Point/Counterpoint: The Value of a Printed Portfolio

May is the month of Paper in a Digital Age here at ADC, so we’ll be featuring some amazing uses of the centuries-old medium right through Memorial Day, celebrating the material’s nuances, adaptability and enduring ability to inspire a staggering variety of artists and creatives working today.

But we also want to explore the challenges facing paper and its relevance in an age when almost everyone does the majority of their work on screens and the Cloud. So we asked the ADC community to weigh in on a simple but divisive question that every creative has probably had to grapple with as the world becomes increasingly more digital:

Is it worth having a printed portfolio in 2014?

By Jack HughesMT63W5pm_400x400, Freelance illustrator, London UK

I can understand the attraction to owning a printed portfolio. It becomes more than just a body of work. The details become part of the overall experience: the paper, the layout, the format. Then comes the moment you hand it to a prospective client — watching them as they flick through the pages, studying the details, pouring over work you’re immensely proud of. It all sounds very idealistic, but will rarely happen, if at all. From my personal experience as a freelance illustrator I’ve never needed my printed portfolio, nor have I ever been asked for one.
Keeping a portfolio up to date with your most recent work is vital, and that becomes virtually impossible with any printed portfolio. Printing can be expensive, especially if you’re updating your portfolio regularly, which you should be. Your time and money could be better spent elsewhere; spend some money on getting your website beautifully designed. Another alternative maybe worth considering is buying a tablet to show clients a digital version of your portfolio — that way you can cater the portfolio to the client and update it on a regular basis. For most jobs, especially as an illustrator, clients won’t have the time to meet up to look through your portfolio. An email will suffice with either a link to your website or a PDF of your portfolio.
Obviously it all depends on your discipline. A nice balance between printed and digital portfolios I sometimes deploy when meeting a client is to not only bring along my iPad with my digital portfolio loaded up, but also a few instances of my work in-situ: books, magazines, catalogues. Printed portfolios, although nice, sadly have little place in the increasingly digital world of today.

unnamedBy Maurice Roy, Graphic Designer and Art Director, Montreal, Canada

In my opinion, exactly because this is the question, I think that YES, it is worth having a printed portfolio in 2014. In this digital age, because we are dominated with a digital culture, social media, websites, smart phones and tablets, I believe that a printed portfolio can make a longer-lasting impression when surrounded by concerns about getting left behind in a fast-moving industry. I work both in the advertising and film production industries, and it is so easy for your portfolio (or a link to a website) to be lost in a sea of e-mails. I just recently spent months re-doing mine from scratch and had them printed. A printed portfolio can be left behind, people pick them up and eagerly ask “oh, what’s this?” instead of what is now the norm with digital versions.
Go back fifteen years ago, when designer sites were starting and print was still the norm: the ‘contradiction of media’ is what set you apart from the herd. Now, handing out print portfolios (especially those that you can leave behind after an interview) is an asset because if they’re nice enough, people won’t want to throw them away. In fact, I’ve seen that the nicest ones are kept around as “coffee table books” in creative directors’ offices. The fact that people want to keep them sort of makes it a “yes pile” in its own right.
I have digital versions of my portfolio, a Facebook page, an Instagram feed, and various ‘edited versions’ of my portfolio as PDFs and on my tablet. However, I still find it important to have a printed portfolio that contains “everything” that I update once a year, and to print 30-40 copies. This also displays your “print-thinking.” Sure, you can design websites, apps, e-adverts, but it also displays your thought process in a physical format.
Are books obsolete? Magazines? Are people reading solely from their tablets? I guess, in the end, it comes to a question of generations, what matters to you and the impression you want to give out. Having a print version doesn’t mean it’s boring! In fact, it’s a challenge to keep it interesting. There are so many layouts, print processes, sizes, paper selections…
I still buy CDs and records, books, blu-rays. I like to hold them, feel them in my hands. I like to read the lyrics, pay attention to little details, especially when there are print effects or die-cuts. You can never really emulate that digitally. I guess I’m old school.