Author: Jennifer de Graaf

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The Case for Credentials: 9 Reasons Why They Matter

Last post, I tried to get after demonstrating the intangibles that make you desirable as an individual in addition to the projects in your portfolio. Today, I think it is important to look at one little detail that makes a big difference. A few little letters after your name could represent your membership in an organization, whether or not you are licensed as a professional, or that you have earned an advanced degree or other certification.

But who cares, right? We’re all so brilliantly creative, we don’t need that. As Landscape Architects, we have the responsibility to do good design work that respects the environment, protects human health and safety, and improve the quality of life for all living things! Who needs to take another stupid test? You do.

Whatever your talents are, having this “alphabet soup” after your name on business documents (cards, memos, email, etc) serves as a front line of information about you as a professional. Job titles are less important these days than ever before – maybe your card says “associate”, or “hardscape guru”, but the job of a “designer” at one firm could be about the same as being a “project manager” at another. It is different with these small but meaningful abbreviations. Consider the following things that having these credentials says about you:

  1. That you’re dedicated to the profession enough to keep learning and doing extra work in addition to your job.
  2. That you’re smart enough to earn them.
  3. That you’ve made a personal and financial commitment to continuing education, and to your field.
  4. That you provide additional value to your employer or your own company. Credentials are marketed by firms. For example, if a company can say that all of their employees are LEED AP’s, that demonstrates to their clients a strong emphasis on environmental issues. It also lets the client know that no matter who in the company works on their project, they’ll be on the same environmental page…..why do we care? Because our clients ALSO use credentials for marketing purposes….they sell whole housing developments and commercial buildings based on this stuff. Clients care, and so should you.
  5. Municipalities are requiring them for projects! Here in the Bay Area, LEED AP and BFQP certifications for projects are being folded into municipal ordinances as required for a great variety of projects. If green building practices of some sort aren’t actually required where you are practicing yet, just wait a moment….they will be soon.

If that isn’t enough, I have more reasons to start working towards earning additional credentials:

  1. Because your talent is invisible. People hiring you can look at your portfolio and try to guess at your skills…..but there’s always the unknown of how much of the work you actually did. Having credentials is a signal that others can understand. They may not make you a better designer, but at least they are easy to compare. Investing in yourself in this way helps others to feel a level of comfort investing in you as well.
  2. Having them increases your chances to get on project teams. Any company would want their LEED AP to work on the LEED project instead of the employee who isn’t an AP.
  3. Some credentials will add your name on searchable databases. That is free marketing for you – plus the time and expense of earning the credential, of course.
  4. It shows an interest in an emphasis. If the environment isn’t your bandwagon, you can always get credentials in something else like green roofs or horticulture therapy.

I can’t tell you if the time and expense will pay off well enough. What I can tell you is that in this time when many of us have more free time than we’d like, this is one good way to stay viable. If you don’t value your career enough to earn some credentials, then I am sure the people who did will be more than happy to leave you in the dust.

Thanks for listening,

Jennifer de Graaf, PLA, LEED AP, BFQP

p.s. Next post, I will share the latest on the RLA/PLA/LLA debacle.


FYI abbreviations in the image are:

LEED AP: LEED Accredited Professional

CPTED: Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

SITES: (formerly SSI) Sustainable Sites Initiative

EDAC: Evidence-based Design Accreditation Certificate

BFQP: Bay Friendly Qualified Professional

GRP: Green Roof Professional

HT: Horticulture Therapist

Photo credit for long eared owl:




Your Portfolio is More than Project Work

We all want to stand out as unique designers while at the same time hoping that our portfolios will be accepted as meeting expectations, right? We hope that our portfolio is good enough gives the right number of samples, contains all the needed information, and projects professionalism. In the last post, I challenged you (and myself) to do more hand drawing as that seems to be one thing that is often lacking in Landscape Architects’ portfolios (and hand-drawing is one place where your work is never just like everyone else’s).

Consider this: if we as designers accomplish the expected professionalism, samples, and information, but nothing more, how are we really going to stand-out and make ourselves memorable? I can’t answer that question for you – each of us is unique – but sometimes what makes us unique is exactly the answer…

…especially if it seems not to fit with what anyone else is doing.

Take a few minutes to check out these three online items, maybe you will find a nugget that helps you answer this question for yourself:

Interview with Mandy Aftel. Ms. Aftel is a perfumer whose career took an interesting path. Of course the lack of abundant work in Landscape Architecture has forced many of us to consider other options, even if only temporarily. I used my professional skills to get temp work in healthcare for a while, and a colleague of mine has re-invented herself as a marketing consultant by re-thinking portfolio materials from her work as a Landscape Architect. Whether you are thinking about going on a career tangent or not, I think the interview here is worth the two minutes it takes to read. Consider also how a career tangent can come back and affect your current and future work as a Landscape Architect.

Work Smart: Overcoming Consensus Video. It is only a minute and a half long, so give it a look. Scott Belsky is the CEO of Behance (that online portfolio site some of you are using).

Architects Dressed as Buildings. (at 1931 Beaux Arts Ball). Okay, this one is mostly for giggles, but there’s a point. This 32 second goofy little video shows seven architects portraying the buildings they designed (they’re listed on the left). They’re having a good time being dorky. My point? While getting a job and building a career are important, and designing a really smashing portfolio is important to that process, it is also critical to like what you do and to want to keep doing it. Have a bit of fun. Don’t let all this important stuff make you into a somber, super serious, boring person (nobody wants to work with those people anyway).

So we as designers must look for the aspects of both ourselves and our work that makes us stand-apart from other designers. We must pull together everything we need to solve the design problem of how to demonstrate that we are smart creatives, desirable employees (or someone clients want to hire), and people who bring more to the table. In doing so, at least have an idea of what it is that does make you different and what the value in this is.

I read through the discussion threads on Land8 and usually see a lot of negativity about the lack of work, lack of respect, and so forth. I understand the desire to vent, I really do. However, it seems to me that the easiest and least expensive thing we can do (even cheaper than sketching!) to advance ourselves as design professionals is to like what we do and demonstrate that in our attitudes. We must spend time figuring out what it is that makes us different from our colleagues and demonstrating it in how we present ourselves and our work.

When a prospective employer or client visits your Land8 profile and reads some of those same discussion threads, what kind of information will they find linked to your name? Is that what you want them to see?



Resolve to Stand Out in 2012

My New Year’s Resolution is to sketch more. This decision was inspired by a couple of things from the ASLA 2011 Conference in San Diego (last post on that here):

First, I attended an education session given by James Richards entitled “Freehand Renaissance Drawing and Creativity in a Digital Age”. Mr. Richards inspired me to do more hand drawing and shared a couple of cool sketching resources: Urban Sketchers and Sketch Crawl. You can also find lots of advice and examples in the Graphics group on Land8.

Secondly, shortly after the conference I chatted with two of the professionals who had worked as judges in the portfolio reviews. Below are some of the comments they shared with me about the portfolios they had seen:

  • Most were really well done; the graphics were superb in most instances.
  • There were some that could have used more work and attention to detail.
  • Some people do not have good graphic or drawing skills, kids need guidance and some were clearly confused.
  • Students need to work on their drawing skills, first year students should be required to turn in a sketchbook.
  • There were a few really bad portfolios. In those cases, we stressed that one needs to focus on the things they do well.

Let’s all dust our pens, pencils, and tablets off and get back to it! Thanks so much for reading; I am hopeful that I will be able to keep writing as much as I plan to be sketching, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re all working on as well.


Today’s New Job Market

Last post, I listed some questions to ask in an interview. Since then, I attended the education session “Today’s “New” Job Market: Current Trends and Perceptions in the Hiring Process” at the ASLA professional conference in San Diego so that I could report back what they said to you. Below is a consolidation of my notes. The opinions here are those of the panelists and of employers they had surveyed about what was desired from emerging professionals.

You may have noticed with the Interview with an Employer posts that opinion varies from person to person, so when you read this, it may not indicate what your next interviewer is looking for, but is merely a good starting point.

Hand graphics: plan graphics are the most important, followed by the ability to produce quick sketches. Good rendering abilities are simply expected, and the ability to produce perspectives is less critical than the above. The ability to convey an idea quickly far outweighs the ability to produce polished, finished graphics. They want to see your process graphics!

Technical knowledge: Grading and drainage, an understanding of materials and methods, plant materials, storm water and construction processes (about equal importance, not as separate categories), irrigation.

“It is completely okay to tell us what you don’t know”

Design: They noted that creativity is the most important aspect of design, and also that it can be difficult to show your creativity when your early professional projects may not show a lot of your own work and your student work shows a learning process, that you may have exceeded in skill since you did that work.

In showing design abilities, the most important thing is showing your creativity, followed by problem solving skills, then having a sense of scale, and an understanding of local context. Their suggestion for demonstrating creativity was to design a “nice, creative portfolio” with a coordinating cover letter (on letterhead!) and make sure that you follow-up. They noted that your portfolio with the rest of your marketing materials are the “fabric that shows who you are.”

“Your portfolio is a story about you.”

Professional character: Appropriate business attire (better to be overdressed for the interview than too casual), efficient, ability to be part of a tem, and to perform unsupervised work, compatibility with the rest of the staff, pleasant personality. Ambition and organization were on the list, surprisingly listed as lower priorities than all of the above.

Additional skills: Problem solving and integration of your own abilities in projects, writing, a good attitude and a passion for the profession, good speaking skills.

Deal breakers: Inability to communicate effectively, poor work, inappropriate interview conduct, overstating your qualifications, mis-representing your role in projects.

“We expect you to have a learning curve, and are hiring you for your other talents.”

One of the panelists gave this example (paraphrased): Suppose you are an emerging professional and while looking for work, you designed and built a deck for your mom. The deck came out awful, really horrible, but you learned a thing or two about decks and construction in the process. You may be thinking that you should not show this deck in your portfolio, but I think you should. I want to know what you learned, and how you solved the problems that came up.

Employers (according to the panel) want to see the process by which you arrived at a solution. They want to see the ten crazy ideas, the refining of those ideas, and where the solution came from. Remember showing your work in Geometry class? Same thing. They recommend keeping your early quick sketches and including them in your portfolio.

“It is not against the rules to show us good stuff. If your student work wasn’t that good, do it again.”

Greatest false expectation: High salary. The panel made a point of saying that employers are anxious that the people they interview are looking for a lot of money, and they don’t realize that most emerging professionals are more interested in a chance to work at all. Their advice is never to bring up salary because employers already have anxiety over this and the interview should be about finding the right fit and a chance to prove yourself. Let them know you want an opportunity for learning and growth.

“We know the people we want to hire already.”

Hiring: Employers aren’t advertising jobs much, but when they do, they rely on their own websites, word of mouth, ASLA’s Joblink, and networking. They know the people who are active in professional organizations, the people others have recommended, and they’ve kept information on the best applicants.

Worst way to try to get their attention: Sending a letter with a CD. The panel considered this a huge waste of time and suggested that applicants take the simple step of calling and asking for permission to send these materials. If you call but don’t get the person you want, talk to the person you got. A staff person can be just as good to talk to as the boss, and if you can make a connection there, the staff person can pass your information along and may be willing to answer questions you have about the company. Remember, that staff person has a job there; they’ve already succeeded at what you are trying to do.

All agreed that eventually, they want to see a hard copy of your portfolio, a website or CD is not enough.

One last thing: a couple of weeks ago, ASLA launched the Emerging Professionals section of their website; it is listed under the drop-down menu from the membership section.

Till next time…

12 Questions to Ask During an Interview

The ASLA conference was a whole lot of fun and I have tons to share with you from it (I am really excited about this, so stay tuned). Last post, I listed a few questions that you should be prepared for in your next interview. Sadly, it is not reasonable to expect to be prepared for every single possible question you might be asked. Each interview you will have in your career will be as unique as you and your interviewer are, and believe me, there’s a whole lot of variety out there. In answering questions, keep this article on what interview questions are actually trying to discover from Seth Godin in mind. Read his post. No, seriously. Now look at the list I posted before and the answers you think you will give. Do your answers address the goals listed by Mr. Godin?

The interview, in addition to your superfab portfolio is where you have the greatest opportunity to shine as the clever, creative person you are. In distinguishing yourself from all the other people this employer might meet, your interview is where you can demonstrate your interest in their firm and your commitment to being a dedicated, contributing member of their team. While there is a certain amount of “winging it” when you answer questions, I hope the list below will help you to be prepared with some questions of your own. I’d understand if you read this and think that I’m joking. I can only say that it comes from personal experience, that of colleagues, and also discussions with a variety of employers. These questions are for real, they’re no joke, I’ve asked them (and many others) myself.

Read through the questions below, then look again at Seth Godin’s post from above and think about these questions from the perspective of an employer trying to build a solid, reliable group of employees. Focus especially on Mr. Godin’s last two items: How much do you care? and Will you fit in?

So let’s get to it (again, in no particular order):

  1. What do you see as the major areas that this firm should improve on in the future?
  2. Is there anything in my portfolio that you think needs improvement? Was something missing that you expected to see?
  3. How does this firm address their employees’ personal pursuits? (would they be o.k. with you having a freelance project? what about life/work balance?)
  4. What is this firm’s turnover history? (lots of layoffs may mean that employees are expendable or that they are not skilled at keeping afloat in a major downturn). Ask also how long employees tend to stick around, and when they do move on, what are the reasons people choose to leave this firm.
  5. What is your marketing strategy?
  6. Do you have a process in place for employee reviews? How does it work, and do you ever skip reviews?
  7. Why are you interviewing now? Is this in advance of a job opportunity (planning ahead to find the right people is a good sign!), or did the firm just get an exciting new project? (which is also nice, but may not be as good as the first option. What happens to you if that exciting new project stalls?) Also consider asking when they expect to make a decision on hiring.
  8. Do you have office/quality/CAD standards in writing? (says a lot about how serious the company is about being a well-run business)
  9. What would happen if I brought a client or project to the company?
  10. Who in this office is licensed and who isn’t? (BEWARE of firms without licensed bosses!!)
  11. What kind of person is/is not successful with your firm?
  12. Do the partners of this firm have a partnership agreement? and exit strategy? How do they work together to manage the company?

Watch your interviewer carefully when you ask these questions. I personally see it as a good thing when I believe I am hearing an honest answer, especially if they admit to areas that want improvement (and are working towards those improvements!). If the person tells you how great the company is, what a dream it is to work at, and that they’re simply perfect, I recommend asking lots of follow-up questions before believing them. Your time is valuable, and accepting a job at this company will affect your ability to build a career that you can be proud of. If all goes well and you would accept an offer from them, there is a very important question you must also ask: “Can I speak with a few of the employees about their experience working here?”. The answer to this must always be “yes”, then you must talk to the employees. I will talk about this in more detail in the future.

Please add your favorite questions for employers below in the comments. I look forward to reading them! Have a great interview or job story to tell? Post about it in the Employment Storytelling Group.

10 Common Interview Questions you Need to Nail

Last post, I mentioned some things to avoid in your portfolio and I hope that was helpful. Now that your portfolio is starting to take shape, you’ve selected some projects and started thinking about how best to show off those gorgeous projects, let’s take a moment to consider the kinds of questions you may be asked. ASLA’s Annual Conference is next week, and they have a Job Link Live event. What better inspiration for taking a sec to prepare for an interview even if you aren’t participating in the conference. I have been seeing a few more forum posts on Land8 lately where people are getting interviews, and have heard from friends all over that more interviews seem to be taking place… I sure hope that is true!

Anybody can google “interview questions” and find lists and advice on the subject that could keep a person online for the rest of his/her life. Go ahead and do that, I think it is important research to do before meeting a prospective employer. However, sometimes in this field, the questions are a bit more pointed and skill-set specific. I have listed my top ten Landscape Architecture interview questions below and I truly hope that you will add some in the comments. The questions below come from colleagues and experience, some of them are very industry specific, some aren’t. Those of us who are under-employed or employed at the wrong place can sometimes feel like we’re in the weeds, like things are just getting more mysterious and difficult every day… time to do something about that.

I recommend answering each of the questions below for yourself: write the answers down, and then step back and check a couple of things: that your answers are honest, and that they are not worded in a negative way. There are always ways to keep the wording of your answer on a positive note regardless of how awful the reality might seem. So without further delay, and in no particular order, here is my list:

  • Tell me about a specific contribution you made to your last employer.
  • Tell me about a recent team situation where you helped to alleviate some conflict within the group.
  • Why did you apply to this firm? What is it about us that you liked?
  • Why did you leave Mr. Bigshot’s firm last year?
  • Would you prefer to be self-employed or work for a company?
  • What kind of projects do you want to work on?
  • What was your contribution to this project?
  • How would you describe your work ethic?
  • What was the budget for this project?
  • How have you been spending your time since leaving Ms. Employer’s firm?

I will not be posting again until I come back from San Diego, so I hope very much to see you all there! When I do come back, I will have a list of questions that YOU should be asking of potential employers. Have a wonderful week!

10 Portfolio No-No’s

ASLA’s national conference is coming up at the end of the month in San Diego, and with that conference is the JobLink LIVE and Emerging Professionals Portfolio Review at the Expo. Whether you are attending or not, this seems like a good time to take a good look at your portfolio so far and make sure you’ve avoided the top ten mistakes. Last time, I showed you a nifty digital portfolio template. These no-no’s apply to digital and print media, both!

  1. Never include material that is unrelated to your professional work. No matter how much you love your cat or skiing, they don’t belong in here. Perhaps your proficiency on the ski slopes has made you the best ski resort designer ever? If you can’t find a solid professional reason, don’t include it.
  1. Same goes for the “kitchen sink” approach: do not include everything just to bulk-up. Edit! Your portfolio is only as good as your worst project. Edit, edit, edit.
  1. Don’t lie, mis-represent, show work you didn’t take part in, or neglect to give credit where credit is due. For example, if you include photography as fill material while you build up more designed material (but you did not work on those photographed projects), be sure to note clearly that your involvement was only the photograph, not the design of the photo’s subject.
  1. Never allow typos, mis-spellings, or bad grammar into your portfolio! Get someone else to proof-read it if you are unsure.
  1. Don’t Send a portfolio (or samples of work, etc) without both a cover letter AND contact information.
  1. NEVER, ever, include your client’s personal information unless you have express permission! The work is what is being judged, especially your contribution to it. Give residential projects made-up names like “E Street Residence” or “Beach Retreat”. Do not list names or full addresses unless they give permission first and are aware of all the ways that information will be made available.
  1. Don’t leave your only copy with anyone unless you are prepared never to see it again. I am not saying that it will disappear, only that it could.
  1. Don’t take all your feedback from one person. Do your own research, make your own judgments, and ask for feedback from multiple resources. The best feedback opportunity is at the end of an interview, but since those are hard to come by, perhaps you can find someone to review your work outside a formal job interview. Get this feedback from people with different backgrounds.
  1. Don’t limit yourself to just one design concept or format – be prepared to make multiple versions and try different formats. The moment you rely on one version of your hard copy piece, someone will ask you for a digital format and vice versa.
  1. Don’t leave work completely unlabeled. Just say no to mystery work.

If you are attending the ASLA conference, I will be there, so be sure to say hello if you see me wandering around or email me and maybe we can grab coffee? I’d love to hear what is on your mind!

I am feeling the interview questions vibe, so the next post will be about interview questions to expect…..

A New Free Portfolio Template

Oh, look! a FREE portfolio template! Roundfolio is a free download from and I thought it was pretty cool, especially for a one-page (samples of work) portfolio. Last week, I posted about typography, and mentioned that I am looking for your wonderful page layouts to use in a future post (I still am, hint hint) but this week, take a gander at the layout and typographic decisions in Roundfolio’s live demo.

So one of the reasons I like Roundfolio goes back to an “interview with an employer” post. You may recall a couple of weeks ago when Scott Lewis said:

“With initial samples of work, I prefer to see only three projects.

I will know as soon as I open it what the level is.

Ideally, this is (3) images or at the most, 2 – 3 images for (3) projects.”

It seems to me that for initial contact, a single page web-based interface like Roundfolio meets this criteria beautifully. It requires far less effort from the recipient than some of the online portfolios I’ve navigated lately, and your audience can get an instant impression of your work without doing anything at all. Contact information is right there, easy to find, and you can customize pretty much everything.

So here’s what you do: Download the file (did I mention it is FREE?!) and this is inside the zip file:

Roundfolio is a straight HTML/CSS template. All of the files located in the HTML directory would be what you would edit and upload to the web. The template requires a bit of HTML knowledge, but only basic stuff (and since I don’t personally know html, I am afraid I can’t help with that). After editing the Photoshop file you would then need to export the graphics individually to replace the ones in the HTML/images directory.

When you open the Photoshop file, it looks something like this (those are some of the layers to the right):

So seeing the layout and appearance of this, with its use of circles as a strong graphic statement, what would you do to make the rest of your marketing materials go with it? I see oodles of opportunities here. I imagine everything from round return address labels on thank you notes to a resume designed with text wrapped around or inside circles (like these tutorials for doing stuff like this in in photoshop or indesign ). Maybe you’d take the circle-in-a-grid geometry and apply it in another way… you tell me!

Ordinarily, I would suggest doing your own design using a project as a source of inspiration (or something else), but if you choose to use a free template like this, with such a distinct graphic statement, then your materials should take some cue from it so that it doesn’t seem like an afterthought.

Next time, we’ll talk about what NOT to do.

Getting to Know your ABC’s: Typography!

Last week, I posted three videos. The video on book design and the one on cover design both discussed typography. They inspired me to do a little more hunting around, and when I read this post by Seth Godin (marketing guru!) I knew I had to pay closer attention.

In the past, I have largely ignored typography. It was confusing and seemed too complicated (when re-designing my portfolio, resume, etc was challenge enough) so instead of learning about it, I just chose a typeface and moved on. I might add a little emphasis by using italics or bold, make headings a larger size, and that was it. After all, I figured my work should focus on the landscape work; the letters on the page were secondary….

Typography is another “nth degree” of design that can make or break the overall look and feel of your design(ed) portfolio. Period. Typography is just this: the art and technique of arranging type (thank you, wikipedia). It has proven to be a deep and popular subject (sifting through articles and resources online is daunting), but in trying to navigate it lately, I found a few useful things to share with you.

The Basics: Glossary of typographic terms, a cool inforgraphic, and the Typographic Sins Poster, here’s an article with good information on combining typefaces, and lastly, this is an excellent article on the Principles of Beautiful Typography (a must read especially if you are building a website).

Learning what looks good: I would compare exploring these two websites to learn about typography to studying gardening magazines to learn what different plants look like and how they work together. It would be wrong to say that one typeface is always the right choice just as it is ill advised to proclaim that one plant suits all projects. The way to learn about typography is to see it in use and these are a good place to start:

Fonts In Use Blog: I love how they showcase examples of images that employ type.

I Love Typography: These folks are serious about typography and discuss it every which way.

Finding fonts to buy: There are zillions of fonts out there, some free, some expensive. These three font websites are all popular and easy to navigate: My Fonts, Da Font, and Urban Fonts.

Additional Resources:

Here is an exhausting list of 101 typography resources from Vandelay Website Design. They include articles, tools, font websites, and so forth.

How Magazine put up this article on typographic resources.

There are different issues when using typography in web design. Here is an article that addresses some common problems.

The book Explorations in Typography is not on Amazon. It was designed and self-published by a typography teacher at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I think the book is gorgeous, but since she self-published it, this seems like the only place to buy it ($65.) I included this book instead of anything on Amazon because of the page previews under “about the book” and the “typeface combos”. Take a look at those pages and see if you agree with the author’s choices.

There’s even a whole movie on Helvetica. I watched it on Netflix, and it was very interesting to see people argue both for it and against it, and hear their reasoning. Who knew that one typeface could be so polarizing!? The people in the movie had such strong feelings about this one typeface. A friend of mine and I were talking about it and she sent me this article assigning personality traits to people based in their font selections.

Make A Font Catalog: So in doing the research for putting this post together, I got all excited and decided to make a “catalog” of all the fonts on my computer for reference. I have a few more than I need, thanks to websites like the ones above offering all that free stuff, but printing a sample of each font proved to be an expensive nightmare. Based on this article, here is what I did: I downloaded FontViewOK (FREE) and ran the application. It allowed me to print a sample of each of my 540 installed fonts at 30pt (you can choose what size) which took 28 pages. I printed them double-sided and stapled them together and now have a very handy “font catalog” that I think is way better than squinting at the pull-down menu in MS Word, trying to figure out what the differences are. I also found (among hundreds of options) Printer’s Apprentice which is a relatively inexpensive ($25.) font management software with way more features and cooler layout options for printing font catalogs like the one I made (here’s a sample page of some of my fonts printed at 48 pts):

What I learned: Nobody agrees. Typography is subjective, but there do seem to be some things that more people agree on:

Your typeface choices should have the same “personality” as the effect you are trying to achieve with your marketing materials. Elegant fonts belong with elegant materials. Modern fonts with modern materials, etc. If you have an adjective or a few adjectives in mind, look for fonts that support those words.

Some people like to combine serif fonts with sans serif fonts, others don’t. It seems that most people use a serif font for headings and a sans serif font for the body of text, but I also saw some nice examples that reversed this.

Arial and Times New Roman are perfectly nice, but not interesting. Papyrus is widely hated, as is Comic Sans (for some fun, read this discussion thread in The Lounge). Decorative (or novelty) fonts should be used only with extreme care.

Next time, I’ll be sharing a cool one page digital portfolio.

How do you deal with fonts and type in your portfolio? I’d love to hear!



‘Nuff Said: Three Videos

I am excited that the Employer Interview blog posts (especially last week’s) are starting to generate some comments! This is one of the reasons I thought it would be interesting to post them and see how the employers are similar, where they differ, and where that applies to what we (as job seekers) are showing them. Thanks for reading, and keep it up!

The week before, I briefly touched on the order of the materials you are presenting. I also brought up some print portfolio resources a while ago. I recently come across three videos so comprehensive they doesn’t need anything from me save an introduction. I mentioned in the blog post on print resources (other companies that provide similar services like Lulu, PaperChase, and HP’s Magcloud) and I was pleasantly surprised to find these three videos on the Blurb website that deal with designing books for print (for photographers, specifically, but we’ll let that slide). The advice in them was intended for professionally printed and bound books, but the advice also applies to portfolios that are sheets within a portfolio cover, and, if you have a bit of imagination, to web design as well.

So without any further delay, take a peek at these three videos:

Video on sequence design: an hour long, it is worth hanging on and listening to the questions and answers at the end.

Video on book layout and design: discusses everything from page layout to typography and even gets into cover design. This one is my favorite of the three, and also about an hour long, and also has good questions at the end.

Video on cover design: only 35 minutes, watch this one only if you will be making a book that has a printed cover.

I am working on a future post that deals with page layout, so if you have something you’d like to show me that you’d like me to consider using in that post, please feel free to contact me about it.

Next time, we’ll take on typography


Another Employer Speaks Up

Last week, we discussed a few different ways of ordering the materials you put in your portfolios. But today, I have another employer’s feedback to share with you.

As many of you know, I have been asking colleagues for their perspective. Each of them is in the position of doing the hiring and portfolio review for their respective firms. Our conversations are typed by me, approved or modified by the person interviewed, and posted here for you. It is through this process, that as much as possible, these are their words.

Scott Lewis of Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture generously shared with me his opinions about portfolios and the whole hiring process. He took a lot of time out of his busy schedule to share this information with me, and I very much appreciate it. Below you will find his input:

Q: “I know that there are a lot of recent graduates who haven’t been able to find work, but still want to do things that will keep them from being dismissed as candidates. What would you say to people who don’t have a lot of professional experience?”

Do you mean what should they emphasize on their résumé when they have been unable to find work, or whether to mention jobs they doing to pay bills while finding a position in the field?

If résumé only and no job yet, emphasize GPA, student awards, volunteer or internships that deal with the profession, such as ASLA or Habitat for Humanity, etc.

If question is about what to emphasize in non-field jobs, emphasize communication skills, people skills, and organizational skills. For example, in the cover letter one might state that while looking for a professional position, the applicant volunteered to assist in a community garden project, or volunteered on environmental education at a summer camp.

While looking for work, candidates can also:

  • Do unpaid internships at a professional LA firm.
  • Become aware of the current State and municipal codes in the area one is looking for work, in particular those relating to green building. For example, many cities in California are using the Green Points checklist for building permits, which is different than LEED.
  • Get involved in professional organizations: ASLA, AIA, TCLF, etc.
  • Learn plants. Most recent graduates have limited plant knowledge. If the candidate wants to focus on urban design, research the types of plants that will survive and thrive in an urban environment with little maintenance.

Q: “What do you need to see in order to hang on to someone’s information?”

A: I will keep materials on an applicant because of the tone of the cover letter, a graphically clean portfolio and examples of construction documents and details.

Q: “What is an automatic deal-breaker for you when you receive someone’s materials?”

A: Typos and incorrect grammar in the cover letter, overly-long cover letters and form cover letters. If a candidate cannot write a cover letter with proper grammar and spelling, that indicates a lack of attention to detail. Length: A cover letter should be one page and briefly introduce the candidate, why they are interested in our firm and how their skills/experience might be a good match. Content: A form cover letter that the candidate uses for all their contacts, regardless of the firm they are contacting, shows a lack of preparation and sensitivity to the individual design direction of the firm. Our firm does very little urban planning work, yet we have received material from candidates emphasizing their urban planning and analysis skills. That indicates the candidate has not researched our firm.

Q: “How has the flow of un-solicited applications changed lately?”

A: Has picked up in this year. More candidates are contacting us via email than with hard copy packages.

Making Contact:

  • Never make a cold call.
  • If at all possible, try to contact someone on the phone, not via email.
  • Network to establish contacts – you will have a better chance of getting a return phone call if you can say that, for example “Susan Smith thought it would be a good idea for me to contact you because of my interest in habitat restoration, which I see was a focus of your project for the Middletown Creek Park”.
  • Setting up an informational interview is often an effective way to get an introduction to a firm’s practice and to make contacts. Make it clear that you are not looking for a position, but that you are interested in the firm’s work (mention specific projects) and that you would appreciate the opportunity to have a 30 minute mtg. with a project manager or principal. Many firms are happy to talk about their work.

Cover letters and Thank you notes:

  • Cover letter: Limit to one page and as brief as possble. Introduce yourself; give a brief statement about how you learned of the company (award, website, article, etc.) and what you want – an interview for an advertised position? An informational interview? Be specific. It should be a couple of paragraphs at most. Many cover letters are too long.
  • Always send a thank you note after you have had an interview. The thank you note can be hand-written, typed, or via email. Written or typed will get noticed more.

Web-based Portfolios:

  • I will seldom take the time to look at a web-based portfolio. I will not respond to an email that says ‘Hi, my name is ___ please go to my website at ____” because it’s obvious that person has not taken the time to research our firm and demonstrate why we should be interested in them.
  • There is a danger in thinking that just because you built a website, that it will be seen.


  • Limit the résumé to one page. Specify your education and experience. Travel is OK if associated with education or work.
  • Do not include hobbies, languages (unless you are looking at an international firm), personal travel not related to education or work, or your reasons for entering the profession.


  • Planning analysis studies are good because the graphics can be clean and bold. Large-scale conceptual drawings and style boards are also good things for entry level candidates to show.
  • Good renderings are a plus, but don’t include hand drawings unless you can really draw.
  • Understand that lower level positions include a lot of support work. Be prepared to show details, mini-sets of CD’s, etc. Know that this is the work you will be asked to do initially.
  • I understand that it isn’t easy for entry level people to have a lot of work to show, but you can always go back to student projects and continue to develop them graphically or develop a construction document set based on a student project.
  • If you are presenting work from project types other than those the company does, because that’s all you have, that is fine, but don’t neglect to acknowledge that you have at least looked at the company’s website.
  • Student models (physical) are usually pretty rough. I wouldn’t advise including one unless it is exceptional.
  • Focus on clean and impressive graphics. The content (if planning) and/or design intent (if design) is important, but it’s more important for these issues to be shown clearly and simply in order to get noticed.
  • Graphic styles change like fashion, and everyone does it differently. I recommend looking at foreign publications, websites and successful firms for stylistic inspiration. Publications like Abitare, Topos, Arkitecture DK, etc.


  • With initial samples of work, I prefer to see only three projects. I will know as soon as I open it what the level is. Ideally, this is (3) images or at the most, 2 – 3 images for (3) projects.
  • I prefer hard copy portfolios because it takes less time to go through them.
  • Once you set up an interview, you can bring additional samples of work to show/discuss.

Mr. Lewis gave us a lot to consider – now that there are three of these Employer entries (Mr. H, Leslie Golden, and this one), have they helped anyone finesse their portfolio and presentation materials? Please let me know.

Next post, I have some videos to share with you on book design. Stay tuned!


5 Approaches to Portfolio Order

Last week, Leslie Golden said something very important:

I want to see nice renderings, and the thinking behind the design. I need the whole package put together, start to finish. I need to know that the applicant can take a project from concept through construction documents and beyond.”

Landscape Architects’ work has one huge thing in common. Our projects start with the raw site, a client, and project program, and then go through a series of phases from conceptual towards more detail and direction. I enjoyed watching this video where a photographer demonstrated his process for arranging work, and much of what he does applies, except that Landscape Architects usually organize by project, not individual images.

In today’s market, a good many careers are being shaped by opportunity; directed by job offers more than by choice. This can make it difficult to focus on the sectors of Landscape Architecture that you are drawn to, especially if your experience is limited or has been in areas that aren’t what you want to do.

Considering your own work, your professional goals, and the sentiment in the quote above, which of the choices below will you use…or will your portfolio do something completely different?

1. Chronological: Most recent first, like your resume, right?!

Pro:Easy peasy!

Con: Doesn’t necessarily respond to interviewer’s interests or yours.

2. Best stuff first and last with other work in the middle

Pro:You can showcase anything you want at any point.

Con: If asked why you selected this particular order, will you have something compelling to say?

3. Project Type or Sector

(E.g. residential projects separate from commercial work.)

Pro: You can change the order to present the sector you want to discuss with your interviewer separately from all the rest, while keeping the rest available, just in case.

Con: This is hard to pull-off if the sector you want to focus on is the one where your work is older or not as gorgeous as your other work.

4. Professional vs. Academic

Pro:Employers can gauge your abilities separate from work that likely had a few other influences.

Con: Same thing! Not that anyone should take credit for work we did not do, but collaboration can sometimes really elevate a project’s final result.

5. Different kinds of images

(E.g. grouping renderings together, with a separate category for construction documents or site photos.)

Pro: This is one way to add materials to your portfolio that aren’t specific to a project, or that were particularly lovely but the rest of the project work wasn’t your best.

Con: This method may not tell a strong story of your thought processes in doing design work.

Today’s post was inspired by a question that was sent to me. Someone asked how to arrange the materials in their portfolio when most of their professional work was in a single sector, but they were hoping to broaden their career with other project types. I want to thank this person for asking, because questions like these are so helpful for generating these posts!

What arrangement will you use? How much of that decision was based on what you want to do vs. the materials you have to show? Organizing your portfolio is an art and must respond to so many influences, please feel free to tell us how you will/did solve this issue for yourself.

Attribution: Number photos came from Leo Reynolds’ collection on flickr.

Next time, I will be posting another discussion with an employer. Please keep those questions and comments coming!

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