I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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When I review a designer’s portfolio, I love to ask: “Which project is your least favorite?”

The answer I loathe to hear is: “Oh, they’re all my favorites and I love them all!”

That’s when my eyes roll.

The answer’s polite. It’s inoffensive. It’s safe. But it’s also the lamest response you can give. I know, you don’t want to trash your work. But saying you love every piece equally is simply a lie.

In any body of work, you’ll always prefer some pieces over others. When was the last time you loved every song equally on an album? And how many of you list the rainbow as your favorite color? Look at it this way. If they’re all your favorites, then none of them are.

I ask designers to explain their least favorite project, because it shows three things:

  1. How well you evaluate your own work
    Designing involves picking the best option from a range of choices. This means you must know how to edit–to evaluate, select, and eliminate options. When you explain why you chose one option over another, you give the interviewer a glimpse into your decision making and editing skills.

  2. How well you can tell a story
    Designing is also storytelling. And every portfolio piece, even your worst project, has a story–terrible pieces actually lend themselves to more dramatic stories. If you can captivate and charm your audience with a good story, then you’re on way to getting hired.

  3. How gutsy you are
    Who would you rather hire? A designer who politely tells you she loves all her work equally? Or a designer who has a real opinion and point of view about her work?

So, next time you show off your portfolio in a design interview, don’t give the same easy answers everyone is giving. Take a stand, pick your least favorite, and tell a good story about it.

I’ll be reviewing portfolios at AIGA Portfolio day in San Francisco on May 31. See you there. I promise I won’t bite.

Disagree with me? Sound off in the comments.

11 Comments

  • David Airey

    gravatarApr 28, 2008
    8:51 am

    It’s a great question to ask, and one that few (if any) clients ask of me.

    Hope you have fun reviewing the San Francisco portfolios.

  • Brad

    gravatarApr 28, 2008
    11:44 am

    I think there’s another reason this might be a revealing question.

    When I look at movie or book reviews, I always check the negative reviews first. Our good reviews tend to be non-specific, I think because it means that the product in question tends to be in tune with expectations and aspects of ourselves that we take for granted. Also, there’s no social obligation to say why something is good.

    On the other hand, bad reviews tend to get very specific, and if I spot bad reviews calling out defects that I think are positive features, I’ve learned a lot more than I would have wading through the good reviews.

    So I wonder whether this question might also be effective by forcing the interviewee to a greater level of specificity than he’d have gone to if you’d asked him the exact same questions regarding his decisions on his favorite piece.

    Just my $.02.

  • Seraph

    gravatarApr 28, 2008
    3:55 pm

    I actually know exactly which project was my least favorite. Working on it practically hurt in a physical way…especially when the client ok’d it and said it was “perfect”.

    Ugh….not good memories.

  • Billslm

    gravatarApr 28, 2008
    5:16 pm

    You probably already knew this but here goes: When Picasso was asked to name his favorite painting he said, “The last one.”

    As a composer, I would say that my least favorite work is anything I did before the last one depending on how many zillion times I listened to it.

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarApr 28, 2008
    10:56 pm

    Hey Brad, I think you’re right.

    It’s easier to spot specific mistakes and negatives once you start looking. I like to ask for the least favorite, rather than the most favorite, because then the designer gets to decide whether or not she leaves that piece in for the future. It’s better to know what to take out, than what to leave in.

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarApr 28, 2008
    10:57 pm

    Hi Billslm. Indeed, hindsight is 20/20, as they say. I hadn’t heard of the Picasso quote, but I love it.

  • Jacob Cass

    gravatarApr 29, 2008
    12:59 am

    Some great questions there. I just had a look at mine to see what was my least favourite, mostly the ones I didn’t spend as much time on.

    Want to review my portfolio… I can take a beating. http://justcreativedesign.com/portfolio/

    • Jacob
  • Steve

    gravatarApr 29, 2008
    6:13 am

    The problem with your question isn’t the question, but the atmosphere of this kind of interview would make a designer second-guess themselves, thinking you’re trying to trick them, tripping them up, or you’re waiting for a standard response – like the ones you’re getting.

    I’d expect you’d get better responses if you asked them to pick out a design or two that they wished they had more time to improve, now that they have perspective on it. Sounds less tricky.

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarApr 29, 2008
    7:42 am

    Hey Steve, thanks for the critique. I love your suggestion for reframing the question to help the interviewer feel less insecure. My goal is to try to get the designer to think critically about their work. And your suggestion would achieve that very well.

  • Dennis Lee

    gravatarApr 30, 2008
    6:00 am

    Yeah, I do agree with Steve. Being a student designer myself, I often have to wonder what the interviewer is looking for?

    A superconfident, balls-on-my-face designer or a guy honest with his own work?

    Most of the time it really depends on the interviewer and how at ease he makes the interviewee feel.

    Haha, but most of the time I go the honest route.

  • minxlj

    gravatarMay 1, 2008
    8:01 am

    I’d never come back with some standard response like ‘I love it all equally’ because it can never be true, and if the interviewer is asking that question they obviously don’t want to hear the standard response.

    I don’t want to work for the type of company who just want to hear me lie and say everything’s great – I’d much rather go for the one who appreciates my honesty. Because that’s the only way GREAT work ever gets accomplished, when people are honest enough to say when something’s crap.