So you’ve heard about UX research, but you’re not sure how to build your own research-focused portfolio? Whether you’re new to the field of UX research, or experienced and looking to make your portfolio more specialized, we’ve got you covered!
This guide will cover what a UX researcher does, and how a UX research portfolio is different from a UX design portfolio. We’ll also give you a step-by-step guide (with examples!) to follow as you build your own portfolio.
- What is a UX researcher and what do they do?
- What goes into a UX research portfolio?
- What’s the difference between a UX design portfolio and a UX research portfolio?
- Five steps to creating your UX research portfolio
- Five of our favorite UX research portfolios
1. What is a UX researcher and what do they do?
While UX research falls under the umbrella of UX design, there is an increasing demand for UX professionals with a specialized focus in key areas of the design process—and research is one of these rising stars.
A UX researcher conducts qualitative and quantitative research to inform the design process and keep the user at the center of every design decision.
In broad strokes, a UX researcher is the person on the product team whose job lives closest to the end user. From user interviews and usability tests to data analytics and deliverables (customer journey maps, for instance), a UX researcher is the most active and vocal advocate for the user’s needs. As such, the work of a UX researcher has arguably the most humanizing influence on the design work that goes into a product.
If you look at what a UX researcher actually does, it’s easy to see that they exercise a skillset that reaches from research strategy and data analysis, to understanding human behavior and effectively carrying on conversations with users and stakeholders alike. That’s an incredibly broad skillset for a portfolio to effectively highlight.
2. What goes into a UX research portfolio?
Because UX research is a subset of the broader field of UX, a research-focused portfolio should adopt the general formatting, structure, and content that hiring managers are accustomed to seeing. Your portfolio should include:
- Information about you, your process, and your work experience. A short bio section will usually do the trick.
- Ways to contact and connect with you. Make it easy for potential employers to find you on social media like LinkedIn and Twitter (naturally, it’s best if these accounts are kept up to date and carefully curated).
- Demonstrations of your work. This typically takes the form of powerful case studies and supplemental artifacts showing the work you’ve done. Limit yourself to no more than 3-5 of your best projects that highlight as many of the core skills you see featured in your top UX research job postings.
- Testimonials or references. Show that you’re proud of the work you’ve done and that former clients and colleagues are happy to voice their appreciation of your UX research.
Most, if not all, of these components are included in the portfolios you’ll find in collections like UX Collective’s 50 Essential UX Portfolios.
3. What’s the difference between a UX design portfolio and a UX research portfolio?
Many of the UX portfolios you’ll find online are design-focused, featuring work that is quite visual in nature—prototypes, wireframes, and fully operational websites and apps. Since these are not the direct focus of UX research, the difference will be in the work and skills you showcase.
Gather artifacts related to the conversations you’ve had with users, responses to the surveys you’ve written, and outcomes of the tests you’ve conducted—and get ready to highlight the context, process, and impact of your work. A UX research portfolio is naturally less visual in nature than its UX design counterparts, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be every bit as engaging!
4. Five steps to creating your UX research portfolio
Step 1: Do your research.
The first step in the process is to do what a UX researcher does best: research. Scour job boards for positions that you find intriguing—not only with the job title you’re looking for, but with the kinds of companies you’re truly interested in. Then dig a little—look up the companies and hiring managers, and see what you can learn. Here are some questions to guide your observations:
- What skills and qualities are explicitly stated?
- Which ones are implicit (read between the lines)?
- What are the companies’ values?
- What are the hiring managers’ values and priorities?
- What soft skills or other qualities are they looking for in a colleague?
Now, take what you’ve learned and make a list of the skills, values, and qualities they’re looking for. Then, whether you check off, underline, or cross them out—whatever system comes naturally to you—mark which of these items you feel most confident about, which ones you’re excited to learn or get better at, and which ones you don’t feel confident in or that you really don’t care to learn.
The important thing to accomplish in this step is to understand who your target reader is and where you stand in relation to what they’re looking for.
Note: Save yourself some time later (in Step 3) and pay attention to how these potential employers ask for portfolios/work samples to be submitted.
Step 2: Select the work to feature in your case studies.
Review the research-related work you’ve done. Pick out the best work samples and artifacts (customer journey maps, usability tests, participant screeners, etc.). Here are questions to guide your determination of which ones are the “best”:
- What have been my favorite projects?
- Which ones best demonstrate my approach to design problems?
- Which ones showcase my research process?
- Where have I made mistakes or had to adjust my process?
Shortlist these projects and artifacts (it’s okay if it’s a longer list at this point), then come back to your list from Step 1. Take one project or artifact at a time and compare them to your list.
Your goal: Find the three projects that best exemplify the skills and qualities you’re confident in and/or excited about learning. Ideally, these will be projects that can be built into a full, narrative case study, with related artifacts included along the way.
Step 3: Decide where your portfolio will live.
You understand the skills and qualities you want to highlight, and you know which of your projects you want to feature in your portfolio. Fantastic! Now, you need to decide what format your UX portfolio should be in.
Will you host your portfolio on WordPress or Squarespace? Set it up in Keynote (or a similar application) and convert it to PDF? Will you code a website yourself? Whatever you decide, you want to look before you leap. Consider:
- How do most of your potential employers request that work samples be submitted?
- What are your actual skills in coding and design? No need to start a crash course in coding or pretend to be a designer if that’s not your strong suit.
- What platforms and programs are you already familiar with?
- What method will best adapt itself to the projects you want to feature?
- Do you anticipate changing your portfolio regularly to adapt to the requirements of individual employers/job postings? If so, PDF format might work best for you.
Step 4: Tell engaging stories.
Once you’ve decided where you’ll build your portfolio, it’s time to get down to it. Your portfolio is really just a collection of stories. These fall under two broad categories:
- Your bio: Who you are as a person and as a UX researcher
- Case studies: Specific work you’ve done, with a focus on context, process, outcome, and impact
Let’s have a closer look at each of these.
This typically goes on the first page or is easily accessible from there. As a general rule, keep this portion under 150 words and cover who you are, what you specialize in, and what your overall approach and processes are. No need to go overboard, but don’t shy away from showing your personality here. Hiring managers are looking for the right skillset, to be sure, but they are also looking for the person who will be the best fit for the team.
Don’t forget that a complete bio includes a way for potential employers to contact and connect with you (don’t forget social media), and any references or testimonials you’ve collected over time (specifically relevant to your work as a UX researcher, if possible).
First: What is a case study? Think of each case study as an individual storybook in a series that will give your reader a well-rounded look at your work. A case study tells a concise story with a beginning, middle, and end, and it give illustrations where possible (but only where they’re needed).
You know the full range of your skills and experience; your case studies are where you show potential employers that you know how to conduct UX research like a pro.
Take these one project at a time. Look at the project and consider:
- The design problem or question that created the need for UX research in the first place
- Your approach to that problem or question
- The process you followed to define your objectives, conduct studies, create deliverables, etc.
- The artifacts you produced along the way
- What impact your work had on the project—be as specific as possible
- What learnings you gathered on the way
Build these points out into a concise but engaging narrative. Don’t underestimate the importance of giving your reader context, revealing your process, and showing the direct results and impact of your work!
The goal with each case study is it to present a good—but brief—story that highlights what skills you possess, what you learned, and what you accomplished.
Step 5: Test your portfolio.
You’ve got your bio and case studies written. You’ve made it easy for potential employers to connect with you and to see what others have said about your work. Well done!
But you’re not ready to send your portfolio out into the world just yet. Once again, it’s time to do your research. See how your product (portfolio) does with members of your target readership.
If you know people in the field, see if any of these colleagues are willing to look over it. Offer free pizza to friends who can exercise a critical eye in exchange. There are many experienced professionals—such as David Travis, Sarah Doody, and Ran Segall—who share portfolio reviews. These can be incredibly helpful as they give an unbiased glimpse into the approaches and perceptions of hiring managers.
Test it. Improve on it. Update it. Your portfolio isn’t a one-and-done project! It should evolve just as you and your work evolve over time.
5. Five of our favorite UX research portfolios
Finally, here are five excellent example portfolios for you to peruse.
- Jules Lee has a great bio page, and we like that she’s got two research-focused case studies, along with a “side salad” of other UX work. Original and effective.
- Jason Lipshin’s portfolio is a great example of one created in PDF or “slides” format and still easily accessible online.
- In her “New cancer patient orientation guide” case study, Katie McCurdy achieves an engaging narrative and includes visual elements that are directly relevant to her work.
- We especially like the concision and visual elements in Carl Pearson’s “Videogame HUD Redesign” case study.
- Emily Alter’s portfolio is structured simply, and presents case studies that are concise and provide just enough relevant visual elements to break up the text and keep the reader’s eye engaged.
Have a look at these and note what you like, what you think will work well for your projects and skills, and what will most appeal to your ideal employers.
If you’d like to learn more about UX research and UX portfolios, check out these articles: