The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Jessica Enders—Principal at Formulate Information Design
- Adrian Howard—Generalising Specialist in Agile/UX
- Whitney Quesenbery—Principal Consultant at Whitney Interactive Design; Past-President, Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA); Fellow, Society for Technical Communications (STC); UXmatters columnist
- Robert Reimann—Lead Interaction Designer at Sonos, Inc.; Past-President, Interaction Design Association (IxDA)
Q: As an independent UX designer, what should I have in my portfolio to gain the most consulting contracts?—From a UXmatters reader
“First, let me address the question as asked, because it’s the wrong question,” asserts Whitney. “It reminds me of a conversation I had as I was about to complete a theater program. I wanted to be a lighting designer. My first interviewer asked me what I wanted to do. ‘Be a lighting designer,’ I repeated. ‘Yes, but what kind of theater are you passionate about? Do you want to work on plays, musicals, opera? What kind of company do you want to work with.’ And, as he intended, I realized that I had focused entirely on the skills of my particular discipline rather than the larger question of what kind of theater I wanted to help create.
“If you don’t know what you are offering potential clients and partners, you are not an independent UX designer, but someone looking for direction. Once you know what kinds of projects or products you want to work on, it then becomes clear what should be in your portfolio.
“For a second try: Perhaps this question is trying to ask, ‘What kinds of companies and industries offer good prospects for work these days?’ That’s a very different question. In this case, we can talk about the kinds of skills or knowledge your portfolio should demonstrate. For example: Are you interested in mobile? You probably want to show designs for a range of platforms and types of devices and apps. Or maybe you want to specialize in iOS games. What about government? Probably need to show your experience in handling multichannel information and designs that works for a wide-ranging audience. And so on.
“Third try: Or perhaps this reader is trying to ask, ‘How many different parts of my UX work do I need to include?’ That one is a lot easier. Your portfolio should show what you can do well and an awareness of how your work fits into a larger process. I’d be happy to see a portfolio that showed team work, as long as it’s also clear what your individual contribution is. Playing nicely with others and understanding the overall UX process is important, especially for a contractor.
“One of the best portfolios I have ever seen was put together by someone moving out of a long career inside an old-economy financial services company. She wanted to show that she had worked in many areas of user experience, so she put together her best work in each area: user research, stakeholder workshops, early prototypes, usability testing, and so on. She said right up front that none of her projects had involved a perfect process, but that across her career, she had been able to work in many areas of the field, succeeding even in difficult environments. She even included some of her stories about working around barriers, to show how she was able to get a good result even in tough circumstances. What was so impressive about this portfolio was the way it so clearly showed who she was and what she could do in the right environment. I also liked the way she communicated that there were some areas of user experience that she didn’t know as well, but knew enough about them to do a creditable job when she was the only UX person on a team.”