5 simple steps towards a UX portfolio

Here are some ideas about what I’ve learned about making a UX portfolio so far.

1. Know yourself
Every successful pitch starts with good self-knowledge. What is it that you want to achieve by making your portfolio, what should be the idea that you want to install in the mind of the viewer? Why are you applying for this particular job at this particular company? Do you know the direction in which you would like to develop? What makes you so much better than all the other candidates? Those questions should be answered in your portfolio. A portfolio is not meant to be a perfect reflection of your past career, it’s a sales tool that you use to steer your future. Therefore it’s perfectly fine to put a spotlight on those projects that you are proud off, and to show off your skills in the areas you’d like to develop yourself in.

2. Know your audience
It’s hard to decide what you should do if you don’t know your audience. Every hiring manager and every job is slightly different and this should be reflected in your portfolio. Try to gain as much information as possible about the (kind of) person and the company you are addressing. Are you being hired as the only person or will you be part of a large design department? Will the hiring person view your portfolio on the road on her iPhone or look at it at her 30” iMac? Or is she more likely to print it at the very last minute so she can look at it whilst walking to the interview room? The answers to these questions will define the kind of information, the amount of pages and the size of pages (A4, A3, 1980*1200, etc) that will best fit your audience.

3. Tell a story
Make sure you take the lead. Based on your goal (get the job) and your audience (the hiring manager) you can create a visual narrative supported by text. Roughly your portfolio could be structured like this:

  1. Top-level view. Show that you understand UX design: show user research, idea generation, idea implementation and testing.
  2. Zoom-in. Build up trust by demonstrating that you are an experienced professional: show the different design phases of several projects, make sure you mention the goal of the project, your role and the outcome.
  3. Team-player. Gain some browny points by demonstrating your obsession with UX: were you involved in organising an event? Did you write an interesting blog post? Or did you give a presentation? This is your chance to show it.

Through text and visuals you can make clear that they simply have no other option than to invite you for an interview.

4. Sweat the details
Think once more about your goal and your audience and make sure they align. Crop your images so only the essential is shown. Remove words until only the necessary are left. Tune your case studies. Maybe you can use a quote from a happy client. Perhaps you can illustrate your statement about card-sorting and workshops with some photos. Have a look at some great portfolios out there and try to find their nifty little details; speech-bubbles, consistent heading or using an interesting font. And finally put your contact details on the first and the last page.

5. Test and iterate
Print your portfolio, show it to a friend, show it to a mentor, look at it on your mum’s old laptop. Does it stand all these tests? Read through your text, ask a friend to read through the text, make sure there are no spelling errors, no page errors and no wrong images.

6. Learn from others
Here’s a collection of discussions, blogposts and portfolios from around the web. It’s always good to know what the competition is doing.

How to make a good portfolio:

Examples of UX portfolios:

6 things I learned whilst looking for a job

In late 2010 I set out to find a new UX job in London. I’d like to share with you some of the things I encountered on my quest for a workplace.

1. Know yourself.

The first thing I learned was that, although the job title might be the same, User Experience Designer can mean many things depending on the environment you are looking at. A start-up might expect you to be knowledgeable in user testing whilst also capable of doing some front-end coding. An agency might expect that you’ve have created and presented pitches, whilst client-side might expect you to design email campaigns as part of your job.

Because all of these different expectations it is important to know what you want, what you can do and where you might find the most realistic fit for those two. In my case I found that what I want, –growth in my knowledge and skills in designing advanced web-applications– was quite hard to achieve with my mix of skills (best to be described as senior web-designer). This showed itself by the variety of salaries that companies were willing to pay me for roughly the same job title. Best advice would be to contact a more senior practitioner, who knows about your work, and gain a good understanding about your strengths and interests.

More to read:
How to get a job at a webdesign agency.

2. Have a portfolio

You might have a well written CV, hundreds of connections on LinkedIn and Twitter, and a well maintained blog, but without a good portfolio you’re unlikely to land an interview. I would advise to have three versions available: one pdf version that you can send out to recruiters, an online version that you can link to, and a set of printouts that you can take with you to an interview. You’d be surprised to find out how many times it’s quite a challenge to get online during a job interview.

As for what should be in your portfolio, have a look at Jason Mesut’s rant over at London IA.  As you can see from my portfolio there is still room for progress. It’s not completely clear which story I want to tell: am I a visual designer with some IxD experience, or a beginning IA with some visual design experience, also the items seem to be in a random order. The positive feedback that I received was mainly on my sketches and more conceptual work; which probably proves the point that the process is more insightful to look at than the end product.

More to read:
To portfolio or not to portfolio that is the question

3. Recruiters

As soon as you’ve uploaded your CV on Monsterboard you will get plenty of phone calls from hungry recruiters, all of them will promise you that you are exactly the right match for their inspiring position. Therefore make sure you’ve done your ‘know thyself homework’ and are able to quickly judge if the proposed job is matching your criteria. From my experience, there are some recruiters who are really good, who are interested in you and are willing to invest time to follow up on conversations. Here are some agencies that took the decency (or precaution) to ask me to come over for a talk: ZebraPeople, Futureheads, Propel London, Ecom recruitment and Vanburn at ITHR. Don’t forget, however, that many companies don’t (or even refuse) to work with recruiters, so it’s worth doing some active searching yourself.

4. Automate your search

No need to keep on visiting websites to hope for an update; modern technologies come with plenty of options to stay in the loop without working too hard. The following services allow you to sign up for an email update on your search query: the Guardian, Monster, the Ladders. And these services you can follow by RSS: uxwork, UK UPA jobs, London IA jobs, etc. What also might be an idea is to search Twitter for UX jobs and to choose the ‘show tweets nearby’ tab.

5. Linked In

LinkedIn was for me the site where I kept coming back to. It has the ability to do background checks on the companies and the people who are interviewing you. Also more and more companies are actively using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool.

6. Quality over quantity

At the moment there is a strong demand for UX designers in London, therefore if you aren’t too sure about a company don’t worry too much about turning down a job offer. In the end it’s better to only go to job interview with companies you are interested in, better one well-researched and prepared interview then ten careless conversations.

more to read:
Improve your changes of a job in UX
Grow your UX skill set
Things you need to know to get an IA/UX job
Getting hired

Please let me know in the comments how you’ve experienced finding work and which knowledge you’ve found essential. And if you have some free time, maybe now is the right moment to brush up your skills.

Where marketing and experience design meet

Would you thread an ordinary notebook like this
Would you thread an ordinary notebook like this

Are those who use a Moleskin more successful, richer and more creative? Maybe a weird question. Logic tells you “of course not!”, writing in an expensive notebook should not differ from writing in one that you bought for a pound. But think with me for a moment, to be able to buy a Moleskin you need to be mentally and financially capable, so it’s quite likely that you are successful enough to allow such expenses and mentally ready to be seduced by style (or quality as they say)

Another question, are the owners of an Austin Martin more successful, richer and more powerful than those who drive to work in a Vauxhall? I bet you’d agree with me on all the three questions. Allow me to take you to another question: what came first, the Moleskin or the success? Maybe you need some success to buy your first Moleskin, but what about the second, and the third. Would you rip pages out it (like you do with that one you got for free), would you write down your shopping list, would you loose it somewhere on the way?  Or would you follow the lead that the Moleskin sets and focus more on quality and tread your ideas and behaviour with more respect?

Experience design is designing in such way that it influences behaviour, thoughts and believes.

Where have we heard those words before? In the very fine art of marketing. In the field of web-applications design we should follow the path set up by many designers before us and make products that are not only useful, (or usable) but are also a pleasure to use. From the first click on the link to your site to the very last check-box on the last tab, it’s not only the usability, the amount of features,  the personalisation options or the amount of free web-space that counts, but the quality of the experience

And it’s the quality of the experience that adds the most value to your proposition and your business. Does Coca-Cola work better against hydration than tab-water, is a Jaguar more useful to bring you from A to B than a Vauxhall, does a Suit from Savile Row keep your warmer than a trainings-suit from Primark? Of-course not, in the first world people pay a premium for a better experience. And who can blame them, for don’t you deserve the best experience?

What is Ux Design

I stumbled upon some slide decks the other day, some arguing quit strongly against calling the artist formally known as interaction designer Tafkid a user experience designer.

Although i do agree with the key ingredients of these presentations, I also think one should avoid wasting ones time on defining meaning of words or meanings of professions. By the time that you successfully defined them, something new will have coma along that is exactly the same but 5% extra, and you can start defining again. Although it is interesting, I feel I have better things to do. If you feel you have some time left, please start working on defining art and artist, the difference between a blogger and a journalist and what web2.0 really means. I’m happy with that it is impossible, but I do believe that it is certainly possible to call a number of concepts that it is related too. That will be sufficient for me. If the world calls my profession UXD designer (or UX designer, or UE designer) than that is what I will work with.

Frank Spiller of the very interesting blog Demystifying Usability made a great illustration to cover this problem (source)

So User Experience Design (formally also know as Usability) deals with all these subjects, and many more, sometimes it will be the right name, sometimes it wont.

To quote good ol’ Shakespeare

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.