6 Elements of a Kick-Ass UX Writing Portfolio
Here’s the jumpstart you need to finally get your UX writing portfolio in tip-top shape.
Full disclosure: I don’t have an online portfolio. My old “website” was a hot mess; a free Wordpress template with a bunch of broken links to articles I wrote many moons ago, well before I landed in UX writing. It wasn’t reflective of the work I do now and it didn’t tell any kind of story, so I took it down. The problem is, I never replaced it with anything. This is partially because I haven’t had the motivation, but mostly because I have no idea where to even start.
I know I’m not alone in this either; when I’ve talked to my fellow Intuit Content Designers and network of UX writers about their portfolios they either a) don’t have one, b) have a website where they talk about what they do, but don’t show their work, and/or c) have no idea what a UX writing portfolio should even look like.
Creating a UX writing portfolio isn’t an exact science. Of the good examples I’ve seen, they all bring a little something different to the table — some are more visual, some go deep into processes, some showcase the writer’s unique personality and the best ones do all of that. No matter which direction you decide to go, your UX writing portfolio should serve as an introduction to your work, which will (hopefully) facilitate a wider conversation later about customer problems, design rationale, process, solutions, etc.
If you’re like me, and finally mustering up the motivation to put your work online (or give it a much-needed makeover), then you’ve come to the right place! After cyber-stalking some of my favorite UX writers, interviewing UX hiring managers and brainstorming with my peers, I’ve compiled a list of 6 elements every UX writing portfolio should have.
If you have anything to add, let me know in the comments!
1. Great UX (duh)
It’s not exactly rocket science, but if you work in UX, then your personal website should have great UX. That said, you don’t need to be a UX designer or engineer to inject some fancy features into your online portfolio.
I used Wordpress for years and they have a great selection of templates and widgets. However, I just made the switch to Squarespace (much to my front-end developer husband’s dismay!), and I love it. Wordpress isn’t hard to use, but Squarespace feels much more design-minded and I don’t have to mess around with any CSS or deal with buggy widgets. I’m still messing around with the format I want to use, so if you have any tips, let me know!
Many UX writers featured in this piece use Squarespace, which I’ve pointed out along the way. However, if you have the skillz or resources, a custom website has the most flexibility and options. Based off my internet sleuthing it looks like Joe Coleman’s personal website is a custom Wordpress theme with some super slick UX features.
I’m not usually a fan of white text on a black background, but I think it works in this case. He has a slider on the bottom of the homepage that adjust how hard he “sells” you on his experience.
The “less hard sell” is a just a cheeky one-liner.
The “more hard sell” features cats, explosions and dogs on skateboards.
It’s the perfect intro to the kind of writing he does and it’s just so darn delightful you can’t help but instantly crush on his content.
2. A description of the problem, your process and the outcome
In general, a UX writing portfolio needs to do three things: Clearly outline the customer problem, explain your process and/or approach and show off the final product. This can be difficult to do with just visuals and a few words, so it’s a good thing communicating information with a ton of constraints is kind of our thing! Here are some stellar examples of how other UX writers have done it.
Angela Gorden, UX Writer for Evernote, uses a magazine-style layout with bold lifestyle imagery to showcase the various UX projects she’s worked on. If you click into her work, she clearly outlines each project and walks the reader through each step of her process, starting with the problem and ending with lessons she learned.
Marina Posniak, Content Strategist and UX Writer at Spotify, uses a modular design (courtesy of Squarespace), which gives a great sense of her entire body of work. She does a beautiful job of simplifying some very complicated types of UX writing, like Taxonomy. It isn’t exactly the sexiest project, but she gracefully outlines the problem, business case, approach and outcomes.
I also really like the simple way she showcases the “befores” and “afters” a good reminder that a design portfolio doesn’t always have to be complicated.
She also injects a little levity when explaining when content didn’t quite make it onto the site. This happens to UX writers all the time, so don’t let it stop you from including great work in your portfolio.
3. Safeguarded proprietary information
One of the biggest challenges designers face, especially when highlighting “behind the scenes” work, is showing what you did while keeping proprietary information (PI) safe. There are a couple of tasteful ways to do this though.
Keep it password protected: An easy way to keep PI private is to lock it with a password. Angela Gorden uses Dropbox to safeguard her writing samples — you have to ask for permission to access the file.
Customize the content: In addition to locking your work with a password, you can also customize the content based off which password you give out. Megan Whalin, Content Strategist at HBO, uses multiple passwords, which unlock different cover letters on her portfolio (I’ve also seen this feature in Squarespace). That way, she “can tailor the conversation,” as she explained it to me. She also has a generic password for a version of her portfolio she can share with anyone.
This is a shot of her public-facing website. In the private version, she includes buttons at the bottom of her homepage to guide the visitor to context-specific content. It’s a pretty smart strategy.
Solicit a request: David Holifield, a UX Designer who has worked with brands like Disney, Hasbro, Fox and Patagonia, simply asks people to contact him for more information. The only thing I would add here is a contact form to make it even easier to request the info, but he already does a great job making it crystal clear how to get ahold of him everywhere else on the site (see #4).
4. Personal branding
Your portfolio shouldn’t just show off your work — it should highlight your personal brand, too. This includes who you are, why you do what you do, and what makes you unique. This info should live on an “about me” page, where you introduce yourself, explain what you do and tell everyone why you are awesome. Don’t be shy — this is the time to brag and express your creativity!
She doesn’t update her site often (more diaries, please!), but Evany Thomas’ “about me” is just as charming as she is in real life. She’s currently a UX writer for Pinterest and you can see how her personality probably matches her work perfectly.
Branding also goes beyond words; your website/portfolio should have a custom URL, a favicon (the little icon next to the URL), a nice headshot, and links to your social media accounts. The more you can show off your personality and aesthetic, and the more access people have to YOU, the more memorable you are.
Tip: It may seem fun to have a quirky URL, but it can make it difficult for people to search your name online and find your work. Consider using your professional name (or something close) as your URL so your portfolio shows up when people look for you online.
5. A CV or resume
I know it’s kind of old school, but resumes are still a thing, so give the people what they want. Most often, I’ve seen designers include links to their LinkedIn profiles, which is good but I think this should go a bit further.
Megan Whalin has a page on the password protected version of her website that serves as her online resume, which can also be saved as a PDF. She doesn’t go super deep into each job — she just includes a nice overview of her role. This is the perfect example of giving just enough info to facilitate a wider conversation later.
I didn’t include an image because the content isn’t public-facing, but we all know what a resume looks like. Put one on your site!
6. Contact info
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to include contact info on their websites. As mentioned earlier, David Holifield has a very thorough contact page — it even includes a Google map of his location (Squarespace offers this feature).
He uses a contact form, but also includes his address, phone number, and links to social media profiles. This information is also included in the footer of his site, so it’s easily accessible at all times.
Tip: If you include a contact form on your site, make sure it goes to an email address you actively use. Yes, this actually happens.
That’s it, you guys! I hope I’ve given you a little inspiration to get your own UX writing portfolio up and running. And if you have any examples or tips of your own to share, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
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Morgan Quinn is a UX writer for TurboTax by day and a freelance personal finance writer by night. Her work can be found on US News, Time Money, The Street, the Huffington Post, MSN and more. When she’s not writing, she stays busy wrangling her two small children, avoiding her inbox and perfecting the art of the power nap. You can follow her here or on Twitter @morganmquinn.