Out in Tech hosted “What’s In Your Portfolio” in February 2021, an event that went through three portfolios reviewed by a mix of those on the hiring side for UX design roles. The live review aimed to provide candid feedback from those whom our portfolios are normally directed at, and ideally, would impress!
Many of the great tips shared during the panel echoed the feedback I heard when I was also putting my own portfolio together after finishing my UX bootcamp with Careerfoundry in 2019. Though the portfolios reviewed were from those seeking entry-level or internship roles, these tips can be applied to UX and product design portfolios across experience levels. It’s important to note that everyone has different perspectives and opinions when it comes to portfolios and how they should be constructed. The advice here is a combination of what was shared in the panel, feedback I’ve received from designers and those on the hiring side, and also what I believe are the basics of a good portfolio.
1. Keep it bold above the fold
Though (most of us) are not in the sector of newspapers, you still want to make a great impression in the top panel of your portfolio. This is the attention grabber, and should encourage the portfolio reviewer to scroll down and click into your case studies. Some aspects to include are a photo, and some sentences to explain who you are. You can speak to what your role is, background, specialization, what you’re passionate about, or anything else that makes you different from the rest! It’s basically the elevator pitch of a website, which should give a summary to who you are as a designer. The portfolio is not a time for humility, so be clear about who you are, and what you can and want to do!
2. Who, What, Where, When, How (long was the project)
Case studies should mention your role and involvement in the project, who you worked with (or if it was solo), what tools you used, and the length of a project. This is feedback I heard at the event as well as advice I personally received, so I feel confident sharing this. Design is not about mastery of Figma or Sketch. However, including the methods and software you used will help make the case study feel more grounded. You should feel comfortable using “I” instead of “we” when applicable, so the person visiting your portfolio is not left wondering about your level of involvement.
Adding your work environment is important because recruiters are not only hiring for a role, but also a team. When reviewing your portfolio, they are asking themselves a range of questions.
Does this person look like a first design hire?
Are they better for a startup or on a team with established roles?
Was this project completed remotely?
Instead of making the other person guess around what your role was, you can directly state if you worked with other designers, project managers, and others on your team.
3. The Medium is the Message
Just as a case study is a demonstration of your design capabilities, so is your portfolio. One piece of advice that I’ve heard multiple times is that your visual assets should be legible and clear. For example, visual assets can be screenshots, graphs, or photos of sticky notes that document your process. If it’s small, make sure it can be clicked to enlarge. An image that is too small will leave the hiring manager or recruiter wondering what it trying to be communicated. Everything counts in your portfolio, so it’s best to be intentional with what is included.
Other ways to make your portfolio count as an example of good UX is through consistent and thoughtful hierarchy. For example, make it easy for your portfolio visitor to scan for what they need with clear headers and navigation. Just as you want to show off how user-centered you were in your design process, you should showcase it in your case study with aspects like line spacing, content width, and accessible contrast. And in case they want to dig deeper into your case study, you can give them the option by linking out to a report or supplementary media in a drive. As Avantha Arachchi, an operations and talent consultant and one of our event panelists, mentioned, “Make it easy to find the diamonds.” That is to say, give them all the evidence they need to know you’re a great designer and candidate!
And lastly, where you house your portfolio shouldn’t matter. You don’t need a fancy URL or aim to code our own website (unless your goal is to show off your frontend dev skills). Avantha also mentioned a favorite hire in the past used Google Drive to store their portfolio. What is important is that you’re doing a great job of telling the story of your case study, who you are, and what you can do as a designer.
Commonly Asked Questions
Some other questions were asked during the last round of Q&A that I hear whenever the topic of portfolios comes up. I personally follow this advice, but again, these are simply opinions! There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to portfolios.
What is the standard number of case studies?
There is no standard number! It’s not about quantity or the number of projects. Also, recruiters won’t click into all your case studies. At most, they’ll look at the first two or three, so definitely put your favorite case studies at the top! I personally recommend having two very good case studies. What I mean by good is that they are thorough and detailed. By only showcasing two or three case studies in my own portfolio, I have control over what I’m showing to recruiters. If I were to display four or five, I’d run the chance of someone looking at a project that’s not indicative of my best work.
Do case studies need to be in the same format?
It’s best to lay out information in consistent ways so that there is no need to relearn the format for each case study. I don’t find portfolios to be the best time to get creative with how information is presented. Since I try to contain certain elements of information to communicate the basics of what happened in each project, my case studies naturally take on more or less the same format.
Should I separate work from fun things I do outside of work?
I think a portfolio should first and foremost showcase your work as a designer. (After all, it’s to get hired!) If the work side is ironed out, then I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a playful side. Many of the designers I know have an interesting hobby, such as writing, illustrating, woodworking… you name it! It’s great to showcase your personality in a separate section because it makes you someone that others can connect and relate to. And I saw “separate section” because maybe someone wants to glean through your portfolio just for the professional bits.
I hope you found these tips helpful, and good luck to all designers working on portfolios! You can do this.