They come bearing cupcakes. They come with their work on boards and linked to URLs. They come by the dozens in Bulgaria and by the hundreds in Brazil. They come for Behance portfolio reviews, an opportunity for creative people — including graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, interface designers, and others — to present their work to professionals and their peers. In two-hour sessions, Behance members receive feedback, sharpen their skills, and learn what it takes to expand a career.
Launched as an online platform for creative professionals to promote their work, Behance logs more than 47 million project views a month. But its 1.6 million members weren't satisfied with a digital community. They wanted to meet face-to-face.
After a few informal meet-ups, Sarah Rapp, community manager for Behance, realized the organization had tapped into a deep-seated need for community. So last year, portfolio reviews became a formal, structured way to "translate the online community into the real world," Sarah told me.
Portfolio reviews take place twice a year. In 2012, 200 events attracted over 5,400 attendees in more than 70 countries. The turnout is nothing if not international. The best-attended portfolio reviews took place last year in Sao Paulo, Rome, Mexico City, Barcelona, and Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
In Fortaleza, Brazil, 200 people packed into a bar for two days of what Behance portfolio review organizer Marcelo Müz called "a big party." Of course, it wasn't all caipirinha and cerveja. Months in advance, Marcelo recruited eight professionals to critique portfolios. Each put together presentations that featured exclusive work, explored the creative process and technical difficulties they encountered, and provided an insider's perspective on how to develop creatively in the local market. Participants were "focused and creative," Marcelo told me, and they were happy for the opportunity to meet colleagues in the creative community, develop their professional network, and strengthen the work in their portfolio. Marcelo reports that the creative pros left the event as inspired as the participants, eager to "assemble large teams for brilliant designs."
On the northern end of Malaysia, portfolio review organizer Muid Latif began a session in Kuala Lumpur by busting out a hip-hop dance move. It's a calculated attempt at humor intended to disarm an audience of nervous young creatives.
Apparently, it worked. Muid told me that participants have become friends, even attending each other's weddings. "The spirit of togetherness enables us to build a family of individuals who look out for each other," he said. Muid isn't just interested in using portfolio reviews to build individual books. He wants to build community. "We motivate and encourage one another. The stronger our connection, the more solid our creative world becomes," he said. Muid believes Behance can ultimately become a platform to develop "successful creative entrepreneurs who will shape a better economy in the future."
Want to know what goes into a portfolio review? Here's how the Behance reviews work.
Behance portfolio reviews are entirely member-driven. Any member willing to put in the time to organize, publicize, and host the event can lead a review. Behance supports each event with an event kit that includes signage and nametags. E-mail templates make it simple to spread the word to local members.
Typically, an event organizer will ask several working design professionals to offer expert feedback on the portfolios. Behance provides sample review questions.
Depending on demand, portfolio review events can be hosted in agency meeting rooms, community colleges, and even cafés. Many event organizers transform the promotional materials Behance supplies, creating customized posters that emphasize the local flavor of their location — even enlivening their sessions with photo booths to encourage interaction.
Portfolio reviews begin with a 30-minute introduction. Participants then split into small groups where portfolios are examined and critiqued for an hour. "Thumbs up" appreciation stickers let participants share the love in a highly visual manner. Event organizers are supplied with medals called "appreciation coins" to award members whose work exceeds expectations. Finally, in the spirit of community, the groups unite at the end of the session for drinks, socializing, and networking.
Of course, Behance isn't the only source for real-world reviews. David Hall, member experience manager at AIGA, reports that 67 regional AIGA chapters conduct yearly portfolio reviews for students and up-and-coming designers. AIGA student groups host yearly portfolio reviews in 300 design departments in colleges and universities around the United States. Conducted by student groups at each school, student members work with their local chapters to bring in working designers who can offer portfolio critiques informed by regional intelligence.
At the national portfolio review, which takes place once every two years, 150 students, recent graduates, and emerging designers bring in their books, laptops, or tablets, and have their work reviewed by design luminaries such as Steven Heller, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, and Ann Willoughby. In addition to the well-known reviewers, all attendees — who range from heads of production studios to in-house design directors — are invited to offer feedback. Young designers learn what works in their portfolio, what to keep, and also what not to show. More importantly, according to David, students get the opportunity to explain their design decisions and talk through the solutions they arrived at in solving a particular design challenge. At every national review, David has seen students with outstanding work get offered jobs, "right there on the spot," he said.
The Art Directors Club also offers in-person portfolio reviews. This year, thousands of students and junior creatives gathered in dozens of cities around the world, including New York, Toronto, Shanghai, Johannesburg, and Mumbai to share their portfolios, build their networks, and move their career into its next phase. Brendan Watson, director of education for the ADC, described Portfolio Night as "New Year's Eve for the global creative community. It's the one time a year that thousands of students and creatives come together to do the same thing."
The ADC sells tickets to 100 participants at each event, who show their work to 30 creative directors. Watson is particular about who is tapped as a reviewer. "We invite creative directors who are responsible for making decisions about who gets recruited at their agency," Brendan explained. Year after year, students have been offered jobs on the spot.
Brendan remembers that he had to coax early participants to show their work on laptops. Today, half the students arrive with their portfolios queued up in digital form. Along with changing technology, Brendan reports there's a change in what the creative world demands. Case in point: this year's portfolio night in New York was hosted by international brand agency Sid Lee on the condition it could invite creative technologists, digital filmmakers, architects, motion directors, and user experience designers. According to Sid Lee's New York creative director, Philippe Meunier, the goal was to "recruit younger, fresher, different talent." It's a trend Watson sees worldwide as well. "We're seeing an expanded need from creative directors in advertising to look beyond the traditional art director and writer team," he said.
Sam McMillan is principal of Wordstrong, a communications company that handles everything from brand strategy and positioning statements to websites, e-mail blasts, and videos. The client list includes Apple, CVS, Godiva, John Hancock, Intuit, Maxtor, Microsoft, Office Depot, Symantec, T. Rowe Price, Charles Schwab, and Yahoo.