By Tobias van Schneider Published February 14, 2020
Creating a compelling online portfolio for UX work can be tough. We can only see so many sticky notes, user journeys and device mockups before it all starts looking the same.
On top of that, case studies for UX portfolios tend to be extremely long. It makes sense, given all the research, planning and details that go into this type of work. But very few people are going to read a case study like this. More likely, they’re going to get bored.
With the amount of competition in the field of UX design today, it’s even more important to make a portfolio that stands out. So we asked some of our favorite UX designers how they did it.
Look at your portfolio from a client or recruiter’s point of view
A still from Kurt Winter's homepage – kurtwinterdesign.com (portfolio made with Semplice)
Pretend you’re a recruiter or creative director hiring a UX designer yourself. Now go search UX design portfolios and click through a dozen or so. What impressed you? What made you get bored and click to the next site?
“There was two things that I think put me in a good mindset to create an effective portfolio,” said UX designer, Kurt Winter. “One was reading the DESK How to Get a Job at X series. The other was to simply consider, “What would I like to see if I was hiring myself?”
Ironically, it’s easy to forget our audience when we’re building our own website. Your audience has likely viewed more than a dozen portfolios today. What will make yours memorable for them? What information do they need to make their decision? How can you make it as easy as possible to make that decision? Optimize your site for your users, just as you would a client project.
Kasper Laigaard's homepage – kasperlaigaardstudio.com (portfolio made with Semplice)
Two questions to ask yourself when curating your projects: First, are you proud of this work? And second, would you want to do a project like this again?
If you answer “no” to either of those questions, don’t include the work in your portfolio. If that narrows your projects down to just a few, that’s fine. It’s better to show a select few of your favorite projects than a dozen just to fill space.
“It’s hard, but try to limit your cases," says Kasper Laigaard, a Danish-based designer and director. “Show the work that you want more of and make those stand out."
Share your process, but don’t make us fall asleep
A teaser for one of Isa Pinheiro's projects – isapinheiro.com (made with Semplice)
Restraint is even harder when it comes to your case studies. It’s easier to write a long, rambling case study than it is to edit yourself. But unlike school, more words doesn't get you extra points. It just makes your reader lose interest.
“Since a large number of people looking at portfolios don't have time to read extensive details about a project, I like to keep descriptions as concise as possible,” says Sage McElroy, a senior designer based in Portland.
It’s important to give us insight into your process, but keep it brief with bite-sized paragraphs that are easy to scan. Rather than walking us through every phase in deep detail, simply focus on the challenge and solution. Show us how you got between the two and why it was a success story.
“When thinking about the best way to present your work, try to focus not only on the designs, but also on the story behind each project,” says Isa Pinheiro, a designer and illustrator from Portugal. “What problems you are trying to solve and how you came up with the ideas behind each design.”
When you're done writing a case study, consider testing for estimated reading time with a tool like this. If the reading time is over two minutes, cut it down.
Be thoughtful about your visuals
“Including your process work (sketches, wireframes, anything else you do) is incredibly important,” says Liz Wells, a UX designer based in New York. “It helps me understand how you think through problems and other paths you went down before decided a direction.”
I’ll admit visuals can be hard for UX work. User flows and whiteboard notes can only be so beautiful. So how can you make it interesting?
Wells does full photoshoots for her projects, using props like pencils and flowers to stage her work – which is often wireframes and pages ripped from notebooks.
Could you style your own photoshoot for your work? Could you design your userflows to match each brand or product? Could you embed an interactive prototype on the page instead of using static images? Instead of dumping a bunch of poorly lit whiteboard snapshots from your phone onto the page, try to make it visually interesting and consistent.
Think about the user experience of your own site
The subtle motion through Kasper Laigaard's portfolio (along with his fantastic work) makes it memorable.
Your site design communicates who you are as much as the words on the page. Yes, anyone hiring you should be focused on your work. But your own website is part of that work.
A good UX designer knows the site design itself is as much a part of the experience as the userflow. Make your site experience enjoyable and memorable for your users and you will stand out from the hundreds of other UX portfolios out there.
For Kasper Laigaard, motion makes all the difference.
"You want people to remember your website,” says Laigaard. “Consider using motion to make your presence more recognizable."
For Kurt Winter, it’s animation and color. For Liz Wells, it’s beautiful typography and thoughtfully created images. For you, it may be videos or illustrated case studies. Whatever it is, make it memorable. And don’t hesitate to ask friends for their help.
For more portfolio tips and inspiration, read these articles and guides: