Form, Focus and Impact: Pedagogy of a 21st-Century Design Portfolio

Peter Lusch
Professor of Practice
Lehigh University, Bethlehem PA

Befitting careers of the industrial era—in which graphic design was focused on the creation of static artifacts and one-direction communication streams—the traditional format used to demonstrate professional credentials of designers and students has been a physical or electronic portfolio, generally showcasing five to twenty discrete artifacts with short descriptions.

Technologically, the tools and outputs designers now use have altered how design is distributed and consumed, which in turn has created new forms of practice. Moreover, the proliferation of social design and social innovation practices—work without familiar ends of products and services—have further altered the discipline. These changes suggest the traditional approach to teaching design portfolios is outdated.

If the portfolio continues to hold important relevance for employers, what form, format, and focus should it take? How might we best prepare our students to showcase their skills and start their design careers in this shifting design and media landscape?

In this presentation, we will introduce our research studying the pedagogy of the undergraduate design portfolio. We will share qualitative findings from our initial data-set, collected from interviews with design educators and practitioners. Gathered from the perspectives of different types of design programs set in different regions across the country, we share viewpoints between pedagogy and practice to fill gaps in the literature about the preparation of students for professional practice.

This research is vital as a new generation of design educators takes the lead in teaching future designers how to navigate the complexity of the design landscape.