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August 2016 – Jay Kaufmann

In his ongoing series of exclusive articles for UXswitchJay Kaufmann turns his attention to the portfolio of the UX Manager. It’s all about visualizing that leadership experience.

Like many human beings, I am a visual thinker. So I like to see (and not just read about) work when I evaluate UXers — whether it’s an Intern or a Chief Design Officer.

I understand that a UX design manager might not have the traditional design portfolio. Work samples in any form qualify in my book. But I want to see something.

A few months ago I had a conversation with a candidate for a UX Team Lead position who comes not from Design, but from Marketing. No problem there; I like to see a variety of perspectives at play in a UX leadership team.

But I wanted to see some work. I asked for a portfolio.

She was surprised. This UX management candidate claimed no one else has ever asked her for a portfolio. She wrote, Can you give me some examples of the kinds of things you are looking to see?”

This time, I was surprised. I’ve seen leadership candidates who were too busy to put together a “real” portfolio, but I’ve never had anyone question my request to see some sort of work samples or artefacts. I was intrigued by the situation.

I wrote back, “It sounds to me like ‘What To Put in a UX Management Portfolio’ is an article waiting to be written.” I sent her a long answer. Here it is…


What to put in a UX management portfolio

The “table of contents” for a manager’s deck is probably much more personalized — much more individual in structure — than a hands-on designer’s book.


Some things to consider:

  • Visualize your UCD process
    How did you design the workflow in your current team? How do you communicate that process to stakeholders?


  • Pull out the Excel sheets
    I love the irony that many of us designers-turned-managers end up working more with spreadsheets than Photoshop. Do you have sheets that show how you prioritize user stories, how you track your (customer-centered) OKRs, or how you document interview guidelines? Let your inner business geek shine.


  • Show before and after
    If you have a dramatic visual before & after to show, this can make a dramatic impression. Then, to truly nail it here, you will share some numbers. Boast the KPIs that showed the quantitative impact your team’s work made, plus the qualitative results that showed you’re driving home customer satisfaction. Or expand upon this idea and show the path from problem to solution as a full-fledged case study.


  • Profile any tools you’ve created
    My portfolio is heavy on tools because as a designer I like to build something tangible even when the work is more abstract. Have you designed an expert review framework, a self-evaluation form, a briefing canvas, or even a new approach to 1:1s? Open up your toolbox and show me your method kit.


  • Share sketches of your talking points
    As an ambassador for your team, as an evangelist for UCD, as a vested stakeholder in the product outcome, you probably have certain messages you drive home regularly. If you’re a visual thinker, you may have little sketches you draw on napkins, whiteboards, flipcharts or whatever you have at hand. Show these as a backdrop for explaining the headway you made in your previous organization. 



  • Philosophical investigations
    Show us you can abstract design to the level of thought leadership. Blog articles and talks you’ve given might provide snapshots for this. Maybe as a design leader you have nice visualizations of pioneering ideas in product leadership. When looking for examples I found Audrey Tan, an interior designer who gets very conceptual with really nice sketches of, for example, the “history and interpretation of innovation”.


  • Frame effective people leadership outcomes
    Drive home what makes you a great manager. Maybe you have quotes from LinkedIn references that show you inspire both subordinates and top management. Maybe photos of workshops or team events demonstrate the smiles you inspire in a group of designers. Maybe you even have performance targets around staff retention and happiness to brag about in a visual dashboard. Perhaps you could illustrate in an infographic that you grew the team from 11 to 16 over 27 months while losing only 1 team member.


  • Designs
    Last but of course not least; you’re leading design. Show the products or projects you’ve worked on — the raw artifacts and the final results, just as you would as a hands-on designer, but being very careful to clearly identify your own role in the process and give credit and praise to your teammates who made you look good. 😉


I surprised myself with that exhaustive list and bested my own record for “longest candidate email” in this communication to my would-be leadership colleague. Given the length, don’t treat the suggestions above as a checklist. Pick and choose. Let the ideas inspire something new.

While certainly not the only element of a successful leadership conversation, a portfolio is a nice way to open with impact.

The aforementioned UX management candidate never came back to me with work samples. But I hope that my thoughts can kickstart a larger conversation with you, the larger UX leadership community. Send your opinions, experiences — and portfolios — to [email protected]

jay kaufmann uxswitch zalando


Jay Kaufmann has been hiring designers into Zalando for just over a year and designing interfaces since 1996. This fall he’s launching a new event format for IxDA Berlin — the Think Tank series.

Zalando SE is Europe’s most fashionable tech company. We’re hiring.

More career advice from Jay:


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