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.
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
- How many pieces should be in a portfolio?
- How should it be presented?
- How do I present work that I did on a team?
- Can you include student work?
- How do you handle NDA work?
- How do you choose what to include?
- Should I include a well-recognized company?
- What do you HATE to see missing or included in a portfolio?
- How long do you spend looking at portfolio?
- What do you look for in a portfolio as a hiring manager?
- More Resources for UX Portfolios
- View Presentation on Slideshare
- FREE Download: UX Portfolio Questions Checklist
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
This Is Not For:
Illustrators and photographers need to maintain a tight brand image and let their work speak for itself. Interactive marketing and creative service agencies need to target potential clients and budget owners, not personnel hiring managers.
How many pieces should be in a UX portfolio?
The one question that will generate the most “number” (^_^) of responses. The true answer here is to be selective. A UX portfolio is not a potpourri of any and everything, but the best of what you have to offer. Hiring managers will remember your worst piece. Make your portfolio relevant, real and ready for scrutiny. If you have any doubt, leave it out.
Your focus is to tell a story with your UX portfolio. 5 – 7 pieces is more than enough for entry level UX professionals. A single solid project presented as a comprehensive case study is light years ahead of 3 so-so pieces.
How should it be presented? (How much detail should you provide?)
Tell a story. Don’t let the the work speak for itself – that’s the biggest mistake designers make with a UX portfolio. Tell your audience what they are looking at and give an overview of the journey. Like every good story, leave them wanting more.
The simplest project description is to 1) Present the Problem, 2) Explain What You Did and 3) Describe the Outcome. Other information to consider: audience, project duration, your involvement beyond design or research, press, awards and metrics whenever possible.
A Note About Process:
Sketches, wireframes and iterations are good, but do not over do it. Start with the finished product and then reveal how you got there. Think of process as the behind the scenes and the final product as the feature film. No one wants to watch the making of a bad movie.
How do I present work that I did on a team without taking credit for the whole project? (How do you call out what you did compared to someone else?)
Your title at the time of creation is a good place to start. Then, like film credits, simply label and list out your contributions to the project. Identify if the project was group work, a collaboration or involvement at a particular phase. Hiring Managers know it takes the efforts of a team… and it shows you can work well with others.
Avoid dissecting screenshots like a specification to indicate which part “you did”. An interview is the perfect time to get into that level of detail. Then you can demonstrate how each part was considered and vital to the whole.
Can you include student work in a UX portfolio?
Show student work only if you have no “real” projects. Your number one mission is to then replace all student work ASAP. Volunteer, offer to do a project pro bono, develop some concepts or collaborate with others. If all else fails, label work done while a student as a personal project.
The reality is everyone has to start somewhere. It takes time. Every hiring manager and UX professional has been there. That is why student work is so easy to spot. A good project idea is to design your own site and show the thought process from start to finish.
How do you handle NDA work?
You should honor a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or any legally binding document. Most professionals in technology, entertainment or start-ups have projects they can’t talk about. Truly confidential work should remain private to protect YOUR reputation. If you betray the confidence of your current employer, why would a hiring manager trust you?
Interviewers genuinely want to see your work, but understand confidentiality. Allude to your experience on NDA work with a list of project clients instead of showing the actual work. This way you get the value of having worked on a brand without betraying their confidence.
How do you choose what to include in a UX portfolio?
UX portfolio reviewers are looking for warning signs: Too much mediocre work, no project descriptions, largely unfinished work or a resume that doesn’t match up. Play The Bachelor or Bachelorette and hand out roses to your best representatives until you are left with the lucky few.
Ideally, each portfolio piece is representative, relatively recent and instantly recognizable. Remember, its not just you out there. Hiring managers are reviewing other candidates. Be selective – they are.
Should I include work that doesn’t reflect my style if it’s for a well-recognized company?
There is great value in Designers, Writers and Researchers being versatile. Business people expect it and are impressed with different, but competent styles in a UX portfolio. Real talent is able to tailor their craft to a brand, audience or medium in a seamless way.
Working on a big name brand can help legitimize you. Recruiters, screeners and reviewers want to see things they recognize in your portfolio. The caveat here is the project must be solid and something you don’t mind being known for.
What do you HATE to see missing or included in a portfolio?
Lying, intentionally or by omission, is the most universally hated issue of managers and reviewers. When someone submits work they had no part in, everything else in the portfolio is suspect. Unfortunately, this happens a lot.
Always subjective, but refrain from NSFW content a reviewer would never access in a public or formal setting. This is not about artistic expression, but being a professional and not appearing juvenile. You are applying for a job, your UX portfolio should be safe for work.
A link to an online portfolio is an absolute requirement. Attachments tend to get lost, blocked, corrupted or otherwise overlooked. Reviewers don’t have time for DVDs, USB drives or other physical media. Include an email and phone number as your contact information, not Twitter or Facebook.
How long do you spend looking at a UX portfolio? What makes you decide to look closer?
If you pass the initial screening process, you only have about 10 – 15 seconds. This is twice as long as recruiters, who only spend about 6 seconds looking at a resume. How do you make a good first impression? Apply the 5 Second Test to your own work. (See these articles on Measuring Usability and UIE – User Interface Engineering.)
The portfolios that make a strong first impression get a closer look and are reviewed by the UX, product or interview team. At this point, team members will look at your projects in detail, investigate your background and provide feedback to the hiring manager.
What do you look for in a UX portfolio as a hiring manager?
You will spend a lot of time on your portfolio, but don’t expect a dream job offer on your UX portfolio alone. The reality is a UX portfolio gets your foot in the door, nothing more. A portfolio review is answering the question: “Is this someone I want to interview?”
Most organizations have at least one phone screen and in-person interview loop: several 1-on-1 interviews in a row. Every group, client or organization is different in how they interview and are an entire subject on their own. So if you’ve enjoyed this article, and want to see more, let us know in the comments below.
More Resources for UX, UI & Visual Design Portfolios
UX Portfolio Site Resources & Frameworks:
An online portfolio presence is a must. A few of the popular frameworks and services used by entry-level and UX professionals alike:
UX Portfolio Recommendations and Suggestions:
Lynn Teo, CXO of McCann Erickson, on why UX portfolios matter: