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Top 3 Reasons Art Directors Might Hate Your Portfolio Website

October 4, 2010

(Illustration by Peter Diamond)

Does your portfolio website turn Art Directors away?

With the official launch of EFII’s Portfolio Workshop on my mind, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about some basic things that drive Art Directors crazy when looking at Illustration portfolios.

We all know that your portfolio website is one of your most important tools for marketing and promotion.

It’s your chance to make a great impression on Art Directors and inspire them to bookmark your site, or better yet, contact you for their next project.

Unfortunately, it can be all too easy to screw it up.

Since people are so busy, they often visit websites looking for reasons to stop wasting their time and leave.

Art Directors are no exception.

Unless they have a pleasant experience and see high quality work, they’ll move on before you’ve had a chance to say ‘hello’.

If you want to increase your chances of drawing Art Directors in long enough to impress them, here are 3 things to avoid:

1. Music

Whenever I’ve spoken with Art Directors about what turns them off about some artists’ websites, this is one of the first things they mention.

Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand the desire to make your work ‘feel’ better by complementing it with music. Most people love music.

However, when an Art Director visits your website, and suddenly unwanted music kicks in, the first thing they’re going to do is look for the ‘off’ button.

That is, if they don’t just leave altogether.

I highly recommend doing without music that automatically plays when someone visits your site. Otherwise you run the risk of annoying people as soon as they arrive.

2. Flash Intro

The second most risky thing you can do with your website is include a Flash-based, animated intro. Not only does it generally make an Art Director wait longer for your website to load, but it also puts up a wall between them and the main body of your website, where they can click on portfolio pieces or other areas of your site such as your About page or your Contact page.

Exception: To be sure, I have seen some Illustrators actually pull of a Flash intro that works in their favor, especially if it loads quickly and the artist specializes in web or interactive Illustration or animation. However, more often than not, it’s a turn off.

3. Slow Load Time

Even though I’ve already mentioned that Flash intros can potentially make Art Directors wait longer than they should to see your work, this deserves its own entry because their are other things that can slow down the load time of your website, such as large files or poor site design.

Whenever possible, upload the smallest image files possible while retaining good visual quality.

If your visitor starts thinking about what they had for lunch while your page is loading, it’s way too slow. Keep their interest with fast page loads and simple navigation so that your portfolio can do its job.

Busy Busy Busy

The general theme you may have noticed in the examples above is that you should do everything you can to take Art Directors directly to your Illustration portfolio without any unpleasant distractions.


Hopefully this helps you to make your website more effective in the future.

Have you noticed other ways that portfolio websites can be a turn-off? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Special thanks to Peter Diamond for providing the artwork for this article.

About Peter Diamond: Peter Diamond is a Canadian illustrator based in Vienna, Austria. He cut his teeth on punkrock concert posters and CD covers and now offers his artistic voice to the world at large. Diamond is in fact his real name, but it doesn’t mean what you think it does.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2010 5:05 AM

    Another reason to avoid Flash:

    iPhones are pretty much the weapon of choice for creatives. Since Apple won’t allow Flash on the iPhone, If you build your site in Flash it just won’t get seen by a good many Art Directors.

  2. October 4, 2010 4:25 PM

    Pretty much things you should avoid on any site not just a illustrator’s portfolio. Having music play when a page loads is really annoying, especially since a lot of people are surfing the internet at work and might not have remembered to have their computer on mute. If I see a flash loading icon, pretty much ever, I hit the back button. Have no patience or desire to see something built in flash.

  3. October 5, 2010 1:31 AM

    Art directors I’ve worked with in NYC stress the same thing about websites: time. Your website should come up immediately when they hit that Enter key after typing in the web address -boom! And there’s your site . The first/home page should pack a punch and show your strongest works if you want them to stay and delve deeper. You know how A.D.D. seems to be everywhere nowadays, so K.I.S.S. Lose the bells and whistles. User friendly is key.

  4. October 5, 2010 5:44 AM

    Portfolio sites where the thumbnails appear on every page have an advantage. An AD clicks on a thumbnail and he can still access all the thumbnails on the resulting page. Reduces the annoyance factor: no need to click the Back button or Previous or Next arrows for images the AD might not be interested in.

    I wholly agree about music and flash intros: how to make a bad impression… nice post!

  5. October 5, 2010 11:18 PM

    I dropped Flash from my website for completely and went very low tech for very simple reasons. I had actually been a magazine art director for a smallish local magazine back home before there was an internet. The thing that bothered me the most as an art director back then was that too many artists had horrible presentation but decent work. At the time the thinking was if this person can’t present their work professionally they can’t be very professional. Later on, it reversed in importance – digital tools became more important and everything became so slick that the presentation was hiding the work. So now the thinking is that if your presentation is too slick you put more work into selling yourself than into working – also bad. I guess we just can’t win. Haha.

  6. October 6, 2010 6:14 AM

    Excellent advice – thanks for sharing and underscoring what most of us know – but too often fail to put into practice.

  7. October 23, 2010 1:56 PM

    Low tech, with no bells & whistles, is the best way.

  8. December 22, 2010 1:18 AM

    As an Art Director, I agree with this whole heartedly. My time is one of the most important things to me. When looking for an illustrator, I really just want to know if you can do what I need you to do and make it fit the concept. I know that sounds selfish or un-sensitive, though most of the time we are under such tight deadlines it’s easier not to sugar coat things.

    As much as I appreciate all of the extras (except music, I hate when a site automatically plays music), a simple well designed easily navigable page is all you need to have to make me (and most other ADs) happy.

    Also, one small thing to some but is a huge deal to me, is when I am scrolling through work, DON’T move the next button. Keep it in the same place so I don’t have to move my mouse/finger every time I want to go to the next piece of work. A lot of times I won’t even stay on the site if I can’t go through all of the pieces relatively fast.

    That’s all, hopefully this helps someone. . .

  9. January 11, 2011 8:00 AM

    Wow! This is really very helpful information. I’m going to jump onto my site now and take off the flash intro. It’s very brief to be sure, but you’re right… simple is better. Thanks a lot, Peter.

    Thanks too to all of you art directors chiming in with your preferences – that really helps freelancers like myself to know what you want. No sense in shooting ourselves in the foot before we even have the chance to grab that coveted gig. :)

    My Etsy Shop:
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  10. Matt permalink
    February 17, 2011 5:24 PM

    One of the easiest things you can do is put your portfolio on Flickr. That way, all of the attention is focused on the images/videos and not side-tracked by web design (as that is owned by Flickr.) You can also easily add notes to your work, client info, media etc.

    An AD can see good sized thumbnails and use the slide show feature to quickly go through the work. It is not flash based so will work on an Ipad/Iphone which is more important than you might think.

    Also, really limit the work to the best pieces and do not be tempted to just go for volume. So many artists, especially graduates start strong and then undermine their work by showing something of a lower quality later in the portfolio.

  11. March 21, 2012 1:09 PM

    Great art director comments– I’ve been a humorous illustrator for over 20 years & just learned something new… thanks for the tips!

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