A visual CV is a term one student used, in a lesson about personal and professional development, to describe a page in the portfolio that wasn’t about a particular piece of work they had done, but rather covered details about themselves in a more visual way. This article explores ideas to support the making of a Visual CV and why it might be beneficial for students to produce one. The lesson started with students looking at their favourite graphic designers and using their style and methods to produce a CV with traditional information on it. The idea was to make it stand out and say something about the students’ own interests and personality in a visual way.

David Carson CV Creating a Visual CV

Out of a group of graphic design students there will inevitably be one that is really inspired by David Carson’s designs, and the impact that he had on graphics and typography in general. As such they were looking through Carson’s seminal The End of Print and stumbled across his CV at the back of the book.

They were particularly drawn to the idea that the CV could have images from the past, and present and a layout that interacted with images in inventive ways. The student started to explore what kinds of things would be acceptable on a CV.

We discussed who would be looking at the CV, and produced a mind map of what they might want to know about graphic design students in general. It followed that the students would be sending their CVs to people responsible for employing graphics students in companies of variable sizes and so a mind map of information related to the different skills sets that they might want was produced.

On reflection though, the students seemed to think that the most important progression for them at that stage was to University. So they asked what the point was of producing a CV when they were going to have to write a personal statement and input all the CV information into UCAS anyway.

They had a point. We discussed whether there was information that fell in the gap between what went into a UCAS application and what could be presented in the portfolio.

This generated interesting further discussion about what the interview panel were looking for in candidates, the reasons behind their questions and how it might be difficult to communicate certain information during an interview.

We soon realised that there was so much more to an interview than simply showing high-level work. One of the most interesting aspects to come out of the discussion was the idea that the people interviewing were actually taking a really big gamble when were recruiting students. Essentially, they would have to work with students closely for up to three years. They needed to know as much as possible about how they would fit in with the philosophy of the University, the other students, the style of teaching of the lecturers and if they would manage student life in HE.

Some students aren’t able to speak confidently about themselves unless they are asked direct questions. Many lack confidence and don’t get opportunities to develop presentation skills and enthusiasm for talking about ideas. Out of the discussion came the idea that the Visual CV for University could act as a prompt for topics of discussion that related to the students.

As such, there wasn’t a set outline of information to include on it, but rather things that were important to each individual student. The class came up with a basic list of things that could be included on the Visual CV in written or image form:


Information to include on Visual CV

  • Name
  • DOB*
  • Favourite things
  • Fears
  • Aspirations
  • Negative characteristics
  • Quotes from favourite people
  • Heroes
  • Favourite artists
  • Favourite designers
  • Images from past
  • Favourite materials
  • Hobbies
  • Identity information
  • Important dates
  • Positive characteristics

*consider carefully whether to include sensitive data if the CV is likely to be printed, on a postcard for example


Negative v Positive information

When a student discussed the inclusion of a point that others thought was negative, such as negative personal characteristics, there was a lot of debate about the merits of communicating that kind of information. However, it is quite typical for negative aspects of personality to be discussed at interview. Questions like: “Could you discuss areas of your ability or personality that you need to develop?” are quite common.

Including this kind of information is risky, but the individual student needs to balance whether they are confident enough to talk about this area and whether they really want to use the University as a platform for development of this area.


Conceptual Separation of Self

It was a student called Jake Grear that really pushed the original Visual CV lesson forward. He produced his Visual CV and included it as one of the 15 or so A1 sheets, that he took to his University interview, and accredits some of the reason for his successful application to it. He said that the interviewers were curious as to why he had picked certain artists to include and why there were expressions such as: “untidy”, “glasses”, “mostly translucent”, “repress yourself”.

The feeling Jake got from the interview was that this sheet of information enabled him to present himself in a unique way. Jake took this process further and started asking sophisticated questions about the Visual CV, he wondered if it was part of him on the paper, or if he could include all of his personality? Eventually he felt that producing a Visual CV was like stepping outside of himself and looking in objectively. He called it: “Conceptual Separation of Self” and, with a typical inability to leave it at that, he also gave a definition of what this meant:


Conceptual: is an abstract universal idea

Separation: is the pulling apart of an object or group

Of: is a town and district in Turkey

Self: is the consciousness of your own identity

Jake Grear Visual CV

Visual CV lesson

The lesson worksheet included covers the basic aims and objectives for the lesson. It should take about 2.5 – 3 hrs for students to have an in depth discussion on the topic, practice, produce and reflect on the process. Most students will want to come back to the process and refine their initial designs. If students aren’t able to complete all of the pieces of the design digitally, then it is still ideal to present it all on A1 size and add traditional media later on to fill in the spaces.

If students haven’t used selection and type tools in Photoshop then they will need a demonstration and potentially a workshop covering those processes beforehand. Some students will not have produced a poster on this scale before and there is a key difference to working on A1 and A4. The scale of A1 enables very small details to be worked on and significant amounts of zooming. One way to engage this is to get students to produce some elements of the Visual CV first and then reduce these down by up to 80%.


Aims: Use digital methods for self-promotion


1. Breakdown visual CV into components

2. Operate Photoshop type and selection tools appropriately

3. Present personal information for promotional purposes

4. Evaluate production process (reflective log)

Some students may:

Manipulate type and image in combination



1. Handout post-its with words relating to different personality traits. Each post-it will have a question that you need to answer about yourself to the class – discuss why it might be important to include this information? What are the pros and cons? Why might an interviewer want to know this information?


Personality / Colour / Dream / Hero / Hate / Not good at / Artist / Quote or phrase / Love / Good at / Style / Hobby


2. In groups discuss the kinds of information required for self-promotion and present to class – notes in sketchbooks

3. Look at David Carson visual CV and include in sketchbook. What kind of visuals, processes and information are used?

4. Question: what else would this process work well for? Answers in sketchbook

5. Use type tool in at least 3 different kinds of ways using Photoshop on your visual CV. Combine type CV with images and information gathered across the project (it can contain a photos of personal work)

6. Print and combine across 4 x A3 sheets or 8 x A4 sheets

7. Swap CV with another person that you don’t know so well, answer the following questions and feedback to partner:

• What does it communicate about the other person?

• What kind of an artist does it present and why?

• What kind of character does it present and why?

8. Reflect on work using reflective log process


Further Inspiration from Visual CV’s online:


Chen Zhi Lang



Ashley Spencer



Pat Schlaich



Vidar Olufson



Alysa Choudri



Joel Silva



Zi-Huai Shen



Natasha Hellegouarch



Perez Gutierrez



Chul hwee Kim



Giuliana Castelliti



Grydster Design


Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Editor for Pearson Portfolio. danfreaker@pearsonportfolio.co.uk