work.

I feel sorry for people who judge a book by it's cover.

If you are judged poorly by an interviewer or Creative Director, then you probably don't want to work for them.

I suggest you find out how pretentious the studio or agency is and see if you fit in.

On Mar.07.2007 at 03:08 PM
David E.’s comment is:

While students are in school, it may not be fair if they're getting better grades because they have more money to spend producing comps, etc. – but everything evens out once they graduate. Employers can't afford to make bad judgements about potential job candidates based on expensive portfolio presentations.

Recall when you sit before a student portfolio—be it from the Epson printer, silk-screened on unusual materials, or printed in a foreign country. You will usually notice the case, the materials used (the paper and the fabric, the wood or metal), the print quality, the way it all works together and how “beautiful” it all looks. Secondly you will admire the actual design work.

I don't agree. In fact, the very first thing I wonder about and try to assess when viewing anyone's portfolio is: How much of this is flash? How much represents their actual ability?

The nicest portfolio presentation I've ever seen was from a recent graduate who'd created a bound book that was stunning. BEAUTIFUL layout with descritptions of the projects, awesome photography of his packaging comps, etc. He had done it for a portfolio class he was required to take. As it turned out, he had extremely poor skills as a designer. There was no way he could have produced this portfolio without much help and guidance from his teacher.

There is no doubt in my mind that someone with better skills and a more modest portfolio will do much better when it comes to getting work.

On Mar.07.2007 at 03:17 PM
Mary’s comment is:

I think a lot of this truly depends on the vision they had for the project. Can they achieve their goal with the limitations they have? Sometimes there are ways around, but sometimes not. Just as in real job situations, there are limitations on budgets, time, and resources. So, this is a good lesson for students and a good designer can overcome, however, I can see where it would be hard on a young designer with limited money to work around that. We are, afterall, only human and those things tend to peck away at your spirit a bit.

One of my goals one day is to put together a "Senior Project Scholarship" for a design student at my alma mater who is talented and in need. I'm not talking about $1,000, but just a simple $200 supplement to help them with the cost of producing their final project.

On Mar.07.2007 at 05:39 PM
ghaz’s comment is:

How bout nice online portfolios and taking good pictures of your work? Isn't that getting people the jobs these days?

On Mar.07.2007 at 05:58 PM
Scott’s comment is:

1) the quality of design work in the portfolio speaks the loudest

2) the choice of case/book/portfolio (whatever you like to call it) is a part of ‘the work’

3) students who buy a large format printer in their junior year will save a lot of money and stress by being able to sit at home in their designer briefs while they print out their final projects. let’s face it, it’s both expensive and difficult to go to an output provider for every project, so an investment in a good printer is very wise.

4) after a year of learning what kinds of papers print the best, and how to troubleshoot double-sided printing, registration, cropping, etc., they will be ready to print their portfolio in the privacy of their own dark hole, and do it well.

5) craftsmanship doesn’t cost money (although admittedly, the LACK of craftsmanship can cost clearly), which means building a book does not have to be expensive, and if they are wise perhaps they will take an elective in book binding techniques before they take portfolio—THAT kind of class can make a difference in any designer’s life.

6) websites like paperhaus.com provide some pretty handsome hardcases in which you can print and pin-post your own outputs

7) photography—if you’re in art school for four years, and you never made it a point to either take a photography class yourself or befriend a photographer, then…what can be said about your creative ambition?

= any designer with creative vision, personal drive and some guidance from their profs. can put together a kick-ass portfolio.

On Mar.07.2007 at 10:41 PM
DC1974’s comment is:

Having studied graphic design (briefly) and architecture (longer) before settling on film. I think that I can say that what bothered me the most about graphic design was this tendency to ooh and ahh over presentation. And to measure that presentation by a limited set of points, most of which came down to how much money did you spend? How well did you figure out the production stuff outside of the classroom?

Architecture in contrast spent a lot more time talking about building out a set of ideas -- how to research, how to translate research into design, how to study past forms for relationships. Moving from the macro world of "what is beauty" to producing a finished document. Of course you had 5-6 years to do this, but I felt that graphic design was too caught up in flash -- and not serious enough about making students think. For pushing ideas. And for trying to move the education into the realm of the possible. And the thought provoking.

Graphic designers do better financially (and often because of the overhead in school -- seem to be the ones that come from the more well to do families) than architects as a whole. But it seems that architects have a firmer grasp that school is about education, ideas, the conversation. That craft, while important, does not substitute for a intellectual growth. And architects, because of the inner intellectualism, have a career and world that has a more complex life: with the types of criticism and diversity that the graphic design profession can only dream about.

On Mar.07.2007 at 11:09 PM
Derrick Schultz ’s comment is:

DC's comment brings up the third element of the final presentation that seems to be missing from Bryony's article (though I realize her comments are geared towrd the finances and not the presentation):


Perfect craft gets you nowhere once the questions from faculty and guest critics start. If you can't back it up, a great comp probably isn't "worth" anything. If the designer who has crappy b&w photocopies has an amazing vision and can explain it to people and get them to see it too, he/she has a gift that money can't buy. In today's era of the pdf/phone presentation, I'm willing to bet salesmanship is a more valuable asset in the end. And sometimes the best way to learn how to do it is to be put in a situation where you can't rely on great looking products to back you up.

On Mar.07.2007 at 11:34 PM
pesky’s comment is:

Having just finished teaching my first design school course I have a number of observations relevant to this discussion, strictly as a first timer:

1.) Some students come from wealthy families so money is not a problem. THE problem is you can't buy inspiration. I used super cheap paper from a moving supply company for our first classes so that they could draw LARGE, then throw them all away. I brought them Sharpie markers too. They were shocked that I wanted instantaneous results.

2.) Design school should be like preparation for backstroke swimming in shark infested waters not swimming pools. Artificiality of assignments goes nowhere but around in circles. Real life assignments have twists, turns and bites.

3.) If they're not prepared to work within limitations, they have an unrealistic idea of their future. Students seem to either gravitate to the least effort or the most elaborate, but not always the most sensible. Its not their fault: they're conditioned to be obsequious or indifferent.

Bryony, in retrospect you were right: I should have been ferocious instead of zen. My fate for continuing depends on results not enlightenment. I'm unsure if I'll be rehired.

On Mar.08.2007 at 08:14 AM
Christina W’s comment is:

Don't be so hard on yourself Pesky - in my design classes I expected to be pushed for Results, but my drawing classes were for purely selfish personal enlightenment. We got taught drawing by an old hippie guy who had been in New York in the 60's and it was GREAT.

Also, having been through three years of college, worked at a studio, and returning to finish a university degree, I had a totally different perspecive on school the second time around. I'd been a grade A keener before, but in University I put my heart and soul into what I really wanted to explore, and sluffed on the rest - I just wanted to put enough cash/time in to respectable pass with some B's. Which in retrospect must have drove some teachers nuts.

I think the portfolio's main job is to show off the work; to be beautifully invisible. Otherwise it's like those websites that are all flash and no content... after staring at all the blinky things for a few minutes, you realize there's nothing there and you leave.

On Mar.08.2007 at 11:37 AM
Matt A.’s comment is:

Has any instructor even given an assignment then changed the specs halfway through? I wish I had had one like that in school. Suddenly the more well-off students who can afford color prints can no longer hide behind expensive output and must focus on solving the design problem. One assignment could start out as a 4C saddle-stitched booklet & suddenly be a 2 color pamphlet a week before it's due. The opposite could be done with another assignment (though in reality we all know most of the time the budget goes down, not up).

On Mar.08.2007 at 11:54 AM
Christina W’s comment is:

Sorry to ramble on...

But I still don’t know how to address the longing look on a student’s eye as they observe the larger budget being cashed class after class—and I keep wondering about its fairness.

It's gotta be like having kids, and not being able buy the name-brand sweater because you can't afford it. It's not fair but it "builds character," right? The only alternative I can see is to have a socialist classroom. It would be interesting to see what would come up if the students had a discussion about it - that's where learning becomes interesting, when you take something out of theory and see how it plays out in real life.

On Mar.08.2007 at 12:02 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

I think the portfolio's main job is to show off the work; to be beautifully invisible.

I agree with that. No level of finish of work (or in a book holding work) can disguise weak design to someone who knows what they're looking at. I'd rather see strong design on a cocktail napkin that bad design in a stainless steel handmade book with custom laser etched initials in the cover. However, if I were deciding to hire between 2 equally competent applicants, and one had a cleaner and more polished finish to how their work was presented, I would choose them. Traditional 'board' skills (the ability to make comps, mock up prototypes, etc...) are still valuable in today's digital design environment. That level of craftsmanship in presentation shows a certain level of pride taken in their work. I like that. However, you don't need to break the bank to attain this. Being smart (and economical) is yet another virtue...

On Mar.08.2007 at 01:05 PM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

The inequality starts way before portfolio time. Think about the number of talented kids who will never even make it to college because of their socio-economic status: they may not be able to afford post-secondary education, or may not even be able to get in because of a cycle of events set in place long before them. Perhaps they've never taken so much as a public school art class because their schools didn't have them.

Bryony, I'm not trying to say the questions you raise aren't valid. I've taught and have seen how access to resources (especially financial ones) affect workproduct. But I think this is a much bigger issue, one which digs deep into the way the world works.

I don't think I'm stepping out on a limb to say that access to (in particular, financial) resources means more opportunities to hone your skills. .(C)an quality in design execution and thinking be correlated with deeper pockets?

In that respect, yes.

On Mar.08.2007 at 01:44 PM
Pesky’s comment is:


Is it the content or the presentation? Sure, deisgn is about packaging to some degree, but it's best to look past that at substance.

Years ago, as a magazine art director, I had two remarkable visitors, among hundreds. I remember them to this day.

One was an old gentleman who had taken movie star shots in the 1950's out in Hollywood. His prints were old and cracked, but they had the touch of genius that stunned me. His black and white portraits were silvery in a way that is completely lost on modern photographers with their expensive equipment. His lighting was pure classicism. He carried it in a battered luggage case with leather straps. Never saw him again.

The other was a young black kid from the projects. He brought them in a brown grocery bag. Though raw and unpolished, his photos had immediate presence. He photographed stevedores on the docks and both the joy and the poverty of our New Orleans with no sentimentalism or tricks. I hired him on the spot and also his wife, who was also a fine young photographer, several times. She photographed in the South Louisiana cane fields. I bought prints from both of them. And have hung them on my wall, when I had a place there.
After Hurricane Katrina, I looked them up just to find out if they were OK. The flood had damaged their archives, their house was standing in water but they were starting over.

Listen, all those slick boxes don't mean a damn if there's nothing inside worth seeing.

On Mar.08.2007 at 02:11 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

Questions inspired by, but not based upon, this post, given I'm on the inside looking out, finishing my third quarter at Portfolio Center):

1) In practice, does the theory of "the work speaks for itself" apply to mid or even senior level designers? Or, by this point, are you working on reputation / contacts / resume / published work / previous client experience, that there is no portfolio review? Or is the portfolio review at a different level entirely?

2) In practice, how do you present to existing clients? Are your presentations of work hot, flashy, expensively put together? Or are they modest, simple, clean?

3) Same question as #2, but in terms of potential clients.

As a matter of public record, Pesky was a truly inspiring teacher. I've been using my sketchbook since his class, it has really brought together several loose threads in my work.

On Mar.08.2007 at 04:46 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Well damn, Scarborough, you don't answer my repeated email asking for final deliverables but you show up here.

What do I have to do? Drag you out of bed and twist your arm? Yesterday was the deadline and I had nothing presentable from you. Compliments are swell, but they don't cut the mustard for Portfolio Center. I don't mean to have you "lose face" in public, but what @#$%ing happened?

I failed as a teacher. I was too nice. Half my students disappeared and never showed up after maybe two classes. That must be a record breaker. You, at least, showed interest and I'm grateful.

I KNEW I should have brought naked models and vodka to drawing class...

On Mar.09.2007 at 07:36 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

Many of you have touched upon learning how to work on a budget as a student. This is something that we (Armin and I) see tremendous value in, and while we don’t give specific dollar amounts for our projects we want to make sure the students maintain a realistic approach. They should still explore and test the limits and go overboard, in order to take a step back and see what is possible and what is not, while figuring out the best way to accomplish what they want.

Having said that, it is in those solutions that I see the most struggle, as they figure out how they can comp something only to figure out that they can’t afford it. A bit of an extreme example for this is the Portfolio Center chair. A little background: Most likely towards the end of your two year “residence” you will take the Design History course with Portfolio Center, where you will be assigned a design period that you will research and work with in order to design a compelling chair. Then you proceed to have it built my local vendors at 100% scale with your desired materials and of course, making it functional (it makes you rethink any moving parts). The average cost goes from $1000 to $5000. You are expected to go through with this no matter what, and I recall showing up to my critique with a half size chair made of steel, and getting a lot of questions as to why I chose to ignore the requirements. I could not afford it. Period. And it looks dandy in a photograph, nicely tucked in my portfolio.

Andrew, I agree that inequality starts long before the scenario I am talking about, and a much bigger issue that I chose not to dwell on for this particular piece. It is a mayor problem in the world at large, and should not be ignored.

On Mar.09.2007 at 08:16 AM
pesky’s comment is:

I was wrong, Kevin, you DID deliver final requested work, I just checked, SO sorry..

On Mar.09.2007 at 09:06 AM
HANK’s comment is:

I hate to say it but I know I look longingly, and sometimes jealously disgusted at those expensively designed comps. It's a difficult place to be in and it is easy to feel that that since you don't have the perfect paper from Sam Flax or wherever and maybe my first Jacob's ladder comp was built from a sawed up (found) 1X4 and an old torn up dress shirt.
My wife and I have lived in a heatless apartment all winter and and I look at all these special pens and rulers and the like wondering to myself how am I going to get food on the table because in the first weekend of the month we were once again in the red.
So what is the answer? We live in a consumer society where capitalism reigns and money can justify a lot of things and get people a lot of places, though I like to think that beyond wishful, hopeful or comfort based thinking that I am going to have an edge. I have learned early on in life that what other kids were given to play with, wear and eventually drive I was going to have to fight for. Thus far the "fight" has given me and edge in selling myself, understanding, communication, and money management. Though I am not a pro at any of these I sure have been cultivating better practices for those things.
I hate to sound so cliché but there really are those that wait for things to happen or let things happen to them. though I think that those who have to find their way to an end by themselves gain greater experience. And there some that would agree that experience really is the best teacher, and I'm trying to learn.

On Mar.09.2007 at 10:29 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Crafting a good portfolio object serves two purposes: a) helps create a sense and appreciation of craftsmanship and b) forces creative problem solving in the student.

I don't think it necessarily does a lot for one's portfolio, though.

You can fix a lot of cheap production in Photoshop prepping the image for your portfolio.

A big part of school was cutting and trimming the 16" x 20" black matte boards and mounting perfectly squared and bright white paper with professionally shot photographed work printed on a high end color printer and then placing it in a $200 portfolio case and dragging that around from interview to interview.

I only see that as impractical design.

These days we have web sites, which work great for portfolios, and anything on paper I do on paper. 8.5 x 11 at Kinkos. Cheap. Portable. Configurable. Easy to leave behind. Communicates the same thing as the overprices oversized overproduced boxes of yesteryear.

"And architects, because of the inner intellectualism, have a career and world that has a more complex life: with the types of criticism and diversity that the graphic design profession can only dream about."


On Mar.12.2007 at 10:26 AM
Talin Wadsworth’s comment is:

I've always admired people who can work creatively within the limitations of time and money (and I've aspired to be one as well).

I'm a student at CCA in San Francisco right now, and while I'm not at the bottom of the resources pool, I'm definitely not at the top. I've been in those critiques where someone had spent quite a bit more money than me on their projects, and while I was disappointed I couldn't splurge for that foil stamp for my one or two comps, I still felt confident in my design.

So I feel that a lot of the responsibility falls to the student to creatively solve every aspect of a desing problem. But what is the school or institution doing to help with these solutions? A common problem is the students access to sub-standard printing equipment on campus. Here at CCA as an under-grad, I have 3 options for printing on campus : black and white lasers that are shared by all departments, one color laser that is shared by all departments, and a sometimes over-priced and under performing plotter that is shared by all departments. The graphic design department has no dedicated, high quality printer that they are allowed to use with different weights or types of paper.

In response to this I went out and purchased my own personal printer, but I have the resources to do that. It feels like they have set us up in a situation to present "sub-standard" work right from the start. And I have seen designs that have suffered because of the printing capabilities of my school.

The responsibility to succeed should mostly be placed on the student, but I feel like the school/institution should share some too. After all, we're paying them tens of thousands of dollars to be here and to be taught by their instructors.


On Mar.12.2007 at 03:09 PM
Brad’s comment is:

This is an excellent post about a topic that's long bothered me--and I'm sure many others--for a long, long time.

I as well went to Portfolio Center and incurred staggering debt while there, as did many of my peers. Most of us were in the same situation. It's a myth, however, to assume that everyone can just take on these huge loans, because the reality is, they can't. Much of this industry favors the wealthy or otherwise privileged. Having money is to your advantage while in school, both for tuition and for production, and having money is to your advantage upon finishing because MOST people simply can't afford the $35,000 annual salary in New York City.

Dealing with the debt at PC was tough. I know what some people went through, and I clearly remember my stress. And I won't apologize for saying that the school itself was hardly symapathetic to this--too many talented people never got a fair shake because of their limited means. Some instructors, particularly Ted Fabella and Martha Gill, were extremely helpful though, and would never expect anyone to put more money than they could afford into their work. Can't say the same for certain others, however. Ted and Martha are simply some of the best educators I know of, and both display genuine concern for everyone who's serious.

I came out of there with a gorgeous portfolio, and to me that's worth the debt I took on. I don't mind making my monthly student loan payments. Sometimes I laugh about how I used to live while in school. But I still know that I'm fortunate--I could ultimately afford those loans. Not everyone truly can. And now that I'm in a position where I occasionally review work, all I look for is a certain amount of effort, evidence that someone's trying their best to present their work well. It's not too hard to spot, actually.

On Mar.12.2007 at 03:50 PM
Hollis’s comment is:


I spoke to Ted recently, and he said to tell all PC folks hello. Email me for his contact info if you don't have it he'd love to hear from former students. I never had Martha but Ted stands out from my education at PC. What a great guy.

On Mar.12.2007 at 04:21 PM
Josh’s comment is:

Bryony, this is a great topic. It may be played out to some and not intellectual enough to others, but important all the same.

When i was producing my senior project, i got lucky with the production in terms of cost. I had a friend who cut my price in half and i got two, color laser books for $70. Cheap!

To the larger idea, I am myself irked by the fact that most public and private universities lack the small amount of tools that would be adequate for producing good quality work.

Your wallet size does not equal your potential. Tragic if it plays out that way at some schools.

Though throughout reading these comments, why is it that we are scrutinizing the facts we know to be true or untrue, while the problem persists? The fact that hundreds of people have happened upon this topic is great, but what good will come of this discussion I ask?

Being the generous and kind hearted folks we are, why don't we put our heads together and try to help students overcome these issues at our old schools or local area and not talk about it till were blue.

Anybody feel me on this?

On Mar.12.2007 at 05:26 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Being the generous and kind hearted folks we are, why don't we put our heads together and try to help students overcome these issues at our old schools or local area and not talk about it till were blue.

I think that talking about it helps us find more solutions that can be used for each particular student/school/situation.

There is no one solution but a combination of many that will be the best resource for both teachers and students who stumble upon this conversation.

On Mar.12.2007 at 06:26 PM
Josh’s comment is:

Indeed there is no "one size fits all" solution and the purpose of Speak Up is discourse, not physical action taking. This i understand.

I just think the recognition of this while relevant, is a daily hurdle that students and educators are familiar with discussing exhaustingly

During my undergraduate we had some printing resources to use on campus. Long story short, it was the lack of funds that usually cleared out the ability to print at school three quarters of the way through the semester. Subsequently, we had to drive 15 miles to get to the nearest color copier if we had no other options.

I guess i had philanthropy on the mind. If one is willing to give a dollar to someone on the street, support open source software or borrow money to someone for a particular purpose, why couldn't a group of SVA, MICA or Blank University grads start building a fund to support those who position they sympathize with and want to put it toward something they know would help.

I don't want to become the "throw money at it" guy, but your closing sentence of the initial post about fairness says it all. It's not and the fundamental thread you've interwoven throughout your post is that its a financial issue, ie money.

But when the restrictions/limitations are good arguments come flying back, I know.

We are designers. Sometimes our solutions are a testament to the wealth of our client and on other occasions its to the value and limited resources of the other. Having access to such things does not make better creatives, it eases the production pressures that most of us enjoy(if we do it right the first time).

If you can't back it up, a great comp probably isn't "worth" anything. If the designer who has crappy b&w photocopies has an amazing vision and can explain it to people and get them to see it too, he/she has a gift that money can't buy.

Exactly! So why is it that we can't give these kids an edge. I'm in for $20 to my alma mater.

On Mar.12.2007 at 07:27 PM
mister worms’s comment is:

Looking back on design school there are a couple of learning areas related to this Student Economics discussion I am disappointed about.

One was a total lack of consideration for budget when we were assigned Real World projects. In the real Real World, that's usually priority number one and everything else follows. I graduated from a top school without any clue about how much printing costs, for example.

Secondly, there was no concern for environmental/waste considerations. I remember just one time in a package design class when a teacher questioned whether a particular design constituted over-packaging. What is a school teaching people when they are asking students to produce a full size one-off chair for show that costs a minumum of one grand and most likely puts that student further into debt?

In general I think there's just too much focus on "flash" in design school even though they preach otherwise. Why not just level the playing field and set some limitations from the start so that people aren't buying good grades. I'm actually shocked that paying for craftsmanship is acceptable at PC.

On Mar.13.2007 at 03:28 PM
brooklynmatt’s comment is:

I think it is unfair to penalize students for subpar materials or printing quality, IF that quality is the best that the school-provided equipment can output. You cant offer sh*tty equipment on the one hand, and on the other then say "where'd you print THAT pile of crap? On OUR printers? BAD student!". If the school can't afford decent equipment, how can it expect the students to? Simply having rich parents, or a relative you can call for a favor, should not be a factor in grading. Don't get me wrong, I understand that as a teacher its tricky to be objective and separate quality due to skill from quality due to having the money to buy it, and I can sympathize.

Its also perhaps naive to have such high-minded and egalitarian ideals. Obviously, like all creative fields, GD is in many ways a playground for the wealthy and connected, for those who can afford the right materials and the right unpaid internships and the right pro-bono projects. but that shouldnt carry through to the educational experience.

When I was in film school, a classmate, for his senior film, gained access to 35mm cameras, full professional lighting and sound setups, and, to top it all off, a friggin CRANE so he could get rolling shots which zoomed from a 16 inches from the characters face to 30 feet above them. How? Because his dad was a producer in Hollywood and called in some favors for his son. Needless to say, the film looked fantastic, especially when compared with the rest of us, who'd shot it on the school-provided 16mm cameras, with whatever lights we could get our hands on before the AV Dept ran out, and skateboards or rolling office chairs improvised as dollies. While we were maxing out our credit cards just to buy 30 minutes of 16mm film, he had a basically unlimited budget. And I wont deny, his film, objectively speaking, was quite beautiful to look at. But can an educational institution fairly judge his as being far superior, when it does not make available comparable equipment to all students, knowing full well that 99% of students can only dream of such equipment? Obviously a crane shot will look amazing, whereas a camera hooked up to ropes and slowly pulled up the side of a building will look a wee bit rougher around the edges, but the latter was all most of us could have managed.

On Mar.14.2007 at 10:06 AM
’s comment is:


On Mar.14.2007 at 11:59 PM
Michelle French’s comment is:

Are your students being served by ostentatious displays? What are they learning about design? About work? Are students no longer taught: it has to work in black and white FIRST?

Fairness doesn't exist in the "real world" but those of you who educate have the power to infuse a little bit of fairness into the situation.

In school and in life, the "rich kids" will have it easier. (Yes, here's another "back in the old days…" story.) When I was in school we had to do everything as marker comps. (Yes Armin, ya had to draw.) To have actual type on your project incurred obscene expenses involving sheets of Letraset type, sending out for typesetting; and making negatives/positives and custom transfers. The limited technologies that were available represented huge wads of cash, not to mention hours and hours of time and if there was one crack in your process, it all had to be repeated.

The computer should have become a democratizing force in education. I am disappointed at the descriptions of the projects here. What were the parameters of a project that would be silk-screened on rice paper in 5 colors? What application could that have for a client? It sounds like something for a fine art gallery.

In the real world I am amazed now at how cheaply cool things can be produced. You can have a book printed for less than the cost of color copies.

After many years of reviewing portfolios from schools throughout the country, but especially those in the Southeast, I would rather see a portfolio that isn't fancy, but displays thought process, rather than an ostentatious box. (One kid took more time re-assembling his box after he had bored me with his overproduced, contextless pieces of glitz, than he had spent presenting his work.)


Show me that you can design something that can be produced for a client. Show me that you have heard of a time sheet and know how to use it (The one I use today has evolved from the one I was handed the first day of my senior design studios). Show me that you understand CLEAR communication. Show me you can do something interesting and intelligent in ONE color.

I have, more than once, hired designers based on the most mundane thing in the portfolio, because it was for a real-world application and proved to me that they knew how to do the basics.

Good design should supercede the inequality of output, but far too often, the presentation can obscure the lack of real imagination.

Bryony, you have the power to define a baseline of fairness. Basically, everyone has access to a computer and Kinko's. (If they are resourceful and make friends with someone at UPS store or Staples, they can wangle even cheaper output.)

You, and other teachers, have the power to define standards for projects that are fair.

Unless you have had that soul crushing Sword of Student Debt hanging over your head, you have no idea what it is doing to your students.

Of all the projects that I have produced in the course of my career, the ones that I am proudest of are not the ones in which I got the chance to abuse every printing process, nor are they projects that other designers might see and say "wow!" They are the ones in which I solved a seemingly insurmountable limit in an appropriate manner and made my clients think I was a Rock Star.

Big budgets don't make you a great designer. Being brilliant on a shoestring budget does.

On Mar.15.2007 at 12:41 AM
Brad’s comment is:

I think that certain people in certain schools must be confronted; who best to do it, and how should it be carried out? I'm not quite sure yet, but I at least wanted to put forth the question.

Kudos to Bryony for acknowledging this situation and doing something about it. Hopefully other faculty will follow her example.

On Mar.15.2007 at 12:41 PM
Brad’s comment is:

I think that certain people in certain schools must be confronted; who best to do it, and how should it be carried out? I'm not quite sure yet, but I at least wanted to put forth the question.

Kudos to Bryony for acknowledging this situation and doing something about it. Hopefully other faculty will follow her example.

On Mar.15.2007 at 12:41 PM
jamie waters’s comment is:

I am in my final quarter at Portfolio Center and I've done all the glorious things that Bryony spoke about, you know, full-size glossy posters, rubdowns, strangely shaped bottles, etc. And I admidt when I hear about million pound steel books, see the beautifully crafted chairs, I sigh a little...I don't have any of those things. I don't have the money. However, these past two years I've learned a special word that I'm only now learning to work:


Last minute work calls for last minute solutions, like having the printer mount my full-size poster instead of doing it myself. I refuse to do it anymore, because it doesn't feel good, and I've found that my design suffers from it too. Even though I don't have unlimited resources, I feel better knowing that I make do with what I have by just planning out my execution...if I have to pay to have something done do I know someone somewhere in the world who's mom or dad does it? The internet has become my best friend in shopping around for better prices.

I'm not finished with my book just yet but I'll report back to share if my planning truly worked in my favor and with my limited funds.

On Mar.18.2007 at 12:02 AM
Nick Mucilli’s comment is:

A few things I learned from running out of money:

Resourcefulness: If you can't buy it; learn it. More often than not, you need to be able to convince people to teach you. You do the best with what you can.

Glass Blowing
Welding and Brazing
Model Making
Japanese and Casebound binding by hand

One of my most hellish/fond memories involves writing, designing, illustrating, screenprinting, and hardbinding a book all by hand. All because I was almost broke, and had to deal with the fact that I couldn't print the book large enough off of an Epson printer or send it out for output. The amount of time and effort that went into just printing it was phenomenal. I could only afford enough laser transparency film to make screens for the body copy, so film for everything else had to be done, color by color, by hand, with ink and acetate.

It was stupid, and infuriating, but in the end I had something that nobody could create just by sending files and a check to someone. That book alone has sealed a job on at least one occasion.

For a designer, fresh out of school in particular, hand skills and ingenuity are every bit as important and being able to nail and execute an amazing concept visually. Though employers are certainly looking for someone wildly creative that they can work with and mold, more often than not they are also very impressed and in need of someone that can make a comp look as though it were professionally produced using whatever resources at hand.

On Mar.26.2007 at 12:35 AM
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

Relevant link:


On Mar.29.2007 at 11:44 AM