How to Create a UX Portfolio

Being in a new city as big as Los Angeles is thrilling. There is something to do at any given moment, no matter what your interests are. Lately, I have been finding ways to get more involved in LA tech community, seeking to meet like-minded people and acquire additional tools to do the best work I can in my recent role as Head of Product Design at HipHopDX.

The last UX Mentorship Meetup I attended was organized by Vil Sologub, Jeff Kudishevich and Shaimoom Newaz of Kanguru App which connects people in tech with mentors (sign up to be a tester here). The event opened with attendants introducing themselves, and was followed by a very insightful presentation by David Nett, wittingly entitled ‘A Blissfully Brief History of UX.’ Nett talked about his background, his mentors and his current projects. During the Q&A part, one recurring question stayed with me and I felt the urge to write about it here.

How do you create a UX Portfolio?

As a designer who came from print and art exhibition design, making the leap to digital product has not been easy. Needless to say, the learning curve has been steep. So, I thought that attending these types of events and meeting people in the field will give me some clarity. I wanted to make sure that I am on the right path. The answer to the above question, in my opinion, is: YOU DON’T.

You don’t build a UX portfolio. There is no ‘right path’ and there is no clear answer about where UX begins and where it ends.

My takeaways from Nett’s presentation were that, in order to become a UX professional, you have to develop skills in various fields. These include management, leadership, communication, understanding code, adapting, and picking up new skills fast… The list goes on. Many people I met during this Meetup are not in the industry; a chemist, a psychologist, an illustrator, an orchestra manager. I also met an art director, an entertainment executive, a marketing analyst, and several other enthusiasts who attended simply in order to learn more about what UX is. This brought me to the realization that UX is a very vast field. In fact, it is too vast to define. It is too vast to draw a path that can be taken to reach it, or to define certain actions that one can do to ‘make it’ as a UX professional. Instead of trying to define a clear path, we must make our experiences and our skills the core of developing our career, and build our portfolio around our personal experiences.

We must make our experiences and our skills the core of developing our career, and build our portfolio around our personal experiences.

With the relatively recent influx of tech companies, a variety of new design roles have emerged; roles that are ambiguous and unclear even to us designers who come from these industries.

With all this unclarity, it is natural that we all feel confused about how to design portfolios and approach finding a job. The traditional approaches for designing a portfolio are no longer effective and are not strong enough to make new designers stand out. How can we design an effective portfolio if the role we are looking for isn’t clear? What I suggest is that we start looking at portfolios differently. Here is what I have been doing:

Write About Your Individual Experiences: UX is a field that focuses on experiences. Experiences that aren’t necessarily tied directly to a computer screen or a smartphone, but are related to activities that we perform on a daily basis and how to make those activities better. Whether it’s using an app, getting your morning coffee, working with people in different fields. It is only natural to build a portfolio that is based on your individual experience; What makes you unique? What is your background and how does that give you a unique point of view? Are you a chemist who wants to make the move to UX? that’s great! What made you want to do so? What experiences in your field can you make better? redefine that and write about it. How can you make an orchestra experience better for your musicians, performers, and audience? Medium.com offers a great space where you can jot down your ideas and share them with the world.

Find Your Tribe: Find like-minded people by participating in design and tech events. Talk to people who share the same interests as you do. You will find that many of them, even those with more years of experience, are facing similar challenges. Can’t find a Meetup or an event near you? Get your hands dirty and organize your own!

Pick Up New Skills: The role of a designer in this tumultuous industry has become quite unclear. Luckily, Design is a field which is mostly based on skill, wisdom, and creativity of the individual. So, we are accustomed to learning as we go and picking up new skills continuously.

By equipping ourselves with new skill, we will become more effective in interacting with professionals from different fields, leading and working with teams from different backgrounds, keeping our eyes and ears open and picking up on whichever method is most effective for whatever issue is at hand.

Improve you communication skills to better present your ideas to stakeholders, pick up some management skills, learn to understand code, collaborate and communicate with the different teams arounds you, experiment, test and iterate, allow yourself to take on bigger roles and break the boundaries of what you think design is. Make sure you are always up to date on what is going on in your field, and most importantly: remember that design is a holistic concept that can be applied to solving any problem.

Become An Autodidact: The simplest way to start is to find an idea for a new product, or an improvement for an existing one. Then, get in touch with potential users, build personas, figure out what your main components are and what your features are, then create your wireframes, workflows, and prototype.

Motivate yourself. Teach yourself what’s necessary.

Write about your process and what you are learning. Collaborate with others and ask your tribe to fill in the gaps where necessary. At the end of this process you will learn what it takes to build an end-to-end product and see how intriguing it is to teach yourself and motivate yourself to pick up new skills.

Useful Resources: A List Apart has always been a great companion for me. So has Ted, Medium, Twitter and Meetup, specifically the UX Mentorship meetups. I have also found lots of insight on Neiman Lab and Nielsen Norman Group.

Are you working on your portfolio? I would love to hear about your process and ideas. Drop me a comment below or find me on Twitter @sunbird3000

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