Why tailoring your folio for creatives can lose you commissions

Stop trying to impress your peers, warns Sabrina Smelko.

Recently I was working at a well-known magazine when I witnessed an art director turn down a super-talented illustrator. Confused, I asked why the illustrator was being passed on like a bad meatloaf. The answer I got caught me off-guard.

What this illustrator had failed to do was list the details most art directors look for on a designer's website: things like the client, the date, the context and so on.

The art director was left guessing if they had any professional experience, whether they could execute on a tight deadline, where they were based (they take time differences into account) and when each piece was done. Worse yet, this illustrator had a Gmail account – which included a number. Eek!

Make or break

Having worked professionally as a designer and art director for a few years, the simple premise of what information your website conveys wasn't something I ever seriously considered.

But it is something I've since heard other clients mention as a reason they hire or don't hire someone. Art directors want to know you can be counted on; they need you to RSVP and show up on time for the party, no matter how well you dress.

As a fellow creative, while I may swoon over a well-designed website complete with clever copy and top-tier work, it doesn't mean Mr CEO will. Many creatives cater their online presence and website to other creatives, rather than to the people who pay them. With money. Sure, a gorgeous site that pleases your comrades is important, but so is pleasing your clients – both current and prospective.

I'm not suggesting you strip your site of all personality and type out the copy in full-width, 25pt Times New Roman. I'm merely urging you to ensure that you offer everything that someone trying to hire you needs.

What are the must-haves?

Include the name of the client/agency the work was for, the date it was published and the category (editorial, advertising and so on) if you can. This helps give clients an idea of your working style/speed without you having to say how long it took you.

And for goodness' sake, list exactly what you did. It sounds like a given, but if you show a magazine spread complete with a hand-lettered title, illustration and editorial design, then clearly outline the aspects you executed. If you did it all, credit yourself and don't forget to list the art director. Including a few interesting details about the project never hurt anyone either.

Overall, your clients have better things to do than make guesses about you, so be specific and honest. Ensure that your site is easy to navigate and perhaps look into mobile optimisation. Don't use Gmail if you're serious about being a professional, and do a spellcheck. And remember: what's published online remains forever, so think twice before tweeting.

Words: Sabrina Smelko
Illustration: Żaneta Antosik

Graphic designer and illustrator Sabrina Smelko has a client list that includes Cadbury and The New York Times, and received accolades from the Society of Illustrators and the Adobe Design Achievement Awards. The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 233, a special issue with a photochromatic cover revealing the UK's top 30 studios, plus how to craft the perfect folio and make more money as a student.

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