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What Makes a Great User Experience Portfolio?

by
Albert Ellenich
Albert Ellenich

Your portfolio is the primary tool for showing your capabilities when you’re in the early stages of your UX Design career and looking to make a move.

As with any design project, you have to know your audience, then organize your portfolio so it speaks directly to those who will interview you. Organizing your UX work for presentation is challenging, but possible with the help of a few guiding principles.

Your portfolio needs to demonstrate your ability to answer the needs of each person who sees it

UX designers collaborate with cross-disciplinary teams in every organization. In addition to UX practitioners, you should also count on people outside UX reviewing your portfolio. Expect them to look for evidence that you can support their needs too.

UX Leads

Your potential new boss or peer wants to understand how you think, communicate and present ideas as part of a team throughout a project’s lifecycle. To meet to their expectations:

  • Include samples of your thought process in the form of sketches, narratives, storyboards process flows and concept maps.
  • Show diversity in the tools you use to communicate UX concepts. Wireframes aren’t the only answer. Think about the tools you use before creating a wireframe and share some of those: pencil sketches, whiteboard brainstorming, napkin doodles, low fidelity wireframes, etc.
  • Demonstrate your thoroughness in communicating via annotated wireframes which show user interactions and textually explain key objectives.

Creative Directors

Creative Directors want to know how you collaborate with other visual designers. Organizations with small or informal UX teams often include UX personnel within the creative department, reporting to a Creative Director.

  • Include examples demonstrating how you communicated layout, transitions and design to your teammates.
  • Show work that demonstrates your understanding of how content elements come together on a screen in relation to position, size, and prominence. These can be rough sketches or full-blown wireframes.
  • Display finished wireframes alongside a final visual design of the same screen, describing how you collaborated with the design team.

Tech Leads

Tech leads focus on the technology running any interactive design you create. They include front-end developers, content management system administrators and back-end developers. They want to see that you understand how your work integrates with a technology platform. This is especially important if UX falls under the technology department.

  • Process flow diagrams are key deliverables to include. They show your ability to think through a system and illustrate connections to things affecting your work, like system responses and conditional states.
  • Internet technologies often modularize elements in code and design, especially within content management systems. Include work that demonstrates your ability to design modular content/interaction components and widgets.

Business Analysts

Your interaction design work is in response to defined requirements provided by someone with the job title of Business Analyst, or working in that capacity. These people need to see your ability to translate business requirements into interaction designs.

  • Include primary ways that show your understanding of business requirements include some of the deliverables previously mentioned (wireframes, flows, etc).
  • Showcasing how your designs answered specific business needs is important. A good example is helping a user to shop in an e-commerce experience while a business requirement needs you to show editorial content or promoted products. Demonstrate how you’ve combined business and user needs in your work.

Account Executives

Account Directors are the primary point of contact for a client or stakeholder. They want to see how you communicate complex ideas to an external client or internal stakeholder.

  • This is a great opportunity to showcase highly-annotated wireframes or prototypes. Storyboard-type visuals are fine for prototypes in a portfolio.
  • Remember that you might not be present when someone reviews your portfolio. It’s important to have deliverables a client understands without extensive explanation by you in person.

Two ways to organize your portfolio based on the type and quantity of UX deliverables you have

You can organize your portfolio by groups of deliverables, or as project case studies. The amount and type of work you have will determine which organization method is best for you.

1. When your work spans multiple projects, organize your portfolio by groups of deliverable types

Your UX examples may target specific needs of multiple projects. This organizational method is right for you If you don’t have a variety of work products supporting one project. Include a minimum of three to five of your best examples in each category of work product you have. A short list includes:

  • Sketching: pencil, whiteboard, digital
  • Process Flows and Concept Maps
  • Wireframes: Show examples of varying fidelity, including rough wires to show basic concepts and highly detailed wireframes with annotations
  • Side-by-Side Comparisons: Show your wireframe beside a finished design comp
  • Case Studies: If possible, include 1 or 2 in-depth case studies. Include a selection of deliverables you created in sequence to complete a sample project. You can show the work products as a group for a project, or create a formal case study document.

2. When you have many samples spanning the life of 5-7 projects, organize your portfolio by project case studies

Showcase your thought process with at least five case studies showing your involvement in a project from concept to final execution using a sequence of deliverables. Stick with five to seven case studies to ensure you have adequate representation of multiple work product types (flows, sketches, wires, etc.)

Because each case study should show various work products, limit the number of case studies to no more than seven. If you think of each case study containing a minimum of five examples of your work, you’re looking at 25–35 pieces in your portfolio.

  • Explain the design challenge, problem or opportunity and the desired goals for the project.
  • Define the end user of the design work you created.
  • Show how you conceptualized your initial ideas through the use of sketches, concept maps, and any other visual notes.
  • Show samples of visuals you used to communicate with stakeholders, other designers and developers via process flows and rough wireframes.
  • Provide finalized deliverables used by other team members like annotated wireframes, content matrices, and functional specifications.
  • Show side-by-side comparisons of your final wireframes and the final visual design.
  • Include any statistics to support the success of your design work in the form of charts, graphs or numbers showing success in project goals. Did sales increase? Were there increased signups? Fewer calls to the help desk?
  • Did a client, stakeholder or coworker praise your work on the project? If possible, include a quote or testimonial.

Case studies are a great way to show your design thinking in a linear project flow. Y Your portfolio’s main goal is to showcase your work, so don’t get bogged down in the details that aren’t related to UX. Focus on your involvement from the beginning of a project to its final execution and delivery.

Smashing Magazine has a very in-depth post about designing case studies if you’d like further reading and tips on crafting your own.

What to do next

  • Think about the process of solving an interactive project and the types of work products you contribute throughout the process. Organize your work samples into those groups and put them sequentially in your portfolio. This shows samples of your thinking at every stage of a project.
  • Create case studies by organizing your deliverables for a full project into a self-contained, sequential narrative.
  • Explore ways to share this information when you cannot do it in person. You might be asked to share your work for people who are not able to meet you in person immediately. Options can include a shareable PDF or website.
  • Establish your LinkedIn profile. Third party and internal recruiters are continually searching for UX talent here. LinkedIn also makes it easy to introduce your historical experience and allows you to provide downloadable files and links to online examples of your work.

Conclusion

A great user experience portfolio recognizes the diverse needs of its audience. Collaborating with colleagues outside of UX requires strong visual communication of design thinking and an understanding of how multidisciplinary teams work together. Those reviewing your portfolio want to see the examples that show your solutions to their needs. So, how does your portfolio speak to its different audiences?

Albert Ellenich

by Albert Ellenich

Albert Ellenich is a Senior Experience Designer working in the healthcare industry. He previously held positions with client-side UX teams, advertising and design agencies and spent 9 years as an independent UX contractor. When he’s not working to make technology easier for people, he’s planning the next great travel adventure and working on his photography skills. Follow him at @AlbertEllenich

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