Digital folios on the move

With iPad 2 flying off shelves and a raft of rivals nipping at its heels, presenting work in tablet form is becoming increasingly fashionable. Ed Ricketts talks to the designers who are taking their digital portfolios on the road

From flashy Flash sites to plain white grid layouts, online portfolios are now the norm rather than an exception. Rare is the designer who isn't able to direct someone to their work online, or still relies solely on a printed portfolio.

But presenting that digital work on the move - at a client meeting, for instance - is another proposition altogether. Does the digital screen do justice to your work? Can you rely on the web connection? Is the server down? What if you've just cornered a juicy potential client in a pub that doesn't have a connection at all?

For web designers who are used to coding offline sites and whose clients aren't bothered about the relative inelegance of staring at a laptop, such issues might be of little consideration; however, for the rest of us, the obvious answer is to use some form of portable digital portfolio. And, like it or not, it seems the iPad (and to some extent the iPhone) has cornered the market in this area.

Based in New York, Alexander Wolf is an art director and graphic designer with a particular love of print jobs. At the beginning of 2011 he became a full-time designer in the interactive department of Ralph Lauren - "a gig that I booked off an interview in which I used an iPad," he says.

In fact, an iPad was the first electronic device that Wolf used in place of a traditional portfolio as a tool for interviews and client presentations. He had previously eschewed the use of a laptop for the same purpose, as he felt it was something of an unsatisfactory solution because of the bulky keyboard and limited viewing angles.

The advent of the iPad, however, convinced Wolf to make an attempt to present with a digital, portable portfolio. Now he's hooked: "I love finishing up a big project that I want to show off and being able to immediately output the work to my iPad, versus having to print the work (or even shoot it as a printed piece) and slot it into a traditional portfolio book," says the designer. "For this reason, it can also be quite cost effective to busy designers. A book runs to at least $300, not to mention the cost of printing its pages, whereas the iPad has one start-up cost with zero upkeep," he adds.

In terms of content, Wolf's portable folio is essentially the same as his website, both of which use Viewbook to present slideshows. The major difference is that the iPad version works entirely offline, removing the need for a working net connection. "In essence, I simply output a series of JPEGs of my design work, bundled into folders based on the project or client," he explains.

"All of these JPEGs are then leveraged by the stock Apple Photos app on the iPad, which does the trick for me. Because of the ability to double-tap on images to zoom in and view them larger, I'm able to output the pictures at roughly twice the resolution of the iPad display itself." He adds that the ability to zoom in on complicated, type-driven designs provides another obvious benefit over a traditional print portfolio.

In the four months that Wolf has been using his iPad as his sole tool, feedback from clients has been largely positive. "Creative directors have seemingly delighted in double-tapping on some of my work to really get a sense of the typography, and then ask me questions about my custom ligatures or what have you," he says. "Using something like an iPad shows that, as a designer, you are excited by new technology and eager to adapt to a world where touch-driven interfaces are the future of many forms of media consumption."

Wolf is far from unique in being won over by the iPad after previously dismissing similar solutions, such as a laptop. While tablets capable of showing portfolio work digitally predate Apple's device by some time, many designers felt they simply weren't slick or professional enough to use for client presentations, with laptops suffering similar problems. As is its wont, Apple has managed to re-ignite a somewhat dormant market through refinement alone.

Rather like Apple, Joe Rozsa of Trailer Trash Design has built his reputation by thinking differently. His workplace, for instance, is actually a gutted Airstream trailer, which is now fully converted to act as a studio.

"Although we're small, Trailer Trash Design is a full-service ad agency," says Rozsa. "Projects from simple ad design to total web solutions including social media integration happen here."

Rozsa is careful to extend his alternative thinking to all areas of his work, including his portfolio presentations - dividing them into a physical portfolio, an online web portfolio and a portable digital portfolio. "Although there are several overlapping pieces, the portfolios are very different; the physical portfolio, for example, showcases more print work and screen grabs of electronic projects," he says.

Rozsa uses iPad and iPhone versions of the digital portfolio to book meetings, and focuses heavily on imagery from various projects in order to pique initial interest: "On my iPad I have a Keynote presentation of my work, about 12 slides. On my iPhone I have various loose images, again around 12 of them. I didn't really need to make many changes to the work. I would say about the only thing I really did was resize some of the images so that they didn't chew up so much space," he says.

His web portfolio, meanwhile, handles more heavy-duty projects, including links to working websites that can be used in later meetings or if the client needs to see more detail. "My digital portfolio also has links where needed, but the images showcase the work well enough," Rozsa explains. "I do this because I don't like to be at the mercy of an internet connection to show my work. You can never tell when you'll be able to connect and when you won't."

Although Rozsa says his clients have never demanded to see a physical portfolio in preference to his portable version, his feeling is that they still expect something tangible. "There have been two instances where I've gotten projects from my digital portfolio, but they did ask to see my physical portfolio later on," he explains. "That could very well be the age group of people that I deal with. If I were to deal with a younger demographic, maybe they would want to see only a digital version.

"What I've been doing lately is taking both my physical portfolio and my iPad so that we can quickly jump onto sites I've designed if necessary. If we don't, I leave the client with a list of sites I've done that they can look at in their own time."

Clients aside, Rozsa feels that he would never go completely digital with his portfolio and eschew a physical version entirely, because the two forms of media work so well together.

"The physical and digital portfolio in my opinion are a strong one-two punch that really feed off each other," he says. "I might go to a meeting without my iPad to show digital stuff, but I will never go without my physical portfolio."

As a graphic designer mainly working in print and the areas of branding, logo design and brand management, Aaron Mahnke of Wet Frog Studios previously had little call to present his work digitally. That all changed with the launch of iPad: "Believe it or not, before that my portfolio consisted of a small photo album," he says. "I would take my logo artwork and create individual 5x7-inch photographs that I would have printed, and then fill the album with them. Print work was harder to show off this way, but I had a few photos that were collages of print materials on a nice wooden background, and they worked well."

Obviously, this sort of solution had problems: the sleeves holding the photos were easily scratched, the photos themselves would bend and Mahnke would have to replace them regularly. Nowadays, he just uses his tablet.

"My iPad set-up is really simple, and has remained the same since I first purchased it," he says. "When I complete a logo and deliver it to my client, I create a high-quality image in Photoshop using the logo and a complementary background colour or texture, and save that JPEG to iPhoto, where it gets sent to various places - Facebook, MobileMe, my iPhone and my iPad. The only real bit of friction in the whole set-up is that I have to occasionally remember to plug the iPad in and sync it to get the latest items onto it."

Mahnke has looked at a number of the other portfolio apps available, but finds the default iPhoto app works fine for his needs. "Preparing logo art for the iPad is fairly simple. I have a Photoshop file for each year of work, and fill it with all of the logos I design throughout the year, giving each one a layer in the file. These portfolio documents are set up to the same image size as an iPad, 300dpi and RGB. Besides those simple settings, there are no other modifications that I feel are necessary."

The printed portfolio isn't likely to disappear completely any time soon, but it's clear that putting some of your work into a portable digital portfolio can certainly pay dividends.

With a slew of more refined tablet devices hitting the market in 2011, challenging the seemingly ubiquitous iPad, and with laptops becoming ever more powerful and portable, presenting your design work on the move can only become easier in the future.