Graphic Design Portfolio

Why it’s Important to Always Present Yourself Professionally

One classmate wrote this about presentations:

Your presentation doesn’t necessarily have to be at the end of the design process. You are presenting yourself the entire time. The more persistent, communicative and trustworthy you are, the better chance you’ll have at winning that client for the long run.

This is great insight. I also agree that the more honest and communicative you are with a client the whole way through, the better your working relationship will be in the long run – and it may even lead to new design work. Some clients I’ve worked with have been strictly through email. When I’ve won some design contests online, the clients I received lived in different countries than I do. Given our time differences, and the ease of communicating a lot of information at once, email was our preferred method of communication.

However, because of the lack of direct interactivity and general informality of email, it could be easy to miscommunicate with clients, misunderstand their wants, interpret a request differently than they intended, or even get caught up in sending informal emails to them – try “How’s it goin’?” to a client – not very appropriate. Therefore, I made it my goal to always present myself, my questions and suggestions, and my emails in a professional manner. I went so far as to include a letter header, formal salutation and goodbye, and formal wording throughout the emails. Most clients seemed to appreciate this level of respect and when we had miscommunications, I did my best to choose my words carefully, slowly, respectfully and listen to what they wanted. This level of professionalism, even within email, helped solidify and strengthen our relationship as designer and client. Some of these clients have even come to me years later requesting additional design work.

Image really is everything

But, professionalism isn’t only important in formal emails, or the board room, it’s important in everything. In his Web Design Business Kit (published by SitePoint.com), Australian entrepreneur and web designer Brendon Sinclair writes :

Image counts-an enormous amount. Your image is under review from the moment someone comes into contact with you, whether that’s via the telephone, a letter, or at the first meeting. Your image is under review every second of your working day…People will make a decision about you within seven seconds of their first contact with you. It’s almost impossible to alter that perception once your seven seconds are up. Based on that, a prospective client will check out the way you dress and, on this basis, make assumptions about the quality of your work. A prospective client will judge your trustworthiness by the way you shake their hand. A prospective client will decide whether or not to do business with you on the basis of how often you make eye contact.” (Sinclair, 2006, p 35-36).

Sinclair goes on to say that although this seven-second judgment obviously doesn’t occur in every instance, the fact remains that (all) presentation is extremely important. Our personal image, the way we dress, our business image, our online presence and social networks, our portfolios, even our language choice in communicating or presenting, are all under scrutiny. And although it isn’t fair (but life isn’t fair anyway), there is more than one client who made decisions based on looks alone. He even tells a story of pitching to a female prospect and including a junior female employee in the board room during the pitch. Although the female designer had little to do with the actual design in the long run, the prospect, after having met the junior designer, said, “‘Oh, thank goodness! A female designer-finally someone who will understand what I want.’ [They] won the job on the spot.” (Sinclair, 2006, p 37).

Style will often beat substance

Are all judgments snap judgments, and based on looks alone? Most people would deny such a claim. But Sinclair writes, “They’re kidding themselves-we all judge others in an instant, and we then make decisions based on that first impression. We’ve been doing it since we started walking upright…Reality hurts, but it’s true: style will often beat substance.” (Sinclair, 2006, p 35).

So I think it is important to keep in mind that our professionalism, and quality as designers is often judged by more than just our designs. We need to try to reflect high quality, trustworthiness, and professionalism through all the different ways we present ourselves and not just through the pages contained within our portfolios.

What about you?

Have you ever missed out on an opportunity because another designer presented a slightly more stylized design or portfolio? Ever felt cheated when you knew your quality and substance as a designer far outdid their glitz and Photoshop effects? On the other hand, have you ever picked something based on looks alone? Even if you knew it was inferior to another? How can we as designers let our true colors shine, through professional presentation of all aspects of ourselves?


Sinclair, Brendon. The Web Design Business Kit. 2007. Australia: SitePoint Pty. Ltd.

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