Last year, I reviewed more than 1,300 UX design portfolios and interviewed 250 candidates.
While UX is a growing field, competition for jobs can be stiff. Large talent funnels make it challenging to find work, particularly for less-experienced candidates. How can designers make their applications stand out?
Your UX portfolio is an opportunity to shine. It helps hiring managers understand your background, skills, and problem-solving abilities. Yet about 80% of portfolios I review are incomplete. And candidates with gaps in their applications don’t move on to the next round in the hiring process.
Utilize these tips to develop a compelling UX portfolio that better positions you to get hired.
Know Your Audience
Ensure that your portfolio speaks to the priorities and objectives of the people who will review your profile.
A generalist recruiter is most interested in the breadth of your experience and whether or not you’d be a good fit for their company. It’s their job to find strong candidates to send to the hiring manager, and you can catch their attention by highlighting your design experience and accomplishments on your portfolio’s homepage.
Are you an experience strategist? An interaction designer? An information architect? A UX hiring manager (often a UX Lead) wants to know about your hard and soft skills and how you solve problems. In your portfolio’s case studies, focus on your thought processes and design methods to show how you work. During interviews, be prepared to elaborate on all aspects of the portfolio, tailoring your message based on the interviewer’s role.
Results of a survey completed by 200 UX hiring managers underscored that expectations differ based on the candidate’s role and experience level. For example, many hiring managers don’t require a portfolio for UX researchers (although making one may give you an edge). They evaluate junior candidates’ portfolios with an eye toward potential; if you’re a less-experienced designer, it’s critical to highlight your processes. With senior designers’ portfolios, hiring managers are looking for variety in your completed projects. They’re interested in your processes, but also want to see that you are versatile.
Keep It Simple and Scannable
Recruiters and hiring managers should be able to determine if you’re a strong candidate by scanning your portfolio. Cluttered or unnecessary content can be distracting, so only incorporate images—such as research documents, ideation sketches, and wireframes—that clarify your skills and illustrate your work. Likewise, bold headings and concise project descriptions enable recruiters to immediately identify the types of design problems you’ve solved.
Fortunately, you don’t need to build a portfolio website from scratch. With tools such as Semplice and Squarespace, you can publish your portfolio under a domain name and customize various templates by dragging and dropping images and text. Such platforms also ensure well-organized information architecture.
Show Your Process and Impact
I often seek candidates capable of generating ideas and advocating internally about the benefits of user experience. A curious mind that understands human behaviors, thinks like a techie, and knows how to balance business goals and user goals captures my attention. Assessing the outcome of a project alone won’t show me if you possess that mindset, I also need to know how you arrived at solutions.
Designers who highlight the challenges they overcame, lessons they learned, and why they chose their approaches tend to impress hiring managers the most.
Similarly, be specific when describing your impact, especially if your work improved customer reviews, saved money, or increased conversion rates. If you met your client’s objectives or exceeded their goals, say so. Hiring managers are looking for concrete metrics and demonstrated results.
Include Hypothetical Examples, If Needed
If you’re new to UX or changing specialties, create a design challenge that illustrates your skills and problem-solving abilities (while making clear that it’s a hypothetical scenario). Choose a problem and build a solution that enables you to showcase several strengths. As you would for a real project, explain your process, methodologies, and key learnings. Don’t simply focus on the final design.
For example, when UX designer and researcher Sarah Doody was building her experience, she examined real-world problems (like a complicated process for purchasing transit tickets) from a user experience perspective.
If you develop a hypothetical case study, don’t select a problem that’s too easy. Design assignments rarely involve a single challenge. Creating solutions requires a variety of skills, considerations, and iterations. Account for factors like usability, accessibility, and readability in your hypothetical solution. Recruiters and UX Leads don’t like to see unrealistic problems or oversimplified solutions.
Tell a Story With Your Portfolio Case Studies
Great portfolios tell stories about the product life cycle from beginning to end. To get to your final outcome, you fielded a request, prepared a strategy, selected your technique, tested the solution with users, and presented these insights and metrics to stakeholders. Each stage required improvements, and you discovered insights in every round that contributed to your finalized design. Your portfolio should capture the tension and discovery in this process.
Storytelling provides structure and context. Break your case study into four stages: problem, approach, process, and result. This gives your story a clear beginning, middle, and end.
To help design recruiters understand the challenges you faced, introduce your work with a title, your role, and a few sentences summarizing the problem and how it impacted your client and their users. For example, if your client wanted to add a payment system to their mobile application, you might begin the case study like this:
My role: UX Design
Problem: The client aimed to increase engagement with their app among users and merchants by adding a mobile payment option. With the popularity and convenience of mobile payment, the client realized they were missing a huge market opportunity. They wanted to start with a minimum viable product that would provide value to their users. I worked on a team and led UX design for the project.
Next, impress recruiters by detailing the decision-making process that went into creating your plan. With a range of options available, you selected some methodologies and rejected others. This is like the difference between serving someone a prepared meal and inviting them into your kitchen to show them how you cook. Continuing our mobile payment example, here’s how this section might look:
Approach: The team I was on wanted to understand how the app worked and how users interacted with it. We decided to build a few simple prototypes and conduct user interviews so that we could refine our designs based on user feedback. We also familiarized ourselves with our client’s in-person payment process.
This initial exploration helped us determine how the new mobile payment system should fit into the client’s existing ecosystem.
This is where your skills should really stand out. Discuss how you overcame obstacles and what you learned. For example, you could describe insights you gleaned from usability testing or how you adapted when the project’s timeline was shortened. Remember, projects rarely occur in perfect environments. Recruiters need to know how you respond to challenges. In our mobile payment example, this section might include:
Developed low-fidelity prototype: The initial stage in the ideation process was to create rough sketches of screens that our personas would want from this mobile payment system. We compared our sketches with competitors’ payment flows. Then we identified where our app fit into the larger mobile payment ecosystem.
Conducted evaluation: We used a heuristic evaluation to test our initial prototype and gather user feedback. As a result, we identified usability problems to improve the payment feature in the next phase.
Created wireframes: We refined the user-tested sketches into digital wireframes using POP. Then we leveraged Flinto to user test the wireframe prototype. We asked users to complete predefined tasks and observed them as they explored the prototype. That helped us discover new insights for improving the product.
Developed high-fidelity prototype: Finally, we developed the refined wireframes into high-fidelity mock-ups. We incorporated the client branding guidelines to ensure the new functionalities fit into the existing application for visual consistency.
In the summary of results, first share what you delivered to the client. Was it a research keynote summary? A cutting-edge wireframe? A design system? Then, describe how the solution addressed the problem and how it met or exceeded expectations. Note any next steps (if the project is ongoing) or recommendations you made to the client for future improvements to the product. In our mobile payment example, this section might include:
Result: Our team developed a final product that fit seamlessly into the application and allowed users to make mobile purchases similarly to how they paid in physical locations. Through competitor and user research, we made informed decisions when designing and implementing the payment system. Thanks to usability testing and feedback, we found many improvements to make to our initial designs and identified additional features that could be developed in future iterations.
I recommend including three case studies that demonstrate various skills and expertise. Repeat the story structure for each one.
You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but you should demonstrate a natural curiosity across the breadth of your experience. You might include examples from various devices you’ve worked with, such as touch screen, watch, desktop, and mobile. Or, if you developed a fluid design supported across all types of devices, you could highlight how you maintained consistency. Incorporate physical design solutions as well—you don’t need to limit yourself to digital examples. Select a collection of projects that demonstrates your broad skill set and emphasizes your best, most innovative work.
Don’t hesitate to include images that show how your work evolved throughout these steps.
Your Portfolio Connects the Dots
In addition to case studies, don’t forget about other important elements of your portfolio: a compelling home page, prominent contact information, and intuitive navigation. Consult this guide for more UX portfolio tips and best practices, and check out some real examples for inspiration.
Of course, even with an outstanding portfolio, only apply to jobs for which you have relevant experience. As Jared Spool, founding principal of User Interface Engineering, said: “The portfolio has to match the job position. If it doesn’t match the job position, it still can be a good portfolio. It’s just not a good fit.”
Recruiters are on the hunt for designers who meet the job requirements and are willing to learn quickly, think critically, and understand different perspectives. An outstanding UX design portfolio that demonstrates these skills is the ticket to your next job.
Understanding the basics
Recruiters and hiring managers use UX portfolios to evaluate job candidates. Portfolios help them understand your problem-solving approach and how your skills and experience apply to the position.
A UX portfolio should include your contact information and case studies of your design work. Make sure to share your approach and process, not just the final product, and include images to illustrate key concepts and design outcomes.
To build a UX portfolio, assemble three to four case studies using past projects that showcase your skills and ability to solve design challenges. Tell a story with each case study, including the problem, approach, process, and result. Then, publish your portfolio online with tools like Semplice or Squarespace.