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Utendahl Creative Wants To Help New Black Designers By Offering Portfolio Reviews

by Rudy Sanchez on 02/20/2023 | 4 Minute Read

One source of dread for many budding design professionals are their portfolios. It can be challenging for any creative to know if the portfolio is accomplishing their goals or impressing potential employers or clients.

Showing others and asking for feedback is a great way to improve a portfolio. Still, if your network of industry professionals is small, the amount and constructiveness of input might not be enough to really make it shine. That lack of a robust network can be particularly true for Black designers, who represent only 4.9% of the design community, according to AIGA.

Utendahl Creative wants to do its part in helping new Black designers and students by reviewing their portfolios. About every month or so, the agency will call for submissions via its Instagram account; interested designers then fill out a form, including their goals from the portfolio review. If the talented folks at Utendahl Creative accept the submission, they’ll review the work and provide feedback.

“At the start of the year, we were brainstorming ways to get more involved within the design community as a team, and portfolio reviews came to mind as something that we'd eventually want to offer,” said Gillian Fink, designer at Utendahl Creative. “More recently, Madison [Madison Utendahl, founder of Utendahl Creative] bought a copy of The Black Experience in Design for the office. There's this great chapter on the blocks along Black designers' journey and a chart about all the barriers to entry and ways that people in the industry can offer their support and help alleviate some of those barriers. Portfolio reviews were one of the things mentioned. So that just affirmed that it was something we wanted to implement and sooner rather than later.”

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For Utendahl Creative, carving out some time in the week to review portfolios for new designers is exactly the kind of giving back to the design community that any agency can start immediately without significant planning, coordination, expense, or other resources. It’s also something that other studios can easily replicate, and Utendahl Creative hopes its portfolio review initiative inspires other firms to start their own program.

“One of the hardest parts for businesses when it comes to diversity and inclusion is this idea that you have to do things like hire a diversity and inclusion officer, or you need to go down to HBCUs and set up a stand at a job fair, but you don't have the budget,” explains Madison Utendahl. “You can create all these different reasons why the design world remains homogenous, specifically within hiring and graphic design. But we're trying to tap into the ethos that it's just about galvanizing people, putting out a call to action, and being super purposeful about speaking to designers of color and women who are not experiencing the same upward mobility as their white male counterparts. We’re doing that by saying, ‘we're here to support you and to guide you.’ That also creates this network that, hopefully, we can disperse in time to change some of these stats within design that prevent people of color and women from moving through the industry and up in their careers.”

Utendahl's first month of reviews will kick off in March, and while they are currently at capacity, the remainder of applicants will have priority for April and May. That said, the team does have some general tips for everyone.

“One tip that immediately comes to mind is that less is more,” says Zoe Schoeller-Burke, design director at Utendahl Creative. “I think it's much more impactful to highlight two to three of your strongest projects, if that's all that you have, rather than going out of your way to fatten up your portfolio with any form of mediocre work that you're just putting on there for the sake of fattening it up. I would also say finding good mockups is arguably more important than the work itself. I think the way in which you present your projects says a lot about you as a designer.”

“I always think it's good to keep in mind is that the person on the receiving end of your portfolio only has like a minute to glance over it,” Gillian said. “Make sure you're communicating what you want to about your work and your design at a high level. You can add more depth for those who take more time to look at your portfolio but make sure you make a good immediate impression.”

If you’re a Black designer starting out or a student interested in having your portfolio reviewed by Utendahl Creative, follow the studio on Instagram. Submissions are closed for now, but Utendahl Creative says the goal is to accept applications about once a month.