Let’s be real: The UX of getting a job in UX isn’t exactly the best. Job titles mean different things at different companies. Job descriptions are often a mashup of a dream candidate.
And the job interview process can be weeks, sometimes months long with many companies asking candidates to do design exercises or mock projects in advance of even meeting in person.
Then there’s the UX portfolio. Agree with it or not, the UX portfolio has become a popular prerequisite for most UX positions. A common problem is that UX designers rush to create their portfolio and don’t think about the actual UX of it—the experience that the viewer will have. And more importantly what the portfolio itself, beyond the projects, conveys about them as a designer.
“UX designers rush to create their portfolio and don’t think about the actual UX of it.”
“We’re always in a time crunch and generally have hundreds of candidates a day. Unless something jumps out at me right away, I’m on to the next candidate. We just don’t have the time needed to make sense of confusing or unclear pieces of work in this sort of rush.”
Now I know you’re thinking, “So what stands out to recruiters?” Keep reading.
Here are five actionable tips you can use to improve the UX of your UX portfolio so that the recruiters and hiring managers have a better understanding of your skills and experience.
1. You are your greatest creative product
Don’t just jump right into your work. Tell people what you do, what you’re passionate about, what makes you unique. Create a short one- or two-sentence summary of who you are. This helps to reduce the chances that the recruiter or hiring manager will make assumptions based on your title because you will have defined who you are and what you do.
But don’t fall into the trap of using buzz words. Don’t say “I’m a UX/UI designer.” Get specific and make it interesting. For example: “I’m a user researcher and product designer who is passionate about how technology can influence people. I’m curious about integrating technology into health care to give patients and caretakers a better experience.”
“Your portfolio should tell people what you do, what you’re passionate about, what makes you unique.”
Danny Roberts also says that what stands out is when a portfolio is “unique to you as an individual so we get a sense of what you’re like as a person and how you’d potentially fit on the team.” That’s why a personal statement that goes beyond your work is crucial.
Sidenote about stock photography as a means to show your personality? “Images of coffee mugs are tired,” according to Roberts.
2. Your portfolio is NOT one size fits all
When you work on a UX project, the first step is to understand your audience so you can tailor the experience to them. It’s the same with your portfolio. In this case, it’s about tailoring the content to the role that you’re applying for and company.
Let’s say you’re a UX designer who specializes in user research and product design. In your past, you’ve done a lot of product design work that you’re proud of—high fidelity wireframes and detailed interactive prototypes. You decide to apply to a user researcher role at a finance company. Now even though you have awesome product design work, you have to tailor your portfolio to showcase more of your research skills.
Tailoring your portfolio could be as simple as reordering the projects in it, rewriting parts of each project to make it more focused on skills related to the role, or swapping out different visuals.
Roberts adds that a portfolio stands out when it’s “unique or at the very least shows that the candidate didn’t only gather work examples, but put in though and effort to tell a story behind the work.”
3. If content is king, then context is queen
We know the value of content. We know that the best experience design in the world can’t keep people engaged if the content isn’t equally as great. So when you work on your portfolio, focus on the content first. Don’t skip right to “designing” your portfolio.
But there’s something even more important than content.
For all the content you include, you must provide context for the reader. Without context, people end up guessing and making assumptions. Context means that you’re providing people with just enough information to understand the project at a high level. People should know what the company was, the problem you were solving, and why you pursued a certain process.
“When you work on your portfolio, focus on the content first.”
Use every opportunity you can to create context. Have a title slide or introduction screen that serves almost as a trailer for people so in one quick glance the context you provide helps frame what they see in your portfolio for that project.
One example Roberts provides is concerning the company name for a project in your portfolio. “Company names are the first thing that jump out. If your company name isn’t well known, then include a simple line of text that defines what your company does so I have context—it’s so helpful.”
4. A picture is not worth a thousand words
Yes, UX recruiters and hiring managers want to see visuals. But sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand words. Remember you have to consider the UX of your UX portfolio. The reader has likely never heard of the project before. Assume they know nothing. So, you have to explain each visual.
However, be smart about how you explain your visuals. If you have a wireframe on one page of your portfolio, don’t just label it with, “Next we created some wireframes” or “Here are the wireframes for the article detail page.” Use that description as a chance to showcase your thought process. Instead you could say, “We focused on the article detail page first and came up with three different concepts to address the issue of balancing advertising requirements while still delivering an engaging reader experience.” Tell the story of what you did. Don’t just state the obvious.
“Tell the story of what you did. Don’t just state the obvious.”
5. Get creative about how you show your visuals
You may not be a visual designer, but you absolutely must consider the visual design of your portfolio. Specifically, make sure the visuals you include add to the portfolio and don’t create a distraction.
Too often, I see portfolios with full-length images of long screens of websites or apps. They’re scaled down to fit within the portfolio, and the problem is that they’re so small, no one can really view the details of it. Don’t stress about trying to keep things all on one page or to a specific number of pages.
So how can you present your visuals in a way that creates a better experience for the reader? Simple things such as cropping screenshots, whiteboards, flow diagrams, etc. Or if you do want to include the full screenshot of a page or screen, do that but then consider putting a second image beside it that really zooms in on a specific feature or component of that page.
Product Designer Rachel Smitz has one of the best UX portfolios out there. See the whole thing and get inspired.
So, take action ASAP and apply some of these tips to your UX portfolio. Don’t simply nod your head and think “These are good tips.” If you want to improve your portfolio and make progress, you have to take action.
Whether you choose to have a portfolio website or create a PDF document, it’s up to you. But you must consider the UX of your UX portfolio if you want to stand out and keep the attention of recruiters and hiring managers who literally have seconds to make initial decisions.
It may not seem fair, but it’s reality right now.
Want more actionable tips to take your UX portfolio to the next level?
And if you really want to create a UX portfolio that showcases your skills and process, then check out Sarah’s program The UX Portfolio Formula. Friends of InVision can get 50% off with the code INVISIONROCKS.
by Sarah Doody
Sarah Doody is a User Experience Designer, Entrepreneur, and Educator. She helps companies assess product ideas, understand customers, and design and optimize the experience. She created the popular weekly newsletter, The UX Notebook. Sarah is a contributing author to InVision, UX Magazine, UX Mastery, UX Matters, and has been published in the New York Times. Sarah is committed to helping people learn to think like a designer. She does this through online and in-person UX education programs on topics including user research, storyboarding, rapid prototyping, and creating a UX portfolio. In 2011, she created the curriculum for and taught General Assembly’s first 12-week UX immersive, the genesis of their popular UX programs which are now taught worldwide.