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Guide to Building a Top UI Design Portfolio
Before We Begin
Professionals who work in the creative industry need portfolios to showcase their skills to attract clients and peers. Once upon a time this was solved by creating stunning printed pieces. However, no matter how you look at it, times have changed and designers are no longer just designers. We’ve got different specialties that cover many different fields within design. It’s important that you identify your strengths before starting to build your own portfolio.
Today we will cover all the bases that lead to the creation of an amazing User Interface Portfolio, so if this happens to be your specialization, keep reading!
Quality and Quantity
Take the creation of your portfolio as any other important project you would work on and start by picking the number of products or projects you would like to showcase. Think of a number that can cover all of what you can do from the point of view of a UI designer, that can be enough to represent you as the perfect candidate for the next big contract and not a lot to turn your portfolio into an overwhelming and never ending trip for your future clients. Edit your selection with a sharp eye, as you will be judged by your worst piece.
Picking up to 9 projects is more than enough to show a variety of pieces, however, if that would be too many for what you would like to show in your portfolio then don’t worry, as 6 is also an acceptable number of projects to offer.
We all know working on a portfolio can feel endless because it’s hard for us as designers to objectively select the best work. However, the sooner you publish your portfolio, the faster your work will be ready for potential clients to see. Set realistic deadlines for every step of the process: from the very beginning, to when you pick your projects, through to its publication.
What About the Target?
This will mainly depend on you: are you a UI designer focusing on gaming? How about a UI designer specialized in designing mobile apps? Maybe you do both plus more! Each of them has a different solution but these tips are applicable to all UI cases.
A little research has never truly hurt anyone and it’s useful to see what kinds of portfolios are out there, what trends you should avoid for your portfolio to not look the same as everyone else’s, and what details are definitely worth exploring to apply to your own presentation. Inspiration is your best friend when you’re starting to build something from scratch.
Awwwards is a good place to look for web-based portfolios and some users at Dribbble offer more on their profiles to a web portfolio than you might think.
Of course, learning from your fellow colleagues on Toptal is always a good idea, there are stunning portfolios out there for you to check out!
The Three Pillars
There are three things that should be kept in mind throughout the process of building a UI portfolio: remember the importance of the visuals, have a solid process and show the result of each project by telling a story. Be as specific as you want yet keep an equilibrium between all three of them.
While it’s important to pay attention to details and UI designers focus mainly on those, it’s vital for your pieces to be “more than just a pretty face.” UI designers mostly work with UX designers to achieve incredible products, or sometimes hybrid designers do both UX and UI at the same time. Therefore it’s key to keep the essence of your designs by having some storytelling on every single page and by dodging the commonly known “Dribbblisation of Design” which will differentiate you from regular designers.
Layouts & Styles
The recommended size for portfolios nowadays are:
- A4 Horizontal, the width will benefit the amount of content you can show
- Sizes that are always larger in width and no smaller than 1280x800px
Note: Most devices nowadays allow retina images which will make your images look sharper and better. Remember to upload them twice their original size with @2x.
When thinking of the kind of layout you should design for each product, keep in mind that most of your projects will be different and will have a particular style that makes them unique: this will help you with the previously mentioned storytelling. Start from beginning to end, or backward; the possibilities are endless as long as you keep coherence on every single page.
Think of the most eye-catching cover page for each project. Whether it’s the logo of the product with a color background, a mobile product displayed in a beautiful mockup, or the interface of a video game close up, all of them can work as long as you keep the visual noise to a minimum. Clients have only a few minutes per page to spare on your portfolio so it’s important to show and tell as much as possible in a clean and organized way.
Don’t be afraid to put two or three dispositive together for a cover page as it will show how adaptable and dynamic your product is and will also tell the client beforehand how much content they can expect from a project.
We live and breathe visuals so we can’t afford to have pixelated rounded corners on a mockup, different screen sizes or slightly different alignments for the same product.
Keep in mind:
The alignment of your mockups or screens should be the same as not to generate a slight jump between one page and another. Make sure to check alignments on Y and X.
Work with vector images. If you’re using Sketch, it’s quite handy to have mockups that can be scalable and will never look pixilated; use the “scale” option instead of manually scaling your mockup, as it will lose its shape. If you happen to be using Photoshop, on the other hand, scale your mockup and use Command + Z (or Control + Z on a PC) to go back and scale again, as every time you scale your image it will get more and more pixelated.
Check for details once you’re done with the general alignment of your objects by working with zoom. This will help you discard any lines or shapes that are slightly out of place.
If you’re using mockups for mobile or tablets, there are two ways to go regarding the top bar: if you wish to keep it, make sure the battery is on a 100% charge and that the carrier shows a real company, for example, AT&T, T-Mobile, Virgin, among others, because it will give a realistic touch to your product. If you wish to take the top bar away, mobile products usually look better in a rounded container with 2px of radius, without a mockup.
The background should always highlight the product you’re trying to show and not turn the client’s view away from it. There are two ways to go about this: 1. either use a plain color background that can make a friendly contrast with your product (keep in mind the mock up’s color and the color scheme of your design altogether) or 2. use a pattern or picture as background but get creative with its opacity and/or add a color layer on top with some transparency. Once again, the options are endless as long as the background is always secondary.
For web pages or landing pages, you can go ahead and divide them into three pages to allow for a smooth tour through each portion. Making it small and placing them into a single page would make the client miss key points and details that will differentiate your product from others.
It doesn’t matter whether you do UX, UI or a complete different specialization within design: it’s always important to show that your work had a process and that it didn’t just magically appear. Don’t be shy to include rough sketches, the good old technique of paper and pencil, collage or even photography that could have helped you in the thought process of building outstanding UI for your product.
Depending how you want to go to your portfolio, there are different ways and techniques to show these sketches:
The simplest method is to scan your sketches and make good use of Photoshop to handle levels, contrast, and brightness before using them in the correct size (not too big nor too small). Depending what you want to show with these sketches, they can all be on the same page spread everywhere or more organized, selecting just a few of the most polished ones.
If you got inspired by particular objects, taking photographs from above at a 90° angle would show the object in a real size and it’s a trend that’s been quite useful as of lately (be careful of any shadows over your object!). If your object isn’t as flattering at that angle, however, using non-conventional angles like diagonals could help give the photograph more movement.
Other tips regarding photography: 1. make sure the photograph is not blurry and that there aren’t other items creating noise or disturbing the general picture, and 2. consider properly cutting those objects and placing them over solid color backgrounds or alternatively create a scenario that serves as context. For both cases, do check contrasts, brightness, and levels as we don’t want it to be too bright or too dark.
Collages, paintings or experimentation over a paper with different items like brushes, pens or watercolor pencils can also be scanned or photographed. It mostly depends on what is important to show for each project, and what experiences are important for our client to have when they’re taking a look at those pages.
This is your work process and the way you show it will depend on what kind of projects you’ve worked on. If your main focus is iconography, showing rough sketches and a step-by-step process through to the final form are recommended. If you’re focusing on mobile products instead, screens that are connected to one another to show a feature can also tell a story, and initial sketches of the interface itself are always helpful as well.
Consistency and coherence are important to tell a story no matter how you want to show it. And even though each product will have its own unique style there is a rhythm that will guide your client’s eyes through each page.
To summarize everything, remember to:
- Keep in mind your target which will probably depend on your specialization as a UI Designer.
- Pick reasonable numbers of pages for your portfolio that can showcase the kind of professional you are.
- Do some benchmark; research has never hurt anyone.
- Set realistic deadlines, and treat your portfolio building as another project.
- Whatever you do, don’t forget about visuals, including written details and your work process. If there’s something a UI Designer can stand out in, it is by being quite meticulous with details.
- You live and breathe visuals but storytelling is just as important to differentiate you from regular designers who fall into the “Dribbblisation of Design” category.
- Be coherent and consistent with your style through every part of your portfolio.
Last but not least: have fun! Your portfolio, whether UI, UX or any other kind, should show not only how capable you are as a professional but also part of your personality and that you have a unique voice and style to offer.