You could be the next Mike Matas (who has an amazing portfolio, by the way), but if your portfolio doesn’t do your work justice, you’ll never get noticed—there are just too many other designers competing for work.
I’ve looked at hundreds of design portfolios over the years, and it’s the same details that make you want to pick up the phone and call that candidate.
“You’re only as good as your portfolio.”
So what exactly is it that makes a UI design portfolio great? How do you make it stand out among the rest? I’m going to answer these questions and give you some tips and tricks for making sure your UI design portfolio gives you the best possible odds of getting an interview.
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Stop with the screenshots—seriously
Just like when developing a character, backstory is everything. The same is true of your portfolio. The biggest mistake beginner UI designers make is thinking that it’s okay to just show a screenshot of their work and call it a day. As a hiring manager, this is usually a giant red flag that makes me move on faster than anything else.
Showing a screenshot of your work only tells me the “what”—it doesn’t tell me the “why.” Great UI design is a journey that’s all about finding a solution to a problem. The best UI design portfolios explain how you came upon this design and why it’s the best solution to the problems you’ve identified.
“You can’t just show a screenshot of your work and call it a day.”
Here are some ways to make sure you’re presenting the entire picture of your design solutions:
- State the problem. What problem were you trying to solve? Stating this clearly at the beginning of your work lets the reader know that you weren’t just designing for design’s sake.
- Show your wireframes. As a potential employer, I want to see that you came to a solid solution on paper (or in your wireframing app of choice) before you started pushing pixels around.
- Show your process. Every piece in your portfolio should be a journey. Take the viewer from start to finish, showing them how your thinking evolved and how you iterated over the design. Try to explain your thinking at each stage of the design process.
Following these tips will ensure that a reader walks away with a solid understanding of the “why” of your design, and not just the “what.”
Cull your old work ruthlessly
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that every bit of work you’ve ever done belongs in your portfolio. But your portfolio should only contain your absolute best work.
Even if you only have 5 completed projects to show for yourself, if 2 of them aren’t up to your current level of skill, don’t include them. A good portfolio is a living thing: It’s constantly changing and evolving so that it always shows off your best, most recent work—not every single thing you’ve ever done.
Get active on Behance
Behance is one of the best portfolio sites because it allows designers to be as detailed or as general as they’d like to be.
Once you upload a portfolio piece, it’s available for the rest of the Behance community to view and critique. These critiques come in the form of a thumbs up and/or a comment.
I love Behance because it helps me get a complete picture of a designer before I bring them in for an interview. For that reason, designers who include a Behance link definitely have a leg up.
“But what about Dribbble?” you’re probably thinking. Dribbble is awesome because it makes it so easy to show off your work. But it doesn’t necessarily make a great medium for a portfolio because there’s no way to explain the thinking behind your designs. Yes, definitely include your Dribbble link when you’re applying for gigs, but don’t rely on it as your actual design portfolio.
Related: Our favorite ‘Silicon Valley’ Dribbble shots
Have a personal website that complements your portfolio
Creating a website might seem intimidating or way too time-consuming if you aren’t technical, but there are tons of services out there that make it easy. Check out Squarespace, WordPress, and Tumblr, just to name a few.
“Your portfolio is about showing off both what you did and how you did it.”
Having a personal website accomplishes a few things that will help you stand out as a UI designer:
- It shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile to represent yourself. Setting up a Behance and a Dribbble portfolio is relatively simple compared to setting up your own website.
- It’s the best possible way to show a complete picture of yourself. In addition to a portfolio, your website could also include an about me section, photos of yourself, a blog, etc. This all comes together to give a potential employer a complete view of you as a designer and as a person.
- It gives you complete control over how you’re represented. It usually makes sense to start with a base theme for your website design, but from there you can tweak and extend your site as you see fit. You can alter the design to make it match your style and vibe, which all works together to create a brand identity for you as a designer.
- If you decide to create a personal website, don’t be afraid to blog! Reading your blog posts can be a great way for potential employers to get into your head as a designer. If you’re writing intelligently on design-related topics, it makes you appear more confident and well-rounded—and, ultimately, it makes you more appealing.
Related: 6 design blogging tips for beginners
Take inspiration from the best UI portfolios out there
If you look on public portfolio sites like Behance, you can find lots of inspiration. Personally, I recommend checking out these 3 beauties:
Stefan’s website is a nice example of a well-rounded portfolio. It starts with a large About Me section, then takes the viewer on a journey to learn more about him and review his portfolio.
What I love about Ivo’s portfolio is how much detail he shares about each project. He takes it beyond just the visuals by sharing details about the company and explaining the design process behind his solutions.
Bradley’s portfolio is just plain sexy. It’s super clean and does an amazing job of showing off the work and describing the thinking behind each piece.
Your portfolio is simply about showing off both what you did and how you did it. As long as you’re doing that, the only limitation is your experience and expertise as a designer, and that simply improves with time.
Want to take the next step in starting your UI design career? Check out the UI design course that I curated at CareerFoundry. We’ll give you all the tools you need to be a well-rounded designer and you’ll also end the course with a solid portfolio that you can use as your entry into the job market!
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by Eric Bieller
Eric Bieller is a practicing UI designer and alongside his wife has given up a regular paycheck to become a digital nomad, swapping their permanent home to travel the world. Eric curated the UI Design Course with CareerFoundry after 10 years working and teaching in the field.