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UX RESEARCHER PORTFOLIO 1

December 2016 – Jay Kaufmann

UXswitch spoke exclusively to Jay Kaufmann about the need for researchers to have a portfolio. The bottom line is that researchers who are interested in Service or Interaction Design should have a portfolio to show how they visualize ideas.

Researchers can maximize the impact of their job applications by taking the lead from designers and including a portfolio.

I spoke recently to a researcher in Britain interested in moving into UX design and also moving to the Continent. She wanted to get feedback from me about a potential fit at Zalando, so I asked her to send me some work samples in addition to her CV or resume. She answered:

“As for research work, it would be good to clarify what your expectations are there in regards to artefacts. At [my current company] we don’t require people to show work before an on-site research interview.”

Indeed, it’s not standard practice for usability engineers or UX researchers to submit portfolios. And due to confidentiality concerns, it can be hard to show whole raw samples of work (i.e. research reports).

However, for a researcher like this one — who was interested in putting more weight on service design or interaction design as she grew her career — I definitely want to see how they visualize ideas.

And I would go further. Even a straight-up “usability engineer” with no visual design training has to convey insights and thus can easily pull together a collection of work — a user research portfolio — without mastering design principles or Photoshop.

Why should you create a portfolio?

Stand out

Since the practice is not yet widespread, including a portfolio can help your UX research application stand out from the crowd. Over the whole course of my hiring career (i.e. the last 7 years), the ratio of qualified applicants to jobs available has been noticeably higher (i.e. difficult) for researchers than for designers. So you want to stand out.

Although my colleague Carina Kuhr, who leads the majority of the researcher job interviews at Zalando, sees more value in a great CV and well-customized cover letter, she does admit that a portfolio catches her attention — and she looks at it if it is there.

Though it may not clinch the deal, a portfolio can attract interest and get you another 90 seconds of the hiring manager’s attention during application screening. It can give you a chance to reinforce key points from your CV and resume.

Abstracting key elements out of full projects into a portfolio can also overcome the confidentiality issue of presenting the full work while allowing you to demonstrate your experience impactfully before a face-to-face interview.

So I advise: Whether you like the word “portfolio” or not, put together an impression of your work — gathered together into one document (or site).

You may ask…

What are you looking for?

Several key criteria for the hiring team can be conveyed in a portfolio.

Methodology understanding is important. While you can list these on your CV, visualizing them with artefacts of the actual can give more depth and impact.

This gives us a good anchor for digging deeper in a personal conversation.

Communication is a crucial competency for a user researcher. You should be able to communicate in multiple dimensions:

 

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The interview focuses on oral a.k.a. spoken communication. The CV and cover letter call on your writing skills. A portfolio can show your visual communication skills — including how you combine words into a visual canvas.

No matter how lean we work, researchers will always need to create PowerPoint slides, posters, or some sort of visual communication of their work in order to be effective in transferring learnings into their organization.

Structuring insights and information is important both for analysis and for knowledge management. The artefacts reveal patterns you follow, skeletons you build for carrying ideas.

The portfolio form itself shows your structured thinking. Though this comes across on a basic level in the layout of your CV, but can be more fully exemplified by a portfolio. Since this unconventional request has no set standards, seeing how you structure a work collection can give great insights into your ways of thinking.

Illustrating ideas helps anchor them in memory. Hiring managers will in no way evaluate your visual skills the same way we would for a Visual UI Designer. But I do like to see that you know some basics about how to elucidate information. For bonus points, you would show you know how to art direct designer colleagues to create high-quality visualizations.

Where to start?

Collect your artefacts

Even the most everyday visual can provide an anchor for illustrating your hands-on experience. (Illustration from the portfolio of Anna Sandor -- a successful applicant to the Zalando User Insights)

Even the most everyday visual can provide an anchor for illustrating your hands-on experience. (Illustration from the portfolio of Anna Sandor — a successful applicant to the Zalando User Insights)

Look what deliverables you have as potential fodder for a UX research portfolio:

  • Study findings / reports
  • Communications of insights
  • Photographs of user testing sessions
  • Newsletter blurbs you’ve published or email summaries sent
  • Walls of Post-Its
  • Invitations to a lab open house you hosted
  • Slides from PowerPoint presentations

 

For example: Late one November a few years ago I illustrated RITE test findings in the form of an advent calendar — with the insights for each participant behind a summary flap. This is the sort of creative study results reporting that I in turn would like to see from applicants.

I’d also suggest you can also show before and after screens of interfaces. Presumably your research had user impact and business value. Explain that visually (screens) and in numbers (KPIs).

Survey your collection of artefacts and identify the most important talking points. Then decide which materials illustrate these the best.

How to put it together?

Frame your work

Context is crucial.

You can send usability reports or other whole artefacts as attachments, but small previews collected into a portfolio will…

  • Provide an easily-scannable overview.
  • Give a visual touch.
  • Provide context.

Researchers could, for example, present the hiring manager with a well-organized, visually appealing one-pager for a few different research projects they did.

What could you say about each project in such a format?

 

  • Project goal
    Show that you can tie your research clearly to a desired business outcome.
  • Methodology
    Show the method you used.
  • Primary research questions
    Demonstrate that you can help designers or product managers hone in on the key answers they seek.
  • Role you played
    Tell what you did alongside a list of other stakeholders or actors in the study. This shows your ability to collaborate and gets more detailed about your specific experience with the methods you’ve encountered.
  • Competency highlight
    Hone in on a particular experience this project highlights. If you moderated, show a picture of yourself with the participant. (Fake a photo after with a colleague posing as the test participant if you must.) If you wrote the script, include a picture of it with your notes scribbled in. If you observed, show a picture of the video transmission. If you collected findings, show the clusters of Post-Its.
  • Results
    Explain both the format (discussion, presentation, report, poster) and findings. Report the outcome in business terms (customer satisfaction, conversion rate, etc.)

 

To round out your presentation and deepen the impression, you could potentially also talk about the length of time the project took, the budget required, or other indicators that you’re looking at bringing the business the best value.

You still might hesitate.

Overcome your objections

Still held back by questions? Let’s get a few of them out of the way…

But that’s a lot you’re asking for!

Take this as an inspiration, not a checklist or template. I understand that you have to satisfice and I’m not looking for the book of your career, just some concrete artefacts to illustrate your experience and trigger conversations.

But what about confidential material?

Designers face this challenge even more acutely. A tool like SnagIt makes it easy to blur out confidential details from results presentations, UI screenshots or photos. And a photo of a Post-It wall, for instance, gives a great sense of how you structure your usability test session debriefings without revealing any confidential information.

But I’ll be mistaken for a designer.

Certainly it’s important to be very clear about your role, your title and your career aspirations for the next role. Slap the title “UX Research Portfolio” on your collection of work — and in the filename (ux-research-portfolio-jay-kaufmann.pdf). A competent UX-specific hiring manager or recruiter can tell a researcher from a designer a mile away. For the others, spell it out in your cover letter, too.

But PowerPoint is dead.

I am also not fond of decks. I like to see and talk about raw artefacts. So go ahead and also send (or bring along to an interview) full reports or other more detailed deliverables. Your UX research portfolio need not be fancy; you can keep it real with snippets of raw artefacts put simply into context.

But I’m no good at graphics!

I can’t draw either. And as a designer, I have more face to lose than you do as a researcher. But I venture out onto a limb and illustrate my posts on LinkedIn with my own scrawls. Practice in low-risk settings (adding a little icon to your Post-Its after a test) if you like, but overcome your fear.

 

Fancy graphics are not necessary to create meaning. Example from Anna Sandor.

 

Fancy graphics are not necessary to create meaning. Example from Anna Sandor.

If you have a case where that visual polish is essential, find a visual designer friend to lend you a hand.

All I am asking is…

Give a portfolio a try

Especially if the hiring manager — like me — started out as a designer, a UX research portfolio can be an effective way to speak their language and engage the conversation in a unique way.

We don’t ask for portfolios from applicants to User Experience Research jobs at Zalando, so you still have the chance to stand out from the crowd.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and see your research portfolios: jay dot kaufmann at zalando dot com!

jay kaufmann uxswitch zalando

 

Jay Kaufmann is UX Lead: Talent at Zalando, where he built the Tour of Mastery framework for User Experience designers after the launch of Radical Agility.

Looking for a UX job? Then join UXswitch or go to our Humanised Job Board. UXswitch was created by designers, for designers.

 



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