Let’s Be Honest

The Portland State Graphic Design department hosted its fifth annual installment of Be Honest on Saturday at Wieden+Kennedy, a design agency in Northwest Portland. Be Honest is an event that invites sophomores, juniors and seniors in the graphic design program to showcase their portfolios for both the Portland design community and the general public.

Kate Bingaman-Burt, assistant professor in the graphic design department, said the name Be Honest is indicative of a desire for honest feedback from both communities.

“It’s almost like a conversation starter,” Bingaman-Burt said. “Like, ‘be honest, what do you think about the work that I’m doing’ or ‘be honest, what do you think about these different ideas that I’m having’ or ‘what do you think about this typography?’”

Be Honest sprawled across four floors of the show space donated by Wieden+Kennedy. Students chose projects completed in graphic design courses to display at the event. They stood by their work, chatting with attendees. Seniors occupied the foremost space on the ground floor, while the second floor was dedicated to juniors and sophomores. Sophomores, the largest group featured, also showed work on the fourth floor.

Zach Franceschi, events coordinator for Friends of Graphic Design, said more than 100 students participated in this year’s Be Honest, a record for the event. Franceschi said the number of students who participate in Be Honest has only increased with each year. Underclassmen, in particular, are drawn to the event.

“When it started, we had two sophomores who participated in Be Honest,” Franceschi said. “Now, sophomores are the biggest class who show.”

Bingaman-Burt said Be Honest serves as an open house for the graphic design department, despite not taking place on campus. Franceschi said holding Be Honest off campus means that it becomes less insular; it’s not just students who show up.

“We’re always inhabiting other spaces,” Bingaman-Burt said. “Be Honest is something where we actually pick the space. We can design the environment.”

Fresh Faced

For seniors in the graphic design program, Be Honest serves as preparation for the portfolio review event Fresh, the invite-only senior showcase that’s held at the end of each term.

“This is definitely a test run for Fresh,” said Cody Sprague, a senior. “When we sit behind this table, we can observe what people gravitate toward and what’s getting totally ignored.”

Sprague said it was his first time participating in Be Honest.

“It was kind of tough,” Sprague said. “I had to print everything, and I’ve mostly been doing digital work. So, having things to show was a week filled with a lot of late nights and printing, getting ready.”

Sprague’s pieces included custom bottle labels and an elaborate cigar box and wrapper display. Golden ankhs and other symbols peered out from mostly black backgrounds.

“My personal brand ties into a lot of the work I do,” Sprague said. “It’s kind of cryptic and I really like secret societies and conspiracy theories, stuff like that. I try to bring some of that into my work.”

For some, the event being held at Wieden+Kennedy proved to be a motivating factor in joining the show.

“It’s very overwhelming,” said Anna Ropalo, a senior. “You have to present yourself in the best light, and you have to really edit down, but it’s great. You get to meet a lot of people from the industry.”

Ropalo said she originally hadn’t intended to participate in Be Honest, but that she changed her mind when she heard the event was going to be held at Wieden+Kennedy.

“I said, why not? I love this place,” Ropalo said. “It’s such a powerhouse in the design world. I’ve always admired their work and what they’ve done. The essence of the place, it’s perfect for this.”

Ropalo’s display included an elaborate promotional poster advertising a Georgian food festival and bags of black currant tea with wrappers designed by Ropalo herself. A sign lay next to the teabags, encouraging passersby to take one with a business card.

Ropalo said she was primarily looking for feedback at Be Honest. She said her style is very definitive, and that it can be difficult to get into other styles once one has been established.

“You wouldn’t necessarily see this design in advertising,” Ropalo said. “I’d really like to hear feedback from people here about where my design could live.”

Lessons Learned

It wasn’t everyone’s first time presenting at Be Honest.

Benjamin Woodcock, a junior, said it was his second year participating in the event.

“It was nice, coming into this year and having a better sense of what to expect,” Woodcock said. “Just having another year of school under your belt makes it a lot easier to prepare for something like this.”

Woodcock said he made a conscious effort to create a visually appealing display. Bright, high contrast reds and blues popped against a black background, beckoning eyes. A red View-Master was tucked in amongst the numerous eye-catching posters, piquing curiosity.

Woodcock said his favorite piece on display was a distressed illustration of an American flag. The flag differed from the rest of his display, which was dominated by vector art, infographics and schematics. Woodcock said the flag was part of a series he was working on in a class, which required him to render a single object in different styles over the course of several weeks.

“I’m definitely looking to push the aesthetic in a more experimental way,” Woodcock said.

Woodcock said he was looking for any feedback he could get.

“I feel like the work, for the most part, is about as good as I know how to make it,” Woodcock said. “I’m looking for any kind of insights at all. I know there’s always a way to improve the design work. Sometimes you just need a fresh perspective.

“I think this is the right venue for that.”

A Brief Review

For sophomores, Be Honest is a way to prepare for the mandatory portfolio review that’s required to advance to the junior level in the graphic design program.

“I’m doing the sophomore review at the end of the term,” said Tyler Spencer. “Most of the stuff I have out here is stuff I plan to work into my review, so I’m looking for some honest critiques on it, what I can improve.”

Spencer said he hopes the feedback will help him get to the point where he’s confident about turning in his work for the review. He said Be Honest also acts as a way for him to catchup with his peers.

“You get to see a lot of the people you’ve been in classes with,” Spencer said. “A lot of their stuff, they’ve worked on it a lot more since we were in class. You remember what they did and you get to see everything they’ve done on the same project since.”

Spencer’s display included labelling for jars of moonshine and an album cover for a local band in which his friends play. He said the album art, which depicts an illustrated man in a suit with a gramophone for a head, was his favorite piece on display because it came out exactly as he had envisioned.

“For so long you think of something and then when you do it, it looks nothing like what you thought it was going to,” Spencer said. “This looks the way it looked in my head, so I’m happy with it.”

Spencer said it was his first time attending Be Honest, but that he has plans to participate in the event next year.

“It’ll be so much better, right?” he said, laughing.