When you’re on the hunt for your next UX role, your portfolio can make or break your chances of scoring an interview. We know how important it is to craft a UX portfolio that tells the story of your most important projects and how you work.
That’s why we recently hosted veteran UX consultant, author and speaker Joe Natoli in our Ask the UXperts Slack channel. Joe has been preaching and practicing the gospels of User and Customer Experience to Fortune 100, 500 and Government organisations for nearly three decades. He recently launched an online training course, Build a Powerful UX Portfolio (That gets You Hired), which has just opened for winter enrolments.
Joe’s session last month was full of pearls of portfolio wisdom. “Although we are all fiercely dedicated to delivering great UX in our daily work,” he says, “we often fail to apply the same discipline, rigour or effort to our personal websites or portfolios.”
We’ve gone through and hand-picked the best advice in response to questions from the UX Mastery community.
Thanks as always to the UX Mastery community who jumped into our Slack session with a wealth of thoughtful questions.
1. What makes a portfolio stand out to you?
They tell me what I need to know from the very first screen — I get a sense of the kind of work they’ve done, who they did it for, and whether or not it was successful. No intros!
2. Are there any portfolio templates that you recommend?
The problem with templates is that they all do this art gallery presentation. And that doesn’t tell a recruiter how you THINK, what problems you solved or how well.
Sites like Dribbble, Krop, Behance, etc. are OK — but they really shouldn’t be the ONLY source of your work. Formats are too constrictive and do not lend themselves to focusing on the process and story behind the work — they’re glorified visual galleries.
3. What’s the right level of detail for projects in my portfolio, to spark enough curiosity for employers contact you for an interview?
You need to think about your portfolio as two parts:
First, the “magazine cover” that tells you what’s inside and why you should care about it.
Second, the inside stories themselves — which will only be viewed if what was on that cover was relevant, appropriate and compelling.
4. How can UX researchers build a portfolio?
Researchers can and should build portfolios! You have something to show — your process. Whiteboard work, notes, infographics — find a visual way to tell the story of your research work.
5. So much of our process is centered around failure, learning, and iteration. How do you recommend presenting failure?
Failure is important — particularly lessons learned. No one does this, and it can speak volumes about you. Show potential employers that you cast a critical eye on your work, that you care more about the outcome than being right.
6. How do you suggest crediting co-workers in a portfolio? For example, working with people in analytics, visual/interaction design, product management and so on.
Focus on YOUR role. Don’t worry about naming everyone in your team, but DO mention the other types of roles that you collaborated with. That tells a potential employer you work well with a team, and taking the time to point that out says your focus isn’t on who gets the credit — it’s on doing good work.
7. How small is too small for a case study? Do you think redesigning product cards for an e-commerce company is a big enough project?
It absolutely is, if you can tell the story of why it came to be in the first place. What’s it going to do for users? for your company? That’s the story, the WHY behind why you’re doing this in the first place.
That applies to everything. Talk about what you’re aiming for, the desired outcome — and why that outcome matters so much, and why you think your approach will get you there.
8. What metrics do you use to measure success for case studies in your portfolio?
Outcomes, outcomes and outcomes.
What was the end result, what did it do for users/for the business? And if that’s unknown, what problem were you trying to solve and why did you feel this was the way to do it? As an employer, I want to see how you THINK well before I see the produced work.
9. What are your tips on interviews, when you’re lucky enough to face actual people?
Ask questions. Ask about the organisation, how they work, what challenges they face. Communicate that you care about what they’re dealing with and that you see yourself as someone ready to throw down and help them.
Interviews should never be one-sided interrogations — show that you have a need to know, that you’re curious, that you’re not afraid to ask about anything you don’t know.