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

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.

Troy Parke Portfolio

Troy Parke

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.

LaiYee Lori

LaiYee Lori

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.

Emi Matsumoto

Emi Matsumoto

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.

Ashlimarie Dong

Ashlimarie Dong

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.

Lui Lui

Lui Lui

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.

Jake Rae

Jake Rae

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.

Robby Leonardi

Robby Leonardi

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.

Portfolio Rated R

Don’t require one of these.

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.

Nick Berry

Nick Berry

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:

WordPress
Behance
Cargo
Tumblr
Carbonmade
Flickr
Dropbox

UX Portfolio Recommendations and Suggestions:

Lynn Teo, CXO of McCann Erickson, on why UX portfolios matter:

The Usability Counts UX Career Guide by Patrick Neeman, the former Director of User Experience at Jobvite, on Telling your UX Portfolio Story

Quora: “What do clients and employers look for in a UX portfolio?”

FREE Download: UX Portfolio Questions Checklist

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Comments

comments

Comments

  1. says

    This is an awesome article Troy. I couldn’t agree more. One thing is that I found myself very uncomfortable sharing design deliverables which are not readily available to the public. For example, I have no problem sharing screenshots of the app, but not scenarios, wireframes, mental model diagrams, research results, etc…

    My question is, since I don’t feel comfortable sharing design deliverables for real projects I have worked on, does it make sense to produce design deliverables for a sample project instead?

    I tried doing this for my portfolio site (http://www.edmundyu.com), but not sure how it is received by recruiters.

    As you can see, I have a section for “UX Portfolio” which just has the publicly available screenshots, and another section for “Process” which has design deliverables for a sample project.

    Another thing I think this solves is that it doesn’t require recruiters to drill in and out of each project since as you mention, they only spend around 6 seconds reviewing your site. They can quickly scroll down to see the end results as well as a typical process I go through. I would love to hear your take on this approach.

    • says

      Edmund,

      Thank you for your comments and sharing your ideas on how you present your work and process.

      I think it is very valuable to show a representative sample of a typical deliverable, as you have in your process section. I know many UX hiring managers want to see what level of fidelity you have in a wireframe – and they can tell even if it is not “real” whether or not real thought was put into it. Your deliverables show a comfort with research that any non-UXer should be able to glean. If this is your level of comfort, then I am fan of this approach for you.

      I think the portfolio section does a good job of focusing the end result – which is great. It took me a few moments and scrolling through to understand the skill set labels on your projects. It helped me a lot to read your level of responsibility on your LinkedIn profile for your current role. I would suggest either a header section describing why you are so involved in each phase, or a bit more explanation on each project. The first few projects that range from Research to Front End Development suggest you did everything on the project, but do not give me a sense of what you WANT to do.

      Thanks again for sharing,

      T.

  2. says

    Hey Troy,

    Thank you for a great article including value slideshares. It helps a lot for me to redesign my portfolio website (www.fuinteractive.com). As you mentioned that the site shall not include school projects, but I found that many projects I did in school showing my capabilities of prototyping, physical computing and even motion graphics.

    The site is used WordPress template with specific layout and function. I didn’t separate my UX works as it own section, but I ordered them on the first page. On the UX project page, I included a brief description, sketches, key wireframes and final product screenshots to demonstrate more information.

    It will be great if you could go through my site and provide your thoughts of the general site structure, content and UX project detail pages.

    Thank you so much for your help

    Yuwei

    • says

      Yuwei,

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment and your thoughts on the article.

      I also want to take this chance to elaborate a bit on a school work: Good work is good work. If what you have to show is from school at an early stage of your career – then that is fine. My suggestion is to work towards improving upon it or make it address a real design need as much as possible. There is a world of difference between a project done for school and one done while you were learning. As UX Designers, we should always be learning.

      The challenge in showing a portfolio with scores of projects is one of attention. Design is by definition directing attention. To do that is to understand how to direct one’s attention to what is most important. That is why I ask a lot of “What is the ONE thing…” type of questions. I am forcing you distill your message into an over-constrained situation on purpose.

      I am a big fan of showing hierarchy when presenting work or keeping things “in the back-pocket” for the same reason. I think you have a lot to offer in your school experience, but before you can show me EVERYTHING, you need to show ONE thing that invites me to ask for more. Putting your most relevant UX work first is a step in the right direction. Your deeper project pages (Nick App) are full of great detail and show a good overview of the process. I think its the right balance of giving a peek on the inside, but leaving me wanting to know more.

      My biggest issue not the content, but the site itself. I think using WordPress is a good choice – I use it here for UX How. I don’t think your theme – Photik – and the resulting user experience of your site serve you well. The images on the front page – the entire basis for your portfolio navigation – don’t load unless you rollover them (I tried this in three different browsers). The slideshow UI is not apparent, any page with video seems to take an extra long time (> 1 min) to load and the type is microscopic. As a hiring manager, I would think these are UX choices you want because you chose the theme.

      I really enjoyed your project content, from the featuring in Project Re:Brief to the touching photos of your Grandmother’s dishes projected in the Reunion Dinner art installation. If I was the hiring manager for a role you were applying for, I would enjoy getting to know you and your work, but feel underserved by the site and ask a lot of questions around focus and what you really want to do.

      Best,

      T.

      • Yuwei says

        Hey Troy,

        Thank you so much for the value feedback. They all make sense to me, and I can’t agree more with you about the UX issue of the theme. I am modifying the site and addressing the problems.
        Thank you

        Cheers,

        Yuwei