Is a Portfolio Really Needed for UX Role?

Digital Creative

Last year, Timothy Jaegar, a UX/Product Designer at Audible wrote,“I don’t understand most (portfolios). Not to say that I don’t understand the point of what the designer in question is trying to do in showing a sample of their work. That much is obvious. What isn’t obvious are other things, like: Why was it successful? Who was the audience? How did Personas inform the design decisions? What were the compromises? How is this simpler (than the original design)? What are the metrics like? What are the KPIs (key performance indicators) your design seeks to increase? Do people even like it? Does anyone even use it?” Whoa. That's a pretty powerful statement. A UX portfolio's purpose isn't obvious?

So, as a UX professional, maybe a resume is better? The résumé shows our journey, just like how a map of the world shows the path Magellan took to circumnavigate the globe. But that map doesn’t tell of Magellan’s skill in taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles. That’s what a great portfolio does.” So resumes are important, but perhaps just one key piece of the puzzle? A “portfolio” of artwork is great for artists, but as a hiring manager in the UX space, it sure doesn't work for the talent I am hiring. In the UX space, we are problem solvers, and works of art, though full of emotions, do not marry user values and business values.

For those from a more traditional "artistic" background a portfolio means something very different.  For example, when I hear the phrase "portfolio", the first image that comes to mind is my mother’s huge black handled art portfolio, back before computers existed, when art was created on canvas or sketch board. I think of the all pictures and stunning works of art she created and how she would open it up for a visual and tangible display. Recently, at a local conference, the topic of resumes versus portfolios came up as I was chatting it up with several recruiters for creative roles. They all told me that some type of portfolio for candidates is a must.

This conflicting advice can be confusing if you are looking to create a portfolio that reflects your UX experience. What is it that hiring managers are looking for?  It can be hard to wrap your head around how a traditional portfolio can effectively tell the whole story - meaning that it shows the “what” but also needs to tell the “why” and “how”. There are even some cases, where you can’t even share those details due to  non-disclosure agreements. Heck, even showing pictures of work you developed could violate some of the stricter NDAs. So all that said, how can you create a portfolio that shows what a hiring manager is looking for?

As a hiring manager myself, I prefer a case study. A case study tells a story AND showcases the approach. On the contrary, the negative to case studies is they can be wordy (similar to a white paper) but within the creative space, we can think outside the traditional case study box and create something that showcases visual, and the why and how a problem was solved.

So, in summary, here’s what you have: 

  • Hiring managers are asking for portfolios
  • Resumes are not the complete pictures within UX
  • You can’t display NDA protected solutions
  • Case studies are just not that appealing to creative folks
So what’s my point then? What Timothy and I see as a solution is the hybrid of a case study AND a portfolio – a “Showcase”. A Showcase is a blend that appeals to the design elements of creative teams, and also documents the end results and the approach. It’s a win-win for hiring managers and creative candidates. What should your showcase contain? Here are some of my favorite showcases: As a hiring manager myself, I thought it would be a great experiment to see if I could build out my very own showcase, so keep an eye out soon for my review of how it went!


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