Guide to Starting Your UX Design Career

Guide to Starting Your UX Design Career

Get started with all the most frequently asked questions about starting your UX design career. We take you chapter-by-chapter through all the most essential information and resources you need to kickstart a successful design career.

Chapter

7

Are you thinking of creating your design portfolio but aren't sure how to get started? Fear not, as we'll walk you through all the parts a great portfolio should include and answer any questions you might have.

The purpose and "users" of your design portfolio

An excellent way to approach the creation of your design portfolio is to treat it like any other design problem. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this document?
  • Who is its target audience?
  • What do they want to see included?

The contents of your portfolio will depend on the answers to these questions.

The main rationale behind a design portfolio is to help you (the designer) find work. This outlines its target audience: HRs, hiring managers, potential freelance clients, and fellow designers (i.e. your potential colleagues).

What do these people expect to find in your portfolio? Is it beautiful mockups? Or perhaps a list of your hobbies and interests? First and foremost, people viewing your portfolio want to understand what kind of designer you are. Some of the questions they might have include:

  • What's your design thinking process?
  • How do you approach work challenges?
  • How do you collaborate with others?
  • How do you do your research?
  • Do your designs achieve their goals?
  • What's your style and brand voice?
  • What kind of person are you?
  • How can they get in touch with you?

Think of your portfolio as your spokesperson (or spokesdocument) that can answer these questions in your stead.

What a portfolio should contain

To fulfill its objective, a designer's portfolio must include 3 main components:

  • Introduction,
  • Case studies,
  • Contact information.

Introduction

When you meet someone in real life, you most likely start by introducing yourself. The same goes for your portfolio. Include your name, the roles you are looking for, and any relevant background information such as your education or work experience.

You can also include your passions and hobbies but don't overshare. The purpose of this section isn't to learn everything there is to know about you — it's to get a feel of what kind of person you are.

Keep the copy simple and straightforward — use the same language you would when introducing yourself in person. The copy is a reflection of your style and brand voice.

Case studies

Case studies are successful projects you’ve worked on. While good-looking final visuals are essential, they aren't the only thing that the recruiters and clients want to see — and they’re certainly not the most crucial thing.

Let's be honest — anyone can take anyone else's designs and present them as their own. What's important here is to walk the audience through your design process. Think of it this way — for each project, you need to clearly explain the problem and its context, how you went about solving it, how successful it was, and what you learned from it.

Let's have a closer look at what a case study should contain:

1. Context and problem

Start by describing the overall topic of the project and the problem you needed to solve. You can also explain your role and responsibilities if it was a team project.

2. Final visuals

Include the finished designs early on — or use them as your project thumbnails. This will grab the viewer’s attention and make it clear what kind of project they’re looking at.

3. Your design process with different versions

Use visual aids to guide viewers through your design process. Consider including:

  • Initial user research summary,
  • User personas & user journey map,
  • Sketches and wireframes,
  • High-fidelity mockups & prototypes,
  • Usability testing,
  • Anything else that will help you explain the motivations that guided your design choices throughout.
4. Final solution and its explanation

Describe your final solution and explain what makes your designs the best.

5. The outcome and learnings

Explain how your design was successful. Did it increase signups or revenue? This is a great place to share what this project taught you — even if it's that you would do things differently next time.

Contact information

Since the goal of your portfolio is to get you more work, your contact information must be easy to find. This is basically your call to action. Include your email address and, optionally, links to your social media accounts.

Final thoughts and tips:

  • When selecting case studies, start with the 2 that you are most proud of, and make sure that they also show off your conceptualization and problem-solving skills. Add more if you have experience, but try to stay within a 2-8 project range — clients and potential employers don't have all day to look at all your life's work.
  • Tailor your portfolio to the company or person you're applying to. For example, if you're trying to land a job designing apps, pick case studies that mostly feature apps, etc.
  • Create a visual journey so that your work flows from one piece to another. Your portfolio isn't just a bunch of projects stuck together, but rather your representation as a designer.
  • You might think that you only need to update your portfolio when looking for a job but it’s better to add new case studies as you finish them. Since case studies involve explaining your process, it's best to do them while the project is still fresh in your mind. This also allows you to improve and iterate continuously. Adding one case study at a time takes much less effort than creating a portfolio on short notice.
  • Get inspiration from other designers. Have a look at this list of impressive UX Designer portfolios from Format.com or Google search the role you want to land + "portfolio."
  • When ready, get feedback from a more experienced colleague or a mentor whose expertise you value. While getting input from as many people as possible might sound like a good idea, keep in mind that you will probably get contradictory advice that could further confuse you.