Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don't teach you in design school, but should

New Riders
Michael Janda  
New Riders
Total pages
June 2013

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Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don't teach you in design school, but should
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It takes more than just a design school education and a killer portfolio to succeed in a creative career. Burn Your Portfolio teaches the real-world practices, professional do's and don'ts, and unwritten rules of business that most designers, photographers, web designers, copy writers, programmers, and architects only learn after putting in years of experience on the job.

Michael Janda, owner of the Utah-based design firm Riser, uses humor to dispense nugget after nugget of hard-won advice collected over the last decade from the personal successes and failures he has faced running his own agency. In this surprisingly funny, but incredibly practical advice guide, Janda's advice on teamwork and collaboration, relationship building, managing clients, bidding work, production processes, and more will resonate with creative professionals of all stripes.

Table of Contents

SECTION 1: Human Engineering
1) The Big Fat Secret
2) The Extra Mile
3) Soak Up Advice
4) You Are Not Your Work
5) Be Nice to Everyone
6) Drama Is for Soap Operas
7) No More Flying Solo
8) Gripes Go Up
9) The Stress Bucket
10) Two Types of Grandpas
11) Be a Wall Painter
12) Every Position Can Be Electrifying
13) Lead or Be Led
14) Half the Victory
15) The Value of Downtime
16) I'm Not a Writer
17) Toot Your Own Horn
18) Don't Work in a Vacuum
19) The Graphic Design Megazord
20) Live as a Team, Die as a Team
21) Everyone Does Something Better Than You
22) You Are Responsible for Your Own Time
SECTION 2: Art Smarts
23) OCD Is an Attribute
24) Polishing Turds
25) Hairy Moles
26) This Is Not Verbatimville
27) Shock and Awe
28) Art Is Meant to Be Framed
29) It Is Never Too Late for a Better Idea
30) Filler Failures
31) A River Runs Through It
32) Comps or Comprehensive?
33) Design Like the Wind
34) Type Fast
35) How to Eat an Elephant
36) The Venus Initiative
37) Process-a-Palooza
38) Hiking Your Way to Successful Projects
39) Solving End-of-Day Rush
40) Why Projects Blow Up
41) The Lo-Fi PDA
42) Bring Out Your Dead
43) Shake the Bushes or Get Bit
44) Red Flags and Extinguishers
45) Brainstorms Are 90 Percent Bad Ideas
46) The Communal Brain
SECTION 3: Two Ears, One Mouth
47) The Ultimate Email Formula
48) Beware the Red Dot
49) Email Black Holes
50) Even the Lone Ranger Had Tonto
51) Canned Communication
52) Tin Can Phones
53) Vicious Vernacular
54) An Army of Support
55) Friendly Updates
56) Deadline Ballet
57) Big Brother
58) The Domino Effect
59) Avoid the W.W.W.
60) Be Afraid to Click 'Send'
61) The Tragedy of Time Zones
SECTION 4: Happy Head Honchos
62) Designers Are from Mars, Clients Are from Venus
63) Let Your Client Leave Their Mark
64) 'Forgiveness' Points
65) Let Your Client Be the 800-Pound Gorilla
66) Do Your Genealogy
67) Never Give Your Client Homework
68) Assume That People Are Clueless
69) Long-Term Relationship Value vs. Single Transaction Profit
70) Oddities at the Start Mean Oddities at the End
71) Don't Be the Desperate Girlfriend
72) Stand in Manure, Smell Like Manure
73) Never Fire a Client?
74) 'We Decided to Go Another Direction' Means 'You Suck'
75) There Are Such Things as Stupid Questions
76) You Can't Get Mad at Math
77) You Have 65 Seconds to Land a Job
78) How to Ask for a Raise Without Asking for a Raise
SECTION 5: Mind Your Business
79) Do What You Love; the Money Will Follow
80) A Business That Looks Orderly
81) Making Cents of It All
82) How to Calculate a Burn Rate
83) The Fixed-Bid Pricing Dartboard
84) Beware of Line-Item Pricing
85) 'No Charge' Doesn't Mean 'Free'
86) How to Flush Out a Budget
87) Twenty-Piece Chicken McNuggets
88) Nonprofits for Non-Profit
89) The Code of Fair Practice
90) Contractual Mumbo Jumbo
91) 'Etcetera' Has No Business in Your Business
92) You Don't Have to Sign Off on This
93) B.A.M. Lists
94) One Line That Changed Everything about Collections
95) A Business Is an Organism That Wants to Die
96) If I've Got a Dollar, You've Got a Dollar, but No Partners
97) If You Want to Win the Game, You Have to Know the Score
98) There Is No Such Thing as a 'Meet and Greet'
99) How to Make a Capabilities Presentation
100) Floods Happen
101) Flexibility, Not Freedom
102) Never Do Undocumented Work
103) Next Worry Date
104) Nickels and Dimes Are for Lemonade Stands
105) Only Terrorists Like Hostage Situations
106) Oh Where, Oh Where Has My $100k Gone? Oh Where, Oh Where Can It Be?
107) Don't Do Anything You Can Pay Someone $10 Per Hour to Do
108) 'Skin in the Game' Usually Means 'Free'
109) Three-Month 'Lifetime' Guarantee
110) 'Being Your Own Boss' Whatever That Means
111) How to Bite the Bullet


Michael Janda has been in most positions on the graphic design world org chart over his 16-year career. He has served as production artist, designer, freelancer, and creative director (including a few years as senior creative director over two of Fox’s Internet divisions). Since 2002, Janda has owned and operated his own agency, Riser, which boasts such high-profile clients as NBC, ABC, Fox, Google, National Geographic, Warner Bros., and Disney.

Reader Review(s)

 “The straightforward and funny advice in Janda’s book is what most people learn only after toiling in the corporate trenches for years. (Um, how dare he share ALL our secrets?!) I hope he’s charging at least a year’s worth of school tuition for this book. Seriously, take copious notes on the practical suggestions offered here to help steer your own career, whether it’s your first job or your 15th freelance gig. The drama-free work approach and leadership style outlined in Burn Your Portfolio is what makes working with him and all the folks at his company, Riser, FUN and worthy of the cupcakes we send to celebrate each of our successes together.”

—Michelle Sullivan
VP Digital, Kids & Family Publishing and Media, National Geographic (aka 800 pound Gorilla Client)

“This book should be a mandatory course at art schools…no, at all schools! The message transcends occupation; it’s about maneuvering through the unspoken rules and dynamics of various personalities in your workplace. Mike is a perfect person to deliver this message; his long-term relationships and success of his business are the true testimony of his skills on managing up, down, and sideways. Your talent alone will take you nowhere if your character doesn’t support it. If you want longevity in your field, this book is a must-read.”
—Jane Bhang
Consulting Art Director, Sony Pictures Entertainment

“I wish I could take every designer I’ve ever worked with and smack them over the head with this book…which would hurt, because it’s big! After that, I’d tell them to read it cover to cover, because Michael Janda will show them how to stop making the business mistakes nearly everyone in design is making.”
—Dave Crenshaw
Author of The Myth of Multitasking and The Focused Business

“Do you want to supercharge your design career? Drop that Wacom pen and immediately pick up Burn Your Portfolio, and read it cover to cover. Michael Janda clearly outlines practical, actionable advice that will make your design business better, your clients happier, and your teams more productive. Even if you’re a freelancer just striking out on your own—no, especially if you are—the insights, truisms, and humor in this book will prove to be valuable tools in your design arsenal.”
—Marc Siry
SVP, Media Products, NBC Universal

“I’ve worked with Michael and Riser for many years, and the thing that differentiates Michael and his team from other agencies is their ability to speak my language versus design speak! Michael and his company Riser are not only super-creative, they are total professionals. Communication is a big reason why Michael and his team are so successful at what they do. They are good at not only listening to a client who is not a designer and is trying to convey the details of a project, but also on working with the client to get the job done well, on time, and also on budget. I can’t think of a better person to give advice to designers who need to work with clients in the real world.”
—Melissa Van Meter
VP, Marketing & Advertising, TV Guide Network