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I Reviewed 150 Portfolios in a Day and These Are the 7 Things They Did Wrong

4 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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I posted on LinkedIn (check it out), asking anybody to leave a comment if they wanted me to review their portfolio.

Not their work. Their portfolio.

At first, there were a couple dozen comments. Not bad; that's what I expected.

When I checked in after work the next day, I had a surprise waiting for me.

Over 150 people commented. More than 440 had liked it.


Well, I made a promise.

(A couple LinkedIn big hitters liked the post and it caught some fire. Thanks Cindy Gallop. A mixed blessing...)

Don't let a bad portfolio hide great work.

That weekend, I mixed myself a cocktail or seven and got to work, reviewing 150 portfolios.

It was a lot of fun. There are a lot of creative people out there. But a badly assembled portfolio can hide amazing creativity.

How To Avoid Common Mistakes

Funny thing is, not all of them were juniors. They ranged from super early creatives that needed major direction, to seasoned veterans that just wanted another eye on their work.

But regardless of their talent or their experience level, I noticed the same few mistakes pop up over and over again.

Here are some tips to avoid the most common problems I saw.

1) Remember the Basics

In my article about creating the perfect portfolio, one of the points I make is about remembering all the basics: name, title, email address, and phone number.

How are people going to get a hold of you if you don't supply those?

Also, if your work is password-protected, remember to include it (or an easy way to contact you for the password).

2) Never Use Contact Forms

Even when you remember that stuff: don't use contact forms. Just give us the email address. We like to keep track of our email chain and forms don't let us do that. Plus, if we want to pass on your contact info, we can't.

3) Never Use Splash Pages

When I'm visiting your portfolio, the first thing I want to see is your work. Not a page with a beautiful photo of you, your name, and a button that says "See My Work."

It's a waste of my time and another click I don't want to do.

4) Use Normal Navigation

Speaking of clicks, make it easy for me to figure out where to click to see your work.

That means don't give me side-scrolling navigation. No little, hidden, roll-over dots on the right side of the screen, where I don't look for buttons. Nothing like that. Just give me a standard, tried and true navigation.

Look, you're a creative, so either:

  • You're not a UI/UX expert. So just go with what works.
  • Or maybe you are a UI/UX expert. In which case, if you made it difficult or confusing for me to navigate, you suck at your job.

5) Label and Categorize Your Work

There are a couple ways you can categorize your work:

  • By Brand or Project
  • By Genre (Video, Design, Social, etc.)

Organizing by project is preferred, because it lets the viewer see how your idea translates to multiple mediums.

And since your work is grouped by project, make sure that each one is clearly labeled as to the type of content each project contains. Take a look below:

Each section is labeled with the brand, has an interesting image, and is labeled with the type of content (social video, OOH, print, display, etc.).

6) Don't Put Descriptions in Images

This is a major pet peeve of mine (and most creative directors).

Designers and art directors love to lay out their work so it's pixel perfect. A nice, 11x17, horizontal sheet with the description and all the text embedded into the image.


Because guess what? When the window gets smaller (see "Think About Mobile" in #7) it's impossible to read the copy. Keep the work and the descriptions separate, so that everybody can read.

7) Think About Mobile

Aside from descriptions becoming illegible when it's baked into the image, mobile requires a few other considerations.

For example, we love to show full spread print ads, which are horizontal. But horizontal images look tiny on mobile.

And if you're a copywriter, but all your copy is insanely small on your work, make sure you pull out a zoomed in section so we can see your brilliance.

Based off my own analytics, about 30% of my portfolio's viewers are on mobile. Obviously the majority of people view on desktop, but if you disregard your mobile audience, your portfolio will look like shit.

Best Practices Are Best For a Reason

All these tips are meant to remove view frustration from your portfolio. However, they're best practices because they're the best way to do it.

They aren't meant to be the end all, be all rules to putting together a portfolio. They're simply tips from someone who's see a lot of books. And that's what creative directors will be doing. Looking at a lot of books.

Don't give them a reason to hate yours.

Thanks for reading!

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