For creative professionals, an online portfolio can become your most powerful marketing tool. It communicates your skillset and exposes your work to countless potential clients worldwide who are looking for someone just like you.

But that’s all contingent on it being done well — and better yet, with brilliance. Despite the number of talented web design professionals and easy-to-use portfolio builders available today, the number of poorly presented portfolio websites online is astonishing.

To uncover the most common mistakes made with design portfolios, I chatted with the Lukas Dryja, Co-Founder and Creative Director of online portfolio platform Format, about the most frequent pain points he comes across and how to avoid making them yourself.

Review these fatal no-no’s before creating your first site or do an audit of your current one to ensure your portfolio is working for you – not against you.

Mistake #1: Your Site Has Too Much Work

You’re a cherisher: your portfolio has everything and anything, from day one. The problem: your mediocre images distract viewers from the real gems. “I get it, it’s hard… but it’s time to become your toughest critic and start curating your body of work. Every image should stop your scroll and make you think, ‘wow,’” explains Dryja.

Mistake #2: Your Website is Lacking Confidence

Your site is filled with passive language and missing any visible calls-to-action.

Dryja notes: “As with any website, your desired result should be spelt out for visitors — clearly and confidently. It might help to think of your site as a brick-and-mortar location. If you saw your portfolio as a storefront, would you stop in and take a look around? It should be easy to see what you’re selling.”

Make your end goal clear through your design and copy choices:

  • Are you trying to get hired? Consider testimonials and be sure to note you’re available for hire.
  • Are you trying to sell your work? Include pricing in your captions, build an online store and/or include directions for commission requests.
  • Would you rather focus on building your reputation? Dedicate a gallery to showcasing press about you and your work.

As photographer Solmaz Saberi so simply put it when reflecting upon her career, “No one’s going to believe in you, unless you believe in yourself.” Time to start trusting your talent and tell people what you can do for them.

Mistake #3: Your Work is Unorganized.

You have typefaces, illustrations, logo design and product design mixed together in one place.

Reality check: this isn’t easy to navigate. Your portfolio should be as straightforward as possible for visitors. If they’re hunting around too much, you’re in danger of losing their attention and potentially, new opportunities.

“Keep your top three dream clients in mind,” Dryja explains. “Look at the kinds of creative work they feature and envision how they would want to review your work.”

Consider sorting your work into galleries based on:

  • Genres, if you’re a multidisciplinary creative;
  • Clients, if you’re working with high profile personalities and brands;
  • Or projects, if your portfolio is solely comprised of creative work.

By showing your preference or skill towards a particular type of work, you’ll attract clients that will further your career in the right direction.

Mistake #4: Your Portfolio Looks Empty

A poster here, a logo there; generally, it’s pretty bare. While you simply may not have enough work (time to dedicate a weekend to a personal project), you’ve most likely chosen the wrong layout.

A study by Stanford University revealed that 46% of respondents consider web design an important factor on how they determine the credibility of a business. So we know a professionally-designed theme is important but how does one choose with so many options available?

Horizontal-scrolling, full-screen, slideshow galleries work great for smaller bodies of work.  Tiled themes are better for large quantities of images, as with vertical-scrolling orientation.

Mistake #5: Your Work is Uncaptioned

You think your visuals speak for themselves. But in fact, captions can add much needed context. There’s your process, a story, a place, a moment that will create a powerful connection between your portfolio and your visitors. Note clients, partners, and “where possible, constraints and results,” elaborates Dryja. “Knowing the challenges you had to overcome in executing a project can make the work that much more impactful.”

Last but not least, don’t forget to note your role. There’s nothing that will make a Creative Director turn up their nose more than a professional taking undue credit for an entire project that’s clearly the work of a team.

Mistake #6: Your Portfolio Blends in Amongst Others

If your website feels dry or worse, unoriginal, you’re likely missing a strong visual identity.

Treat yourself like your first client and pay attention to the bigger picture that you’re creating. Are you telling the right story? Will your audience get a sense of who you are and what you’re about?

Watch out for a generic About page too – this is your chance to highlight your philosophy and personality. For professionals using Format, their About page is the #1 visited link on their portfolio. When people feel like they know you, they’re more likely to remember you. Add a concise description including personal quirks, anecdotes and/or achievements, and a portrait of yourself.

Mistake #7: Your Portfolio Comes Across as Unprofessional

Your portfolio is splattered with spelling and grammar mistakes and broken links. “As simple as it seems, I come across it daily,” says Dryja. “Double-check the spelling of names and places, and then get a second pair of eyes on it, all before doing a large promotional push.”

Mistake #8: Your Mobile Experience is Weak

Sure, it looks good on your 30” desktop monitor but more and more so, people are using their smartphones and tablets as their primary devices. Your portfolio needs to look good on anything with an Internet connection and a screen, really.

“From start to finish, your portfolio should create an easy and natural experience, whether viewers are browsing with their fingertips or scrolling along with their mouse — something we pride ourselves in offering at Format,” explains Dryja.

We hope these tips help you create an awesome portfolio for 2016!



Jillian Lockwood is a Toronto-based marketer, writer and design enthusiast. She heads up communications at Format, helping to share the work of its creative community with the world. Catch her daily snaps on Instagram.