Portfolio Advice

Some advice and feedback I've gotten on my UX portfolio, distilled through my own personal lens of course.

Online/Website Portfolio

There's tons and tons of advice written online and elsewhere about what goes into a good portfolio. I took some notes that you can read here and also here about such a thing, for starters. There's also a few books in the Recommended Reading section of this RTFM about creating your UX portfolio. A few things I have picked up elsewhere (by which I mostly mean the Denver UX Slack community) which are not covered in my BDA course notes are:

  • Make sure all images you use of design artifacts are hi-res and easily viewable/readable. Anything pixelated, jagged, or hard to read sucks.
  • I kind of think that user flows only need to be shown as high level concepts... they don't need a lot of detail in order to convey the sense that I know what I am doing. An example is the third slide of this project. However, I have gotten some feedback from people who hire UX Designers that they DO want to see the detail in the user flows, they want to see how my decision making manifests. To this end I chose to include links to entire PDFs of user flows in the case study, and still show just the high-level concept oriented images in the slideshow.
  • I have taken the same approach with personas, user stories, etc. If I write them, show an image that is interesting, talk about it in the case study, and also include a link to the actual artifact in case the viewer wants to do a deeper dive and figure out if I can actually write complete sentences.
  • Too much "about me" bullshit is pretty much just that...
  • Always present projects as case studies. Include what your role was (research, testing, design, prototype), what the issue or challenge was, the solution, final outcome/metrics if you have them, and what you learned if possible.

I firmly believe that one's portfolio should also be a UX project. And somewhere I read that if one is able to, one should also hand-code their own portfolio. I also need a roadmap for my UX Portfolio, there's a few (okay, a lot) of niggling things I'd like to fix or enhance on it.

PDF Portfolio

I have been working my way through the onboarding process of the website Toptal and have been tasked to submit a PDF version of my portfolio. I had created my online portfolio, which uses a slideshow on half the screen and text on the other in case study format to present my work. I've created PDF (or document-based, or board-based) portfolios for my graphic design work, but generally those types of projects were singular deliverables and not really "case study" format. I didn't have a good idea on how to approach case studies in a PDF, so I asked the Denver UX Slack space for some examples or ideas of how to tackle this. Several folks were kind enough to share their portfolios and thoughts with me. The questions I was seeking to get answers and guidance for were:

  1. How are other folks organizing projects? Can an entire project be captured on one page, or multiple?
  2. Full case studies, or summations of projects?
  3. Lots of images/artifacts from each project, or just final deliverables?
  4. What other questions am I not thinking of?

Key takeaways from discussions with other UX Designers

  • Nearly everyone I spoke with organized their PDF portfolios into projects, similar to how one would do so in an online portfolio.
  • Each project (or case) typically presented itself over multiple pages, generally organized chronologically i.e. the first page of a project would be the first thing that was done. Something like research, then design, then prototype, etc.
  • Most PDFs used the same dimensions/size for all of the pages in the document, and each project spanning several pages one after the other (as mentioned above).
    • One person chose to buck this trend and feature each project on a single page.
    • In this example, each project page was the same width but varied in height, which was extremely tall and required the viewer to scroll simulating an online experience.
  • Everyone has a picture of a whiteboard with a bunch of sticky notes on it... except me.
  • Amount of text/copy on each page of the PDF varied by example. Folks that created the PDF with the intention to also present the portfolio in meat space to actual people trended towards having less copy. If the portfolio was to be sent sans human interaction, more copy.
  • Most all PDF portfolios were heavy on the visuals, meaning the biggest/strongest element on each page was an image (wireframe, design, photo of a whiteboard with sticky notes, etc.) rather than text/copy.
  • Something I noticed (probably because it was a main question I had) was how different folks solved the problem of transitioning into new project/case studies, and how they handled cohesiveness within each project/case study. Some were more successful than others, and in my mind this is the largest challenge of this format.
    • In the context of an online portfolio, each project has it's own "page" or unique URL... to view a different project or case study the viewer has to (generally or usually) perform an action like clicking a nav link or something. A PDF portfolio just goes from page to page to page in succession...
    • Use of color, consistent typography, and other basic design/layout principles can/should be applied to ensure the viewer knows when one project/case study ends and the next one begins as they view each page in the document in succession. Especially if you're not present to present the document.
    • Also having a standardized headline/header format can go a long way in keeping the viewer oriented. Sorta like in a book when the chapter you're reading is displayed next to the page number.
    • Note: the example with a single long scrolling page for each project essentially solved this concundrum in a way that is more similar to an online way... in that the viewer has to click to the next page to view the next project.
  • Having a page that "breaks" the layout to emphasize a specific though, point, or "a ha!" moment can be a powerful tool.
  • One example had a slightly deeper organizational structure, where projects/case studies were also organized by a parent project such as Product or Client. So a parent project might be "Yet Another List App" and then case studies might be "MVP" and "Social Sharing Feature" or whatever. This seemed unnecessary for my portfolio, and I remain unconvinced that it's generally necessary.
  • The best examples clearly presented the following information: scope of the project, the challenges and/or goals of the project, the approach taken, and the solution. Additional stuff like what you learned was nice to have in there as well. So basically, all the same advice for a web portfolio applies here. Duh.

Toptal's Portfolio Guidelines

  • Toptal’s design team is looking for designers with extensive experience in cross-platform digital products, with a specific focus on user experience design (UX), user interface design (UI), visual design, and interaction design.
  • The portfolio should contain your 6 best projects, complemented with a short description of each. We require a straight-to-the-point, frontal-view presentation in device or context environment where the projects can speak for themselves.
  • Please explain the scope of each project, your direct contributions to it, and the rationale for choosing specific design solutions. Showing a clear overview of your design process is essential, and you are free to show us multiple pages and screens.

This page was last updated: 4-16-2020