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Marketing Portfolio

Essential Tips for UX Designer Portfolios

In our increasingly digital world, user experience, or UX, designers are some of the most sought-after creative talent out there. They are the people who develop the functionality of a company’s digital assets, designing the ‘user experience’ from both a technical and visual perspective. They come from diverse educational backgrounds, including graphic design, psychology, sociology, and even library science. They are creative and organized minds who research, analyze, and problem-solve in order to make user-friendly apps, responsive websites, intranets, widgets, and much more. And just like other creatives, UX designer portfolios are critical to show potential employers.

Elizabeth Calabrese-Mahnken is a Senior Recruiter for Creative Circle, one of the largest creative recruitment agencies in the country. She has first-hand experience reviewing portfolios, and has also spent time as a graphic designer working in the digital space. Recruiting candidates for employers and top companies, Calabrese-Mahnken shares her essential UX designer portfolio tips that will help you stand out.

UX Designers Must Have a Website

Because of the visual nature of this work, UX designer portfolios should be digital displays. Rather than just links to projects and products that you worked on, yur portfolio should live as an organized entity on a personal website. If you don’t have one already, go  to SquareSpace, GoDaddy, or any one of the many other website builders, snag a website, and get ready to build.

ux portfolio
Having a website is as important as a UX Designer portfolio. 

“Ideally, someone is working in the digital space in UX. Obviously, the client seeking creative recruitment wants to see that the candidate has their own website with a really strong user experience. So that’s the goal,” Calabrese-Mahnken explains.

Document and Verbalize Your Process

Much of a UX Designer’s work revolves around research and problem-solving, so include illuminations of that process. In the end, your portfolio should be a combination of language and images.

“Think about a case study. It’s almost a mix of a really strong narrative and storytelling as well as identifying key visuals. That is what these portfolios entail,” Calabrese-Mahnken says. “There’s a story of sure. There’s a journey you’re following from beginning to end in a content fashion, so your writing really has to be on point. You’re really walking a person through the process. If you think about it, in a user experience role, documentation is everything. Documenting that process is key.”

Calabrese-Mahnken also says that UX Designers should be used to documenting that journey because it’s a part of the job. Preserve those work notes to include in your UX Designer portfolio, which should be regularly updated. “You’ve been documenting your whole process as you work on a project – for developers, user interface designers, quality assurance testers. So that information and documentation should be very easy to capture,” she says.

“The problem comes in when UX Designers don’t display it. With documentation comes the key visuals, like site maps, user flows, user journeys, wireframes, and prototypes. A lot of times UX Designer portfolios will also showcase interactive prototypes, which is important. That’s essentially a walk-through of how that app will work and function. Most of our UX designers are utilizing InVision, which is an online app that allows you to showcase these critical assets.”

Finally, be careful to review what you’ve written so that none of the story of your project, process and solution is clear and compelling. “If your UX Designer portfolio is not including process from beginning to end for a particular project, then you are missing key pieces of information that a recruiter and employer are seeking to assess.”

Providing UX Designer Portfolios When You’ve Signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement

Often an employer or client will have a UX Designer sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which prevents the designer from releasing particular elements of their design to outsiders of the client or company they work for. In order to honor that non-disclosure, while still being able to include that project in a UX Designer portfolio, Calabrese-Mahnken recommends two options. “What a lot of candidates do is password protect sections of their website, so NDA-affected portions are not visible to the general public. You can also provide a PDF of those projects that you’re not able to show on a website in a public forum. If a strict NDA prevents you from even doing this, in your interview, verbally discuss the challenge you addressed and how you solved that problem, if can’t show key visuals.”

UX designer portfolio
Recruiters are looking for UX Designer portfolios that show your entire creative and problem solving process.

Curate Your UX Designer Portfolio for Quality and Diversity

There’s no set measure for how many projects to include in your UX Designer portfolio. More important than the number of projects included is the quality of the work. You want to represent the best work that you have for potential employers. “It’s much better to have three pieces that you are proud of and feel that you can communicate very strongly on, than having ten pieces where four of them, you don’t feel are a true representation of who you are as a UX professional,” Calabrese-Mahnken recommends.

You also want to be able to advertise your skills across different types of user experience projects. Being versed in more than one product is desirable. “If you are a UX person and maybe you worked on the checkout section for one web site within e-commerce, and you’ve also worked on a tool that will live on a desktop,” Calabrese-Mahnken comments, ”then you can showcase the way that you worked between those two mediums.”

Stay Current

ux designer portfolio
Don’t include an outdated project in your UX Designer portfolio unless it’s a major professional milestone.

User experience designers are under constant pressure to keep up with technology as it changes if they want to get noticed by creative recruitment executives. Mobile devices, tablets, computers, smart TVs, etc., are ever-evolving and at rapid rates. This constant improvement and development continuously presents new challenges in the UX realm. Employers want to see that a UX candidate is knowledgeable about the user experience that can be expected with the most current technology. So if you worked on an app five years ago, and that app now looks and behaves much differently, which it most likely will, then it can be a detriment to include.

Calabrese-Mahnken makes an exception, with reservations, for triumphs in your professional life. She says, “If you were working on a huge Google app or a big bank app, where this is something that millions and millions of users have used, and it was a career win for you then it’s OK to showcase that. But be cognizant of the fact that if you’re showing it on an iPhone 4, then that might be a red flag that you are a little outdated to that employer.”

There is great demand for talented user experience designers, and both long-term freelance and permanent positions are often available. Calabrese-Mahnken sums it up: ”A client is lucky to have a UX designer doing amazing work who’s a great team player and wants to keep working. UX designers are in high demand and are compensated well.” With an impressive UX Designer portfolio that shows your creative, technical and problem solving skills, you will be a top candidate in the recruiting or hiring process.

About the author

Kelso Jacks

Kelso Jacks was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and happily continues to live there. She enjoys walking her dogs, outsider and street art, and bourbon.

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  • How would you go about including your documentation work, if it was done at a private company? The information is considered confidential and legal doesn’t return phone calls? I kind of disagree with only having three quality pieces vs. ten in a UI/UX portfolio. Most of the recruiters I talk to say they want to see 10-12 examples of past work. I get what you are saying about quality vs. quantity though.

    • Hi Valerie, I might suggest asking up front and at the outset of a new contract whether it’s ok for you to share documentation work. It might be considered confidential on paper, but perhaps the client won’t mind you sharing your work in practice. How many images do you typically include in your portfolio?

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