How To Improve Your UX Portfolio Through User Research

Three ways to make an absolutely dynamite online portfolio for user experience professionals.

Portfolios are a big part of finding your next job so make sure you do your research!

For UX designers and user researchers, the importance of a solid online portfolio is well understood. The portfolio often stands as the first thing your potential employer will see. That first impression can make or break your chances of getting the job. To win the hearts and minds of the portfolio reviewer you need to think carefully about how you present yourself.

There are many things to consider in the construction of a portfolio like what projects to show, how many projects to show and if you really do or don’t need a witty About Me section. Tackling these questions requires a multi-faceted approach from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Using user research techniques you can answer those questions with confidence. With these improvements you can rest assure your online portfolio will rise above the rest.

Let’s take a look at the top three techniques:

ABA (Always Be Asking)

Those of you who dabble in the contract position space know how important it is to play the spread of recruiting agencies. What that means is giving your resume/portfolio out to many different recruiters rather than leaving all your eggs in the basket of one recruiter. This also means you’ll be having lots of conversations with lots of different people. These recruiters become your intermediary user for your portfolio. While they might not understand the nuances of your amazing design process or the complexity of your triangulated research methods, they are the ones who have to explain why you are the right person for the job to the employer before you get a chance to tell them yourself. Since they talk with the employers so often they do have a good idea of what a winning portfolio looks like, at the very least from a visual standpoint. Recruiters see who gets the job and who does not get the job and that is some valuable insight.

You need to take each conversation with recruiters as opportunity to do some user research on your portfolio.

Ask questions like, “how does my portfolio compare to other portfolios you see?” or “is there anything that you think is missing from my portfolio?.”

You have a unique opportunity to get some qualitative feedback in a fitting context, ask away! This same approach can be taken in your conversations with the eventual employer, but I would save it until the end of the interview as getting feedback is not the reason that you are there at the job interview. However, it does show that you understand that there is always room for improvement and that you are willing to listen to others.

Web Analytics

There are some user research experts who will say that web analytics only tells you the what and not the why. While I agree analytics should be taken with a grain of salt, understanding user behavior cannot be completed without looking into web analytics. With analytics you can see what projects of your online portfolio are getting the most views. You can follow up on this insight with some questions to recruiters or employers about why these projects resonate over others. Another important part of this is to understand not only what projects to show, but also where to show them. If one of your top viewed projects is not on the home page, make the changes to reflect what users want to see. If it is hidden below the fold on your projects page, bring it above the fold and measure how many more clicks it receives in the new position.

This guy knows web analytics

You might also use web analytics to see how people are finding your site (search, LinkedIn, links from your Medium page, etc.). It is important to think about what questions you want answered before you start looking at the analytics, otherwise you may go down some unwarranted rabbit holes of useless data. Analytics is a powerful tool that gives you real information about the behavior of your users on your site so get tracking!

Expert Reviews

If you are in the field of user experience you likely have a good amount of friends and colleagues in the industry as well.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re not getting some feedback from these UX experts you’re missing out! This is what these people do for a living.
If you are lucky enough to have UX colleagues, get their feedback when you can.

As you are putting together your portfolio ask questions about the look and feel of your site. When you’re finalizing the content ask them if what you’re writing makes sense and if it is concise enough for readers to scan through. If you have already asked these questions then you already know how crucial it is to the success of your online portfolio. For those who haven’t asked their UX colleagues, try sending out an email to some professionals you know and would value feedback from. Pro tip: do not take anything personal and if you strongly stand against someone’s point then use that disagreement for a conversation not an argument. If you don’t have anybody to get feedback from then try posting on a ux reddit forum, quora post or you can ask me!

I hope you’re feeling more confident in how you can improve your portfolio. There is no magic formula to creating an online portfolio because your work is unique. Using user research to find out how to show your work will take your portfolio to new heights.

If you have any other ideas about how to improve your portfolio with research write your idea in the comments section. If you like this post, would you please be so kind to click the heart icon for me? Thank You!