The painful portfolio update

One of the hardest design projects to work on is your own portfolio. No one likes doing it. It’s nowhere near as exciting as working on a new project that’s foreign to us, where every new problem is a fun challenge and the underlying insights are there, just waiting to be uncovered. So we push it off to the side and bury it under the rug.

Alas, it’s critical to keep your work up-to-date and constantly improve how you speak to your own experience and expertise, even if you’re happily working in your current job. A great opportunity could come by any time and you want to be ready to put your best face forward with the share of a link.

I try to update my portfolio periodically, but hadn’t done a major redesign in a long time. Since deciding to focus exclusively on UX and product design, after coming from a background in marketing and entrepreneurship, I was motivated to be more intentional this time. I decided to follow a similar process updating my own portfolio that I do with all user experience design projects — albeit with a few tweaks:

  1. Research: The first step was surveying the landscape and analyzing the products put out by “the competition” (translation: I ogled the beautiful and impressive portfolios of designers I admire or recently discovered, like this one, this one, this one, and this one, just to list a few). It’s also critical to learn as much as you can about the end user (in this case, potential employers or clients) and understand their pain points through the variety of methods available.
  2. Strategy: This is the time to reflect on the research and think through the most effective opportunity to tackle. The ideal approach will solve an important problem for the end user, while also adding value to the business (you). I thought about the problems I like to work on as a UX and product design generalist and drew out the stories that would showcase the skills I had that a product design team would find valuable.
  3. Architecture & Visual Design: Once the story is defined, it’s time to think about how to organize and prioritize the content to satisfy — or even exceed — the expectations of the user. I sketched out the architecture of the site, the purpose of each page, and put it all together.
  4. Testing & Polishing: After the first version was done, it was time to get feedback — I asked veteran UX and product designers I knew to critique my portfolio (thanks Jimmy, Tamara, Justin, & Danilo!). They’ve hired enough people (and been hired enough themselves) to know what to look for, quickly. As a last step, I implemented their suggestions and added some final polish. (It’s also important to remember you can — and should — continue to update and tweak and test as time goes on. So don’t worry too much about making everything absolutely perfect. What is “perfect” anyway?)

And… voila! My redesigned portfolio came Only minor injuries were sustained in the process.

In the end, it’s important to market yourself effectively and present your talent to potential employers and clients. But the real reward? That comes from visualizing all the work you’ve done.

It’s easy to feel like we are never accomplishing enough. Your portfolio is there to remind you that you’re talented, valued, and have done some impressive work that you can and should be proud to showcase. That, alone, is enough to get through the daunting task of working on your own portfolio.

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