Recently we had the opportunity to sit down for a Q&A with one of our first UX design mentors, Christine Yeh. A senior product designer at San Francisco-based Pivotal, Inc., Christine shared valuable insight into building a portfolio with Springboard’s community of aspiring UX designers.
One of the most common things that aspiring UX designers have questions about are portfolios. Christine, can you talk a little bit about what a design portfolio is?
Typically a design portfolio is a website that displays some of your past work in a case study format so that it's easy for recruiters, or design managers, who are looking over the resume of a designer. They'll have a resume and then they'll also look at the portfolio for in-depth information about each project. That’s usually what a portfolio is.
Is it important for aspiring UX designers to display their portfolio in a website or in any particular format?
I had to debate this one a lot, honestly, because if you’re able to share about your design process and state clearly what your strengths are on your LinkedIn, who's to say that you really need a portfolio, in terms of having a presence on the internet, right? But then recruiters or hiring managers always want to know more about: what type of work does this person do? Is this person really good at mobile? Is this person really good at design systems? Are they more from agency work or enterprise work? Having a portfolio gives you a personal platform to be able to tell your story. That's why it's important, since a lot of design is storytelling, like telling the story of the user, or telling the story of a user going through the product journey. Portfolios are twofold—sharing about yourself and also storytelling about your past work.
What would you say is the optimal format to showcase your portfolio?
Most of the ones that I've seen are just a website, so Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly. Sometimes you’ll see ones that are self-coded. I've also seen people use their Dribble page as their main portfolio, so they have more UI-based design work and then they just have their Dribble handle set up so a recruiter can easily find them on the Internet. So it's a toss-up. It’s really what you prefer to use. Most of the time I see it, it’s a person’s own website, like yourname.com.
What's your preferred portfolio format?
I really feel delighted when I see a good portfolio. It's usually good in my opinion if the content is really clear. I don't want to be confused about what type of designer you are, or even where you live. I want to see what type of person you are too, because it's really interesting and fun to see, like, this person did a triathlon or this person really likes knitting—those types of things. A portfolio is such a fun way to show yourself. Not everyone gets to submit portfolios as part of a job application. They have to use a cover letter and a resume a lot of the time. So we get to have a more creative way to say, “Hey, pick me and I'm really specialized in this way and a good fit for you.”
How many projects would you recommend someone include in their portfolio?
I typically tell the students I mentor that if they can aim for three to four, that’s great. The reason why is because even if you have 10 projects that you could show to somebody who's coming to your portfolio, they're very unlikely to peruse all of them. You want to curate their experience so that they're looking at the most complete or the most powerful stories you can tell. You’ll really want to direct their attention to your top one or two portfolio pieces. Sometimes it looks weird if you only have two portfolio pieces, which is why I recommend having three or four. A recruiter or a person passing by it won’t get overwhelmed and you're not constraining yourself to one type of project you completed, like a mobile project, for instance. And then the recruiters might think, this is a mobile designer. You don't want to give that impression if you aren’t a mobile-only designer. It’s important to have variety across portfolio projects to show that breadth, but you also want it to be focused enough that people don't get overwhelmed and they see your best work.
When putting your projects together in your portfolio, what should be included with each project you showcase?
When creating the content for a project piece, I tend to tell my students that they need to have the skeleton of the whole story upfront. Don’t make recruiters search for understanding of what you did, or search to understand the impact that this project created.
So in my own portfolio, and I'm not saying mine is the best portfolio, but I tried to be intentional about having information on what is the problem, what did I do to solve it, and the impact all at the top level. Even someone skimming should get what this piece is about and want to scroll down and look deeper. Having it be really readable, whatever it is, that you're including as additional information for the projects. I tend to use bullets a lot because it's a forcing mechanism for me to not write too much. To help myself keep everything skimmable I tend to use bullet points, and bold certain words, like keywords here and there to direct the reader’s eye.
What are the things that you would want to see at first sight when looking at portfolio?
One is the problem. What's the problem you're trying to solve? What did you do? Did you do the visual design? Did you do the research? Did you lead a team of four? What was your capacity of that design of that project? And then the third thing and most important is outcome, right? So you did the project, you worked with people, you did these things. Cool, so tell me that you increased pageviews by 37 percent or you improved usability. That helps me think, OK, this person knows how to ensure project work is valuable to the business and knows how to define what success is.
Another factor is paying some attention to your about page. I've seen some portfolios where it just says their name and then it has some portfolio pieces, and then a link to their resume, and then I'm like, oh, who is this person? Because if you're looking at 10 different portfolios over a span of lie two weeks, you're going to remember the ones who talk about themselves in a compelling way.
If you’re interested in building your UX portfolio and getting started with a career in UX design, check out Springboard’s UX Design workshop. Enrollments for Springboard’s UX Design workshop are now open.