A Look Behind the Personal Process of a Portfolio

About My Website:

The website I have created is a professional design portfolio, compiling multiple case studies that highlight critical and creative thinking in my design process. Most of my content is part of coursework in my degree as a student in the Interactive Arts and Technology program, except for a handful of personal projects. I find Gardner Campbell’s theory of personal cyberinfrastructure (2009) to be very interesting in this case, since a good portfolio is the number one requirement for designers looking to get a job in the industry. Despite its importance SIAT, barely scratches the surface on how to create a worthy portfolio. Expanding on Gardner’s theory, I believe portfolio creation is a key part of design education that is missing from the current curriculum. I used the opportunity in Publishing 101 to fill this gap in SIAT and elevate myself as a designer. 

The intended audience for my portfolio is potential employers and collaborators who want to see a sample of my work to gauge if I would be a fit for the company and/or team. However, my current audience remains limited to my publishing peers. As I grow and refine my website I hope to use it to seek out new and exciting opportunities within the industry. The goal of my website is to carve a space on the internet where I can show my abilities, as position myself as a designer. Moreover, I hope that one day in the future my portfolio can teach and inspire other designers, as many have done for me. My journey in becoming an online publisher was a much deeper personal process than I initially imagined, pushing me to consider my identity as a designer, and insecurities in joining the online community.


Who is Alyssa Lalani? 

One of the most important questions when creating a personal cyber infrastructure is deciding who you are and whom you want to be. Navigating how I should present myself online proved to be one of the main challenges I had throughout the semester and is something that I continue to struggle with. The design portfolio itself is an extension of who you are as a designer, but what if you don’t know who you want to be? Spiralling into somewhat of an existential crisis, this affect my website in two critical ways: 

  1. What areas of design should I focus on? 
  2. How can I infuse my website with personality? 

The avoidance of dealing with the first issue lead me to create a portfolio that is a catch-all for the majority of the design work I have completed. I talk more about my struggles creating and conforming to a design niche in my process post “Niching Down for Audiences” (Lalani, 2020). Instead of following a specific niche, I positioned myself as “multi-disciplinary” in all areas of art and technology, with a focus on experimentation and growth. While this approach works, for now, I’m undecided if this is a sustainable way to promote myself online. The ongoing debate in the design community between specializing or generalizing can make a lot of designers feel uneasy. Most industry leaders such as Charli Mari (2015) and Chris Do (2020), believe that it is better to be a specialist and niche your interests down to focus on a single area of design. The philosophy behind it is that if you are good at everything then you are great at nothing; people want to hire experts. As a junior designer looking for a potential internship I think it’s okay that I showcase a range of skills to illustrate that I can contribute in a variety of ways. However, I believe that as I continue my design career and continue to make more content I will be able to define a niche for myself. 

Infusing my personality in the design of the website is something that was extremely confusing at first and grew to be frustrating. Long before I took this class I struggles with coming up with a branding and style guide for myself. It is much easier to design for other people than it is for yourself. Every time I was close to having an idea, it eventually didn’t feel like it represented who I am. Trying to put my entire being into a logo, and colour scheme is an overwhelming task. When starting with WordPress I was relieved that I could start with a layout and customize it rather than creating something from scratch. However I quickly reached the limitations of WordPress customization, and something as simple as changing the colour seemed impossible. The designer in me was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t control what I created. In my process post “Mediums” (Lalani, 2020) I mention how the creation of a portfolio acts as a portfolio piece itself. The presentation of work consequently affects how the work is received. Take for instance Lydia Amaruch (n.d) and Tobias Ahlin Bjerrome (n.d) that use the design of their website to promote their brand and visual identity. Moreover, they infuse their website with a sense of personality that ties together their work.

Travis Getz (2015) explains the consequences of resorting to design-machines that offer pre-made templates and ready-to-go design as being the downfall of designing with emotion. There is no use in presenting myself online if I’m just going to “look” like everyone else around me. I cannot stand out from the crowd using a free premade template that doesn’t show my personality or design style. Receiving in-depth feedback from the TA only confined the importance of communicating personality in a portfolio. Going forward I am planning on using my website as an interim portfolio while I work on creating a unique design from scratch. I hope to eventually implement these designs in Webflow (“Responsive Web Design Tools”, n.d), which has a completely customizable interface without needing to learn code. 


Defying the Nature of Being a Lurker: 

Being an online publisher means creating rather than consumer, and publishing your work online means you are inviting the world to judge you. Although perhaps this is a more philosophical struggle in my mentality, something I struggled with throughout the course was the public nature of publishing. I am by nature a lurker on the internet. My social media platforms are bare-bones with very little personal information available. I have an extremely small and selective following, no posts on any platforms and it took me years before I was persuaded to put up a profile picture. I have been navigating the internet hiding behind a wall of anonymity and vulnerability. 

Thus the dramatic shift to having a public profile, which I was regularly posting public content to, was a really difficult adjustment. John Suler’s conception of the online disinhibition effect (2004) validates my personal journey towards becoming an online publisher as a self of contradicting “constellations” that make up the contrast between my in-person and online persona. Specifically, I related to what he describes as the “inhibiting self” a process by which you can learn more about yourself by understanding your inhibition and defence mechanisms, working through them to evolve yourself. Similarly, throughout the last four months, I have realized that my nature as a lurker steams from public insecurity; I feel the weight of the world judging me. For the first time I had public content that the world could see and potentially judge me on.

Pablo Stanely at The Design Team documents a version of this struggle perfectly in his article “The Insecure Designer” (2017). In it, he talks about the fear of criticism and learning to let go of perfectionism, which is a common thread among my insecurities posting online. What if people thought my design work was unprofessional? What if they didn’t think I had the potential to become a designer? Is my work even good enough to post?

Comic retrieved from: https://thedesignteam.io/the-insecure-designer-e3c703a07abb

But what happens when criticism is taken a step too far? One of my biggest fears using the internet is that I will unknowingly turn into the next Jessica Valenti (Boggioni, 2016) or Justine Sacco (Ronson, 2015) whose lives were turned upside down by public hate.

The process of continually posting to my website helped me to become comfortable creating a personal cyber infrastructure, my own unique space on the internet. Instead of being something that I fear, I have tried to change my perspective to look at the immense opportunity and growth that it will provide. I am tired of being a lurker around the design community. I want to be actively apart of it by sharing my designs, collaborating with other creators, and just generally learning and growing from the experience. 


Going Forward:

As I learned throughout the class, becoming an online publisher is a deeply individual experience.  It allowed me to reflect not only on my design identity struggles but also on personal struggles regarding my online image. Overall I am very proud of the thoughtful case studies I have managed to complete as well as the creative mini-assignment artworks. Despite the success, I know that there is still a lot of work to be done before my portfolio is ready to be seen by employers. Going forward I want to focus on designing my brand as well as creating more personal projects and collaborations and volunteer experience. In the future, I also hope to branch out to social media platforms and develop a reputation that I can continue building throughout my career. 


References:

Ahlin, T. (n.d.). Tobias Ahlin. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://tobiasahlin.com/

Amaruch, L. (n.d.). Lydia Amaruch Portfolio. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://lydiaamaruch.com/

Boggioni, T. (2016, July 28). Prominent feminist writer drops off social media after rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.rawstory.com/2016/07/prominent-feminist-writer-drops-off-social-media-after-rape-threats-against-her-5-year-old-daughter/

Campbell, G. (2009). A personal cyberinfrastructure. Educause Review, 44(5), 58-59. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/-/media/files/article-downloads/erm0957.pdf\

Do, Chris. [The Futur]. (2020, March, 19). Specialize or Generalize – Niche or Broad – What to do when picking a field [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmPHqX2P3vM

Gertz, T. (2015, July 10). Design machines. Retrieved from https://louderthanten.com/coax/design-machines

Lalani, A. (2020, November 29). Mediums. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://alyssalalani.com/pub101/mediums/

Lalani, A. (2020, October 27). Niching Down for Audiences. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://alyssalalani.com/pub101/niching-down-for-audiences/

Lalani, A. (2020, September 29). Done is Better than Perfect. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://alyssalalani.com/pub101/done-is-better-than-perfect/

Prangley, Charlie. & Von [The Futur]. (2020, March, 19). Specialize or Generalize – Niche or Broad – What to do when picking a field [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmPHqX2P3vM

Ronson, J. (n.d.). When online shaming goes too far. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.ted.com/talks/jon_ronson_what_happens_when_online_shaming_spirals_out_of_control?language=en

Stanley, P. (2017, January 26). The Insecure Designer. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://thedesignteam.io/the-insecure-designer-e3c703a07abb

Suler, J. (2016). Psychology of cyberspace the online disinhibition effect. Retrieved from http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html

Responsive web design tool, CMS, and hosting platform. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://webflow.com/

css.php