Ask The Experts: What is one thing UX candidates can do to improve their portfolios?

29 Mar 2021 1:16 PM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering portfolios. 

What is one thing UX candidates can do to improve their portfolios?    

I’ve seen a lot of portfolios with polished (interactive) designs. But it is not obvious how the designer came to that solution nor what problem is the design trying to solve. This makes the work look superficial, lacking depth and context. 

If the main audience of your portfolio is potential employers, my one recommendation for improvement is to show process: Highlight what problems you are solving, for whom (users), who else was on the project team, and the interim deliverables (hand drawings, wireframes, user journeys and feedback, etc.) along the way, not just the final design. This gives viewers more insight into your ways of approaching a problem, collaborating with others, and designing/researching along the spectrum of high-level visions on one end, and detailed specifications on the other. Think of your portfolio as a story to tell your journey of coming to the final designs or solutions that are being show cased – use your design skills to make it informative, fun, and easy to understand!"

Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

 UX design candidates typically do a decent job describing the overall process they went through on a project. But, I've found myself asking the same question repeatedly in interviews: Who did you collaborate with, and what were your contributions?

As Jared Spool always says, "design is a team sport." When I'm interviewing a candidate, I'm trying to figure out what it'd be like to work with them.

A lot goes into product design, starting with understanding both the user needs and the business needs. Yes, your portfolio should show the overall design process from initial requirements to final deliverables. But, make sure to mention who you collaborated with and why. Even if you were doing everything from initial requirements gathering to coding, there was probably a point where you collaborated with a stakeholder or two."

Andrew Wirtanen, Principal Product Designer

 UX now involves such a broad range of expertise and companies vary in how they specialize (or don’t) their UX roles.   So, it’s important both employer and candidate are expressing the type of UX in play.  Resumes are often a record of where someone has been and lean on where someone wishes to go.  A mission or passion statement may be in there, but often at a high-level.  So, I recommend clarity on the types of UX you’ve done and the types of UX you hope to pursue.  This is particularly important if you want to pivot focus or generalize more.  I’ve found the forward look may not fully come out until a phone interview occurs.  But, some filtering of candidates has potentially occurred by that point."     

Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

 While a portfolio certainly should be a showcase of your results, final results alone are not enough. I'm always pleased when I see a portfolio that also tells me something about your process - how you arrived at those results. If the portfolio doesn't show me any process, it
1)leaves me wondering how much of that was done by yourself and how much as collaboration, and
2) I then have to ask all the questions to arrive at that answer. A portfolio that shows me process as well as results goes to the top of the pile, and one that shows me how user or collaborative feedback was incorporated to improve the result gets bonus points!

Randy Earl, Experience Manager
Atlantic BT

 One simple thing to improve a portfolio is to make sure that each portfolio piece tells a story. A story has structure - beginning, middle, end - and so should a case study. What problem did this project set out to solve? Over the course of the project, what were the complications or hurdles you had to overcome? Finally, how did it end up? What was the impact of the project?

Imagine telling the story of the project to a friend or family member and try to capture some of that energy in your professional writing. Case studies shouldn't be long or verbose, but they should not feel "flat." There should be characters, motivations, actions, surprises, and ultimately, a satisfying conclusion."

Erik Johnson, Co-founder and Designer 
Purpose UX

 My recommendation for candidates looking to improve their portfolios is to present their work in the form of case studies. Provide the problem to be solved, any restrictions impacting the project, the solution, and results, if possible. The ability to solve problems, particularly within externally imposed limitations, while showing measurable results, is what differentiates a UX designer from an artist.

Case studies provide greater insight into the capabilities of the candidate—the ability to use visual communication to deliver measurable results within the constraints imposed by clients. The copy of the case study also allows candidates to show their ability to communicate with words, in addition to visuals.

David Minton, Managing Partner 

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