Portfolio Critique Thread

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    Tim Zhang

    It’s a tough economy and everyone is searching hard for employment in our field. There’s a couple of other threads on resume/portfolio critiques and I’ve learned quite a few things from the comments. I’m starting this thread for anyone to post his/her portfolio in, instead of starting new threads, this way you might get more reviews and to keep the forum organized.

    Anyway.. I’ll start with mine. I have 3 part time design jobs currently and can’t wait for a more stable full time job, I never seem to get call backs from firms that I’ve applied.. -_-

    See attachment.

    Thanks for your time.

    Noah Mabry


    As I have recently been involved in a thread about someone’s folio and saw others popping up, I stopped by to do exactly what you’ve already done with this thread! Great minds I guess.

    Anyway I know what you mean about call backs. i do however have a nice pile of rejection letters to keep me company. I suppose thats better than no contact at all.

    As far as your portfolio goes…..really beautiful work. I love the montages and concept paintings as well. The only thing I’d say right off is what I told someone else here, process work.

    Thats the major criticism I received from some of my interviews. They said my work was good, but couldn’t see any process. I’m reworkng my portfolio right now, and other than swapping out projects thats the major focus for me, adding sketches/diagrams etc.

    Tim Zhang

    I just uploaded the same pdf onto issuu.


    I just hate checking my email everyday and keeping my phone by my side just in case an employer calls, rejection sounds good.


    Tim, your portfolio looks great.

    I really like the greyscale layout and bold typeface. The cover is excellent in my opinion.

    After a quick glance I might say that the layout is a bit static. I like the grid layout and simple organization. There’s a pretty clear hierarchy and transition between projects, but I feel like some of your imagery could ‘blow out’ a little more through a more dynamic organization on some pages. Hope thats constructive for you..

    Jerry de Gryse

    Thirty years ago, I sent out 30-40 resumes and got one very short response… no one else answered at all. The lesson. Don’t send out a resume and expect a response. Many offices get several resumes a week…. it can be a burden trying to respond to them all.

    To get a job, you need to know the name of the person you are writing to… Dear Sir or Madam makes the receiver feel old…. try Dear Marion, or Bill or whatever…

    So you need to do your homework. Preferably in person. Go to an office(s), meet the people there…. find out what they need from a new employee and then go home and reinvent yourself/your portfolio (without lying) to fit into the profile of the person they need … to highlight that you have the skills they need.

    Personality and knowing you can work with people helps an employer decide as much as a portfolio or the marks. If the employer is good, they can help you with the latter … but a nice smile, good presentation, friendly hand shake, good sense of humour… all sell …

    Anyway, hope these comments help.

    PS I have endeavoured to be the guy that does respond to every resume I get as I wish everyone the opportunity to enjoy a life in the industry as I have.

    Noah Mabry

    I have a more general question on length and detail. I fall on the side of more pictures with little blurbs. This can make my portfolio a little longer in the strict sense of number of pages, and I don’t want the reader to feel like they’re slogging through something (especially if they have several hundred more to look at).


    Tim Zhang

    IMO it should give the reader choices. For mine, it was made so that the reader can get an understanding of the projects from the large words in bold, but I also have paragraphs with unostentatious text in gray just in case they’d want to know more about the projects.

    David Farber

    I actually joined up just to respond to this post. I recently graduated last May, out of the 15 students graduating from my university 2 had jobs after work, 1 (me) just found a job, 5 went to get a masters and delay the economy. The others are in limbo. My suggestions would be to use connections if you have any. Talking to an actual human instead of the hr dept. is very important. The higher up the chain the person is the better. You have experience but don’t say what you did in writing in your resume. Also get the principal of those firms you interned at to be your contacts instead of your teachers. I agree show more concept work, to see the brain to paper connection. Real nice paintings, also be sure to explain exactly what was group work or just yours. Besides that be aggressive. I got 2 offers by having connections, great portfolio/resume. Just make sure there is a connection or your just one of 1000’s.

    Terry DeWan, FASLA


    Since you asked… Here’s a few comments that you may find helpful. I’ve got a 10-person firm in Maine and see a fair number of portfolios.

    The overall first impression is quite impressive. Strong layout, good variety in scale and techniques. Good understanding of spatial relationships. However, you know that. I’d like to see the following things addressed in your next iteration:

    1. Well-rounded Technical Competency. Include examples of planting plans, grading plans, stormwater management solutions… the proverbial nuts and bolds that are the underpinnings of our profession.

    2. Hand graphics. You’re quite accomplished at photoshop and other electronic tools. I’d like to see examples of hand sketching, simple cross-sections, details, etc. An employer will want to have a sense that you can think on your feet..quickly.. since you will not always have to luxury of the time it takes to complete digital renderings. Your Viral Green project has some wonderful pencil sketching… I’d like to see a lot more!

    3. Alternative solutions. There should be an example or two that shows how you developed alternative plans for the same program. I totally agree with an earlier responder who stressed the need for process images. Examining a variety of alternatives is an important part of the process of design.

    4. References. Include people who know you as an individual and as an office employee. You may want to reduce the number of academic references down to three.

    5. Work Listing. Include an address, just to give prospective employers a better sense of where you’ve worked.

    6. Resume Pages. Each page should follow the 3-30-3 rule of thumb that is used for interpretive signs… i.e., reviewers will either spend three seconds; 30 seconds; or 3 minutes examining each page. The text and the images should give the reviewer an increasingly greater understanding of your design / intent through attention to captions, typeface, and layout. Many prospective employers will only spend a few seconds on each page… but that should be enough time to let them know that the work is well thought-out and competent.

    7. Project descriptions. Read, and re-read each of them. Then have a non-landscape architect friend / colleague do the same with a very critical eye. Avoid run-on sentences, repetitive use of the same phrasing, and jargon!

    8. Inspiration for Forms. What is the source of inspiration for the forms that you use? E.g., the Community Gardens, with their flowing leaf-patterns? How do they fit their intended function?

    9. Legibility. Some of the text is very difficult to read… e.g., the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. Most reviewers will not print your pdf out, so it needs to create a great first impression. The font size is too small to be legible.

    10. Design + Build. Is the top image a photo? It’s a testimony to your earlier work that I ask the question. But it doesn’t really do much for me, with the spotty plantings, block wall, expansive grass panel….

    Good luck! You’ve obviously on the right road.

    Tim Zhang

    Thanks, that was a very helpful breakdown. For work experience, should I include firms/companies that I’ve freelanced for? I’ve been freelancing a lot, mainly for hand coloring plans and 3d models, should I list them under work experience? I also have a lot of graphic design contents like logos, website graphics, etc., think they are relevant?

    Terry DeWan, FASLA

    Hi Tim!

    Do you have a separate entity with a separate name that you’ve set up to do free-lance work? I’d be inclined to play it up, since it shows initiative on your part and an understanding of marketing. Definitely show your logo//website/other graphics. Versatility is a highly sought-after quality.

    Nate Hommel

    I just want to use the response by Terry DeWan as a great example of what an amazing resource Land8 has become. The fact that people take time out of their days to assist others who they likely have never met, is just amazing.

    I agree with several of the comments and will also stress the value of showing Process. Thumbnail sketches, even quick dirty sections, or a site analysis done in the field. If I were reviewing a portfolio I would expect to see good technical skills, (which you clearly possess) and I believe that you need to show that in order to get your foot in the door. The key is for me to understand how you think, showing process gives the reviewer that opportunity.

    And 3-30-3 is excellent advice!

    Tim Zhang

    I agree that connection is very important. I have friends who got job offers without even a portfolio. Even the part time jobs I have, were ALL from referrals by friends who got rejected in interviews.

    David Farber

    I graduating in May, just started a new job. Thats the most diffucult thing, to wake up each day and check the email, and recheck and recheck and recheck. All it takes is one person, one connection. Have to keep your head up. I felt the exact sameway.

    Tim Zhang

    I don’t really have a separate entity, I’ve just been fortunate to have friends and professors refer me. I thought about starting a freelance landscape design graphics service and send firms pamphlets about what I do, but I dunno if it’ll play a negative effect on me in case I apply there in the future.

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