It’s good sense to tailor your résumé to the job you’re applying to, and your portfolio is no different. Treat it like a design challenge you’re solving for, and think of hiring managers as your end users.
1. Have a career compass statement
“Just like a great product, your career needs a purpose, a thesis. It needs a why.”–Sarah Doody, Founder of The UX Portfolio Formula
We all remember writing thesis statements for book reports in English class. A thesis would set up the central argument of your paper, just like a compass/personal statement sets up the purpose of your portfolio. Are you a specialist or a generalist? Have you worked on a team, or were you a UX team of one? What’s your dream role? Whoever is reviewing your portfolio should leave with a clear picture of the designer you currently are, and the designer you aspire to be.
2. Make usability your priority
Usability considerations have to outweigh aesthetics, especially if you’re just starting out in the world of design. Make sure your layout and navigation follow standard design patterns. When showing a list of your work, think about ways you can provide a bird’s eye view–project title, brief description, and your role–for each project, so users can get a glimpse of the type of designer you are, and what industries you’ve worked in.
Think about your users’ time constraints and make sure sections are in easily digestible chunks–that goes for your writing and your imagery. Just remember: if hiring managers struggle to navigate your portfolio, they’re going to question your ability to create good user experiences.
3. Showcase your personality
“People hire people. Don’t try to be perfect. Be you.” — Andrew Hochradel, Designer and Art Director
Case studies are a key facet of the portfolio, but it’s also important to make sure you are communicating who you are as a person. Recently a hiring manager told me portfolios are not only a representation of a candidate’s skillset and experience, but also a way to gauge how a candidate will fit in with her team.
A great way to litmus-test your messaging is to get your portfolio in front of people who are going to be honest in their feedback. Don’t just ask your mom (even if she’s brutally honest like my mom). Ask classmates, current/former colleagues, and friends what impression your content–both visual and written–is giving them. Their answers may surprise you.
4. Make it easy to scan
This point is similar to my earlier comment about compass statements, but extends beyond objectives and bios. Hiring managers look at countless portfolios, and the unfortunate reality is you have seconds to get their attention and create a memorable experience. Create categories where you can, especially if you do branding or graphic design on the side.
5. Show your process (really)
A case study showing only final designs tells hiring managers nothing about the way you approach problems. They want to see how you think, so show them that napkin sketch, or paper prototype. Make sure your research and design iterations are clearly communicated in your case studies by giving each project a context, a narrative, and outcome or summary of what you learned. Show how you arrived at the final solution, and why.
Whether you’re just starting to gather materials for your portfolio, or are deep in your case study drafts, I hope this list encourages you to design for your target users, not yourself. Which tips would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments!