Fellow Professionals: head shots and money shots?

This one goes out to my fellow professionals…

I’ve been teaching at NC State for a few years and a couple of questions seem to keep coming up when talking to the students about their portfolios. Any thoughts you could share would be tremendously helpful.

What are your thoughts regarding portfolios featuring pictures of the student? I am definitely a fan of pictures of the student as it pertains to a specific project (like pics of them collecting research, building/testing prototypes, etc.) because it shows them engaged in the process. But I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the “head shot” at the beginning or end of the portfolio as I worry that could distract the viewer from the work. The worse case scenario would be that their physical appearance may influence the potential interviewer is some way. Thoughts?

Also, what do you think about featuring the finished product on the first page of a project in the portfolio? I’ve generally told the students that I’d prefer they not give away that reveal at the start of the presentation. Rather, I would like them to consider an opening image that helps to “set the stage” the the problem they are intending to address. Like if it’s a pill bottle and organizer for the elderly, maybe they could consider showing Grandma struggling with her pill bottle. Something that draws the viewer in and communicates what’s at stake. Once they get to the final product reveal, it should make sense based on the narrative they conveyed within the presentation. Thoughts?

Thanks so much for your help.


Head shots in a portfolio - A standard for social media, including LinkedIn and it seems you favor them as an avatar. But I see it as irrelevant information. Might as well throw in the Cubs box score too.

Money shot up front - In professional practice, you define the problem, then show the solution. Salespersonship tells a story, builds anticipation and makes an impact. And more importantly, the solution is pretty near irrelevant. The crux to it all is properly defining the problem. The greatest solution to the wrong problem is worthless. The problem should be going through the same process as any solution, develop/test, rinse and repeat as needed.

Of course in the case of students, I wouldn’t put much into their problem definition skills as they are nonexistent. They still struggle with finding a good solution to a problem. But even in that case, they still should follow good story telling practice. Saying. “Luke, I am your father.” at the start is called a spoiler for a reason.

When I’ve hired in the past I enjoyed seeing pics of the person whose portfolio I was reviewing, it provides a personal context that helps me understand who they are - and I’m sure you’re right that somewhere, someone could be influenced but my answer would be that if a picture of me influences Company A’s interest in hiring me, then I wouldn’t want to work for Company A anyway!

With project stories in a portfolio, I like to see the challenge or problem that’s been identified before I see anything of the solution - I want to be enveloped in the grief, the unhapppiness or the frustration first (situational shots, failed existing product shots, etc), then let me walk through the process that (hopefully) leads me out of that dark place…so no, I don’t want to see anything about the solution as the story begins.

I’ve seen plenty of photos. Here are some types:
a) Tasteful - Usually shows the designer doing something he/she likes (usually sports or outdoors) and usually at the end of the portfolio.
b) The poser- The wanna be designer with a smug look on their face or wearing a suit and their hand touching their face.
c) Mugshot - Usually from overseas, must be a requirement on some universities. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Just like on Linkedin. Some are good and neutral. Some are bad (no artistic thought behind them) and some are like…really? don’t you have any friends that can tell you to take it down. And yes, the viewer will make an evaluation on your appearance…so think it through.

If they are presenting the portfolio then yes, no final shot first. If they are emailing or creating a website I prefer an engaging and awesome product image at the beginning, that way I can dig deeper if interested, specially if they have 5 or more proejcts. It’s like flipping through a portfolio. You skim through it to evaluate the skills and then you dig deeper to learn more about their process and decision making.

Yes, I totally agree regarding differentiating between a true portfolio for interviewing vs a website, which most students have. The purpose of these two communications are very different, and too often the student wants to point a potential employer to a website where they (the student) can’t control the narrative as easily or dictate the order in which their work is viewed. The portfolio should be in a PDF format or maybe published as a document on Issuu and should be viewed as a linear presentation that has a beginning, middle and end.


I always wondered why Prezi didn’t get big with student portfolios… It let’s you tell a non-linear story (which the design process often is) in a linear and controlled fashion (slide-show style), can be viewed directly in browser without additional downloads, and it’s free.

I think a headshot on a website is fine, as long as it is not over the top. Don’t need it in an unperson portfolio obviously because… they are there… and that would be weird.

Online portfolio, give me the money shot up front… if you want me to click and scroll through more.

Personally I don’t like those issues things. Way too clunky. Press, too gimmicky. PDFs are fine, just know that I am clicking though at a rate of a bout 2 seconds per slide. If something catches my eye in that click through, THEN I’ll go back and read more and take time with it, maybe 5 minutes tops. If in that second 5 minute scan I remember something compelling, I’ll really dive in.

You mean the portfolio for their in-person interview? Yes, that would make sense as their interview presentation should be a little different than the one they use to get that interview.

Yes, I tend to agree regarding an online portfolio, but I want to make sure my students understand the difference between those two forms of communications and that they not use their online portfolio take the place of their job submission portfolio. IMO, allowing the potential employer to just “wander” around a student’s website makes it too easy for them to miss something really amazing. I want to make sure my students have the best opportunity to clearly communicate their skills and capabilities. Otherwise it’s just a matter of creating interesting thumbnail images in the hopes they’ll be clicked on.

In terms of narrative, don’t you prefer the PDF since it’s linear having a beginning, middle and end? Even if you flip through it quickly, there’s still the opportunity for the designer to show you their problem-solving process, abilities and sense of narrative. Otherwise, it’s just a series of hero shots with no context, right?

Also, while we’re on the subject of PDFs, there’s been a lot of discussion regarding page size and tw0-page vs single-page spreads. The two-page spread gives the student more space and to create drama, but it doesn’t work when viewed in single-page format. These days, I’m not sure how often these portfolios are being printed out unless they’re in a hard copy being used by the candidate for their interview. Depending on the size of your display, a two-page spread can either look very dramatic or force you to zoom in and out a lot. Thoughts on any of this?

Thanks so much for your insights.


I personally like it it. But we are designers and our headshot/profile pictures should be as considered as all our other work.
It should represent who we are. A design job is not a beauty contest.
When I see portfolios, I am always curious to see who is behind the work and I appreciate if there is an effortless, well executed picture of the designer in there which gives me more of a sense of personality.
This definitely helps me connect. Especially in this visual age where we use our likeness anywhere and everywhere anyway.

money shot-
I have thought about this also quite a bit over the years and I have landed at the conclusion that I appreciate seeing a nice shot first, if possible in context. Especially in use, the product right away sets me up to be interested and sets the mood.
This doesn’t mean I need to understand it right away but an interesting photo or rendering that quickly gets me into the right mindset and peaks my interest, is definitely welcome.

I have seen plenty of portfolios where it took way too long until I got to see the product and I was lost along the way.
For me it’s much more effective if I see something interesting and then ask myself “how did the designer get there and what can it do?”

I personally do this for both online and in person.


The portfolio gets them the interview. It shows their mechanics and abilities. No reason to sell that again.

The interview is to determine if the person fits the team. Your students need to sell themselves at this point, selling their skills is redundant and is not going to tell me anything about the person.

“Back in my day” we used to create 2 portfolios.

  1. Teaser portfolio that you could mail or quickly show somebody. 3-5 projects that showcased your skills like sketching, CAD, rendering, model making, etc. This is usually what employers look for initially. If their skills are there then they’ll get an in person interview or a chance to show their complete projects.
  2. In depth portfolio that shows your thinking and problem solving process. This is a more complete portfolio that can be presented in person at their own pace.

I guess a website or coroflot or behance portfolio can be the teaser; their best images be it research, sketching, CAD,etc. The goal of these are to email to a potential employer to start a conversation and hopefully get an interview.

Regarding formats. I’ve seen great single and double pages (even implied double pages). Let them explore and find the best format for them. This is also part of their portfolio; how well they can visually present information.

Same here. We also had buggy whips.

The point being with today’s technology there is no need. Show me what you got, you get one chance because it is a waste of my time to see it again.

This make it harder for the student; too little, I may not see something that grabs me, or, too much and you will bore me to death. Either way, you aren’t getting the interview.

On a side note, when was the last time anyone used physical boards in a presentation? Well over a decade for me.

Again, I think it comes down to the purpose of a portfolio to get that interview. If the website achieves that same objective, that’s great. My only point is that if the website isn’t designed to deliver the desired narrative, then they risk not getting the interview because the visitor missed something. I guess it depends on how much you want to interviewer to do. I’ve seen student websites that took a lot of work to navigate (“Did I already see that project?” “Did I see all of their work?”). I prefer a linear narrative, similar to the way a short film might be organized.

If after seeing the presentation, the interviewer want to revisit a project or see additional information, sketches, etc., that should be available. But without a clean story to tell, it seems too haphazard. These guys get just one opportunity to make that first impression.

Just curious: So when you bring in a candidate for an interview, do they present their portfolio? Is their work reviewed or discussed? Or is it more of an opportunity to assess their “fit” with your organization?

Yeah, that’s what I was more familiar with when I was younger. Today I realize that employers can sometimes whip through dozens if not hundreds of portfolios in a short amount of time, so that “teaser” can’t be too long. However, the “in-person” interview portfolio can’t be too much longer either. I encourage my students to think about what they can present cleanly and clearly in about 20 minutes and to consider having an auxiliary portfolio (like an appendix) available with more detailed research, sketches, images, etc. if there’s an interest to go deeper.

That’s what I feel it’s up to us as educators to help them mitigate that risk as much as possible. At least with the PDF portfolio, you can whip through it as fast or as slow as you like. They’re welcome to link from the PDF to a website, but then they open the door to possible misinterpretation. Part of good design research is understanding the user and this case, the user is you.

For students, it’s a mixed bag depending on what technology they can afford. In the student portfolio reviews at IDSA conferences, most of them still use a hard copy, which can introduce issues with regards to printing quality, size, binding, etc. If they do present from a tablet or PC, I suggest they do so from a local file. I have seen students present from their online website and can’t get a decent wifi signal. I think gone are they days of employers having a file cabinet filled with printed hard copies of portfolios. It’s all digital, which is so much easier.

Personally, I have my company portfolio on an iPad and it’s just series of high-res JPGs which allow me to flip quickly through the images and zoom into details that interest them.

" then they risk not getting the interview because the visitor missed something."

If they don’t get the interview its because their skills are not there. If they miss to include the best and exceptional work then they also don’t deserve an interview.

I recently met with a recent grad who asked to stop by because he was in town just as an informational interview. He proceeded to open his laptop, he turned it around and asked me to navigate his website (after I had already seen it). Navigation on the track pad was awkward so then he pulled out a mouse which was also awkward. Often times students rely on technology, software or “a website” to help them land a job. At the end of the day is their skills.

Of course it’s always about the work and I’m not suggesting that a good portfolio can be a substitute for lacking skills. But as an educator, it isn’t enough to simply say to the students, “Just present your best and most exceptional work.” The students also need some guidance with regards to the mechanics required to communicate that work effectively. I realize that it might come down to simple logistics like whether it’s easier to use a website on a laptop vs flipping through a printed portfolio or which is the best font to use. But I’m trying to make sure my students are making the best impression and a lot of this discussion falls under the same category as spelling mistakes in the resume and no following directions for portfolio submissions.

Yes, there are some students that have such amazing skills that even a train wreck of a portfolio couldn’t detract from it. But more often I see good students shoot themselves in the foot because they haven’t been properly instructed how to present their work. This is what I’m trying to do and it’s really helpful to get such a wide array of perspectives from fellow professionals. I have my own opinions, but I’m not the one hiring them.

So thank you for sharing your perspectives.

What other objective does the website have?

Just my .02, but that is the only objective.

Whether they do it with html or an online pdf file, the objective is always the same.

I’d say your job is do educate the students on how to clearly and concisely communicate their skills. Like I wrote before, too little information runs a risk and too much information runs a risk. Help them to determine their Goldilocks moment.

I think some students create their websites because it’s a medium they are very familiar with, but they often aren’t looking at it through the eyes of the employer. That’s something I try to help them with (as well as get them to that “Goldilocks” balance that’s right for them and their work).

Honestly, I think some students build a website because it makes them feel more professional (“Look, I have website, I’m a professional designer.”) and some hope that having it will lead to freelance or contract work. Some expect it to become the beginnings of a consultancy. But, alas, a website does not a design consultant make. And those two competing objectives (get hired vs find clients) are two very different things.

I’ve only been doing the educator thing for a short while (this is my fifth year) and it is not easy to find that balance.

I’ve seen job postings that required submitting a head shot in order to be considered, I think that’s a bit over the top.