Undergrad ID Admissions Portfolio Advice

I’m a senior in high school, starting to apply to schools for ID (GT, VT, RIT, RISD, SJSU, CM). I recently began looking at the portfolio requirements for each school.

I am unsure as to how much depth needs to be shown in each submission. I have many original product sketches, but only a couple of “full-fledged” projects.

Is it ok to include product sketches as portfolio pieces? Should they all be projects? How much of other types of art/design (architecture, photography, painting, etc.) should I include? Any other advice?

Any and all portfolio advice is appreciated!

– Ilan


I’m not sure how much things have changed in this area, but it used to be coming for high school portfolios to be individual sketches and art pieces. At RISD at least back then, the portfolio requirements were much more fine arts oriented. Painting, drawing, and some design pieces of you had it. This is going back to ancient history but I think I showed 2-3 still life paintings, a few pencil portraits drawn from life, and then a few sketches of cars, consumer electronics, sneakers and probably a building in 2 point perspective.

Agree that this is typically something where they are just looking for breadth, and ideally looking for something that shows you are suited for an artistic major rather than your skills as a designer (which you should not necessarily have).

Still life, figure drawing, sculpture or other 3D works are all great to show - a mixture of mediums is probably helpful. If you have some product sketches consider doing a collage layout of them that shows a bunch of your ideas as 1 slide (since you usually have a limit IIRC) rather than submitting multiple product sketches.

My only advice is to err away from photography or only submit it for one slide (again possibly in collage format like a 3x3) - I don’t think showing you can take a good picture shows you can be a great designer even if your lighting and composition are all terrific chances are it won’t carry across in a single shot or two.

I transferred into ID from engineering at VT and basically just interviewed with the program chair at the time and showed them a handful of sketches I had done of products sitting around my room. They were admittedly quite terrible because I had no art background at the time, but I still got into the program. Being an existing student didn’t hurt I’m sure, but they didn’t ask for any in depth project work…

I clicked on your profile link and it looks like you’ve been sketching up a storm. I would say showing that degree of initiative to practice on your own and being able to flip through a pile of sketches is a very good start. I don’t know what programs are requesting these days since it is a competitive field, but I feel like it would be excessive to expect you to be a full fledged designer before you enter the school. If you are already sketching anyways, I suppose you could play around with a singular “topic” and explore different forms, features, materials, etc. as a pseudo-project.

When I review 1st year portfolio presentations there typically is present 1) research 2) sketching 3) physical mock-up and 4) storytelling abilities in order to understand all there is to know about the future potential of an incoming student. This is the way it is going in both the east and west.

Sketches alone as a criteria is from the 20th century. Now in 2020, high schools are transferring over to project and team based learning models. Rudimentary 3D modeling, 3D printing, laser cutting skills are becoming quite common in incoming portfolios. If you can show design process cognition at all, you’re in.

btw…Jony Ive does not value sketching ability over prototyping skills…learn how to design by making…both digitally and physically!

Good luck…!

Thanks so much! I have to work on more of the art outside the ID realm.

Thanks for the insight!

Thanks! Good idea to play around with one topic.

Thanks for this really important advice. Definitely going to demonstrate my design process.