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A few weeks ago a mentee asked why a web portfolio was even required for a UX designer. Once invited for an interview, she would present her work on a slide deck. So, what’s the point?

What is the drive? What are the important aspects of representing herself and her work samples?

I used to joke that I knew of a “UX” designer who didn’t have an online home for his case studies. He ended up working at a swanky downtown agency. All of that is true. What I found years later is that he knew someone at that agency, he was hired for production work. He ended up leaving New York City, last time I checked he worked at a retail store. I am not making this up.

Was he unsuccessful because he didn’t have a portfolio or did he not have a portfolio because he was unsuccessful?

I strongly encourage all designers to have an online presence. Below, I outline exactly why it’s important to put your case studies on a website.

History of portfolios

Back in the day, portfolio books (remember those?) were prevalent in the graphic and industrial design fields. They were hard bonded books or folders with each page designated to a project. Often, a designer would only have one copy. Imagine carrying them around agencies’ offices, sometimes leaving them behind and picking them up after the hiring manager has looked through them. Because the work was purely visual, these physical artifacts existed to highlight a designer’s body of work.

Zoom forward to 2021, and we’ve all got digital portfolios. We can access them on desktop computers, tablets, iPhones, and even smart TVs. The world is our oyster.

The objective remains the same: show previous work to hiring managers to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and experience.

The big divide between graphic design and user experience design is obvious. UX design isn’t visual. It’s processes, collaboration, presentations, and written observations. Visualizing all of our work is challenging.

Why is a portfolio required?

A portfolio allows you to present your work experience in a digital space. Your online presence enables recruiters to find and approach you to start discussions on open roles they are looking to fill.

The goal of reviewing a candidate’s portfolio is actually rather simple. This quote by Jared Spool comes to mind:

Can we tell if there’s enough evidence here to suggest this candidate should be prioritized higher in our hiring process than other candidates? (Source)

Do they have equivalent experience? This is of utmost importance to mention during application and interview steps. Emphasize experiences that are most related to the job and that prove that you have the strengths to excel.

In an online portfolio, you will use case studies to demonstrate your experience in a visual format. How you do that is up to you. That being said, I have certain must-haves I am looking for.

What will be my responsibility?

It really depends on the role I’m looking to fill. Company size and project needs also play a role. On a team of designers, while responsibilities could overlap, each one can be responsible for a range of needs. Sometimes the work division is driven by management. Other times, you get lucky and can sway towards an area where your skills are most useful.

There could be a need for a production designer, research facilitator, design system creator, presentation deck artist, or Jack/Jill of all UX aspects. The latter is most true of bootstrapped or small start-ups. Beware of roles that require you to code too!

I will write a more throughout post about how to narrow in on your specialty (or not!) later.

As a hiring manager, I am looking for…

There is no simple answer. Having a clear job description is of utmost importance. Defined job responsibilities allow me to adjust my questionnaire accurately. It also allows job seekers to know exactly how to position themselves during the interview process. And most important of all–what to expect once they land the role!

If the job title description is ambiguous, I will think of what I would want the new employee to accomplish in their first year of employment. This allows me to review their portfolios and resumes strategically.

I want to ensure the candidate’s experience and drive are visible. Most UX skills can be learned. An ill-equipped candidate can still be passionate about continuing to learn about the design field. They can make the strongest candidate. Look at my resources to get a head start.

The first rule of hiring is no jerks. The second rule of hiring is NO JERKS. I’ve learned that from my mentor John Ma.

Portfolio checklist

How are you demonstrating these 3 requirements?

  • Skills
  • Knowledge
  • Experience