What Do Companies Look for in a UI/UX Portfolio?
These Experts Share The Biggest Mistakes They've Seen
So you need to build your first UI/UX portfolio (or revamp the one you made the last time you were job hunting). Where do you start?
Depending on your level of experience, you may have more or less work to pull from. But regardless of how much work you've done, you can build a standout portfolio with just a handful of standout examples (more on that, later).
Your portfolio is the gateway to interviews, job offers, and ultimately, your dream design gig.
1) Evidence of process. "Artifacts like drawings, photos of whiteboards, early wireframes, photos of affinity map post-it notes, that kind of thing. I want to see that the designer in question understands the typical range of UX tools and practices, and that they understand when and how to apply a particular methodology. It's always great to understand if the design is successful, and how that success was measured (if it was measured)."
2) The ability to communicate well. "Design is 90% communication, so it's important that a designer be able to describe the work in their portfolio, and the process that produced that work."
3) The ability to manage stakeholder expectations. "I want to understand how the designer works with stakeholders and how they've worked--personally--to resolve conflict. Much of design practice is about uncovering competing expectations and assumptions, so every designer with a bit of experience has faced conflict. I want to know how they've constructively approached this."
Now that you know what you should include, let's take a look at the mistakes folks make most often, and how you can avoid them.
4 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your UI/UX Portfolio
1) Not articulating how your work impacted the end user experience.
Director of User Experience Design at Solstice, Jess Hiltrop explains, "Some of the biggest mistakes in UI/UX portfolios do not always lie in the actual work itself, but in the way an interviewee speaks to the work. I often see designers talking about the work as an object or thing and stating why they placed an element in a certain location, and not the way in which they improved a user's experience by designing something a certain way. It's important to hear that a designer has wrapped their minds around the root of the problem, and then through thoughtful UI, elevated the end user experience."
2) Only showing final screens.
This is closely related to tip #1. Ultimately, hiring managers want to know about your process. And not providing the appropriate context for your work can demonstrate a lack of understanding of the problem your work helped solve.
A lot of designers tend to display their beautiful work through screenshots, which is great, but one of the biggest things I notice is that sometimes designers display their work with no context accompanying the work.
Did you understand the business problem you were trying to solve for? How did your solution solve for that problem? Where there any key results that helped measure the success of your designs?
Screenshots are great, but clearly stating that you understood the business problem your designs were addressing goes a long way in my book.
Still not convinced? CarGurus' Anne Hjortshoj shares a similar opinion:
I'm not a fan of designer portfolios that only show final screens.
What was your process to get to this outcome? Who did you work with, and what was your role? Was there research? Was there testing? Did you create these screens, or did someone else?
I want to see more than one project, ideally, even if it's a combination of professional work and undergraduate or graduate level work. I can generally get an idea of what a designer is good at/likes to do from triangulating the work they've done.
3) Going for quantity over quality.
When designing your portfolio, you need to look at it as a marketing exercise. The amount of experience you have doesn't matter nearly as much as putting your best work forward.
In the words of Gabe Greenberg, CEO and founder of G2i, "I'm not looking for quantity, I'm just looking for 3 or 4 high quality portfolio pieces."
Dennis (Director of UX at Scout RFP) seconds this message, and encourages applicants to be thoughtful about which samples they prioritize:
Show me your best work up front! Be thoughtful in what the first projects are being displayed in your portfolio. In the same way UI/UX Designers think about their users in whatever product/website they are designing, think about about who YOUR audience is— especially if you are looking for a job, make sure you are displaying your best work up front!
Dennis and Gabe agree that this advice seems straight forward enough, but they both say that it's a mistake they see all the time.
As Dennis explains, "It sounds simple enough, but you'd be surprised how many portfolios I've seen where their best work is buried somewhere else, or maybe their best work isn't up right up front. Think about what projects bests displays your skillset and promote it."
And Gabe offers one bonus tip when you're considering which pieces to promote. "If you have a diversity of portfolio pieces that is a bonus. Show off your brand design skills with a marketing site as well as your UI/UX abilities with a dashboard design."
4) Rambling in your write-ups.
Dennis has one final tip for applicants — explain your process, but be concise!
As he says:
I see a lot of great portfolios that show off an extremely detailed walkthrough of their process, which is always excellent-- I love being able to see that you do have a process. But at the end of the day, a lot of designers' processes are pretty similar. What I look for is if they can be concise in their writing and explanation of their work.
A very common mistake I seen is that write-ups can be overly lengthy, complex, and not to the point. I suggest to work on being concise in explaining you work. Have a friend, another designer, or anyone for that matter walk through your case study to see if your write ups are clear and concise. It goes a long way if you are able to clearly and effectively communicate your ideas in a very focused and concise manner.
Want to see some examples of great UI/UX portfolios now that you know the do's and don'ts? Check out these samples.
And once your portfolio is ready to go, be sure to apply to these open UI/UX Designer Roles!
- Senior User Experience Designer at CarGurus
- User Experience Design Principal at Solstice
- UX UI SaaS Product Designer at Scout RFP
I thought about writing this blog piece like one of those quizzes that used to be on the back pages of Seventeen and Cosmo where each question would offer several answers of varying point levels and you'd pick one answer per question, tally up your points at the end, and match your score to one of several possible results.
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