Notes on Sharing our Stories: Designing and Reviewing UX Portfolios

(From UIE’s All You Can Learn library, link here, recorded 1/16)

First—save everything! Photos, sketches, versions etc (I am not great at this!)

  • Consider keeping a regularly updated excel sheet that details projects and outcomes

Think of your portfolio as a sales tool to get you an interview—not a job

Additional benefits:

  • It’s a career management tool also—makes you aware of the gaps in your portfolio that need filling
  • It helps you create a narrative about your work and experience
  • It encourages self-reflection and critique

Your portfolio should be more than just an image in isolation. It should tell:

  • Who was the client
  • What was the brief
  • What problem was being solved
  • How did your work solve the problem

Treat creating a portfolio as a design project where you seek to:

  • Understand your goal
    • What job do you want, and with whom?
  • Understand your users
    • Analyze existing job listings (though they tend to be generic)
    • Network—pre-interview if you can through contacts
    • Use LinkedIn to learn about existing corp structure
    • Quiz friends
    • Examine other job descriptions
  • Understand your competitors
  • Understand emerging conventions in portfolio design

Often recruiters and even hiring managers don’t have deep UX knowledge—they’re looking to check boxes on the ad requirements and look for previous similar experiences

Some core skills:

  • Front-end dev
  • Visual design
  • Mobile intergration
  • Project management
  • Information architecture
  • Interaction design
  • Copywriting/content strategy
  • User research

Some “soft” skills:

  • Presenting
  • Facilitating
  • Critiquing
  • Storytelling
  • Sketching
  • Leadership

If your role is UX Lead, hiring managers are looking for:

  • UX methods, independence, team player, work quality

If your role is creative director, they’re looking for:

  • Conceptual thought, problem statement, effectiveness of solution

Clients tend to fall into groups:

  • Corps who favor risk-avoidance and relevant experience on long projects
  • Digital agencies who favor client-facing skills, a broad portfolio and documentation
  • Startups who favor collaboration and speed of delivery

Portfolio review is subject and few co’s have a formal process

  • Managers all lack time and often look at portfolios while multi-tasking
  •  You only have about 30 second on average to catch their eye
  • They are looking first to reject you—they’re trying to winnow applicants quickly

Prep work:

  • Import your resume into LinkedIn (didn’t even know you could do that!)
  • Find your greatest hits—up to ten—that added measurable value
    • If you can’t get data points, use a testimonial as to the quality of the work
  • Omit anything you don’t want to do again
  • Jost down the story associated with each hit (tips above)
  • Find images of photos and deliverables

Just showing final visual design, or UX wires, or both isn’t enough anymore

  • Write stories that describe your best work
    • Brief case studies that explain the story behind the design
    • Description of skills used
    • References or personal info/testimonials
  • Remember the hiring manager is thinking:
    • Can they do the job?
    • Will the excel at it?
    • Do I want them to do the job?


  • Introduction of yourself, tailored for the job
  • Case studies: tips above. Do one detailed story and the others as summaries
    • No mediocre work!
    • Eliminate similar achievements to demo flexibility and breadth
    • Write them carefully and thoughtfully
    • Framework
      • Brief.
      • Your process (w an emphasis on you working with others)
      • Tools & deliverables
      • Results – this is key!
      • (Possibly, what I learned)
      • Images and artifacts cropped to support and enhance, not necessary to show entire images. OK to recreate an missing artifact as long as you don’t rewrite history
  • Client list & testimonials


  • Save your portfolio as a pdf tailored per job
  • Online portfolios tend to be overwhelming and difficult for a new person to navigate
    • It’s hard to curate your own work

About Ian Fenn (from his website): I help teams research, design, and develop practical solutions that meet business and user needs. I have over two decades of problem-solving experience and can tackle everything from simple websites to complex native mobile applications. I adapt my style to suit every client, and work with some of the best companies around.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s