Updated: May, 2021
How to make your (perfect) UX Portfolio? A question for a million dollars. Everyone has an opinion and not surprisingly they have very conflicting opinions.
Build a website.
Do not build a website.
I did a little bit of research and I was surprised that about 50% of people recommended one and 50% recommended the other option. This is in no way serious research, it was just looking out at the field but take a quick look yourself and you’ll get the picture.
I have my thoughts on it and I’ll share them with you momentarily But I would like to start with telling you that no matter which path you choose, stay true to who you are. Trust your intuition. This is one of the rare times you’ll hear that from me. As a UXD I must use data to make design decisions, but this topic is about you. Take what feels right and make it your own!
There are two ways to create your portfolio and I believe that choosing the appropriate one depends on what kind of job you are looking for. I always tell my students, UX your own portfolio. UX your own way of getting your dream job.
If you want to get a job as a freelancer (remote work). I believe creating a website would be the go-to version. Having a strong presence on social media will be crucial for you. You will need to showcase the diversity of projects, prove that you can solve problems, and many times, show that you have visual design skills. People expect your website to look and work perfect – UX and/or UI-wise, you’ll need to have a website that will show your skills. (I will focus more on this part in the next article and give you examples of freelancers with awesome portfolios.)
On the other hand, if you’re applying for an in-house job (full time, regular employment) the story will most likely be very different. Interviewers will have multiple interviews, they will come back and forth to your portfolio, they will most likely discuss your portfolio and interview with other stakeholders, and they will want to see more focused UX skills. For this scenario, a tailored PDF might be a better option unless the job ad specifically says online portfolio.
Showcase your problem-solving skills, create a story, and give answers to questions that you predict they might have.
Structure of a Portfolio for an in-house job
When I was working on my own portfolio, I came up with the structure that worked for me. It might not work for you and I encourage you to challenge this and create a portfolio that will reflect who YOU are. As I said, people recommend different things and they believe different things work. This one worked for me and it can be applied to a PDF or an online case study.
- Frontpage with your contact information
- Introduction of a product/project
- My role
- Design problem
Repeat steps 2-7 for 3-5 projects.
I like to include “dirty work” – sketches, wireframes, things that didn’t work but made me learn. Do not include EVERYTHING that you have. Focus on the important parts. Focus on only what will give you a job. Research the company that you want to apply to and make a portfolio that will speak exactly to that company. You cannot expect that one very general portfolio will serve for very different job offers.
Frequently asked question
1. But I’m a junior!
No problem. You can still use this structure and focus on whatever you can show. Worst case scenario, create your own project. But please, do not do an analysis of another product and make suggestions on how to make it better – unless asked. First of all that is very disrespectful towards your fellow designers, second of all, you just do not have the whole picture of why a product is as is.
2. I have only one student project
I agree, not ideal, but even a student project can have multiple stages. My students work on their project for more than 6 months. It is not a small thing. They can find different design problems and just adapt the structure to:
- Introduction of the product/project
- My role
- Design problem 1
- Design problem 2
- Design problem 3
3. My work is all under NDA (Non-disclosure agreement)
This is a tricky one. Check your contract. In most cases, you probably won’t want to ask your manager for advice at that stage. It’s better to ask this when you start working or when it’s still so early in the process that they feel safe to answer without giving a look: “are you leaving us?” I don’t believe you’ll have any problems with work that has already been published. Just don’t add projects that are still considered work-in-progress. Also in case, you have a signed NDA make the portfolio private. That makes things easier.
4. I feel like I should have a page, but you suggest a PDF
Well, to be honest, I believe a PDF should only be your best work and even for that, only design problems that you’ve solved. I never said that you shouldn’t have more work – especially if you have a student project but not in the portfolio. Have it on a webpage or build up Behance, Dribbble, Adobe portfolio… page. If you want to work in a company (employed full time) having a webpage is a waste of money, but having an online presence where you can show more than just specific problems is absolutely fine.
A good example of this is a website and pdf combination of one of my former students. He has a website with the whole presentation of his project and a separate PDF where he goes deeper into design problems.
Taskly – project page | Carlo’s portfolio
5. How many projects should I include?
Three to five. Do not overwhelm your interviewers. Think of them as busy clients that will be reviewing your work among 20 other applications. You need to shine through, so make sure you include only your best work. It took me a long time to accept this. I wanted to show everything. I could find a reason to show everything I’ve worked on, but working as a photographer taught me that out of 150 photographs that you take on a shoot, you really want to put only 1 in your portfolio. Quantity will not leave a good impression. Quality will.
6. Is it important that the UX portfolio looks good?
Well, yes and no. Traditionally UXers are not artists. We are rarely creatives. But let’s be honest – people do judge the book by its cover. I suggest you do a little research and decide on where you want to apply. Then create a portfolio that will match your perfect company. I don’t mean – steal their design, but you can quickly get an idea of what they like and what not and go for that.
7. What do you mean by “UX your own portfolio”?
As a UX Designer, one principle that you must hold sacred is USABILITY.
The official ISO 9241-11 definition of usability is: “the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”
Also think about readability, structure, consistency… think of your UX portfolio as your own design. And remember, if it works in black and white, it will work in colours!
8. I still really want to have a website.
Okay, fair enough. This is just my view on the subject and you are free to do what you feel will work for you. If you absolutely hate the idea of having a PDF portfolio or a combination, take a look at Simon Pan’s Portfolio. I love how detailed his portfolio is.
Create your own
I will finish here. Comment below to let me know if you have more questions. No matter which way you decide to go, always keep in mind that the portfolio should reflect who you are. You need to comfortable with it. You need to be more than comfortable – you need to be proud of it! Shine.
Until next time,