So I’ve redesigned my portfolio many, many times over the years. Every time I redesign it, I like to think that I get a little better each time. Today, I’m going to share 10 things that will hopefully help you put together a great design portfolio.
1. Get Inspired
Take an afternoon or evening to just spend looking at the portfolios of designers who are more senior than you. This is a great way to elevate what your work. Don’t focus on how they design their portfolio – focus on how they present their work. Look at how they describe their process, how they discuss their research phase, how they present the design part and what the final outcomes are.
One of the biggest breakthroughs for me when I was in a career rut was when I looked at the portfolios of other senior designers, and how they discussed their work. This inspired me to work towards a similar narrative, describing how I saw a project through and using evidence to back everything up.
2. Be Careful About Your Evidence
In some cases, using designs from projects that have already launched is totally fine, but there are a few things you should watch out for when putting photos and designs up on your portfolio.
If you’re taking photos of a user testing session, make sure you have the written permission of the person involved. If you don’t, it might be an idea to either blur out their face, or make your portfolio private and password protected.
Showing ideas that haven’t been launched yet is another tricky one, especially if the product is in a competitive environment. Ask your manager if there would be any problems in adding particular designs to your portfolio – just in case it gives away any business plans the company wanted to keep quiet until they launched.
3. The Vital Few vs. the Trivial Many
Carefully select the projects you want to show. Aim for between 3 – 6 pieces of solid design work. At least 2 of these projects should be the absolute best you have and demonstrate a high level of skill and experience. You should be able to comfortably describe the process and your contribution to the overall result.
It doesn’t have to be all UI work – I have an interactive touch screen interface that I like to include just because I worked really hard on it, and it shows a different skill set. So be open. Include a print project if it’s something you’re really proud of, or a piece of graphic design – as long as it’s predominantly in the direction of where you want to be hired, it should be fine.
If you’re presenting your work in a deck, you should have 2 projects where you can comfortably talk about for 10 minutes each, and another project that might only take about 5 minutes.
4. Pixel Perfect Images
You don’t know who will be looking at your portfolio, so it’s best to cover all the bases. While it’s always cool to include wireframes and sketches, you should also show a high level of UI output just to inspire the hiring manager of the level of professionalism they can expect from you.
You are pitching yourself and your skills at this point. Sometimes – not always – the person who is hiring you is used to seeing perfect UIs from other design portfolios. Your goal is to match that level. While the majority of the problem solving will be at the wireframe stages, showing the final polished UI will balance out the sketches and make the result look inspiring and exciting.
5. Keep a Diary of Your Work
I’ve talked at length before about how important it is to keep a diary of your work. Take photos of sketches, whiteboard exercises, workshops and research sessions. Blur out the other faces if you don’t specifically have permission, but at the very least you should have evidence of your process.
Take notes every week about what happened while you were working on this project. Were there any breakthroughs? Did you have to go back and redesign a feature after user testing? What were the research methods used, and what did you discover? Keep notes of everything, so whenever it’s time to use them in your case study, you will have a lot of material gathered up.
6. Present Your Work as Case Studies
If you’re looking for a role in UX, a lot of work happens before the final UI is presented, and it’s this process that a hiring team will be looking for. You need to show every step of your process. For this reason, a lot of the top UX designers show their work as case studies.
“There is an awful lot of the King before you get to the Speech” – Mark Kermode talking about the King’s Speech
Take the reader through your process. Start by addressing the problems you had to solve, show the screenshots of the previous version if it’s relevant, and go from there. Show how you tackled the project, and refer to the problems you encountered. Why did you make a particular design decision? Why did you use a particular component or UI element? What impact did it have?
Designers who are hiring will need to know that you can solve problems that you encounter. Without being overly negative, it’s OK to share if something failed – it shows that you aren’t perfect but that you learn from your mistakes.
7. Use Mixed Media
A portfolio doesn’t have to be all sketches, or all wireframes, or even all UI. Keep the content fresh by adding different kinds of assets – including animated gifs, videos, photographs, or screenshots of the app on the app store.
Mix up your case study with different visual representations of your project during the different stages of the process to help the reader visualise your contribution to the outcome.
8 – Don’t Waste Time On Unnecessary Things
What I mean by this one is that if you’re not a web developer, don’t struggle to create a front end that’s only half good. You will need to spend your time on the top priority, which is your design portfolio content.
If you’re not a web developer, you can download a free template (or just pay the €20 for a decent premium one) and get on with your life. There is no special prizes for putting your energy into someone that no one will look at. Use Squarespace or WordPress or whatever you want – but stick to the priority of making your design work shine.
Don’t get disheartened that your portfolio isn’t included in the most inspirational websites of all time – it’s the work that people will be looking for. If you have the time and the skills to make a groundbreaking portfolio then great – but it’s not essential. Focus on the essential part – getting your work to look amazing.
9. Show Your Passion
It might be that you’re a designer with a passion for creating animations and prototypes. You might prefer to design icons in a project, or really love the research part. If you’re passionate about a particular part of the design process, emphasise this in the content of your portfolio.
However, you can take this a step further. If you enjoy illustration, use that in the overall design and presentation of your portfolio. If you love making videos – why not have an introduction video about some of your work? Try to think of ways that might make your personality and creativity shine through.
Another area that you could consider using to show your passion might be if you love coding transitions or animations – make your portfolio interactive in some way. These are all extra tools at your disposal that you can use to make your work stand out from the competition.
10. Keep It Up To Date
In the past I’ve been guilty of letting my portfolio go stale with out of date work and old projects. It’s good practice to update your portfolio every couple of months, so when the perfect opportunity comes up you’ll be ready to show them all of your amazing work.
Schedule time every couple of months to add in anything new that you have worked on. You never know when your dream job is going to pop up.
Those are my tips on how you can build an amazing portfolio – I hope you found them useful. As always, I’m available over on twitter if you want to get in touch.
I would also love to hear from you. Do you have any other tips for designers out there on how they can improve their portfolio? Are you working on a portfolio at the minute? Let me know!