Burn Your Portfolio Book Review

I've done book reviews in the past where I basically just summarized the book, called out a few high points and then mentioned who I'd recommend it to. Since I've evolved into what I'm comfortable calling a voracious reader over the past year, I've decided to create a consistent format to help me review the books I read.

This way my readers (you) can see how the books compare to each other as well as whether you'd enjoy reading them yourself. After scoring each book, I'll offer my opinion or anything else I feel is worth commenting on. 

My motivation for doing this is to cut down the work required by you to find a book that you feel is worth your money and (more importantly) your time. I want to be able to point you to some resources that'll help you reach your goals as a designer, professional, freelancer, entrepreneur and human being. I'd like to help you build your reading list. 

Each book will be given ratings of 1-10 in the following categories:

  • Amount of Content
  • Value of Content (Usefulness)
  • Originality of Content
  • Relevance of Content (To a Product Designer)
  • Entertainment Level
  • Length of Read
  • Inspiration

A final score will be calculated based upon average rating. The higher the score, the more highly I recommend you read the book!

This is the first book review in the new format. I hope it's helpful! Let's dive in!

Burn Your Portfolio

Score: 7.3

  • Amount of Content 7/10
  • Value of Content (Usefulness) 7/10
  • Originality of Content 8/10
  • Relevance of Content (To a Product Designer) 7/10
  • Entertainment Level 7/10
  • Length of Read 8/10
  • Inspiration 7/10

I just finished reading Michael Janda's book, Burn Your Portfolio, Stuff They Don't Teach You In Design School, But Should. This book's score of a 7.3 is pretty good, especially considering it was written by a graphic designer for graphic designers and I'm a product designer.

This book doesn't grind down into the technical processes in creating digital art, rather Janda focuses on widely-applicable skills and habits that nearly all successful entrepreneurs have. A visual indication that I enjoyed this book is all of the shreds of post-it notes marking pages I found particularly helpful.

For those unfamiliar with Michael Janda, he's the owner and operator of renowned design agency Riser. As an independent designer and director of Riser, Michael Janda has worked with clients that freelancers and agencies dream about having. Riser has proven profitable and grown year after year, and Janda's ability to understand design as a service as well as business is apparent. I'm very glad he took the time to share what he's come to learn and publish it into a great book for everyone to learn from. Now, let's look at why it scored the way it did.


Amount of Content 

Although this book is only 361 pages long, there are a lot of words on those pages, haha. Not sure how else to say it. This book is just incredibly dense. Little room is wasted and the book is deceivingly heavy. I'll go ahead and pretend that the weight is indicative of the amount of information contained within. There's plenty of information in this book in my opinion. 


Value of Content

I gave this category a 7 of 10. I found the content quite valuable. One way I'd find to improve this category is to include more actionable steps rather than high-level ideas and concepts. Another reason I only gave it a 7 in this category is because the book is really intended for graphic designers. Being a product designer, some of the content wasn't that valuable to me as it simply didn't relate. 


Originality of Content

This book is full of original content. That's why it scored an 8 in this category. Michael's take on design is that it's a services. People skills matter in services and so he focuses on how to improve as a business owner and a human who's paid to provide a service. He pulls lots of experience from his own life which makes it entertaining and original. He also shares what he's seen work and not work. Finally, there's lots of concepts from other successful business owners and authors in this book, but Janda discusses exactly how it applies to designer. 


Relevance of Content

This is a bit surprising. I'd think the relevance would be a 5 or 6, but I felt it deserved a 7. Again, since it's geared toward graphic designers, I was impressed. As a product designer I got lots of great insights on how to improve as a designer, a communicator and consultant. The merit of thoroughness and hard work is talked about in an uplifting way in this book. 



Another 7 for this category. It's not as entertaining as an adventure or thriller book, but then again, it's about business as a designer. For the subject matter, it's well-written. There are some funny stories, but perhaps most useful are the actual experiences Michael shares which are inspiring as he's had a very successful career. 


Length of Read

I assigned an 8 for this category as it took me a while to read this book. It's got many short chapters (over 100), so it's pretty easy to pick the book up, knock off a few chapters and then put it down. Also, at 361 copy-heavy pages, there is a generous amount of content between the two covers of this book. 



Seven again! This book is perhaps a bit more aspirational than inspirational. Being pretty young in my career, Janda's accomplishments are more like milestones I'd like to hit than things I'm about to go do. The evidence he provides that a thorough, hard-work approach will take you far is inspiring and all the practices he mentions provides some sort of blueprint no matter where you're at in your career as a designer... unless you're Mr. Janda. (If that's the case, thank you so much for reading!!)


Final Thoughts

Burn Your Portfolio is a fantastic book. It's full of original information that provides a look into the design business through the eyes of an agency owner. this is valuable to anyone who ever wishes to be more than just a production artist. I think there are loads of valuable resources for Product designers and (other) designers alike. It's reminded me how my clients deserve to be treated and provided some stepping stones to advance my own career.


The Verdict

Buy it.