UX Portfolios — Everybody is lying to you

As someone who recently decided to go back to graduate school, it’s that time, once again, to redo my personal portfolio. How do I put the pieces together?

Questions

Who doesn’t love starting a new portfolio design? It’s a chance to completely change your image, improve upon your past work and target towards your new goals. So I started asking myself some questions.

  • Who is this portfolio aimed towards?
  • How should I explain my process?
  • What do employers want to see?
  • How personal should I make it?
  • How do I make it memorable?

Research

Countless hours spent on sites like: awwwards, siteinspire, and CSSAWDS just to name a few. I was looking for commonalities across the portfolios I admired. Design agency sites were a primary focus when I was creating my repository of links, they seemed to describe their process the best and in the most detail. Focus Lab does a beautiful job at showcasing their work.

UX/UI Case Studies

They provide in process shots along with polished finalized designs.

Screenshots from multiple Focus Lab clients

P.S. I’m obsessed with their work. You should check out their video showcase of their case studies. Swoon.

From Inspiration to Articles

After a long aggregated list of portfolio links was created I moved on to see what articles were out there on the subject of “The Perfect UX Portfolio”. I recently came across this article The Pro Guide to the Perfect UX Portfolio. In it are some very good points:

  • Use Case Studies to Show Problem-Solving Skills
  • Add a Personal Touch
  • Know Your Market
  • Feature Only Your Best Work
  • Use Testimonials

Absolutely! To all of these.

However, the one I want to talk about it is Explain Your Process. To give you a little back story I just recently had my portfolio reviewed by a UX Designer at Google. The new design of my portfolio goes in depth about each part of the process I was involved in and my thinking behind each decision, as you can see.

slayter.design

Her critique was to bring the finalized visuals up to the top and push the process down further on the page. The reasoning was that hiring managers have a lot of portfolios to get through, hundreds or potentially thousands and the initial impact needs to be the finalized product.

So there I am thinking…

So you want me to do exactly what everybody else is doing? I want to focus on UX Design. Isn’t the process more important than the visuals?

I’ll be honest I walked out of there fuming and crushed. I worked so hard to make something that dives deep into my thinking and process. Something unique and explanatory. I thought this was the route to go.

Well, I couldn’t just go and change everything based off of one person’s opinion, Google or not. So I conferred with several of my professors and the consensus was the same.

Back to the Explain Your Process section of The Pro Guide to the Perfect UX Portfolio. After looking through all the examples in the article, all but two are primarily showcasing finalized designs. There is only one that walks through style guides, color theory, etc. Now, there are several that explain, via text, their process, and thinking. But as far as a visual walkthrough of wireframes, personas, userflows, etc. Nope.

But that’s what WE DO.

I did find phenomenal examples of personal portfolios that DO in fact go into grave detail about process and design thinking.

http://simonpan.com/
http://andrewdoherty.com/

Both of these and the ones included in the article are all incredible portfolios nonetheless.

Welp.

So where do we stand then? Do we go visual heavy and recess the process? Do we dive deep into the process and let the visuals come last? Harish Venkatesan does a brilliant job of cutting straight to the point in his writing Creating Better UX Portfolios: 4 Do’s and Dont’s. Of the dozens of articles I’ve read on this subject, this one outlines the criteria, of a UX portfolio, the best.

Here is a great video from Andrew Doherty on UX portfolios:

How to create a great UX portfolio, and get that dream job

What to take away — a general consensus:

Explain the goal and problem you are addressing with each of your projects. — Feel free to slightly over do it as long as there is a glanceable summary.

Start with the polished end result, but don’t rely solely on it. A picture makes a stronger impression than your written word at first glance. Images are easier to rely on to make an impact for those people just skimming through.

Don’t over do it — Explain your thinking and process but stick to a concise number of key points you think best highlights your abilities.

Make it available, if they want it — Like I was saying before, people in the hiring process may only have seconds to scan over your works. But, if you get lucky enough to have someone who wants to dive deep into your process make sure it’s available, but don’t let it get in the way.

Best foot forward — only showcase your best work.

It’s better to choose 2 or 3 projects, where you can describe the process end-to-end in detail, than to throw all of your design work in your portfolio. You’ll probably be judged by your weakest work — so make sure everything you include speaks well to your abilities. -Harish Venkatesan

Show those results —If you have improved metrics, user research or anything that shows how your designs impacted and found a solution for the initial goals. Definitely include it.

Make it memorable — Whether it’s an about page or unique branding as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your work, let the audience get a feel for who you are.

People hire people, not portfolios.

There is no right or wrong way to construct your portfolio and it’s heavily dependent on who you are targeting and where you want to work. These are just some aspects to consider when creating it.

I would love to hear your feedback whether you are in the hiring process or in the middle of a portfolio redesign. Let me know your thoughts!

What do you immediately look at when going to a portfolio site?

Are there any examples that have stuck with you? Good or bad?

What are some negative attributes of a portfolio site?


UPDATE:

Here is how my new portfolio ended up looking: slayter.design

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