The design portfolio is one of the most important design exercises of a student’s career. It is the document that not only represents all of the hard work they’ve accomplished but also serves as an indicator of how they consider the world around them. The design problem of the portfolio embodies both the act of planning and the act of doing. To design and produce a successful portfolio, there needs to be an understanding of the complex design systems at work in order to properly structure a portfolio to be able to visually communicate the ideas that have formed and shaped the work included within the portfolio. Through the portfolio the student is not only being evaluated on their formal design work, but also on the design of the portfolio and how they’ve used this opportunity to frame their ideas.
A significant factor of being a successful designer is having the ability to parse through an incredible amount of information and discover interrelated themes. It is a skill unique to design culture and exists in the realm of design thinking and design knowledge. It is important for each student to understand how they, themselves, think so that they can demonstrate it to others. The portfolio should be designed to display this design thinking. If the complexities of how one thinks is understood, then one can begin to understand and define how they might represent and explain all of the diverse knowledge that has gone into each design project.1
The First Year Architecture Program at Auburn University focuses on the practice of the visual communication of architectural ideas or the art of defining, describing, presenting, representing and re-representing. This paper seeks to discuss a pedagogy predicated on the understanding that effective communication of architectural ideas is firmly embedded in the design of the representational artifact and not only in the act of architectural design. The primary goal of the course sequence is to foster a learning process where both strains of design (representation and artifact) are intertwined and constantly and consistently evolving.
In such a complex and ambitious project, the students naturally must learn the essential skills of architectural representation but they must also develop fundamental skills related to documentation and reflection. The portfolio design project ultimately becomes a multi-year project defined by broad, graphic, systems thinking. It is an organizational system that has to be re-focused and re-tooled as the student progresses through their academic (and professional) career. If comprehensive systems thinking regarding the reflection of their own work is taught in the beginning of design education, students are better prepared to develop successful habits of reconsideration and re-positioning of their respective design challenges. This paper presents a method of system thinking developed to organize the complex reflective relationships needed for successful portfolio design and are defined as: the visual narrative, content narrative and project narrative.2
1. Fletcher, Margaret. Constructing the Persuasive Portfolio: the only primer you’ll ever need. Routledge Publishers. New York and London. 2016.