Tutorial 5: Tips For Your First Great UX Portfolio
“Hi there! My name’s Will—I’m a program advisor here at CareerFoundry. It’s my job to help you succeed in the course by keeping you motivated and informed about all the latest updates. After all, the UX design industry is constantly evolving, so we have to make sure we keep up. I hope you enjoy my tutorial on UX portfolios!”
So what are we going to do today?
In the last tutorial, Tobias went through all the hard and soft skills required to become a UX designer. Today, we’re going to look at how you can demonstrate these skills to potential employers via your UX design portfolio.
Every UX designer has a portfolio, no matter how long they’ve been in the industry or how much experience they have. Whether you’re a brand new designer with just one project under your belt, or a seasoned expert with years in the industry, you must have a polished, up-to-date portfolio. But what does a UX design portfolio look like? What should it include, and how can you start building your own? That’s exactly what we’ll cover in today’s lesson.
This tutorial covers:
- What is a UX design portfolio?
- Why do UX designers need a portfolio?
- What should a UX design portfolio include?
- How do you start building your first UX design portfolio?
- Practical exercise
Let’s jump in!
1. What is a UX design portfolio?
A UX design portfolio is an online exhibition of a UX designer’s work. It’s a personal website that introduces you as a designer and showcases a selection of projects that you’ve worked on. The aim of your UX portfolio is to demonstrate your process—not just the end result. Unlike other design fields that focus on the visual elements of design, UX is more concerned with how you got there: How did you identify and solve the user problem? What processes did you go through?
Communicating a process is considerably more difficult than showing off an image, webpage, or layout. This is where case studies come in handy! Let’s take a closer look at UX case studies and why they’re so important.
What is a UX design case study?
As part of your UX portfolio, case studies help you tell the story of a particular project. They use both text and images to showcase an entire UX process—from discovery to solution and everything in between. At the end of each case study, you can also include outcomes and success metrics; in other words, what impact did the project have? How did you improve the experience for the end user and for the business?
Case studies are crucial in showing (and telling) potential employers and clients how you think and work as a UX designer. They present a logical, easy-to-follow narrative, inviting the reader to see how you go about solving user problems.
Elvira designed the VELA surf weather forecast app as part of the CareerFoundry UX Program. You can see how, throughout her VELA case study, Elvira documents each step in her design process—from competitive analysis and user research, right through to the final design.
In his UX case study, Samson takes us through his Starwalt design project—a responsive web app that provides property buyers with information on properties of interest. See how both designers present their case studies in a clear, logical order, and how they use both text and images to tell the story of each case study? That’s good UX in action!
Now we know what a UX design portfolio is and why case studies are so important, let’s take a closer look at why UX designers need a portfolio in the first place.
2. Why do UX designers need a portfolio?
UX design is an extremely hands-on field, and employers want to see that you’ve mastered the necessary practical skills as well as the theory. As in any industry, you need to prove that you’ve got what it takes—simply listing your skills and experience will not be enough to land an interview!
Your portfolio provides tangible evidence of your mastery of UX. It shows that you can execute an entire UX design project from start to finish, that you’re familiar with industry tools, and that you’re able to identify and use the most effective methods and techniques at each stage of the process.
At the same time, a UX design portfolio helps to convey your personal brand. It’s both a visual and textual medium through which you can express who you are as a designer and what makes you unique. Especially for career-changers with little to no professional UX experience, a strong portfolio holds the key to your new career.
With that in mind, let’s move on to section three…
3. What should you include in your UX design portfolio?
If you want to forge a career as a UX designer, you need an awesome portfolio—but where do you start?! Every UX design portfolio is unique (just like the designers behind them!) but there are some common building blocks to include.
Here are some key elements of a good UX design portfolio:
- A powerful introductory headline
- A detailed “About” section
- Thorough case studies that detail your process
- Images and real artifacts
- Contact information and links to any additional projects (e.g. blog or social media)
Let’s take a look at Daniel Autry’s portfolio. Why? Because it’s a great example which will help us really delve into what a good portfolio contains.
When you land on Daniel’s portfolio, you immediately know what it’s all about. There’s a concise introduction and a clear call-to-action: “Check out my work.” Moving to the “About” section, we see that Daniel adopts a conversational tone throughout; he’s not afraid to share where his passions lie. Right away, we get a sense of his strengths: communication, friendliness, empathy—all those soft skills that Tobias mentioned in the last tutorial!
Proceeding to his case studies, you can see that he’s really considering the user at every step. Daniel has kept it lean with just four case studies that display a diversity of projects. And if you’re short on time, attention, or both, he presents each case study in a highly digestible format, using a good mixture of visuals and concise text.
But we’re not short on either, right? So let’s dive into his Mindbrush case study, where he presents the following:
- A well-defined problem
- Who he worked with
- The tools and techniques he used
- The discovery phase (how he approached the problem)
- The process employed to overcome this problem (yep, that means user research, user personas, wireframing and prototyping, user testing, and visual design)
- The final outcome—or solution—he reached
And the best thing about it? Well, to paraphrase Einstein, he illustrates and explains it all simply enough that anyone can understand it—even those without any background in UX. It won’t just be UX designers who are reviewing his portfolio, after all, so he’s catered to all audiences.
Finally, Daniel incorporates a storytelling component to humanize the entire experience and keep us engaged from start to finish. He shares key facts and insights which really allow us to understand what the user problem is and why it’s worth solving. CareerFoundry graduate Moritz also does this very well in his portfolio. He presents every case study like an article, diving deep into a particular area of the project before rounding off with his own learning. This conveys humility and an attitude of constant improvement and optimization—exactly what employers are looking for!
Data, data visualization and strong imagery are also key. If you can show measurable results from your work, you can really set your portfolio apart. Did you boost revenue by improving the user flow? Then show it! Likewise, well-placed imagery can add some dynamism: action shots of a creative brainstorm or wireframing give the impression of activity and progress, and show that you’re hands-on.
We’ve just looked briefly at two excellent UX design portfolio examples. For more inspiration, check out these nine amazing UX design portfolios from around the web (and what we can learn from them). If you’re curious about the kind of portfolio you might build as a CareerFoundry student, take a look at this selection of portfolios created by some of our UX design graduates.
4. How do you start building your first UX design portfolio?
As you’ve made it to tutorial five of this course, we’ll assume you either have a passing interest in the field of UX, or that you’re seriously considering a career change!
If you’re hoping to become a UX designer, you’ll obviously need a portfolio. As I mentioned in the tutorial video above, it’s by no means impossible to start compiling a strong portfolio before you become a pro. You can learn the fundamentals through independent study or, as I’d recommend, through a structured program. And, believe it or not, you can start to build your portfolio as you go!
Once you have the fundamentals under your belt, you can start working on mock projects—redesigning existing user experiences which you deem to be subpar, just like Priyanka Gupta does in her unsolicited redesign of the Sephora iOS app—or you can gain real-world experience through volunteer work, which will see you tackling real user problems that need solving.
“If you can prove a real problem users are having with the current layout along with documented evidence that your new solution solves that problem, that’ll turn some heads!”
That’s not all. As part of your endeavor to build a UX portfolio from scratch, it helps to start getting involved in the UX design scene. Attend meetups and design sprints to get better acquainted with the field and the design community.
At the same time, consider blogging about your experience as a budding designer. UX is a relatively new yet rapidly evolving field, and there are plenty of people who have documented their career change into UX. Here’s a very popular post by Guy Ligertwood, who talks about his experience of becoming a UX designer after turning 40. In another blog post, he speaks to three women who also made the switch later in life. Blogging about your career change helps to cement your knowledge as you learn, and shows passion and dedication to the field. Of course, blog posts also add another dimension to your portfolio—Guy is the perfect example of this!
5. Practical exercise: Are you ready to start thinking like a UX designer?
Now you know what a UX design portfolio is, why UX designers need one, and some of the key building blocks that should make up your portfolio. You also know how important it is to showcase your UX design process with the help of detailed case studies—it’s not enough to just show the end product! Finally, you should now have a few tips up your sleeve for how to make a start on your portfolio even if you don’t have much experience.
As always, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice with a little exercise. For today’s tutorial, we’re sending you on a mission for inspiration! Browse the internet and find two or three portfolios that catch your eye. For each portfolio, identify three things that you think the designer does well, and why. At the same time, look out for some aspects that could be improved. Pay attention to the “About me” sections, the overall usability of each portfolio, and most importantly, how they present their case studies. Do they document their process thoroughly? How do they demonstrate their approach to problem solving? How could they present a stronger narrative?
It’s a wrap!
That marks the end of the penultimate tutorial in this course! You’re almost there—just one more lesson to go. Before you call it a day, be sure to test what you’ve learned with the interactive quiz below!
Take the quiz below to make sure you've learned all the important information—and that it really sticks!