So what does an urban designer really know how to do?

Most graduate programs with an urban design certificate/concentration mention that those pursuing this focus need demonstrate an aptitude for design as a prerequisite.

I could simply ask the department to which I've been admitted, but I think I might throw it out to the professional forum instead (undoubtedly some of you may have first-hand experience with this question): what technical proficiencies or design sensibilities does an urban designer demonstrate in a portfolio?

Is it about demonstrating technical rendering and presentation skills (CAD, SketchUp, etc.) that follow standards of best practice in the field? Or is it more about demonstrating interesting, creative ways of representing the urban form (more along the lines of an artistic portfolio)? Should I brush up on my CAD skills or finally finish that neighborhood mapping project for which I've been taking photographs, making maps, and explicating local scale and neighborhood character?


Those are all great ideas :) You said you were admitted to the department, so I take it you are applying to an urban design program within the department? Your portfolio is about you, so you should find those projects that bring out your best qualities. If you can't find any projects or if the admissions faculty thinks you are lacking in any areas, take a course or create your own project. Portfolios can be letter size, tabloid size, or whatever size you think best demonstrates your skills (check with the faculty).

I am "thinking" about moving to a different urban design job. I just finished moving my entire portfolio onto CD/DVD (taught myself FlashCS3 and Actionscript this past month). It includes school, internship, and professional examples from hand drafted work, renderings, sketches, and paintings to computer work created in Illustrator, Photoshop, ArcGIS, AutoCAD, Sketchup, SPSS, Vis, etc. I also have writing samples (selections from design guidelines, comprehensive plans. master plans, and zoning ordinances that I have written, etc.).

The portfolio should also be readible and easy to understand. I learned the hard way that I could communicate my graphics more easily without writing an additional description about the project. You should also seek a balance: don't show ALL of your work or else it may be held up to higher scrutiny and might work against you.

Hope this helps-


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You have hit two good points, and it is about both. It is how you convey a message, whether through hand renderings, or CAD renderings. You need to have an understanding of creative thinking, but at the same time apply real world principle to have a project come to life. It usually doesn't matter how you present the material, as long as it comes up with a solution to your problem and is presented in a manner that the public can understand. Now you can have a pissing contest on which median is better to convey those ideas (i prefer sketches and hand drawn graphics over CAD or any other computer graphic created because it appears "soft" rather than hard and definite and to some clients, they appreciate the loose feel so they can make changes and usually the public prefers it because it appears as unfinished and they think they can provide comments that are meaningful to help shape the final product).

As for your dillema, try both. You would be surprise on what type of a product you can convey with a combo of a map, photos sketches, and little to know words.

PS follow nick's advice, i hate that can't communicate crap.