Make a stellar design portfolio

Tell your story, showcase your personality, and hit the points employers are looking for

Make a stellar design portfolio

Why does it matter?

Chances are that if you’re reading this as a UX or Product designer — you’re designing digital products and experiences. And the first “Digital Product” your hiring managers get to see is your Portfolio.

UX is one of those industries where education and previous experience aren’t strict prerequisites to landing your dream role; a UX design portfolio is even more important than your resume or CV. It acts as a meet-and-greet before the hiring manager actually gets to meet you.

A hiring manager isn’t just looking for someone to fill a seat, but someone they’re excited to work with. This makes it crucial to showcase your personality. And given that almost more than 95% of resumes have the same format, it’s safe to say that it’s harder to get your personality across on your resume. 

A good portfolio indicates, in short, that this person has taken time to represent themselves in the best possible light, and they’re clued up enough to showcase their most relevant work logically and aesthetically. It should define who you are, what you can do, and what you specialize in.

What hiring managers look for

Your Portfolio is your Digital Product the hiring managers would be looking at. So let’s stick with the UX Process in designing this digital product — define your target user. 

The “Users” of your Portfolio will be hiring managers, recruiters, of fellow UX professionals, so your portfolio must appeal to these different groups of people. 

And before diving into designing our Digital Product, let’s talk about what the user is looking for?

Below are some statements from your “users” aka, hiring managers

  • “Show me how you started with an opportunity and produced real value for a user and the organization.”

  • “I want to know the impact of your work.”

  • “Show me your decision-making process.”

  • “Don’t just show me the finished product. I want to see the messy process and all the work and research that was put into land on that shiny polished design. Tell me the problem you were trying to solve, your role, any constraints, project timeline, changes from iteration to iteration and how the research informed the design.”

  • “Show your personality and love for the work”

Once you have a clear idea of what your “Users” want and need, start brainstorming solutions!

What to include in your Design Portfolio

Your portfolio content will vary, depending on your seniority, the companies you want to work for, what kind of work you want, and of course, whose advice you listen to! These will all play a massive part in what you produce.

But remember this: The single most important thing you can do to make sure your UX portfolio grabs attention, regardless of your level, is this: show your process.

Show yourself, show who you are, what you do and what value you provide. And just below that, show your projects!

For each project in the portfolio, the managers are expecting to see-

  • The problem and challenges

  • Who you worked with and your roles

  • Discovery phases (How do you go about solving the problem)

  • The process you used to find and test the solution

  • The tools you used 

  • And the final outcome! (both your work and its impact)

Hiring managers also like to see storytelling — a plot development in the portfolio.

The steps to craft a portfolio you’ll be proud of

  • Take inventory of all your ideas and Prioritize projects that align well with the work you’re looking for.

  • Chose 3 projects to create a detailed case study
    (follow Quality over Quantity; and if you don’t have 3 projects, showcase that 1-2, and if you have more than 3, showcase your best ones)

  • Create case studies of those chosen projects
    (Since hiring managers don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to each candidate’s portfolio, it’s best to choose a few of your best projects to showcase from your prioritized list you made in the previous steps.)

  • In the case study, show your entire process -- take the reader through how you went from an idea to a finished solution -- how you approached the problem, how you generated ideas, how to came to the proposed solution, how you made high-fidelity prototypes and tested those solutions)

  • Showcase how the project impacted users and business.

  • Showcase beautiful graphics and mockups of your project (visuals won’t do any harm)

  • And finally, share what you’ve learnt.

Even if the project was a part of your “learning UX” and not a paid gig, show it! The case study exists to show your process - get it right, regardless of the money that project made you.

And remember, visually appealing products are considered to be better. So,  a visually pleasing portfolio is important! It’s just good sense. 

Pay attention to color palette and fonts—create and follow your own personal mini style guide, (i.e make sure that page 3 matches with page 10.)

Making it visually pleasing will show the hiring manager that you pay attention to small detail. No harm can be done by making your portfolio look nice.

Test your Portfolio

A part of the UX process is to test the product, so that’s what we’re gonna do — test our portfolio!

You should have a portfolio that allows a manager to look through your work in 30 to 60 seconds and know what projects you’ve worked on, get inside your mind, and know how you solve problems.

That’s why I always recommend trying some simple user testing techniques. In other words: get some volunteers. Tap your partner, friends, or family, and get them to look at your portfolio and complete small tasks or hunt for crucial information. 

Then you can define and tweak the content to get to the desired goal. Structure your portfolio clearly, with clear navigation to the projects, sub-headings, and a clearly defined process. Get rid of anything in the portfolio which doesn’t represent your best work and get the user-testing of your product done!

Get feedback and iterate.

The format

So you’ve been following along and crafting your UX Design portfolio using the UX process. But one thing must be in your mind since the start: where to host it? Do I need a website? Will free services work? 

The best option would be to go for your own personal website (if possible, keep it as yourname.com

Websites can also show more than just your work, with an about me page, blogs, videos etc. Reminder: personality is a crucial factor in a hiring process, especially if you’re a junior with not a lot of work to show. 

Websites are fantastic to create a brand. Whoever you work for, you are a brand. You’re a self-brand. You are such-and-such at a certain company. Having a website is an opportunity for you to improve your profile within the UX community. If you’re good with SEO, it can even help people to find you. 

But if you want to go for some free services, go for Behance. It’s the best free option you have with its tools to create your portfolio. 

Another free option you can go for is PDF. Chose a presentation software (Keynote or Google slides) and create your portfolio there — tell your story, tell about yourself and present your case study. 

Regardless of which format you’ve chosen, create a basic template that you’ll follow so that all of your projects look cohesive. But remember: while the alternatives exist, nothing beats having your own personal website and custom domain. It shows that you’re serious and committed to your brand and craft.

TL;DR

Ultimately, the number one way to advance your career in UX is to have a killer UX portfolio where you present yourself in the best possible light.

Creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths in a way that appeals to your audience will help you land your next UX design job. The act of creating a portfolio allows you to identify your skills and achievements while reflecting on the work you want to do in the future.

There should be no excuses for not having a portfolio, so on that note: go and create something amazing!