UX Portfolio Curation Tips to Skyrocket Your Career Goals
You’ve been in a UX role for a while, but let’s be honest, you probably haven’t updated your UX portfolio since you’ve been on the job. These tips should help.
What is a UX portfolio?
A UX portfolio is an essential requirement for being hired as a Product, UX, or Interaction Designer. It serves as a showcase of how you’ve applied design thinking to solve real-world business problems.
Typically, a UX portfolio consists of a collection of case studies. Furthermore, these case studies delve into a specific problem and explain how you used design to solve it.
Without a portfolio, it can be challenging to secure a job in the field. So, when designers finally land their first job, it’s a massive accomplishment, and it’s only natural to feel a sense of achievement.
Managing your career
However, your UX portfolio journey doesn’t end there. It’s crucial to continuously update and curate your portfolio. You want your UX portfolio to reflect your most recent best work, and present you in the way you desire.
Even if you already have a job, keeping your portfolio up to date is essential. Keeping your portfolio updated is helpful because you never know when you might want a change or find yourself unhappy with your current position.
Moreover, your UX portfolio serves as a documentation of your career. Hiring decisions and the type of projects you are offered will largely depend on the work you have previously done.
For example, if your dream job involves working on your favorite mobile app, but your portfolio lacks mobile experience, your portfolio may not stand out compared to candidates who do have that experience.
For maximum flexibility in the future and to be able to choose the kind of jobs you want, you should consider incorporating the type of work you desire into your portfolio.
This may involve seeking opportunities within your current job. For instance, if you lack mobile experience, you can advocate for a mobile component in a project you are already working on. Additionally you can also request to work on a mobile project to enhance your skills in that area.
Career growth reflected in your UX portfolio
As you progress in your design career, your projects will become more complex. You may even have high-priority projects that garner executive visibility with significant business value.
To showcase your growth, your UX portfolio case studies should reflect this shift. If you are aiming for more senior roles and want to be seen as a senior or lead level designer, it is especially important to demonstrate your increased responsibility and strategic thinking.
Highlight your skills
Demonstrating your commitment to growing your skills is an important indicator of a growth mindset. Make sure you include new skills you’ve acquired. You can list them in your “about me” page, or you can sprinkle them in your case studies.
Sometimes its best to put it out there directly, as people might miss the nuance if noted within the body of the case study.
Tips for UX case studies
Additionally, keeping your portfolio up to date can be a challenge. Creating a portfolio requires careful consideration of how to organize information in a way that a third party can understand.
Here are some tips to make this process easier: while working on a project, think about how you can turn it into a compelling case study.
Consider the deliverables and how you want to present your work in your portfolio.
Keep in mind that not all projects you work on will translate well into a case study. Your goal is to determine what is needed to turn a project into a case study. This may involve advocating for more metrics and analysis or conducting additional research.
Updating your older UX portfolio work
Don’t forget to update your older portfolio work to ensure that the design stays fresh. Over time, things can become outdated, so refreshing your work can make a big difference.
Take the time to reflect on your past work and see if there are better ways to organize case studies or describe certain elements. Continuous optimization of your portfolio will enhance its impact.
Showcasing the work you want to do more
When editing your portfolio, remember to highlight the type of work you want to do more of. As you advance in your career, you may want to focus less on visual design or components and more on strategic thinking or product-level considerations. How you frame your work is up to you.
For example, I primarily worked on B2B projects early in my career, but also had some experience with consumer projects. However, I noticed that interviewers were pigeonholing me into B2B projects. To shift that balance, I updated some of my UX portfolio projects to highlight my experience in consumer projects.
The takeaway is that people will use your UX portfolio as a way of trying to see if you fit their role. Framing your portfolio projects in accordance with your career aspirations is key to make sure you’re landing the kind of work you want.
Finding projects at work
If you find yourself stuck on uninteresting projects or ones that don’t align with your career goals, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask your manager for different projects or try to align your current projects with what you would like to do more of.
It might feel too “forward” to ask to get off a project, but it’s all about the framing. At one of my jobs, I was on a project that I felt wasn’t developing skills that I wanted.
I asked my manager if I could grow my skills in an area that used data analytics. I suggested a project that was measured by conversion data. My manager agreed to the idea, and switched me from my project to a different one.
You never know what’s possible until you ask.
Maintaining your UX portfolio is career management
Remember, managing your career means managing your portfolio. In the early years of your career, prioritize getting the right projects in your portfolio. Think of it as an investment in yourself.
Take an active role in your career growth by seeking opportunities to learn and work on projects that align with your ambitions. Be on the lookout for projects that make great case studies.
Especially seek opportunities that will make your portfolio stand out. If you notice a new industry trend, take action. If your current job does not offer opportunities in that area, consider finding a new position or starting side projects to gain the experience you are looking for.
While it may not always be possible (or advisable) to leave your job during a recession, keep this advice in your back pocket for when the hiring landscape improves.
Let me give you an example from my own experience. Years ago, I was working at a company where I was stuck on a dead-end project with no openings on other teams.
I wanted to work on mobile projects, but the opportunity was not available at that company. So, I took a leap and joined a smaller company that was hiring someone to work on both mobile and web projects.
Although the smaller company did not have the same name recognition as my previous employers, I gained the experience I desired. I collaborated with an iOS engineer, shipped features, reimagined the mobile app’s information architecture, and improved the app store ratings.
Once I felt ready, I moved on to my next job, armed with mobile work in my portfolio.
Sometimes the work you need to align to your career ambitions isn’t found at your current job, and you’ll have to find creative ways to get the experience you need.
Generalizing niche work
Remember, you don’t want to limit yourself to work that is too specific to your current company. Ensure that your portfolio projects are interesting to those outside of your company to keep your options open.
If you have worked on a highly specific type of project or for a niche industry, it can be challenging for others to see you in a different context.
As unfortunate as it may be, this is a reality in our industry. For example, if you have worked on a data monitoring experience for IT administrators, you can generalize your work to data visualizations or workflows.
Frame your work in a way that demonstrates your ability to apply complex visualizations to any data-intensive environment, not just IT administrator experiences.
Sometimes, if your work feels too specific to a niche, people may struggle to envision how you could fit into their open roles outside of that niche.
Keep tweaking and optimizing
When you start thinking of your UX portfolio as a living document, it’s much easier to tweak it and experiment with different ways of telling your case study story. You might ask another designer for feedback to see if your case studies are resonating the way you hope they are.
Remember these tips, and your UX portfolio will always be in top shape, ready to impress potential employers and showcase your skills.
UX Portfolio course
Curious about what goes in a UX portfolio, and how to create a UX case study. In this short course, you’ll learn all the essentials of case studies and how the professionals create portfolios.
About Diane Cronenwett
Diane Cronenwett teaches UX courses on advanced UX topics and foundational topics, and has led design experience projects for top-tier Fortune 500 companies based in Silicon Valley (Meta, Amazon, and PayPal to name just a few). Diane is passionate about sharing her knowledge with UX professionals and newcomers to the field to grow their skills in UX, and get to the next level in their career.