Portfolio Creative owner (and CCAD alum) shares 5 key elements for success

kristen harris and catherine lang cline

Kristen Harris’ (Retail Advertising, 1991) most recent job titles include co-founder, chief operating officer, publisher, and editor, but if you wanted to boil it down to one short, easy-to-fit-on-a-business-card title, it would be this: problem solver.

The Columbus College of Art & Design grad worked as a designer, art director, and creative manager for multiple marketing departments at LBrands for more than 13 years. It was there she developed an eye for talent and a passion for working with creative people, and, after years of thinking there should be a better way to connect companies with creative people for projects or positions, she and a partner decided to create a business to do exactly that.

In 2005, Harris and her partner started Portfolio Creative to help companies find top talent for contract, full-time, or project-based roles in marketing, design, advertising, digital, and more.

But Harris didn’t stop there.

The lifelong pet lover thought central Ohio could use a local pet magazine, and so, in 2018, she solved that problem, too, launching Petcetera Columbus to connect people to their pets, pet-focused businesses, and each other.

Harris recently shared her insights regarding the confluence of creative thinking and business success.


Your career path might have its twists and turns, but some things stay the same.

Two things have been consistent in everything I’ve done: The opportunity for creativity and problem solving. I often see problems and wonder, “Why doesn’t this exist?” or, “Why isn’t there a better way to do that?” and then try to find a solution. I’ve always loved marketing and design because it’s problem solving; it lets me channel creativity toward a purpose. Trying to solve problems is how I’ve ended up in multiple roles and having a few different businesses!


Art school makes you an ace designerand a stellar leader.

While working in design at LBrands, I directly applied the drawing, design, color theory, typography, and other skills I learned at CCAD. As I advanced into art direction and creative management roles, I started to apply the less tangible skills I learned, such as  being resourceful, exploring new ideas, always striving for the best solution, embracing a willingness to try something new, having a DIY spirit, and believing if you think of an idea, you can make it happen. These skills apply to everything from design and marketing to business and leadership, and I use them every single day.

kristen harris with puppies

Kristen with her dogs Rusty (left) and Holly. Photo by Jen Brown. 

A CCAD education helps you see things better.

My CCAD education helps me approach problems differently and think creatively about solutions. I’m unfazed trying to create something that doesn’t exist. Of course, I use my art and design skills on projects for the businesses, but I also tap into my ability to think creatively and solve problems. When you own a small business, you deal with lots of issues and opportunities totally unrelated to your area of expertise. You never know what’s next, so the ability to think creatively and solve problems with a “we can figure this out” spirit helps me and keeps it fun.


Creative thinking is at the core of professional success.

I believe the ability to think more broadly, see things from a different perspective, and imagine something new is becoming more and more important for businesses. When so much repetitive work can be done with automation and artificial intelligence, it frees us to think creatively and solve other problems. That’s what artists do: we bring something very different to the table compared to standard, business-focused people. Creative people also tend to be very empathetic and tuned-in to others; this can be helpful when we’re all so disconnected, working with teams across the world.


Art and imagination are key (and so is knowing the numbers).

My advice to CCAD students is to think broadly about how they use art and creativity in their life and work. Explore, try new things, keep evolving and learning, and don’t get too attached or locked into one area. The world is ever-changing and creativity helps us evolve with it, which is a beautiful thing! And, always understand the business or financial side of whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re working for a company or starting your own, we all need to get paid to live our lives. Whether it’s creating a piece of art to sell to a patron or designing a logo to sell a product, it’s useful to understand what a successful outcome looks like.

kristen harris


Top photo: Kristen Harris (right) with Portfolio Creative Co-Founder Catherine Lang-Cline 


Learn more about Advertising & Graphic Design at CCAD or apply here.