Creating Professional Portfolios & Presentations

A professional UX Portfolio is one of the keys to your UX career. Your portfolio is your brand, can earn you an interview and should tell a story.

This was a guest lecture at the University of Washington UW HCDE (Human Centered Design & Engineering) class on creating professional portfolios and presentations:

Specifically, the kind of portfolios and presentations you bring with you to a job interview that discuss a few projects in depth, rather than many projects in breadth.

Partnering with Key Stakeholders in UX Strategy

Before your work will ever reach the end users you are designing for, there is another audience: stakeholders. As a User Experience (UX) professional, you need to partner effectively with product owners, engineers, executives and other key stakeholders.

Sharelines – Click to Tweet:
UX is User Experience, not “Use your experience”
Marry the problem, not the solution.

Luigi & Mario - Partners

© 2014 Nintendo

One of the hardest things in UX is not the work, but working well with stakeholders who say:

“We don’t need UX right now… we’ll let you know when.”
“I’m not a designer, but could you make the logo bigger and the site more like this one…”
“I’m the target audience – and I don’t like it.”

This article will cover who the key stakeholders in a project are, understanding their perspective and covering tactics for successfully partnering toward engaging UX as a strategy.

Stakeholders & UX: Better Together

A stakeholder can be formally defined as person with an interest in a project or provides some level of approval in a process. Most stakeholders tend to be either the actual Decision Makers or Key Influencers in a process.

Stakeholders As Gatekeepers

Many creatives, as Marc Ecko describes, see stakeholders as gatekeepers between them and the customer:


© 2014 Nintendo

Gatekeepers stand between you and your chosen path… They imagine themselves as the Big Boss at the end of a video game, like Bowser from Mario Bros… The gatekeeper thinks that he’s Bowser and that he’s keeping you from Princess Peach… - Marc Ecko from Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out

A common perspective, but not terribly productive.
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Prototype: How to Previsualize the Experience

Like creating a film, needing to see the end before starting is the biggest problem in evaluating a UX design. One of the best solutions is prototyping.

Captain America Storyboard

Captain America: The First Avenger storyboard by Rodolfo Damaggio

This article will cover prototype examples, suggestions, tools and answer: How do prototypes help solve user experience issues and foster true collaboration? What are some real-world examples? How do I even get started with prototyping when I don’t even know how to code?

Of all the techniques and approaches to developing a product, prototyping is my soulmate and can be yours too.

Failure of Imagination

“I need to play around with it… then I can let you know what I think.”

Is this a comment during a usability session or feedback from the final approver on a project? In my experience, it is both.

This is not just users testing the product or clients, reviewers and stakeholders. Everyone in the process from designers, developers and customers have this perspective.

Like it or not, in order to understand, we increasingly need to experience it as close to reality as possible. Embrace the fact as digital consumers we live in a world of instant gratification and want to see an idea become reality.

Movies are a great example of this process with storyboards (rough sketches) and animatics (sequences of still images) in a process called previsualization.

If drawing storyboards for movies is like sketching on whiteboards for UX, then animatics are prototypes – previsualizations of the experience.

Marvel’s The Avengers – a $220 million film – came down to sequencing rough sketches to help the movie team deliver an experience:

Use any chance you have to prototype and simulate an experience for as long as you can – even if it is for a few clicks. Like a movie, its not real, but the key is have it feel as close to real.
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Your UX Path: Beyond UX Designer

This post originally appeared on UXMas 2013. A big thank-you to Matthew Magain and Kimberley Magain of UX Mastery for the opportunity, editing and letting me republish here.


If you were to ask a UXer how they landed in the UX field, you’re unlikely to hear the same story twice. There are many roads to user experience — visual design, library sciences, copywriting or development to name a few.

With UX Designer roles being just as varied as our backgrounds, what is the way forward for a UXer? What is the career path after UX Designer? How do you advance your UX career?

The path forward in UX is like the path to UX—everyones is different. Let’s look at some of the ways to help you find yours.

Explore your T-Shape

“No matter where you go, there you are.” — Buckaroo Banzai

To help understand where to go, you firstly need to know from where you are starting. Identifying your T-shape is your first step in the journey. “T-shaped” refers to a breadth of skills across disciplines along with areas of deep expertise—a “T”. Nick Finck’s presentation, UX Career Progression: Finding a Niche and Building a Brand is a good place to start.

Are you having difficulty with self-reflection or with being objective about your own skill-set? Ask co-workers, clients and colleagues, “What is my super power”? The answers may surprise you. They may also be outside the typical definition of UX skill-sets. It could be that your niche is in animation, service design or translating design thinking into other fields.

After evaluating your skills, decide whether it is the skill-set you want to have, or whether it’s something you want to get better at. Team up with others to build out the T in your UX career. If you find the desire to continue digging deeper, you may be naturally growing toward being a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and specializing even further.
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How to Answer UX Interview Questions

While telling your UX story during an interview, you will be asked questions. Most of these may be “no correct answer” type questions. Not necessarily brain teasers or puzzles, but very open-ended. Why do UX Managers (and other interviewers for UX roles) ask overly broad, hyper-detailed or just seemingly random questions? What are some strategies for answering them?

Interview - Make Good Art

Words © Neil Gaiman. Artwork © Gavin Aung Than 2012

Why Hiring Managers Ask Open Ended Questions

Just like any reviewer in any interview process, hiring managers are trying to see how you think. Not just how you approach a task, but how you REALLY think. In the case of User Experience, this also means how well you can think like others.

Every company has their own unique approach to interviewing, especially in the tech industry. One of the most common approaches is an emphasis on open-ended “No Correct Answer” Questions. There are a number of reasons why; from determining how well you think on the spot to verifying your abilities match your resume.

In most cases, though, hiring managers are looking for “the right fit.” Sometimes this is the right project at the right time. In other cases, a manager may want someone to fill a particular consistent gap in the team’s skillset. Any way you describe it, the next person joining the team must meet the needs of the project, product and organization going forward.
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How to Tell Your UX Story

Simply put, your UX portfolio should tell a story. Why tell a story? How do you tell a story through the presentation of your work? The following is inspired by Patrick Neeman’s UXmas article “The UX Portfolio: Telling Your Story”. I had the pleasure of collaborating with him for our presentation at the Seattle Information Architecture & User Experience Meetup.

© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Why a Story?

© & TM DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

© & TM DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Stories connect with an audience while differentiating yourself from the crowd. The biggest mistake I see in User Experience (UX) portfolios is “letting the work speak for itself.” Great stories don’t just happen, but like UX, require thought, practice and iteration.

Stories telegraph meaning. I am fond of saying “show the trailer before the movie” when presenting work for an approval process. Clients and stakeholders need to know what they are walking into. The same holds true for presenting yourself to gain approval – you only want pleasant surprises. Leveraging a familiar plot, theme or idea in presenting, communicates on a deeper, almost unconscious level.
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InfoCamp 2013 Presentations

InfoCamp Seattle 2013 was great experience. The following are the presentations, links to downloads and the full articles on UX How. A special thanks to Misty Weaver, Patrick Neeman and Filter for sponsoring the session.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. If you found these of value, Subscribe to UX How or connect on Twitter. Thanks again.

How To Break Into UX: What Is a UX Design Hiring Manager Thinking and Looking For?

Download PDF Presentation on Slideshare
Read Full Article on UX How

How To Get The Interview: The Top 10 Portfolio Questions and Answers for UX, UI & Visual Designers

Download PDF of Presentation
Read Full Article on UX How

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Break Into UX: What a Hiring Manager Is Thinking & Looking For

As a growing field, true UX and Product Design talent is at a premium. How does someone get a start and break into UX as a User Experience Designer? What are the concerns of a UX Design Hiring Manager and what are they thinking? What are the Hiring Managers and companies looking for?

Break into UX

After engineers, the biggest challenge for companies is finding high-quality creative design and user-experience talent.- Inc.

The UX Design Job Description

Take a look at job posting boards and leading companies looking to attract User Experience and Product Design talent. The first thing to notice is no job description is quite the same. Titles, roles, responsibilities, skills, education requirements, program knowledge and prerequisites can all vary substantially. Even the term “UX” or “User Experience” is not a consistent standard.

Indeed UX & Product Designers
LinkedIn UX Design Jobs
UX Magazine Jobs
Google Jobs: UX & Design
Amazon UX Design Jobs
Facebook Design & UX

Break into UX: Job Description

Why do the job descriptions vary so much?

As with any job, each user experience role can be truly different and require a different focus. The major source of this seems be every organization has a different understanding of what User Experience means. Even with a unified credential, each role could still require a substantially different set of skills.
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The UX Portfolio: Top 10 Questions for UX, UI & Visual Designers

Your UX portfolio is the key to a career in User Experience. It is the single best asset you have to get an interview without knowing the Hiring Manager. Your portfolio should tell a story.

Top 10 UX Portfolio

The résumé shows our journey, just like how a map of the world shows the path Magellan took to circumnavigate the globe. But that map doesn’t tell of Magellan’s skill in taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles. That’s what a great portfolio does. - UIE

Who This Is and Is Not For

This article started out as a presentation for the Behance Portfolio Week Review. The 10 questions were selected by Talent Managers, Creative Recruiters and Matchmakers at Filter – The West Coast’s largest creative network. These are the exact questions they get every day from entry level and experienced UX professionals alike.

The opinions expressed here are collected from decades of experience between several Designers, Managers and Directors. These are not absolutes and Hiring Managers will want to evaluate your skills and experience for themselves.

This Is For:

  • Students of UX, UI or Visual Design
  • UX, UI, Interaction or Product Designers
  • Visual Designers (Marketing and Graphic Designers)
  • Freelancers, In-House or Agency Designers
  • Information Architects and Content Strategists
  • Those looking to transition into a UX career
  • Developers and Copywriters

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