The Design Business Show 170: Creating a Design Portfolio with Shar Biggers

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | January 5, 2022
Check out episode 170 of The Design Business Show with Shar Biggers to learn all about creating your design portfolio!

Shar Biggers is the creative director and founder of Provoke Design, a branding studio. A native of Atlanta, by way of St. Louis, she holds an MBA in business management and is a graduate of Miami Ad School’s Portfolio Center of Design. In her extensive experience, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies, led design for Amazon rebrands like Amazon Fashion and Amazon Diversity, and helped more than 10 million Americans say “I’m with her” for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

Shar’s Background + Design School

  • How Shar initially reached out to me on Instagram and how we’ve stayed in contact ever since
  • As a child, Shar was creative but ended up going to school for neuroscience, where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology – she started her PhD program but quickly realized it wasn’t what she wanted to be doing even though the work itself was valuable.
  • Shar explains that she changed paths to pursue an MBA instead and tried to get into marketing and advertising agencies for about a year with no success and says she felt very discouraged
  • Finally, an agency that Shar had sent her resume to reached out and asked her to do an internship with them – she accepted and worked in SEO and SEM but says that she was fascinated with the graphic design department there and realized that’s what she wanted to be doing
  • Shar Shares that she went to Portfolio Center of Design and did a 2-year program and after moved to New York, where she began working in an ideation firm
  • We talk about how in high school, we didn’t know there was this creative world that you could be part of where you didn’t have to be considered a starving artist and how our country has been more accepting of creativity
  • Shar recommends a TED Talk called, Do schools kill creativity? given by Ken Robinson

 Getting Into the Design Industry

  • How Shar found such strong differences between working in design houses vs. working in advertising and says she learned a lot from working in marketing and advertising but felt more comfortable working in design
  • Shar explains that it took her a couple of years to figure out her design identity and says she tried working in print, advertising, branding, packaging, etc.
  • How Shar was able to get into agencies to work in things like media buying, SEO, or social media but couldn’t get into graphic design right away because she didn’t have a portfolio even though the agencies agreed she had raw talent
  • Shar shares why she thinks it’s hard to break into graphic design work at agencies as a self-taught designer because they typically think that if this is your job, you should go to school to study your craft, and they want to rest assured that you have the training and knowledge needed to design because they take it seriously
  • Why we need to bridge the gap between people who took the traditional design route and the people who are self-taught designers or who just graduated from school
  • When thinking about building a portfolio, Shar says it’s important to figure out what you love doing first because you want your portfolio to be relevant to the work you want to be doing
  • How you should focus on specializing to a certain extent instead of being a jack of all trades because once you master a certain area, if you want to pivot, people will believe in it, and you because you showed them you mastered something already
  • Shar thinks people should perfect the craft they want to be good at and think about what kind of designer they want to be because everything takes a different route and gives the example of her best friend who also went to school at the same time as her, but took a different route into advertising
  • The story of how Shar worked very hard at school, which even meant sleeping there most nights because she lived an hour away – she shares that she was eating, sleeping, and breathing design to prove that her work was just as good as anyone else
  • Shar’s advice to those listening is to think about what you want, how badly you want it, and where you want to go – and if people are not seeing it, you have to take a step back and say, is everyone picking on me or am I missing something?
  • The story of how Shar wasn’t able to pay for her last year of school and had to move back home with her mom had no money to her name but launched an online store on Etsy store selling pop culture-focused phone cases that went viral and helped pay for her last year of school

Creating Your Portfolio + Provoke Design

  • If you want to build your portfolio, study your craft, and take on free projects if you need to – Shar shares that she took on some very low paying projects so she could master her craft
  • Shar says as a new designer; you shouldn’t be so eager for money because you still need to understand the industry and learn but says, if you master your craft, you can charge whatever you want
  • When you’re trying to learn, Shar recommends finding a small, local agency that puts out better work than your own and saying, hey, I want to learn, and if you have the capacity to teach me, great
  • Another piece of advice Shar gives is, be willing to intern for free so you can learn the skills you need, especially if you are self-taught; that way, they can be your teacher, and they can help you master your craft
  • Shar created Provoke Design because she saw an unmet need of the market – after working at a lot of different places, she noticed one consistent thing was that she was usually the only person of color and one of the only women, and also noticed the clients she worked with or the products they would put out lacked diversity
  • When Shar worked for Hillary Clinton, Hillary was an advocate for change, and if you didn’t see the change you wanted, she encouraged to do it yourself, so that’s what Shar did – Shar didn’t start Provoke Design because she wanted a design firm, she did it to start changing the design industry
  • Shar says she works with all types of businesses but works to keep her business accessible to brands that can’t afford to go to the best branding houses
  • For the first couple of years, Shar was the only full-time person, and she worked with other partners from writers and strategists to art directors and producers based on project budgets
  • Shar is currently working on the logistics of building an in-house team with the primary focus of staying accessible
  • Shar wants to remind you that regardless of your situation or circumstances, you can make a path for yourself – do what it takes to get there and don’t be afraid to do the things that may be seen as unconventional
  • Connect with Shar through the Provoke website or follow them on Instagram


Links mentioned:

Provoke Design Website

TED Talk – Do schools kill creativity?

Connect with Shar on Instagram 


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