Meetup: Designing a UX Portfolio

For my first visit to the Berlin UX Book Club, I ventured out to Treptower Park and the digital agency Moccu – the organisers have an intentional process of “sharing” the club around to different companies and parts of Berlin, which no doubt keeps things fresh.

Straight from presenting at UX Camp Europe, consultant Ian Fenn is currently developing his first book, intended to help UX professionals of all kinds display their work and most importantly, sell themselves to prospective employers or contracts.

Why build a Portfolio?

The key messages a portfolio needs to address are simple – answering the hiring manager’s obvious questions of:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Can you do it well?
  • Do we need you?

One surprise straight away was that Ian himself actually uses a PDF base template, which he adapts for each contact and client, rather than a catch-all website which I would have assumed was standard.

Whilst this is great for personalisation, I did wonder about the significant effort this may entail, compared to the potential for recruiters to either not respond, or spend a few minutes at most glancing at a few pages or screens – is extensive personalisation a good investment, or only for heavyweights like Ian himself?

Potentially this is solved to an extent via a simple (hence, more easily adaptable approach), with Ian’s standard being:

  1. A basic introduction, with direct language about the value he adds
  2. A summary of his core skills
  3. Selected work, tailored to what the client needs

Your Introduction

Here Ian talked about things to avoid, including:

  • A high-minded, “saving the world” type introduction – questioning whether you could defend your extraordinary claims with actual, believable examples;
  • Irrelevant information, such as claims about being left-brain or right-brain (or both), Myers-Briggs analysis, or (for Americans) GPA scores and so on; and
  • “Meaningful quotes” such as “A problem should not be solved, without first being explored.” Apparently Steve Jobs quotes are very popular, but not helping candidates!

Case Studies

Working your past experience and projects into case studies has a number of benefits:

  • Effective storytelling is entertaining, and gives specific details
  • It deters plagiarism, telling the story and specific steps in delivery
  • You can choose the focus of each case study and hence, how it (and you) want to be perceived

Hiring managers view the ability to curate as a core design skill, so case studies should be carefully selected so you are showing:

  • Your best work, not a mass or random selection
  • Different types of product, different types of client
  • Details e.g. role, industry type, CMS, methodology and tools you’ve used

The structure of each case study should be relatively consistent:

  1. Tell me a story
    • What was the problem?
    • How did you solve it?
    • What was the overall result?
  2. What were the key tools and deliverables
    • Usability Testing
    • User interviews
    • Prototype
  3. What were the results?
    • Page views, other metrics
    • Testimonials

Finally, Ian focused some detail on getting your portfolio reviewed – avoiding a generic “email blast” of sending it to everyone you know, but instead asking industry peers.

With his final recommendations being to actively maintain your portfolio, and remember that the best UX portfolios are user-centred, just like the work that they describe.

Q & A

Lots of questions from an engaged group, with my favourite takeouts being:

  • Related to my “PDF vs Digital” observation above – HR, hiring managers and other interviewers are still likely to like to print something, which they can then scribble notes or questions on as an aid for when you meet.
  • I was curious as to whether Ian had researched analytics on an online portfolio, but his main audience for now has been hiring managers.
  • Likewise, his “peer review” for the book is a hiring manager audience – it might be interesting to aim more broadly, for example both sides of the hiring process.
  • As an author publishing through the US (O’Reilly), he is curious as how much editing to suit American English will dilute his British humour!
  • One curious statement was that whilst word-of-mouth might be enough for current Senior professionals, this would no longer be the case in future as others graduated through the ranks. This makes it tough as work-life pressures (e.g. families) come into play, though perhaps a mitigation action is to ensure your portfolio management and structure is clear and easy to update!

Overall a great session and a great group – looking forward to reading “Practical Empathy” by Indi Young at the next one.

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