Tutorial 5: Tips For Your First Great UX Portfolio

“Hi there! My name’s Will—you might recognize my name from the emails that accompany this course 👦🏼. I’m a Student 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 to the course. 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!”

What are we going to do today?

In the last tutorial, Tobias covered the soft and hard skills required to become a UX designer. Today, we’re going to take a look at how UX designers typically display these skills to potential employers through one of their most important assets: the portfolio.

Every UX designer has a portfolio, regardless of how experienced they are. But what does a UX designer’s portfolio look like, what do they include, and how can you get started on your own? That’s exactly what we’re going to look at today. 

Already confident about what a UX design portfolio is? Feel free to skip down to a later section by clicking on the headings below. 😊

1. What is a UX design portfolio?
2. Why do UX designers need a portfolio?
3. What should a UX portfolio include?
4. How do you start building your first UX design portfolio?
5. Summary and tutorial quiz

1. What is a UX design portfolio?

A UX design portfolio is an online exhibition of a UX designer’s work. Examples of project work are curated, combined, and annotated to show off the design skills and processes of the designer.

Unlike other design fields that focus on the visual elements of design, UX is more concerned with the overall design process. Unfortunately, though, communicating a process is considerably more difficult than showing off an image, webpage, or layout. This is where case studies come in handy.

Case studies can showcase an entire UX process from discovery to solution. All manner of design deliverables come together in a case study, using annotations to create a strong narrative and images to support the storytelling. At the end of a case study, examples of the project’s impact can be included as evidence to its success.

Check out the case studies in the following portfolios by Terri Rodriguez-Hong and Mohit Rao.

To view Terri’s individual case studies, simply click on one of the tiles on her site’s home page. Incidentally, the Taskly App is one of the projects she completed during her CareerFoundry UX design course.

To view Mohit’s individual case studies, head to the Portfolio section of his site. In there, you will see a list of individual project case studies. The Inktank app is one of the projects he completed as a student with CareerFoundry.

2. Why do UX designers need a portfolio?

No matter the field, you first need to prove you have the skills necessary for a job in order to land an interview.

It’s the same in design, though the method’s a bit different. You need to be able to prove to people that you have the design skills they seek. A list of professional experience alone is not sufficient in proving your mastery of UX skills and design processes. Employers want to see tangible evidence of your abilities, and there’s no better platform to do this than your portfolio.

Especially for career changers with little to no professional UX experience, a strong portfolio is the key to your new career. Let’s look into how we might build one for ourselves.

3. What should a UX portfolio include?

Let’s take a look at this portfolio by Christine Maggi. Why? Because it’s a great example which will help us really delve into what a good portfolio contains.

You land on the page and you immediately know what it’s all about. There’s a concise intro and a clear, friendly call-to-action. Indeed, she adopts a conversational tone throughout that reduces friction when navigating. Immediately we’re getting a sense of her strengths: order and organizational skills, communication and friendliness, empathy—exactly those soft skills Tobias was talking about in the last tutorial.

Proceeding to her case studies, you can see she’s really considering the user at every step. She’s kept it lean, with three case studies that display a diversity of projects. And if you’re short on time, attention, or both, she offers up the case study as a simple set of visuals.

But we’re not short on either though, right? So let’s dive into her Pregnancy App case study, where we see she presents the following:

And the best thing about it? Well, to paraphrase Einstein, she illustrates and explains it all simply enough that anyone—even those without any background in UX—can understand it, which proves that she really does too. It won’t just be UX designers who are reviewing her case studies and portfolio, after all.

Finally, Christine adds a storytelling component to keep us engaged and humanize the entire experience. You can see images of her at work, and she references humorous or challenging circumstances she encountered. CareerFoundry graduate Moritz also does this very well in his excellent portfolio. Every case study is presented like an article, diving deep into a particular area of the project before being rounded off by his own learning, indicating 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! And imagery can add some dynamism: action shots of a creative brainstorm or wireframing give the impression of activity and progress, and show you’re hands-on.

4. How do you start building your first UX design portfolio?

If you’re doing this course, you either have a passing interest in the field of UX or you’re seriously considering transitioning from your current area of expertise into the field. Or perhaps you’re somewhere in between. 

For those wanting to transition, you’ll obviously need a portfolio. As I mention in the tutorial video, it’s by no means impossible to start compiling a strong portfolio before you become a pro. You can acquire the fundamentals through disciplined independent learning or, as I’d certainly recommend, through a structured program.

Once you have the fundamentals under your belt, you can start working on mock projects—redesigning existing user experiences you deem to be subpar—or you can get real-world experience through volunteer work, which will present you with real problems that need solving for real people.

😎 Pro Tip!

“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. You can also start getting involved in the UX scene, attending meetups and hackathons to get acquainted with the field and the design community, and blog about your experience of transitioning from your old career to your new one. As UX is a relatively new and rapidly evolving field, there are plenty of people who have already made the move and documented their experience. Here’s a well-known post from Guy Ligertwood, where he talks about becoming a UX designer after turning 40, and another where he talks to three women who also made the switch later in life. Topical blogposts not only help cement your new knowledge—they also add another dimension to your portfolio and demonstrate your passion for the subject. Guy is a perfect example of this.

5. Summary

So now you know what a UX design portfolio is, why UX designers need one, and that your portfolio should contain two or three case studies, or projects, which clearly illustrate the problem, the process and the outcome, as well as the tools and people you worked with along the way. Finally, you have a few tips up your sleeve for how to make a start on your portfolio even if you don’t have much experience. Now it’s time to find out how much you remember. Take the quiz below—Good luck!

Take the quiz below to make sure you've learned all the important information—and that it really sticks! 

Alana

Senior Career

Advisor

Alana

Intrigued by a career in UX design? Arrange a call with your Career Advisor today to find out if UX design is a good fit for you—and how you can become a UX designer from scratch with the full CareerFoundry UX Design Course.