Learn why a UX design portfolio is so important, what to include, and how to optimize it for your job search.
As a UX designer, your portfolio is your best marketing tool. It's a visual resume that can not only help you land your first job in the field of UX/UI design, but also grow and uplevel your career trajectory.
So how is it possible for a new UX Designer to land a job when competing with other professionals who have more extensive portfolios full of big name case studies and flashy designs?
Surprisingly ... It happens a lot.
Many emerging UX designers from UX Academy go on to land amazing UX jobs—from junior to senior level—from portfolios that "only" consist of student projects.
In this article, you'll learn what a UX portfolio is, why it's important, and what to include (and perhaps more importantly: what to cut out).
We'll also share some self-editing tips that will help your portfolio website stand out from the crowd and showcase your abilities to the highest extent, whether you're already an experienced, seasoned designer, or are just emerging into the field.
What is a UX Design Portfolio?
A UX design portfolio is a collection of design case studies that showcases your approach to the design process as a whole.
Typically, most people choose to build their portfolio in the form of a website as an additional layer of proof that they understand how to create effective digital interfaces and flows.
This portfolio is then shared as part of the job interview process, so potential employers can see detailed examples of how you approach various challenges in UX design, problem solving, understanding users, research, storytelling, and perhaps most importantly, your ability to empathize with the user journey.
Why is a UX Design Portfolio Important?
Your portfolio plays a major role in the interview cadence for most UX/UI design positions. It's so important, in fact, that applications can be moved forward or ignored based on a quick glance through the portfolio.
Janelle Academia, a recent graduate of UX Academy, shared her experience of just how important a UX design portfolio website can be:
The CEO of Carry actually let me know that even though I didn't have previous design experience, he was so impressed by the work in my portfolio that he decided to learn more about me.
She was eventually offered the job!
How to Build Your First UX Portfolio (Without Prior Design Experience)
If you’ve never had a UX design job, there are two categories of work you can create and put into a portfolio: You can make your own redesigns of websites and apps, and you can design originals.
If you want to work on a redesign and make it worthy of a portfolio, you’ll need to work on it as if you were assigned it in a job. It must have strong concepts behind it, as well as top-notch aesthetics. You should:
Solve a problem that’s affecting the user experience and hurting the business.
Interview users, perhaps getting your friends and family to test the website or app, asking them questions—and/or read comments about it online.
Write out several concepts of how to improve it and explain the pros and cons of each.
Mock up your best ideas into designs that look great.
When you have made several thoughtful and research-driven designs, you can package them together into one portfolio website, PDF, or even a physical folder. But keep in mind that your projects have to look as beautiful as possible, as well as having powerful reasoning to back them up, if you want an employer to make an investment in you and risk their business’s future on your design abilities.
Your portfolio is your very own little corner of the internet and, in our competitive UX/UI design industry, it’s crucial to make the most of this space. In this webinar and interview, Kelly shares her top tips for crafting an effective design portfolio.
11 Elements to Include In Your UX Portfolio
If you have several projects to show off—whether your own practice projects or some paid work—you should sit down and go through them all to decide what to put in your UX portfolio. Ask these questions:
What parts of the UX design process do I enjoy the most?
What makes me different from other UX designers?
What types of projects do I appear best at?
Which projects taught me the most?
What projects did I add the most value to?
Are there engaging stories behind any of these pieces?
Pick projects based on your answers, as well as the type of job you’re applying to. These answers might even help you decide on the direction you want your career to head in.
Additionally, here are eleven other elements that you will likely want to incorporate:
1. Include Your Elevator Pitch
The design of your portfolio itself is a prime opportunity for you, as a UX designer, to demonstrate that you know what good UX means.
This is more than just having engaging visuals: it’s about organizing information in a way that accommodates the needs of your portfolio’s users (i.e. potential employers or clients). One of the first key tests of a portfolio is whether someone can look at your site for just 5 seconds and understand what it is that you do.
2. Showcase Your Best Work
Before including a project or case study in your UX design portfolio, ask yourself honestly: what score out of 10 would I give this project? If you’d give it an 8 or below, consider either leaving it out, or doing some more work to polish it up. Sometimes the extra work is purely presentational, and can be done quickly. Other times, you might want to spend more time digging back into the project, for example, to tighten up your screen designs.
It’s always better to show a few excellent projects (aim for 3-6), rather than many case studies of variable quality.
Remember: a hiring manager might come to your site, click a random case study, and form their opinion based on that project alone. For each one, ask yourself: would I be happy for my work to be judged on the basis of this case study alone?
Don’t forget that your portfolio website is only one place to showcase your work. You can also share other projects that don’t make the cut on other platforms. Try Dribbble, Instagram, or your blog to showcase other work that you’d like to have people see, but isn’t necessarily a priority.
3. Demonstrate How You Solve Problems
Everyone loves beautiful visuals and stunning mockups—but hiring managers need to see more than just the end result from a case study. They’re looking for evidence of your abilities to analyze and define a problem, follow a logical process of research and ideation, and develop a solution that is realistic and meets both business and user needs.
You can demonstrate these skills by including images or videos of your process, and by including a carefully written narrative with each project that explains how the project progressed. This can mean quite a lot of extra effort, but doing so means that potential employers can see your ability to handle projects end-to-end.
4. Your Personal Bio
Hiring managers want to rapidly find out about two things: your work, and your skills background. So make sure that your personal bio is easy to find. It could be on the homepage, or on a clearly-labeled “About me” page that can be accessed from the main navigation.
The best personal bios are short and focused—a single brief paragraph is enough. Aim to include something about your skills, your values, and your vision as a designer. '
5. Contact Info
Once you’ve successfully piqued the interest of a hiring manager, recruiter, or potential client, they’ll probably want to get in touch. Make this step as easy as possible!
You could have a “contact me” button in the main navigation, a simple contact form, or you could even just include your email address on each page.
6. Other Links to Include
Although a UX designer’s portfolio is still their most important asset, it's a good decision to also include links to your resume, LinkedIn profile, and even social media, if applicable.
Many UX designers use Instagram or Dribbble as an extension of their portfolio, often using the platform to show work-in-progress, notes, sketches, and experiments.
Including links to your LinkedIn profile, and a downloadable PDF resume, can also help to remove barriers that might prevent people from following up or contacting you further down the line.
It’s tempting to make a strong statement through the visual design of your portfolio website pages. There’s nothing wrong with that, but remember that the primary purpose of the portfolio is to present the story behind your case studies and allow people to find the information they need quickly and efficiently.
So, for example, avoid experimental navigation that might frustrate the user in reaching those goals, and don’t create a portfolio design that’s so elaborate that it outshines the work you’re presenting.
8. How To Include Bonus Projects (If You Have Them)
UX designers are often highly creative people, and the chances are you have a lot more awesome projects going on than the few you are professionally showcasing in your official portfolio. It’s great to include “bonus” projects that help people to connect with your passion and with who you are as a designer.
This could simply be other self-started UX design projects, or it could be complementary skills like writing, photography, illustration—you name it! The key is for any extra content you include to be something you’re proud of and enthusiastic about.
If you have training in both print and digital design, but only want to work on websites, don’t highlight your print work. Avoid including work that misleads a viewer to what type of projects you’d like to work on in the future.
9. Incorporate Visual Design and Brand Style
Whether or not you create a logo or use unique typography for yourself, you should always have a brand and personal style. Your brand is the sum total of the presentational choices you make—so make those choices mindfully, and make them meaningful. Even just setting your name in simple text, rather than creating a monogram, can say something about your approach to design solutions: perhaps you favor simplicity and clarity over decoration.
Whatever decisions you make here (including fonts, colors, images, and tone of voice), remember that they represent you both as a designer and as a person. You need to be comfortable with the messages your branding conveys, and that those messages are in tune with the work you present.
10. Tell a Story with Your Portfolio Website
If you’re applying to lots of junior positions in big organizations, hiring managers probably have to get through hundreds of applications on a regular basis. Be thoughtful about their needs—and how you can stand out to that person by making their job easier and more delightful.
Show how you are thoughtful as a designer: you can do this by transforming each of your portfolio pieces into a compelling story, rather than just a collection of images. Your portfolio is your best marketing tool. It’s your visual resume. When someone looks at a resume, they typically only glance it over, and the same is true for a portfolio. You only have so much time to convey who you are and what you do, so get specific.
11. Be Specific About Your Role in Each Project
If the project was part of a collaboration, it’s a huge red flag if other project contributors aren’t mentioned. Clearly describe your role and properly credit and link to other people on the project team.
An employer is making an investment when they hire you, putting tens of thousands of dollars into an employment package. It makes sense, then, to put your time and energy into creating a UX portfolio that stands out, which shows them you have the ability to make their investment worthwhile.
While you might have to eliminate some of your favorite projects to get specific, don’t forget to personalize. Your bio and any other content on your site should create a clear and concise overview of who you are and the type of work you excel at. While the best portfolio sites let the work speak for itself, your personality can also shine through in your personal branding, copywriting and any other Easter eggs you choose to include.