Why I Don’t Have a Portfolio (And Never Will)

Can you send me a portfolio?

A sizable chunk of the emails I receive from potential clients begin this way. If I were to take the hint, I would have put together a portfolio, thrown it on Behance or Dribble years ago. After all, that’s what everyone expects and what everyone does.

Sorry, no, I can’t send you a portfolio because I don’t have one and have no plans to make one. Why would I neglect the industry-standard document for hiring UX designers? I know, for a fact, that I have missed out on some large contracts because of my lack of a portfolio. I guarantee I’ll get backlash from this post. Yet, I’m sticking to my guns, despite all this outside pressure to wrap my work up into a small, pretty package with a shiny bow on top. Finally, I’m going to come out and proudly declare: I’m not to make a portfolio because a portfolio isn’t really about design.

Portfolios place a huge emphasis on deliverables such as personas, storyboard, wireframes, and the like. In my experience, deliverables are only a small piece of the design process. At Social Ergonomics, we treat design as an iterative, collaborative process. The dialog between us and our clients is just as, or even more important than the products that come out of working together.

Each project is a unique collection of both tangible and intangible understanding pieced together from meetings, whiteboards, conversations, emails, and fifty other miscellaneous sources. I’m trying to figure out a way to convey this understanding to others, while ensuring the respect and privacy of our clients. I haven’t figured out the solution quite yet, but I definitely don’t think it’s a traditional portfolio.

Additionally, many of our clients are startups, who are trying to save time and money. All those fancy, beautiful deliverables you see in many design portfolios? Those typically don’t have a place in a startup, where rapid changes and budget are way more important than having intermediate artifacts. I could put together a nice, elegant narrative for a portfolio, but reality is much messier.

MVPs and iteration are so revered in the startup world that I am repeatedly flummoxed when people don’t seem to extend these ideas to design. I prefer to be honest about our process: I will only spend time on deliverables when they are absolutely critical. To me, it doesn’t make sense to spend eight hours putting together a high-fidelity mockup in Photoshop when a 30 minute working session with a developer accomplishes the same goal.

A portfolio isn’t going to tell you if we’re going to work well together, or if I’m a good fit for your project. It isn’t even going to show you if my work is crappy because guess what, people only put great stuff in their portfolios. All it really does is show you how good I am at putting together a portfolio. A valuable skill, yes, but the best and crucial way to judge a designer? Absolutely not.

I’d much rather have a meaningful conversation about how I can help you than give you a link to a static document that is a glossy, oversimplified portrait of my best work. I’m more than happy to share examples of my work and do the requisite name-dropping after we talk about the important stuff.

If this sounds reasonable, then drop me a line, and maybe we can work together. If it sounds crazy, you’re also welcome to send me an email or discuss this with me on Twitter because who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned argument?