ZAC SMITH

GRAPHIC DESIGN & BRANDING
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Volunteering to Build Your Portfolio

Zac Smith
Apr 19 2022
While some people learning graphic design will make fan content for their favorite sports teams or complete random prompts, I would suggest finding a way to volunteer when building a portfolio. In a growing digital landscape where every entity is expected to have some representation online, there is no shortage of a need for creative content. Many organizations like nonprofits and local extracurricular activities don’t have anyone on staff to create the content, nor the funds to hire work externally. For those that seek it out, this opening is amazing for beginners to work on their craft and give back to the community. Quality of work is not judged as harshly, feedback is generally helpful, and the different projects are usually similar to those completed at a higher level.

When I was in high school, I was lucky when one of my teammate’s moms brought an old camera and tried their darndest before uploading their entire SD cards worth of 1200 grainy JPEGs the following week. Our media day was less than an hour long and all the fun photos were taken among the players using our phones. Nobody knew how to do graphic design, so our season posters were nothing fancy and that was the only graphic made for the season. Despite only being a couple years ago, this was the average experience for most high school athletes around my area – public or private. 

I followed a bunch of collegiate programs on social media and it didn’t feel right that there was such a drastic disparity between their content and ours, which inspired me to try it myself. I couldn’t take game photos because I was a little busy in those moments, but I started teaching myself graphic design and making stuff for the team throughout the week. Gameday hype posters, uniform concepts, season schedules, t-shirts, player shoutouts, etc. The quality of work wasn’t great but for a beginner doing it for free – but it’s never expected to be. I could see the guys on the team really appreciated it so I kept at it. 

3 years later, I’ve worked with 4 different high school in varying capacities to bring them the content I wish I had. Some of the most rewarding work experiences I’ve had to date are interactions with high school athletes that I was making content for. Taking the time to let them vibe to music in front of the camera and pose as a group fostered some really fun environments that contrasted starkly with mine. Seeing the joy that custom season posters, stat graphics, player shoutouts, etc. bring to the athletes has been amazing. Being on the other side of the camera and making the kinds of content I wished someone had gotten of me when I was their age has been somewhat of a surreal experience. 

Whether you’re wanting to get into photography or videography or graphic design, motion design, whatever the case may be, working with organizations that need content is a great way to add to your portfolio.
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