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ux portfolio advice

October 2016 – Jay Kaufmann

UXswitch spoke exclusively to Jay Kaufmann about how designers can put together a powerful portfolio even if they lack a track record. It’s all about telling a story and showing your design rationale.

Your portfolio is key to your success. But putting together a convincing portfolio can be tricky for designers just starting out in their careers.

This can also present a problem for designers looking to switch their focus, for example…

  • changing media from print to digital,
  • changing discipline from graphic design to UI design, or from UI to UX, etc., or
  • changing domain from B2B to e-commerce.

Are you lacking relevant work?

Tempted to fluff it up or string it out? Tempted to pad your portfolio with less-than-relevant or less-than-stellar work? Speaking on behalf of design hiring managers, I’d advise:

Please resist.

Give real flesh and substance to your portfolio rather than padding it with mediocre or irrelevant content. Here’s some specific advice culled from reviewing the portfolios of a myriad UX interaction designers and visual UI designers:

Don’t put your own website in your portfolio.

We understand that as a student, you probably don’t have so much relevant work to show. We’ve seen entry-level candidates beef up their list of projects by putting their own website design in their portfolio. A couple of times applicants have even showcased their CV design. Yes, in their portfolio. Point me to your website, sure, but the fact that you designed it is half-way self-evident and way too self-referential for my taste.

Label personal projects.

Portfolio websites like Dribble and Behance are sometimes peppered with personal design exercises and student projects. This is nice; it spices up your portfolio. I like to see what you do outside of business constraints, and that you push yourself by giving yourself design briefs.

Regardless of where you put your work, please make explicit the context in which you did the project and who the client was. The fact that you took on a personal design exercise shows initiative.

Don’t turn good initiative bad. It feels slightly deceptive to me to just include a Spotify redesign in your portfolio and not mention that it wasn’t actually done for the company itself. Sure, if you redesign iTunes or Twitter, I can assume. But short-circuit suspicion by laying it on the line.

Take your design challenge all the way.

When we were discussing personal projects, Frank Gaine Founder of UXswitch told me he really likes the pluck displayed by designers who give themselves a challenge.

I agree completely. The day I talked with Frank, I had just rejected a candidate because I felt like he was working project by project for the paycheck. I love the passion shown by homegrown design exercises.

But they can fall flat if they stay at a surface level.

If you take apart the Spotify or iTunes UI, put it back together in a truly original way. Don’t do a superficial skinning to your taste. Design a deeper expression of the brand promise or outline a user-centered rebuild which makes it flow faster or deliver more delight.

As far as challenges go, “Spotify is kind of an obvious one” says Frank, “but something like Pete Smart’s boarding pass is different, eye catching and relevant.” Not only does he deliver a clearly improved experience to a common problem in a unique way — he also tells the story behind it in a compelling way.

Follow his lead. Go out with a curious eye and redesign something that is not quite working as well as it should. Give your portfolio some real spice.

Give a 360° view, but show a clear direction.

Junior designers or those in transition face a dilemma. Should you include print design work or interactive infographics if you’re applying for an e-commerce UI design job?

How specific should you tailor your work samples to the specific role you are applying to?

To be honest, different hiring managers have different views. Even within the UX leadership circle at Zalando, we have the full spectrum of opinions on how broadly you should present yourself. One colleague wants the portfolio to be very focused on digital UI design work if you’re applying to join us as a Visual UI Designer, for example. Another really likes seeing a bold poster design or colorful illustration to get a more rounded view of the applicant’s design vocabulary and personality.

I’m in the middle. I recommend you customize your portfolio by putting work relevant to the role up front. Then also show the very best of your other work to illustrate your breadth or history.

Use not just the order but also the volume of work to reflect your understanding of priorities for the job. Make sure the majority of the content directly translates. If you have strong depth in a related discipline, perhaps link to the additional work online or mention that you can show more work upon request. But cull your portfolio to make it feel focused and relevant.

In the end, take your best shot at finding the balance and cast your portfolio into the roulette wheel of finding the right fit.

Be a chameleon and show your true colors.

Especially for visual designers, I like to see a variety of work that shows you can deliver value to different brands, that you can create solutions for varied briefings. As an interaction designer, you can demonstrate that you chose certain design patterns based on the user base you were designing for… and how this changed from client to client, from domain to domain.

If all the work in your portfolio looks the same, the hiring manager may justifiably assume that you are not yet adept at matching your work to the context at hand and fall back on personal style or individual preferences.

On the other hand, I also like to see your own personality shine through, as well. One project that shows how you work without limitations can be a nice way to show your own colors.

Show a case study.

You can lengthen a short portfolio in a relevant way by digging deeper into the work you do have to show.

Interaction Designers generally do show insights into the process they take. I love these dives into the geeky nuts and bolts of user experience design. One well-executed project presented well from start to finish can make for a rich, full portfolio.

Explain your motivation.

Your lack of work is a hurdle. Your motivation puts more spring in your jump.

Traditionally, you’d put your motivation in your cover letter. But as cover letters become less important, it’s more and more common to put it into your CV. What would it mean to show your motivation in your portfolio?

Maybe you can include an expert review of the product you’re applying to a redesign exercise in their domain. One convincing applicant to Zalando UX included some guerilla user research he did with our customers in his home country.

Maybe you can come up with new and unique ideas for surfacing your motivation in your application.

I look forward to seeing new ways for small portfolios to make a big impact.

jay kaufmann uxswitch zalando

 

Jay Kaufmann is UX Lead: Talent at Zalando and currently launching a new workshop/roundtable event series for IxDA Berlin.

 





Source link https://www.uxswitch.com/putting-power-behind-a-sparse-design-portfolio/

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