Keeping a Project Diary

Aug 16, 2018 · 5 min read

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Picture the scene — your dream job is suddenly advertised, and the race is on to create a stunning portfolio. There’s only one problem… *record scratch* … you have to create your case studies from nothing.

image from giphy

Why Keep a Project Diary?

When you’re in the middle of a busy project, you barely have time to keep up with the work. With the various degrees of approval a designer needs to get through, we’re lucky if we can still make a product that we are proud of, that meets the product requirements, and is still technically feasible…

The problem is that every couple of years, many designers decide it’s time for a new challenge and a fresh start. It’s natural to want to work with different types of teams and experience different types of processes, and the more you encounter the better and more experienced designer you will become.

Only after a designer has decided that it’s time to consider a new venture do they typically look to update their portfolio.

“I need to update my portfolio”

This was my mantra for years. As a young designer I didn’t really keep my portfolio up to date. I would only update it when I saw there was an interesting opportunity being advertised. By the time I had gathered up the content I needed to update my portfolio, the vacancy would have been filled.

When it comes to updating your portfolio, even when you’re not looking for a new role, you should keep it relatively up to date. But I get it — some of us are too busy. We’re not sure if the project we are working on should be visible to everyone, or if it’s still under

But whatever you do, I recommend keeping — at least at the minimum — a project diary.

After reading this article, I hope you will be able to create and maintain your own project diary so that when it is time to update your portfolio, everything is ready to go.

What is a Project Diary?

It’s not a typical journal with daily entries, but a loose record of the iterations, work flow, process and challenges that I encountered during the project.

A project diary is:

Private — you don’t publish this online. My project diaries are private google documents that I update maybe once a month.

High Level — you don’t need to write thousands of words — just a few paragraphs or even bullet points on the challenges you faced and the problems you solved.

Mixed Media — include photos of the design process and include sketches, wireframes, animations and mockups for user testing.

So now that I’ve explained what a project diary is, here are 5 steps to help you make the most of documenting your design process so that when you need to update your portfolio, all of the information is at your fingertips.

1. Take Pictures of The Design Process

Take pictures of the sketches on the table after a brainstorming session. Take photos of the whiteboards or flows showing on pieces of paper.

Keep them in a safe place on your computer until you have permission to display it on your portfolio. If any of the information is sensitive you should blur it out. Blur out peoples faces if you don’t have permission to use them. Blur out monetary values if that information is sensitive.

You could include some of the animations that you had developed for the presentation to the devs, or the prototype that was made for the user testing session, and the findings that were uncovered.

2. Keep it Private (at least for now)

Treat these as your personal notes. They’re not secret, but they’re private. Store them somewhere secure, like on your personal computer or on a cloud storing service like Google docs. This is documentation of work in progress, and shouldn’t be shared around friends or publicaly visible.

If the project hasn’t launched yet, it would be polite to at least check with your manager before putting this stuff on your public portfolio where competitors could see the new features being implemented.

3. Fortnightly or Monthly Check-in

Depending on the scale of your project and the pace at which things move, you should try to keep a regular routine of adding information to it. Sometimes it could be at the end of a sprint, sometimes every month, or even whenever you feel like you have something to add — like after user testing or when a particular epic has concluded.

Whatever you decide — just try to remember to collect pieces of information along the way. This adds up quickly, and you’ll be surprised when you look back just how much you forgot when you were in the middle of a busy project.

4. Keep Things High Level

This isn’t a way to rant about how the project is going, who said what, or how unfair things are. You need to remember that this is a loose documentation of the process and the challenges you encountered. An example might be:

March 2018

  • Discussed technical feasibly with devs
  • Changed dropdown to radio select on mobile
  • User-tested prototype
  • findings …
  • Changed slide-out menu to slide-up after testing

The great thing about regularly noting down why certain changes were made, is that you will have notes to look back on before a big interview. When an interviewer asks you why something is a certain way, you will have revised the process and the challenges, and can easily remember why things are the way they are.

5. After the Project

After the project has wrapped and the feature or product has been released, the dust has settled and everyone is friends again, you can start putting your case study together. With the benefit of hindsight, you will be able to string together all of the challenges and problems that were solved and how you arrived at your final designs.

Some of the challenges will have had more impact on the final product than others, so you will be able to make an informed decision on what to focus on in the case study.

I’ve written at length about putting case studies and presentations about your portfolio together, so I shan’t repeat myself.

If you don’t want to keep the notes after the case study has been finished, that’s great. You don’t need to hang on to them (unless you want to keep them for looking over at a later stage).

Those are my tips on how to create and maintain a project diary so that you can easily create case studies for your portfolio after the project has finished. I hope you find them useful.

If you have other ways of keeping track of your work, please let me know in the comments!

Eleanor McKenna

Written by

Designer, developer, and writer based in Munich. Interaction designer at @Google. Founder of

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