My portfolio didn't get me into RISD...what did i do wrong?

here’s my portfolio that i submitted to RISD for undergraduate ID:

I honestly thought I had a very good chance of getting in with my resume alone (MA in Art History from the University of St Andrews; 4 yrs running my own antique/design business; experience with woodworking, welding and other construction methods; a number of other creative endeavors) and then i had a number of my colleagues (who happen to be risd alums) telling me from the day that i mentioned applying that i was a shoe in.
honestly, i always thought there was a good chance that i wouldn’t be accepted, but i worked hard to create a portfolio that not only represented my current interests, but also showed what I’d like to be working on in the future. Now, i’m very disappointed, especially considering all that I could have brought to the table for the next 4 yrs.
I would love more than anything to sit down with John Maeda or one of the members of the selection committee or board of trustees and have them clearly explain what was lacking in my application and what i could have done better.
RISD has always been a dream of mine and now I don’t know whether to do more work and apply again or go on with my life and try to prove risd wrong so that they’ll give me an honorary degree 20 yrs down the road.


Since you asked, here’s my 2 cents:

I think the modified chairs are your first problem. Copying a design in a different material or adding pool noodles to an exsisting chair will get you laughed at in the design world, and certainly won’t get you into one of the top schools.

As far as the concept chairs, the problem I see is that your lines just aren’t hot enough to catch anyones attention. You really should try to capture the essence of something. For instance, the Lobster chair might work for some touristy seafood spot in Maine, but that’s it. What you should have done is took a long look at a lobster, and use very subtle elements like color, texture and form to create an interesting interpretation of a lobster, so that someone would look at it and be reminded of a lobster instead of being totally hit over the head with it.

You have to dig much deeper and pull out forms that generate some sort of emotion from the viewer. Take a look at this website: This will give you some insite as to what people respond to in terms of certain design elements.

To leave you with a positive, don’t get too hung up on RISD. I’m doing well as a designer and I don’t even have a degree. I just studied on my own, learned the software I needed through private teaching, worked my ass off designing hundreds of concepts, and just plain “willed it into being”. So not being accepted to RISD is not the end of the world. What it tells you is that you need to keep working to get better.

A similar thing happened to me early on in my college career. I didn’t get accepted to a program I had hoped for, and I was pretty bummed out about it for a while. But, I stepped up, re-focused, and it turned out to be the best thing for me. As Yo said in your other post, you’re too good not to be in a program.

hi cdaisy,
i can sort of understand what you’re saying…it’s just that there are really two parts to the design portion of my portfolio - the pieces for which i used recycled materials/chairs that i had access to (being in the mid century furniture business) AND my drawings in which I show some original design concepts which I don’t necessarily have the tools/capabilities to build.
the point i was trying to make with my portfolio was ‘this is what i am currently able to build with the tools i have…and this is what i’d like to be able to build with the tools i would be learning at design school’

have a look at these:
this is a table that converts to a bench

this is a steel frame bench with large recycled rubber slats that fit into the frame

this is a cardboard chair made entirely of cardboard (no glue, joining methods other than the material at hand)

this is a steel chair made from one flat piece

thank you for taking the time to reply.

I’m with Cdaisy and NURB. Just keep at it. Manifest what it is that you want most in the world. If you work hard it will come eventually.

That’s understandable in regards to the chairs, but I think it would serve you well to really focus on strong conceptual skills. Granted, using what you have does come in handy and you will be faced with that as a professional from time to time, but you need to show how you can problem solve, and how you approach a certain design cunundrum.

Think of it this way, why on earth does there need to be another chair design when there are already thousands of them? That is the type of problem you will be asked to tackle. Company A wants to sell a new chair, so there needs to be a good reason that a consumer wants to buy it. Plus it can’t look like Company B’s chair that already hit the market. That is the main reason for my being critical of the chairs you are showing. I would much rather see what you can pull out of thin air. From blank paper, to photo real, or an actual prototype.

Like the other posters have said, just keep slugging away. The more you design, the better you get. Believe me, some of my early work is thoroughly embarrasing. :blush:

P.S. It never hurts to improve your 3D modeling and rendering skills along with sketching. Look into more CAD options if possible.

Good Luck!