Let go of the leave-behinds

[Hey students! is a multi-part series. Read the rest.]

When you’re in the classroom, you imagine that life as a professional is just like life as a student. Or, at least, you prefer to imagine it that way. Even though, buried deep inside your thoughtful designer brain, you know you’re kidding yourself.

Some of your classroom experiences translate into the real world and others don’t. Every moment that you spend designing is worthwhile, but each finished piece isn’t necessarily going to help you outside the classroom. One particular project, although it promises to be especially relevant in the real world, usually isn’t. This generally useless project, dear students, is the leave-behind.

A leave-behind is the piece that you give to someone after an interview. It usually contains samples of work and is often engineered into a 3D contraption of some kind. They’re intended to be an impressive showcase of your talents. Presumably, you expect us keep it around for awhile – perhaps toying around with it during our afternoon tea break.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. Because of the limited size and budget, the leave-behind rarely showcases your work very well. Because they’re inexpensive and assembled by hand, they usually look like they’re inexpensive and assembled by hand. And because we don’t have much downtime (even for afternoon tea breaks), your leave-behind probably doesn’t stick around as long as you think it does.

I’m not suggesting that every leave-behind is a waste of time. (We’ve seen some great ones in the past.) And, I realize that we may be contradicting your instructors and/or curriculum. So just keep this in mind: leave-behinds typically don’t work that well in the real world, and they’re likely not a great way to represent yourself.

Nothing shows your work as well as your actual portfolio, and if we’d like to see more of your work, your website is the best substitute. You’re better off investing your time and effort a useful online portfolio.


25 May 2010


This kinda makes me wonder where mine went!!!

8 Nov 2010


Thank you. I’m working on a leave behind right now(for a senior class), and I sensed(before reading this) that it could be a bit of a waste of time…

I really do think the resume(designed) and business card(designed) are good “leave behinds” in themselves!

I also only plan on doing a leave behind if I feel the employer is one I truly wish to work for, as it is labor intensive. This gave me a breath of relief, and again sir I thank you!

. . .


Glad to hear it, Elizabeth. The time you’ll save is more valuable for doing just about anything else.

15 Apr 2012


Yes the online portfolio is the number one extra selling point you need for yourself. But your just one person not interested in the leave behind. I just finished school and before I graduated I took a portfolio class and we visited different businesses around the area and went on a few longer trips to ones a little further away. Talked to everyone from former students that are now working in design firms to art directors for popular magazines. Only a few said they just wanted to see online portfolios. 80% of them said that a leave behind is very necessary if they were going to consider you for the job because so many prefer to have something of yours that they can hold in there hand. Yes it will most likely get tossed out, but it’s necessary. Also if it’s poorly made, then ya it probably wont make you look good. But with the resources students have available and with a little skill and effort you can put together something very simple that is very well made. Just don’t be lazy and only put a few minutes into the design of the leave behind.

22 Sep 2019

‘Enter’ to submit

The design student’s dilemma

It’s that time of year when students are looking for summer plans. Many agencies and design firms in town are accepting applications for internships, and students are applying (and the smartest students are applying at Oxide). For design students, it’s a great opportunity to put your skills to use in a professional environment, produce work for real clients, and gain valuable experience working within deadlines and budgets. I don’t think it’s some big secret that design jobs are hard to…

Your online portfolio

Here at Oxide, we review student portfolios on a fairly regular basis, and I have some thoughts to share. First of all, when you are not showing your work in person, you need to have your portfolio online. (This isn’t just because I’m a developer.) An online portfolio shows so much better than flipping through a bunch of pages on a PDF. And I would highly recommend against sending a potential employer or internship several individual files of your projects.…

Code is friend, not foe

Should design students learn how to code? Yes? No? How much? Why? As a designer-who-develops/developer-who-designs, I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic. My hope is that by explaining a little, it will help you – as someone interested in web or UX design – make informed decisions about the kinds of opportunities that would be best for you to pursue.

Sketching is good

True story. Since I started at Oxide last June, I have filled 14 official Oxide sketchbooks (and I’m well on the way to finishing the three I have on my desk right now), a large 200-page sketchbook, a small hand-bound sketchpad, three Field Notes memo books, and countless index cards. In addition, I have a three-inch stack of computer printouts, hand-rendered sketches, and other miscellaneous design ephemera. (And those are just the notebooks I used at work”¦ I also have…

Never stop learning

I recently had a discussion with one of my professors from Iowa State University. She was asking what skills I felt ISU needed to better teach to prepare students for the real world. Which got me to thinking about the things that I have needed to learn in the past ten months at Oxide. I spent most of my four years learning about typography, proportions, and print design. And while I still utilize those skills, I’ve had to learn how…

Put yourself out there

For most of us, landing a job in design didn’t just happen. In our field, there is an abundance of applicants and a minimal number of openings. This means that you’re going to have to do everything you can to even get noticed. If you’re getting ready to take the plunge into the frigid waters of the design job market, following these guidelines will help you to get noticed.

Know when to care

This is a sequel to the first post in this series: Care about your work – which continues to be the most important lesson we have for you. But caring is more complicated than that. When you start caring, you lose the ability to evaluate your work independently of your personal investment in it.

Awards don’t matter

At Oxide, we have a love/hate relationship with design awards. We have a good number of accolades laying around at this point, but I’m not sure what they’ve ever really gotten us, save for a quickly fleeting ego boost. In the local (and probably national) design schools, it seems like there’s a great deal of importance placed on the winning of awards. Students are encouraged (and sometimes required) to enter competitions held by local organizations and national publications. But a…

You’ve got competition

While judging the 2010 Nebraska Student ADDY Awards, I was inspired to address the student readers of our blog. While Joe has been the regular author of our Hey Students! series, he has graciously allowed me to contribute to his already great student reference. There’s no easy way to say this. If you didn’t already know, there simply aren’t a ton of desirable jobs just waiting to be filled by design students. Knowingly or not, you have signed up for…

Start with the problem

Classes are back in session, so after you’ve ranked all of your new professors on the Sparano Scale™, it’s time to get down to some designing. Today’s bit of advice may be the most important in the Hey students! series so far. It’s so fundamental to your growth as a designer – and so critical to the effectiveness of design in general – it should really be addressed to Hey all designers everywhere!

Yeah, really, you

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with several design students. I won’t embarrass any of them (intentionally), but here’s the general consensus: most need to spend more time designing, several show a lot of promise, but very few are ready for the next step.

Design is not a job

We listen to a lot of internet radio at Oxide, which means we hear a lot of internet radio ads. One of these ads features a list of college degrees that, I assume, people listening to internet radio during the day may be interested in. They’re they kinds of degrees that are often listed together in these kinds of isn’t it about time you did something with your life kinds of ads: nursing, criminal justice, business, technology, management, and graphic…

Care about your work

It’s portfolio review season, so if you’re showing your portfolio around this year, there’s a chance you’ll see one of us. Personally, I’m returning from a portfolio-review-hiatus. You’re probably thinking: “Mr. Sparano, Professional Designer at Oxide Design Co., why in the world would you need to take a break from student portfolio reviews? It’s totally fun!”