5 common design portfolio mistakes to avoid
4 minutes read
I’ve been doing a lot of hiring recently. This has meant lots of interviews, lots of CVs to sift and lots of design portfolios to review. Boy, have I seen a lot of portfolios in the last few months. I’ve seen great portfolios, I’ve seen so-so portfolios and I’ve seen lots of under-whelming portfolios. They have been underwhelming not because they include shoddy work (although this is certainly the case for a few) but primarily because as a design portfolio, they have been poorly designed. For something so important, something that should showcase a candidate’s design abilities, it’s really surprising how little time and effort some designers devote to their own design portfolio.
The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, so it’s no surprise that a portfolio showcasing previous work has become a pre-requisite for landing a UX role in most organisations. My last article provided some tips for preparing for a design interview. However, submit a poor portfolio and you’re not even going to get the chance to sell yourself in an interview. I therefore thought it would be a good idea to cover some of the design portfolio mistakes I commonly encounter as a hiring manager and how you can avoid making them yourself.
1. Not including enough information
Every project is a story. As we all know every story has a start, a middle, and an end and yet time and time again I see portfolios that jump straight to the end of the story by simply showing pixel-perfect designs and glossy deliverables. There is no mention of how the story began, such as the goals of the project, or how it developed, such as the design approach taken, other ideas that were explored and the research that informed the design.
A design portfolio should tell the story of a project and should include enough information (but not too much – see the next mistake) for the reader to be able to follow that story. Take a look at my How to bring your UX work to life with compelling case studies article for some suggested frameworks to use and for the sort of information you should be including for each project case study.
2. Including too much information
Whilst I see lots of design portfolios with too little information, I also see some that go too far the other-way by including too much information. Remember that hiring managers are busy people and they don’t have the time (or energy) to plough through pages and pages of case studies describing projects in minute detail.
Think about what information you need to include, and what you can leave out. You should also aim to make it easy to quickly scan your portfolio. For example, by providing key project details, using headings and including lots of photos and images. Any text should be concise, easy to understand and large enough to easily read onscreen.
3. Poor portfolio design
A poorly designed portfolio isn’t exactly a good advert for a candidate’s design skills. Too many times I’ve received a PDF portfolio that is simply a collection of design deliverables or been directed to a website where I’ve been forced to play ‘click the tiny UI mock-up’ in a vain attempt to work out the sort of projects a candidate has previously worked on.
Think about how to improve the user experience of your design portfolio. For example, by making it easy to see the sorts of projects featured and by providing a high-level summary for each. If your portfolio includes lots of case studies it can be a good idea to introduce categories. This is something I’ve done for my own portfolio (shown below).
4. Broken and old links
When reviewing a portfolio, I can forgive typos and spelling mistakes (to a degree). Something that I can’t forgive is the existence of broken and old links. Usually these are links to a prototype that no longer works, or a website that has long since changed.
Links should not only be double checked but generally avoided in the first place. Rather than linking to a website it’s better to include images and screenshots. This keeps a design portfolio self-contained and means that a reference can never become out of date.
5. Lack of recent examples
Whilst I certainly don’t subscribe to the view that you’re only as good as your last job, as a hiring manager I’m especially interested in examples from the last 1-2 years. A design portfolio that was last updated years ago and therefore is lacking recent examples is another common mistake to avoid.
You should ensure that your design portfolio is as up-to-date as possible, perhaps even including any current projects. If a non-disclosure agreement limits what you can publicly share think about what information you can include and perhaps create a password protected version with additional information that can be provided as part of an application process.
A design portfolio has become a pre-requisite for landing a UX role in most organisations. Avoid common design portfolio mistakes by:
- Providing enough information – Don’t just show the final designs, outline the story behind those designs.
- Avoiding too much information – Make it quick and easy to scan a portfolio. Remove any unnecessary information.
- Considering the portfolio design – Think about how to improve the UX of your design portfolio. For example, by making it easy to browse case studies available.
- Avoiding broken and old links – Use images and screenshots rather than linking out of a portfolio.
- Including recent examples – Ensure that a portfolio is up-to-date with recent examples.
- How to bring your UX work to life with compelling case studies (UX for the Masses)
- Five checkpoints to tick before launching your product design portfolio (Divya Alagarsamy)
- Applying design principles to your UX portfolio (Redgate blog)
- Get Hired: Building a Solid UX Design Portfolio (Rachel Ilan Simpson)