I am frequently asked by candidates of all levels of experience how to craft the perfect portfolio – or at least one that will demonstrate their experience. I thought it’s about time to stop repeating myself and create a post that will help you showcase your work and process in the best way.

Below, I talk through all the key criteria that I believe you should be considering when producing a portfolio. I expect this to be met with some contest, so I stress this is my opinion and welcome any suggestions that you may have.

One final point, you will see I refer to the user throughout, the user is anyone from me to HR/internal recruiter to Head of UX or Product owner, basically, anyone reading your portfolio.

PDF versus Website

I am a bit old school and prefer a PDF document. The folio should be focusing on your work rather than the functionality and performance of the site. If you are pretty handy with code, then go for it but I would suggest keeping it to PDF. This also gives a more linear approach keeping the user engaged in your projects and not getting lost scrolling for ages or seeing images that are not aligned with the text. Finally, hiring managers might read these on their way home on the tube and not have access to Wi-Fi, another win to PDF!

Case study versus Process

The point of a folio is for you to demonstrate your work but also the process and tools you have acquired. We understand that a contractor maybe more inclined to demonstrate the full range of skills, tools and techniques to get noticed, so finding a good balance is key. I believe choosing three to five projects that cover a variety of platforms to show your range but avoiding repetition as nobody wants to see 20 pages of wireframes. I would suggest thinking about mobile or responsive, e-commerce or banking, research or interaction design. This is essential in showing how you applied your skills and process to different projects.

What should a case study consist of?

If you have had the privilege of coming in to talk with me about portfolios then you would have heard me hark on about how to structure a case study within a portfolio. In short, there are five key points that you should consider that will help articulate your approach and outcome of the project. Remember you are showcasing your process and approach so maintain a 50/50 split of text to visual.

  1. Overview: Make sure you give a clear, concise overview of the project including project length, the make-up of the team, platform and client. This sounds obvious but is often overlooked.
  2. Brief: This again maybe obvious but outlining what you were instructed to do sets the scene for the project. You may also want to outline how you interpreted said brief and what you had to do. These are two very different things!
  3. Challenges: This can come in many guises from the usual suspects of time and budget but think about the lack of resource and also education around your process. In addition, the location of dev teams or product owners with time delays plus working with lots red tape in FS or government. This is essential you outline the challenges to give a full lowdown of what you had to overcome.
  4. Approach: This is the bit where you get to put your lovely visuals of wireframes, post it’s on a wall and any other documentation you have collected. In this part, you are showing your approach that you had to adapt to overcome the above challenges. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of full-page visuals, make sure you have a strong narrative throughout explaining anything that might not be obvious.
  5. Outcome/Results: This is hugely important for many reasons. The obvious is showing you have successfully delivered the work but also how it aligned to the original brief. This is all the chance to talk through any specific achievements e.g. metrics around traffic or revenue, new projects created from your work or just getting it done on time! If you are a contractor, then there is a good chance you didn’t get to stick around to find out the finer details but try to get back in touch to obtain any other useful info.

NDA or no documentation

This is a common complaint that we hear and while I know it can feel hard to navigate there are some simple tips. The case study can outline the team, and the initial brief (leaving out any detail) then think about incorporating the above process without visuals. The project will be short, but the use of bullet points and key processes is a good way to demonstrate your approach. Don’t forget to label the project NDA so the client understands the lack of visual and detail.

You can also password protect PDF files to make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

How many pages?

You have to remember who is reading this and how time poor or rich they maybe. Therefore, I would suggest keeping each case study to four to five pages max. If you include an introduction page, contents page and maybe skills/clients page the overall size should be around 20-25 pages.

But I’m not a visual designer, how do I make it look pretty?

A folio is your calling card, its an example of your work and how you will present this. Its essential to keep it clean, concise and easily digestible. The use of bullet points is a great way to cut through the noise of big bulky paragraphs.

Finally, if you know of anyone that is a visual designer or can give you some tips then take it. The client is looking at your approach, tools and techniques.

Any other tips?

  1. As mentioned above, please include an introduction and contents page. Prepare the user for what they are about to read
  2. Use paragraphs for intro and overview and bullet points to outline key processes/outputs
  3. Make sure images are clean and easy to see
  4. Landscape layout

If you would like to discuss any of the above points in more detail then, please do get in touch. At Futureheads, we have a five strong UX team who are more than happy to offer advice or critique on your portfolios.

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