How to Level Up Your Design Skills
Part 1: UX Portfolio
Your UX portfolio is as important if not more so than your resume as a working designer. Here’s how to upgrade your portfolio to stand out for (the right reasons!) during an interview process.
A UX portfolio can be broken down into two main categories:
Content = your design work
Showing basic design skills (modern, visual/interactive design mocks, research) and your work at various stages — from lower fidelity options to a more refined solution.
Process = how you went about solving the problem
- What tools did you use?
- How did you discover who your target users were?
- What were their primary needs?
- Who else did you work with? What was your role?
- What challenges did you face along the way and how did you adjust to them?
These are just a few of the unspoken questions that a solid UX process can answer.
Misconception #1: The outcome is the most important part of my project
Often talking through technical roadblocks and assumptions that changed throughout the process of research/user interviews shows that you have a thorough flexible process that adjusts rapidly to changing requirements.
If you can be upfront about challenges and how you and your team addressed them, or even if the challenge was within your team (or other stakeholders) this is also great to show as it demonstrates an understanding of real world challenges that come up in solving problems in a team context.
Resourcefulness is a characteristic that is valuable when you work in a collaborative environment. Having the humility to be flexibility and “agile” in order to adjust to change is more valuable than sticking to an initial design.
Misconception #2: Clarity means more content
In an effort to showcase every step of the UX process, I’ve seen portfolios where there is an overload of content — from notes, to wireframes, to prototypes and explorations without a clear narrative as to what user problems the design is trying to solve.
Center each project around users and the user problems. Show that you understand the user, or at least attempted to narrow down how best to address their problems before jumping into the design.
You can even categorize your target users, give a brief context of the problem, specify your role and any constraints before diving directly into the details of the design.
Misconception #3: Going through a lot of content rather better than going over a few key projects
As you gain experience, it’s only natural that your portfolio gets more diverse. However in the span of a phone screen or a portfolio review, you must prioritize your time.
Rather than going quickly over a vast quantity of projects, aim to focus on a few key projects where you can show that you, the designer, have carefully considered the needs of your user.
- who is the user
- where does the product fit into their life
- what problems does the product solve
- when and how is our product being used
- what features are important
- how should our product look/behave
Misconception #4: I can reuse my portfolio as my presentation
Please do not reuse your portfolio in a presentation. Especially if presenting to a bunch of designers. If there’s any population group that has strong opinions about details/polish, it’s a bunch of designers prepared for a review of design work. It shows a lack of personalization and effort, and this is not the impression you want to give out during an interview.
Depending on the context/time limit, you should adjust your portfolio accordingly. Again, try to focus on a few key projects rather than going through your entire experience or what can be found on your resume.
Show and don’t tell us about your process.
If your presentation is visually pleasing and has legible content, you are headed in the right direction.
If you don’t have the time for whatever reason, please make it legible.
Misconception #5: My portfolio can explain itself
When providing images in your portfolio, try to accompany that image with some sort of explanatory text. There’s no need to write an essay for each project, the length of these bits of texts shouldn’t exceed more than a few sentences.
They do add clarity and structure to your portfolio and can help a reader get a sense of each stage of your process.
Remember, your communication/presentation skills are also important in a design role, so tune your portfolio to highlight how you are competent in these skills.
Be honest in your design process.
Personalize and polish your presentation.
Show a few pieces of your best work and go with your strengths.