Has this ever happened to you:
You’ve worked hard for the past few years, and you know your work is amazing. You’ve been diligent about documenting your design process so you can create UX case studies for your portfolio. You’ve rehearsed your answers to the most common interview questions, you’ve researched the company.
And after all of that, you have to present your portfolio… and at some point during the presentation, you can feel the energy drain out of the room. You’re failing to get them engaged, and you know it.
I don’t mind telling you – this has happened to me. Today, I wanted to talk about how to create an effective presentation around your portfolio, so you can learn from my mistake.
Presenting your Design Portfolio
It’s one thing to have a rocking portfolio, and it’s another thing entirely to be able to make your work shine. In the last 10 years I’ve had the chance to show my portfolio many times. Sometimes it goes really well, and other times it just doesn’t quite get the others engaged.
Maybe you’ve been there too? In those meetings or interviews where you know the work is great, but it’s like the other people in the room just aren’t getting it. You can feel the energy and enthusiasm drain from the room.
Because you’re not just presenting the work in your portfolio – you’re showing them your process, your personality and your ability to command their attention. They might not be looking to hire someone who can’t present their work to clients. Maybe they interviewed someone yesterday who was less nervous. Perhaps they want a designer who can stand up and confidently respond to feedback from directors or C-level.
Before you go into a meeting with a prospective employer, have your portfolio presentation polished and ready to go. Here are my steps to creating an engaging, funny and interesting presentation.
Presenting Your Portfolio
When you are presenting your portfolio, you are marketing yourself. You are showing someone all of the value you will bring to a team. You’re showing what you can do, the problems you can overcome and how you can deliver the results despite the setbacks.
After this article you should have a better idea of how to wow the hiring manager or client next time you are presenting your portfolio.
1. Carefully Select the Projects You Want To Show
Ok so at this point, you’re wondering how you’re going to get through this presentation, but fear not. Everyone goes through the same thing – and it always starts with “what projects should I show?”
The answer is – whichever ones you feel you have the most to talk about.
At one point in my career I had worked on some fantastic projects – for iOS and web – but they were all for the same company. Which means that this one company’s branding was all over my presentation. I could tell by the end of the presentation that the hiring manager was completely bored by this one colour.
If you can, select projects that show a range of your skills – and try to show projects from different clients or companies. If you don’t really have anything relevant, it might be better to show a side-project that you have been working on.
But what if you don’t have a huge choice?
Modifying the text on buttons or creating a series of email newsletters might not be exciting to everyone, but there are ways you can make this work shine all the same.
When you created buttons, did you test the results? Were you able to come up with a strategy that would work towards lifing conversions and generating more sales for the company? Did you come up with various designs for a split test? What were the results of the split test?
When you worked on email newsletters, were you able to work on any of the code? Or did you also create designs for email on a mobile device? What were the challenges you faced?
No matter what you’ve worked on, no matter how insignificant you think it is, there is always an angle that you can use. Always a way to show that you’ve thought about the designs, you’ve proposed something new, and you can discuss why it worked (or didn’t work).
2. Show The Process
You don’t want to just land on the finished designs if you’re a UX or UI designer. Show your process, how you were able to overcome difficulties and challenges during the project, and still come out with a strong product at the end.
It’s a great idea to keep a project diary for just this alone. Keep a document somewhere with just a very high-level outline of the project problems you encountered, and what you did to solve them. Treat each project like a case study, giving the audience a brief introduction, taking them through the process, and closing with a few points on the success of the project and what you learned.
A good outline for each project might be:
- Introduction to the project, the goals, background information…
- The design process that was followed
- Problems you faced
- Problem 1 and the solution
- Problem 2 and the solution
- Problem 3 and the solution
- Outcome – Did you succeed? Why or why not? What did you learn? What would you differently? What was the impact on the business?
Each “problem” only needs to be a few slides each, you don’t want to bore the audience. Just show that you had something to learn, a problem you encountered. Show them that you were able to learn from this project, that you kept a positive mindset and gained a lot of knowledge and wisdom as a result of it.
Lead designers and product managers understand that projects are rarely plain-sailing, and they will want someone who can show their resilience and determination in-spite of set backs and problems.
3. Use Motion and Animation
It can be tough to describe how things will move just with static images and bullet points.
Even if you didn’t create animations to show the interactions on the project, this is a great opportunity to really make your work stand out. I’ve found it’s worth the few hours it takes to create high-quality animations to show how the elements move – how things load, fade and the transitions that occur when the user interacts with the product.
Even if you didn’t create animations for the project, create them for your presentation.
Non-designers will benefit from this because they will be able to appreciate the movement and interactions that you created.
4. Use a Creative Slide-deck Design
Think about your audience – the chances are they will also be designers (or former designers). They’re also looking for a designer – someone who will hopefully be able to ‘wow’ with presentations.
There are lots of really great slide deck designs online, so have a look around to see what stands out. As a designer, you can really make even sketches and grey wireframes sing with nice coloured backgrounds and images. So don’t feel obliged to stick to white backgrouds and black text – get creative.
Word of warning: be careful if you’re planning to use a cool font. If the font is hosted on something like Google fonts, you will have to make sure the presentation still looks cool even without wifi, but more on that in step 8.
5. Mix It Up
Hopefully, you will have had a chance to work on different stages of the design process. If you were able to do the early wireframing and sketching of a new product or feature – fantastic! But if at all possible, don’t have your entire presentation only about wireframes. If you can, try to have 1 project that has finished designs in all their glory. Here are some tips to use when creating the perfect mockups:
- Include high-resolution photography – if you worked on an ecommerce or food ordering site, this will apply to you. Sometimes you might not always have the most beautiful photography to work with – but since you’re not the photographer, feel free to improve the look of your finished design by including some exciting photography if you think it will make your work shine.
- Use mobile or tablet mockups – you don’t have to use these on every single slide if it doesn’t make sense, but for impact in the opening slide or showing the finished designs, it can really add context to your designs. Then you can go into details.
- Take photos of any design workshops, sprints or brainstorming sessions you might have been involved in. For the sake of data privacy, it’s a good idea to either ask your team-mates permission before you include their photograph, or blur out their faces (just to be on the safe side).
6. Add Your Personality
The best presentations are the ones that you feel comfortable giving in the first place, so they should fit with who you are. At least this way – if the presentation doesn’t work out, it was because you wouldn’t fit in with that company (rather than join the team and regret it later)
Add in a meme if it’s appropriate, or a pun, or a joke. If you’re a film buff, include some references or quotes from films. Don’t be afraid to show something of yourself.
7. Practice Your Part
The more you to go through your deck, the more confident and at ease you will sound. The more times you go through the entire presentation, the more ways you will find to optimise it. You will find
Don’t put it together the night before. In fact, it doesn’t hurt to put together a presentation of your work when you’re not interviewing or pitching. This way, when opportunity knocks you won’t be starting from zero.
8 . Download The Deck
I was once asked to give a presentation at one of the top 4 tech companies in the world. I had polished my presentation, practiced it – I knew it inside out, and I was ready to wow them. I got in, and realised I needed to ask for the wifi password. No one knew the guest wifi password. I didn’t have a copy of my presentation on my computer – it was all on Google drive. About 10 minutes were spent asking for a guest wifi password so we could just move ahead. It was embarrassing for everyone involved.
Don’t rely on the guest wifi… Print out the slides if you have to!
Download your deck, and then download it again in a different format, and then keep the file on your desktop until after you’ve presented.
Take it from me – don’t rely on the wifi of the office building that you are going to be presenting in. Download a copy of your deck as a powerpoint and also download it in PDF form. Have the PDF on your desktop, clearly labelled where you can get it without delaying anything. If you’re hoping to present from Google drive, make sure the slides are all fully loaded in your browser cache.
If you really want to take things a step further, test out your deck with the wifi turned off on you computer just to test the design. You might find that the fonts you chose are no longer loading, or some of the images are missing.
Think about the possibility of no-wifi, and make sure you are prepared as much as possible for it.
Those are my 8 tips on how to present your portfolio like a pro. As I said earlier, a lot of these tips were learned in the awkward silences of a presentation going wrong at the worst possible moment, so I’m happy that something could be learned from my experiences.
As always, I would love to hear from you. Have you ever had a presentation go badly? What did you learn from it? As always, you can get me on twitter or just add your story to the comments below.