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Considering the user of your UX portfolio

4 min read
Sarah Doody  •  Dec 27, 2018
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“You are the not the user.”

This is probably one of the most repeated phrases I say in client meetings, workshops, talks, and, frankly, any conversation about UX.

Why? Because when you are working on your own product, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. You see the product the way you want to see it. It’s not because you are a bad designer or a selfish person—I think it’s just human nature.

And the more skin in the game you have, the more you want it to be successful—and the easier it is to build a mindset that is focused on what you think and hope the product needs and not what you know users want.

This mantra—You are not the user—helps teams remember that it’s not about them.

If you’ve been following along with this series, you should by now have a mindset shift that your portfolio is a product (if you haven’t, check out The Product of You).

So if it’s a product, it has users—for full-time employees, hiring managers, recruiters, and people you may work with in the future, and for solo folks, potential clients or collaborators.

Designing your portfolio is a thoughtful, introspective process.

For the purposes of our discussion, let’s focus on the use case of someone trying to get hired into a UX position, rather than pursue their own consulting clients.

Related: 6 things to avoid when building your design portfolio

Here are 3 things to think about as you try to meet the needs of the user of your UX portfolio:

The user of your UX portfolio is a moving target

No interview process is the same.

It’s possible you’ll have a phone screen with a recruiter or first line of defense person; next might be a phone interview with some on the actual team or in the department, and finally, the last stop could be an in-depth interview with your potential boss.

Here’s the point: each of those people is looking for something else. Think about it: the recruiter or HR person knows about UX, but it’s possible they have not practiced UX. The goal of this person is to see if you tick all the boxes of what the job requires.

Who’s reviewing your portfolio?

After that first step, though, the next people you talk to will likely be more experienced UX practitioners and want to hear the details behind what you did.

Your UX portfolio must be brief and deep—at the same time

Now you’re probably thinking, how do I create a UX portfolio that meets the needs of the “moving target” user.

Which leads us to the actual visual design of your portfolio: it has to be scannable and readable. These aren’t fancy UX words—but they’re critical design elements.

A good exercise is to read only the headlines and see if someone could get the gist of the project. If not, then you need to re-write.

Why? Because most people, especially earlier on in the interview process, will only read (or possibly even just scan) the headlines.

Not sure what your slides should look like? This is a good start.

Let’s imagine your portfolio is a PDF that you make in Keynote. I recommend that you make sure to put large headlines capturing the main point you’re making on each slide; after that, you can (and should!) provide more detail.

Related: 4 illustration portfolio to inspire you

A good exercise is to read only the headlines and see if someone could get the gist of the project. If not, then you need to re-write.

Why? Because most people, especially earlier on in the interview process, will only read (or even just scan) the headlines.

Lots of us are guilty of just scanning headlines, both of newspapers and portfolios.

For more visual design tips about your portfolio, check out this article I wrote about some mistakes to avoid.

Tailor how you talk about your projects

Assuming you get to the stage of phone or in-person interviews, you must be prepared to talk about your projects.

There’s a big difference between having a portfolio that’s ready to go and being confident to talk about, or present, those projects.

Pro tip: You do not want to simply read people your portfolio—or, frankly, any presentation you ever give. I’ve been in the audience for that and they ar wastes of time.

Instead of the conversation itself, imagine your portfolio as a conversation aid. It should be a reference point, not a script!

Before you even get on the phone or go to an interview, try to get the names of who you’ll be talking to. Then, do a bit of research to understand their role at the company. This will give you ideas of how you may tailor your conversation.

For example, the conversation you have with a Developer would be different than the VP of UX.

If you have upcoming interviews, check out this video I created that has more tips. And if you want more in-depth action steps on how to prepare for a UX job interview, then consider grabbing my program, UX Job Interview Prep In A Weekend.