How to create a winning UX portfolio
Frank Gaine, UXswitch. Image: UXswitch

How to create a winning UX portfolio

14 Dec 2016125 Shares

So you want to be a UX designer. You’ve followed all the right steps, you’ve educated yourself and you’re ready to look for your dream job. But one of the key components is to have a winning UX portfolio. UX expert Frank Gaine is here to make sure you get that edge.

Speaking to designers, I see a great deal of inertia when it comes to starting or updating their UX portfolio. Reasons abound, such as being too busy, difficulty in getting material together or not knowing where to begin in the first place. But creating a good portfolio need not be a complicated, intimidating or drawn-out process.

It might seem an obvious statement, but your UX portfolio needs to be online as opposed to printed, for all the reasons I don’t have to enumerate. The easy option would be to lump your work in with thousands of other designer on sites such as Behance, Coroflot or Dribbble. However, with a little more effort, you can create your own bespoke site and create more of an identity for yourself.

Where do I start?

Firstly, buy a domain with your name baked into it, eg endakennyux.com. Then, go to a site like WeeblyWix or Squarespace and pick a website template. These sites allow you to easily create a sleek mobile-friendly website in no time at all, and they’re usually free of charge. Simply drag and drop images and text onto the template – no need for coding. Point your newly purchased domain at the URL that these free sites give you. You now have a framework to add project work and wow the UX world.

Don’t create a website with iframes. You need to be able to show the URL of a specific page on your site. This allows hiring managers to copy and paste a relevant page into an email to their boss, for example.

What should I put into my UX portfolio?

Many people reading this article will be new to UX or thinking of transitioning to it from another discipline. Therefore, they might not have a lot of design work to show. Indeed, more established UXers might not want to show past work for confidentiality reasons or might also want to break away from the kind of work they’ve been doing up to that point. So what do you do in this situation?

It’s time to be creative and show a little spunk. Why not go out and redesign an everyday user experience and put this as your portfolio? Document your research, show how it could be redesigned and why you made those decisions. For example, reimagine the Dublin Bikes kiosk, the Powercity.ie homepage or even the unfathomable microwave oven in your house. I always cite Peter Smart’s redesign of the airline boarding card as a great example in this respect; born out of frustration, initiative and curiosity.

Once you have some work to share, remember that a UX portfolio is all about telling a story and showing your design rationale. Write a short paragraph about your activity on each project and the problem you solved. Before and after screenshots work really well. Remember, employers love seeing your thought process rather than just the finished designs. So include images of your sketches, wireframes, a wall of post-it notes, you in action in front of a whiteboard and so on. Again, the aim is to whet the appetite of would-be employers; you can always go through more detail on the project in the interview.

UX illustration

Illustration showing how UXswitch.com moved from paper sketch to finalised product. Image: UXswitch

If you want to go the extra mile to impress the visitor to your portfolio, outline your design philosophy. This can be a simple mantra such as ‘Creating delightful products that make business sense’.  Better still, include a diagram of your design process; essentially something that shows you believe in proper user insight combined with iterative design.

A UX portfolio is all about quality as opposed to quantity, so don’t burden yourself by putting too many stories together. Be strategic also: if you want to do more work in mobile design, make sure you maximise the presence of any mobile work in your portfolio. Needless to say, add links to your Twitter, UXswitch and LinkedIn profiles or other relevant online presences that paint you in a good light.

How do I stand out?

Most portfolios consist of text and flat graphics and don’t get me wrong, that’s great. However, if you want to move up a gear and really stand out from the crowd, it might be time to embrace video. There are many ways in which you can do this, from the simple to the sophisticated. You could place your photos or screenshots in a PowerPoint presentation and simply record yourself talking over those slides.

On the flip side, if you have the time and skills, think about taking it a little further. How about a video that incorporates you talking to the camera, zooming in on screenshots and live footage of using the interface? Making a video shows ingenuity and demonstrates your communication and presentation skills, which is such a big part of UX design.

What about confidentiality? 

Understandably, if you are showing work completed under the guise of a given organisation, confidentiality issues will come up. There is a general understanding in the industry that in order to be able to hire designers, there needs to be some give and take in terms of designers being able to talk about their previous work. However, here are some things you can do to mitigate the situation:

  • Ask for permission to show particular assets
  • Blur logos and anonymise the work if possible
  • Show your own projects
  • Show smaller sections rather than the whole thing
  • Use crafty photography where the detail is not identifiable, but the meaning is still clear
  • If you can’t show the original artefact, recreate it

Next steps

Once your portfolio is well underway, make sure people can access it. Place the link in the Contact Info section of your LinkedIn profile and also on your UXswitch profile. Critically, make sure it is visible on your CV. Jay Kaufmann of Zalando in Berlin says in the brief time a CV is reviewed, a portfolio link can easily be overlooked. “Repeat the portfolio link in both header and body text. Include both a hyperlink and the full text of the URL. Even think about placing your portfolio link in a separate document attached to your application,” says Kaufmann.

The usefulness of a UX portfolio does not stop once you are called for interview. During the interview itself, bring your UX portfolio up on a tablet or computer as a great way to dispel the invisible ‘us and them’ barrier of such situations. Looking at something together brings people together. It can also distract interviewers from any nervousness you might be suffering from.

Once you’re in your new job, don’t let your UX portfolio get too stale. A good way to prevent this is to keep a diary of your achievements. This means taking photos and jotting down the main activity you were involved in on a periodic basis. For example, ‘July 15 – ran a workshop with ten senior stakeholders in London’. Therefore, when it comes to updating your resume or portfolio, you will have plenty of relevant material.

Ultimately, a UX portfolio is the essential factor in positioning yourself and getting an interview for that dream job. If you’re starting out in UX, your portfolio is key to your success. In fact, even an established UXer needs a good portfolio if they want to ensure their continued career progression. So there should be no more excuses in getting a top UX portfolio together. Go for it.

By Frank Gaine

Frank Gaine has been in UX since 2001. He has worked extensively at both agency and client side, for global brands as well as working with exciting start-ups and charities. Gaine runs UX career site UXswitch and works with the award-winning Irish design firm Frontend.com

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