UX Design Portfolios: Best Practices

Thoughts on making a good user experience (UX) design portfolio

So you know you need a portfolio to land a UI/UX gig. If you are just starting out or it’s been a while, that can be overwhelming. Even if you have a portfolio, you may be wondering if it is doing all it can for you. As experienced digital product designers, we have some thoughts on the topic of design portfolios; how to make one and how to get the most out of it.

Inspiration

So where to start? How many projects do you need? What’s the best way to organize? There are lots of great resources available to you if you need help getting started or need some inspiration.

How to’s and Examples

If you Google “UX Portfolios” you get more hits than you can read in a lifetime. So, here are a few of our favorites.

Templates and Hosting

Templates abound. Some free, some paid. Any website builder you choose will have templates on offer. Check WordPress, Wix, Dribbble, Behance, Coroflot. These tools take the stress out of planning a layout, coding a site, and managing your site. Dribbble Playbooks, for example, takes your Dribble profile, “strip[s] away the Dribbble brand, leaving you with a streamlined website that’s instantly available…”, and lets you assign your own URL if you want to. There are some advantages to buying your own domain name, it’ll be easy to remember when you tell that recruiter at a meetup and it’s easy to find you. If you are looking to do something a little different and have some skill or desire to get a little technical, Semplice is a great option.

by Semplice.com

It’s All about Your Process

Most experts and bloggers alike recommend using a case study approach for your portfolio. This gives your work context and lets prospective employers know how you tackle problems. Everybody has a picture of sticky notes on a wall. You need to explain why they were there and what they told you. It also can serve as a reminder to your future self of how you approached something, or a novel approach you tried (whether it worked or not). Common advice will tell you to set up a formula including a summary, a description of the problem being solved, a list of steps you followed, and the final result.

Everybody has a picture of sticky notes on a wall. You need to explain why they were there and what they told you.

Muriel Pierre-Louis does this well with her case studies. Throughout her portfolio, she builds up the story. On her home page, she gives high-level blurbs about each project. If you want more, each piece has an in-depth page. It starts with an overview including a mini-version of her formula; summary, role, how long it took, what was the end product, a list of tools used, and a timeline of the process. Then, Pierre-Louis expands on each major part of her formula. This works because it gives rushed recruiters enough information that they can scan over all her projects, but allows hiring managers a clear, in-depth view of her skills and what drives her.

Powerfuel project by Muriel Pierre-Louis

To really stand out, your case studies should also have conclusions, not just a narrative. Think of all the tough questions you hate answering in an interview, and see if you can answer them with your pieces.

  • What challenges did you encounter?
  • What did you do differently?
  • What did you try that didn’t work?
  • What did you learn?
  • What did you accomplish?

On our site, we like to include the results of our projects. Hiring managers love concrete numbers that prove the value of your work, particularly in a creative area that can be hard to quantify. We state the metric, show our solution, and then show the result.

From a UX design case study by Ramotion

Make it Personal

This is your story, what better way to illustrate your storytelling abilities than through your portfolio? Think again about those awkward interview questions, “So, tell us a bit about yourself.” Taking a little time to answer this question in your portfolio helps you prepare for that question and gives your portfolio visitors some insight into who you are and how you got to where you are today.

Tell your visitors what drives you, what you are passionate about. You’ll give them something to ask more about and make them want to contact you.

Home page of murielplouis.com

Include some personal information that gives background and fleshes out that story. This can take the form of an infographic resume, or be more personal depending on how much you want to share.

About Me page by Muriel Pierre-Louis

Learn Something New

New UX professionals aren’t the only ones that may need some different types of pieces for their portfolio. The experts don’t agree on what the magic number of projects should be, some say just one can be enough, others say 3 or 5. According to one blogger, there are “7 Projects You Should Include In Your First UX Portfolio”. While it’s perfectly fine to specialize (UX Writer, User Researcher) and keep your projects in the same area, it can be helpful to include one or two projects that show flexibility or an interest in learning.

Some of us need a little push to finally download that free trial or go in a new direction. Using your portfolio as one of your pieces can provide the motivation to explore and give you something tangible to show for it. You might:

  • User test your portfolio
  • Use that latest wireframing tool to mock up updates to your site
  • Hand code your site
  • Include a class project as a portfolio piece
Code project page by Muriel Pierre-Louis

Promotion

Don’t let that beautiful new site you create languish out in cyberspace. We’ve already mentioned sites like Dribbble and Behance as great places to host your work, but they can also help you promote your work. CreativeBloq’s “Top ways to get your work noticed on Behance” offers some great tips on creating buzz for your work, getting noticed, and getting featured in their curated content sections.

You can also extend your portfolio beyond a static site. Get on social media and talk about your work, who you admire, and new ideas you’ve seen. The more active you are the more networking, promotion, and attention you get. And don’t forget to include a link to your primary portfolio. LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter are all good places to start. Luke Wroblewski’s twitter feed is a great example. He has a brief summary related to his career interests, a link to his personal site, and retweets interesting content from articles and events.

image from twitter.com/lukew

Keep it Up to Date

Now that you have the perfect portfolio, do yourself the favor of keeping it up to date. You never know when an opportunity will present itself.

Making sure your portfolio is always current will help you take advantage of whatever crops up, whenever it crops up.

Document everything you do. Take pictures of your sticky notes, scan in your low-fi wireframes, and get permission to use that project. Then, schedule yourself some time, once or twice a year, to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and to add the best projects to your portfolio. Not only will your portfolio be ready when you meet a hiring manager at a networking event, but you’ll also gain insights into your creative process, remember what you are passionate about, and maybe find something new you want to explore or try out next time.

Taking the time to create a great portfolio will not only land you the job but help you reflect and focus as you move ahead with your career. Let us know what your portfolio does for you!

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UX Design Portfolios: Best Practices was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.