The projects you create in school and those you make up for yourself (your “passion projects”) are dress rehearsals for the professional design world. When I create assignments for my students, I make it a point to replicate the types of projects and processes that are generally required in professional practice. As an educator, I allow room for a broad range of interpretation and encourage students to customize themes according to their interests, skills, and the industry where they want to work.

My objective is simple: identify and assign practice projects that call upon a variety of skills, develop a designer’s abilities, and teach different design-thinking strategies. Whether you are a student building your own portfolio or an instructor in search of projects to assign, this list will guide you to finding and creating projects that will give breadth and depth to a book of work, in addition to providing the experience and skills that a professional practitioner needs.

  • Create projects with a focus on different industries (e.g., entertainment, retail, not-for-profit, and start-ups) to enhance exposure to a variety of fields. One may spur an interest or ignite a passion.
  • Create different project types (e.g., rebranding, branding, advertising, and promotion) as an introduction to the variety of strategic problem-solving approaches to design problems and to diversify the portfolio.
  • Solicit not-for-profit projects to gain professional design experience and assist an organization with its mission. Each semester, I ask my branding students to contribute to a pro bono project; it’s not only great for the students, but keeps my feet wet and in the game.
  • Offer multiple options for each project to avoid a potential employer pegging anyone by the college they attend because they see the same project every year. (Not every student is motivated by every project, so if the project you’re assigning is, for example, a rebranding program for a local business, you can offer an alternative option, or ask students to come up with a rebranding project of their own.)
  • Use or improve an already completed project from an internship, freelance, or job. Practicing with real professional projects is great, but they should be good enough to appear in a portfolio. Always ask permission from the client or an employer to use their project in your personal book of work.

© 2015 Denise Anderson. All rights reserved. No part of this worksheet may be reproduced, stored, transmitted, or disseminated in any form or by any means without prior written permission from Denise Anderson.