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FAQ: Crafting a great UX design portfolio
Lizette Spangenberg
Senior UX/UI designer @DVTsoftware

FAQ: Crafting a great UX design portfolio

In part one of this series we looked at a case study of my portfolio; in part two I’d like to answer some questions that I’ve frequently been asked before.

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But Liz, you have lots of things to show in your portfolio! I’m just starting out!

It’s okay! Your portfolio doesn’t have to showcase paid-for client work: it can be concept work or self-initiated projects. Especially if you’re junior and just starting out. That being said, I have met people that want you to clearly distinguish whether a project is self-initiated or for a client. The difference being that concept projects are often much easier, since you are the client (hopefully you’re not a difficult client to yourself), and you don’t have to deal with technical, implementation or business restrictions. You can just mention which it is in the rationale though.

What kind of concept work or self-initiated projects can I create?

You can literally design a website for your dog/cat, and showcase the different UX/UI skills you’ve learnt through that. Or you can design an app that would allow you to translate what your dog/cat is saying. Or maybe design an app that would help your favourite movie character. It doesn’t have to be realistic or humanly possible necessarily, the UX just needs to be sound. Another good exercise is to look at existing websites/apps and to redesign it to have a better experience. Have fun with it!

Can’t I just send my graphic design/branding/advertising portfolio?

Not if you’d like to be considered for a UX/UI position. How am I meant to judge if you have any UX/UI skills or have any knowledge of the field? Graphic design and UX/UI design are vastly different disciplines. While most companies are very happy to help you grow as a designer, they are still businesses and not design schools: you can’t go to them with no experience and expect them to teach you everything from scratch.

How do I learn UX? Where do I start?

Luckily for you, I’ve already written an entire blog post dedicated to UX resources to get you started.

Do I need certifications or a specific degree to be a UX designer?

In my opinion: no, you don’t need a formal education. Just a great portfolio and a thorough understanding of what you’re doing. Bear in mind that some companies may require something more concrete — I can’t speak for everyone.

What makes a portfolio stand out for you?

A very important aspect of any good design portfolio: rationales. You need to explain your thinking at every step of the way. Every element on the page needs a purpose and reason for being there; being “pretty” is not a good enough reason. So explain why you care about UX, explain different methodologies you’ve used (usability testing, surveys, affinity mapping, etc) and how you solved problems.

Should I say which programs I used to design my work?

I honestly could not care less if you used Sketch, Adobe XD, or a potato to create your designs. As a designer you should be agnostic to your tools. Different clients and different teams will require different tools, and you need to be adaptable. You should be using the tool that fits the project, and that works the best in your team, so throughout your career you’ll most likely constantly be learning new programs. Designers are not their tools. I care how you solve problems, not what program you use to do it. And for the love of pixels, I especially do not care if you designed on a PC or a Mac. That’s a very weird thing to tell me. Because it tells me you think it’s important. So now I’m concerned with how tech savvy you are in general if you think it’s an achievement to be able to work on both platforms.

Feel free to comment below or get in touch on Twitter if you have more questions!

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