10 common design portfolio mistakes you should avoid

Black graphic design portoflio

Take it from me, as a design student one of the most nerve-wracking moments you’ll encounter is showing your work to a professional within the design industry.

What if they don’t like it? Will they rip you and your portfolio to shreds?

Whilst they’re not expecting to see work on par with that of a graphic design veteran, as design agency Thoughtful point out, there’s a few common mistakes that seem to crop up in student portfolios again and again.

Here’s 10 mistakes you should aim to avoid if you want to hear back from a design studio.

1. Poor spelling & typography

The number one way to ensure you don’t get a job or even an interview is to have spelling and typographical errors in your work.

Misspell the name of the agency or the person you’re contacting to instantly guarantee you never hear back from them.

2. Sending huge PDF files

Sending a PDF of your work via email is an acceptable and preferred method of first showing your work to studios. Sending a massive file is not.

Keep page size to A4 for easy printing and aim for a 5mb file size at the very most.

3. Dirty or tatty packaging

Each time you present your portfolio to a new interviewer, it should look brand new.

If you’re using a box portfolio with work in plastic sheets, be sure to wipe off smudges and fingerprints before each visit.

 Get any printed materials reprinted if they’re warn or grubby.

Remember, first impressions count.

4. Writing too much

Let your work speak for itself. Designers are very busy people, they don’t have time to read an in-depth analysis of your work.

5. Writing too little

Include some background information for your work to provide your interviewer with a little context.

Keep it short and the placement consistent.

6. Using a gimmick

Forget it. They’ve seen it all before.

In an interview or portfolio critique you have limited time to make an impression. If your interviewer is having to faff about with a ‘clever’ idea you’ve had for your portfolio, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Cut to the chase.

7. Showing work you’re not happy with

Never include work you don’t like. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll be asked about it. Focus only on your strongest work.

If in doubt, leave it out.

8. Not showing sketches

As a student or recent graduate, interviewers will be interested in seeing how you arrived at a final design, rather than just the finished piece.

It’s worth having your sketchbook on hand to show them your design process.

9. Not crediting collaborators

It’s tempting to try and take credit for everything in your portfolio but nobody can do everything.

If you worked with others on a project, such as a photographer or illustrator, be honest about exactly what you did and be sure to credit others accordingly.

10. Haphazard content

Ensure the content of your portfolio is relevant to the field you want to work in. If you’re applying for a job at an agency that specialises in branding, it’s probably best not to show them all your illustrative designs.

By all means show them you’ve got a wide range of skills, but tailor the bulk of your work to the studio you’re aiming for.


So there we are. 10 mistakes graphic design students often make with their portfolios that prevent them getting a job.

Hopefully none of these apply to your own portfolio but sometimes the odd oversight can slip through.

Remember to double and triple check your portfolio completely. Be sure to have someone else take a look too.

Any mistakes won’t look good at all.

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