Have you been struggling with a lack of confidence in the quality of your existing UX design portfolio—perhaps because companies are not responding to your job applications? Are you wondering which areas of your portfolio you should change or keep as they are? If you’re creating a new design portfolio, are you unsure where to begin? UX designers commonly face such situations as these—especially those who are just starting out in UX design.
A strong portfolio is undoubtedly your most important asset as a UX design professional. It is a platform that lets you demonstrate your skills and showcase your personality. A good portfolio can help you to land interviews for your ideal job or attract clients for freelance projects. However, with the vast amount of competition that’s out there, many of you are probably wondering: How can I make my portfolio stand out?
In this article, I’ll cover six best practices that you should apply when crafting your UX portfolio. I’ve also incorporated tips and insights from a portfolio-review Webinar session with some seasoned industry guests: Jay Demetillo, Lead UX / Visual Designer at Grab, and Edgar Anzaldua, Head of CX and Design at Canon Australia.
1. Tell Your Story
When providing the narrative behind a project that you’ve included in your design portfolio, be sure to explain your process, provide key metrics, and describe your role on the project and the challenges that you encountered.
Highlight Your Design Process
The most important thing to keep in mind when designing and maintaining your portfolio is the need to highlight your design process. When hiring managers read your portfolio, they’re not just interested in your final product or the software tools you used. They want to understand how you think and how you made the important decisions during your design process. For example, what was your thought process behind a persona you developed?
Include Key Metrics
When writing up your case studies, include the research that you conducted, the personas you came up with, and any wireframes or prototypes you created. All of these efforts led to your final UX design. Remember to include key metrics that demonstrate your project’s success, as well as anything you want to follow up on after the project.
When hiring managers go through UX designers’ portfolios, they tend to look for projects that have delivered a valuable solution that made a real impact on the company.
State Your Role and Your Challenges
One thing that is often missing from candidates’ portfolio is their role on the project. This is important information to include. Recruiters are less interested in knowing what your team did than how you contributed to the project. Plus, you can describe the challenges that you faced. For example:
Did the client disagree with your suggestions? How did you deal with that?
Did you encounter any obstacles? How did you overcome them?
What trade-offs did you have to make when deciding on your final design?
Furthermore, you could include some of your sketches and wireframes that did not make it into the final design. Even if they didn’t make the cut, these sketches are often of high quality so can showcase the full range of your talent. Figures 1 and 2 show some examples of wireframes that Penny created that highlight her design process.
Dick’s Web portfolio lets people play with his prototypes, as shown in Figure 3.
2. Showcase Your Personality
Your portfolio should showcase who you are, including the niche in which you work and your relevant interests. Provide some client testimonials.
Highlight Your Niche
When writing up your case studies, do your best to showcase your professional niche and highlight your strengths. For instance, if you have valuable skills in front-end programming or a good eye for photography, you should call attention to those strengths.
Describe Your Relevant Interests
You should also describe your background and interests if they’ve helped you to develop relevant skillsets. You can also apply this tip if you’re applying for a UX role in a specific industry in which you have prior experience—such as finance or healthcare. For example:
Having a research background could show that you have good data-analysis skills.
Having experience in architecture could show your attention to detail and design ability.
Having experience as a firefighter could demonstrate that you are able to work under pressure!
Add Some Client Testimonials
Include client testimonials that describe your work ethic and show what it is like to work with you. This could give prospective employers or clients an idea of how well you would fit into their team. Place yourself in the spotlight. Show off your personality. Don’t be too humble!
Check out the following excerpts from Claire and Kurien’s portfolios. Both did a great job of highlighting their strengths and relevant interests. As shown in Figure 4, Claire focused on a specific target audience and used a consistent color palette and appropriate photography, showcasing her own style. Kurien’s portfolio includes testimonials from his clients and teammates, as shown in Figure 5.
3. Capture Your Readers’ Attention
Find ways to capture the readers’ attention as they look through your portfolio. You can do this by improving your case studies’ visual aesthetics. Plus, you could add a hero image to each case study and include a short abstract that provides a summary of what you did and the project’s outcome, enticing readers to read more.
To draw attention to her portfolio, Claire included some aesthetically pleasing, in-situ photographs of people using her design solutions, as shown in Figure 6, as well as beautiful templates that showcase her prototype, as shown in Figure 7.
4. Reduce Friction
Ensure coherence in the narrative flow of your case studies for those who are reading your portfolio. To ensure good flow, try to reduce friction as much as possible. Make sure you tell your story coherently from start to end and provide a clear rationale and outcome. Here are some pointers on ensuring coherence:
Add appropriate previews of your work on your home page so readers can get the gist of each case study at a glance.
Allow people to view all your case studies at once rather than organizing them in a carousel or slider. Do not make readers hover over each case study with their mouse to read the details.
Make sure your navigation system is consistent. You should not group a link that goes to a section of the same page, with another link that opens up a new page.
Case studies and projects:
Keep all sections about a single case study on the same page rather than breaking them up across different pages.
At the end of each case study, add navigation links that let the recruiter easily view your other projects.
Include call-to-action buttons and contact forms to make it easy for hiring managers to download your resume or get in touch with you.
Overall, make sure that the people who view your portfolio have an enjoyable and meaningful experience. After all, if you’re applying for a role in the field of User Experience, what better way is there to showcase your skills than through your portfolio’s design and layout. In the example portfolio in Figure 8, Tiffany does a great job of ensuring coherence throughout her resume. She made it easy for people to download her resume or connect with her on LinkedIn and included a contact form so people can reach out to her.
5. Tailor Your Portfolio to the Role You Want
Before you start crafting your case studies and your overall portfolio, you should identify what roles you’re looking for and tailor your portfolio to those roles. Here are some ideas on how to tailor your portfolio to a specific job you’re seeking:
When you’re applying for UX roles, your portfolio should highlight your thought processes.
If you’re looking for a user-interface (UI) or visual-interface design role, emphasize your beautiful visual designs and include high-fidelity prototypes in your portfolio.
If you’re a freelancer, highlight your availability to new clients as well. As Figure 9 shows, Adilah’s portfolio includes her availability for positions in which she would be interested, which is useful for hiring managers, recruiters, and potential clients.
6. Avoid Including Too Many Case Studies
Many UX professionals want to know: How many case studies should I present? UX designers often ask this question. My advice is to choose quality over quantity.
Include Your Three Best Case Studies
I recommend that you include around three case studies in your portfolio, making them easy to access. They should be easy to read, so ensure that they tell a concise, coherent story about yourself. If you have additional case studies that you think are valuable, you could perhaps include them on a separate page or on another platform such as Behance.
Ensure That Everything You Include Adds Meaning and Relevance
Avoid including any unnecessary or irrelevant information. For example, don’t use a stock photo of a coffee cup as your hero image for a case study, as shown in Figure 10. Such a photo wouldn’t add any meaning or have any relevance to your case study. Also, never add any buttons that would serve no purpose, as depicted in Figure 11. Ensure that there is no clutter on your portfolio pages so readers can focus on your key points. Avoid replicating these sorts of bad examples.
Withhold Some Details for Your Interview
Lastly, you should not put every single detail of your project in your portfolio. Be sure to keep back some details that you can share during your interview. You could even include a cheeky snippet at the end of your portfolio that says: “If you want to see more, talk to me!”
Answers to Some Common Questions
Q: In what format should I present my portfolio?
A: Create a responsive Web site. There are many different ways of presenting your portfolio, and the content matters more than the medium in which you present it. That being said, a responsive Web site is an ideal platform for presenting your portfolio. Try to make your portfolio readily available on the Web.
There are many portfolio templates available online, on sites such as SquareSpace and Wix. You could easily use them to build your Web site, even without prior Web-development experience. If you know how to code, coding your own Web site to host your portfolio would be impressive. If you prefer to use a PDF deck, be sure to provide links to animated GIFs or videos to make your portfolio more interactive and attention grabbing.
Q: If I have a project that I cannot share with the public or that includes sensitive data, how should I showcase it?
A: Password protect your portfolio, redact sensitive data, or rebrand your designs. You could password protect a specific case study or provide access to your portfolio only to certain people. Another alternative is to black out private information such as a client’s name and email address. If necessary, rebrand the designs, making them look different from your client’s brand. They can still highlight your process.
In conclusion, to make your portfolio stand out, you should follow these tips:
Tell your story.
Showcase your personality.
Capture the reader’s attention.
Tailor your portfolio to the role you want.
Avoid including too many case studies.
I hope this article has given you some insights on how you can improve your UX design portfolio and better showcase your work. Having a strong UX portfolio is always a good first step toward finding your ideal role in the UX industry. I wish you the best of luck on your UX journey.
With more than ten years of experience working at the intersection of technology, design, and marketing, Daylon has worked with organizations at different scales, across various industries. He was previously Razer’s Global eCommerce Architect for the online-shopping experience and led a team of marketing and merchandising specialists, as well as a UX Designer. WeWork Labs, Daylon currently consults with and trains enterprises and mentors startups on UX design and product management and teaches at vocational-training schools across Singapore and Malaysia. He has also taught UX design and digital marketing at General Assembly, part time since 2015. As founder and design educator at CuriousCore, an educational institute that specializes in helping midcareer professionals break into the UX design industry, Daylon teaches business leaders the fundamentals of human-centered design (HCD) to help them solve business challenges. Read More