A Guide to Product Design
Portfolios and CVs
After having placed great candidates in kickass roles and learning a lot about the UX market I decided it would be helpful to produce an article that answers some of the most common questions I get asked:
- How can I improve my portfolio?
- What will make my CV stand out?
- What do hiring managers look for?
Well, we may have the answers! ✔✔✔
This article is years in the making. We have compiled and collated lessons from all our years of recruiting product and UX professionals into one summarised article. Over time, we have gained exposure to the changes in the UX market, picked up a strong understanding of what hiring managers are looking for and most importantly, we know how to help you create a kickass portfolio that can help differentiate you from the masses of designers … making you one of the #Few 👀
So here it is…
A Guide to Designing a Portfolio ✍
A Product Design portfolio should support and elevate your profile by putting your experiences and designs into context. You will have a chance to showcase your solutions, designs and case studies by providing deeper insights into your process and impact on each project.
If you don’t have commercial experience or much to show on your portfolio, I’d recommend setting yourself concept tasks. For example, redesigning an experience, user flow or UI for applications and products you use often. In doing so, it would be helpful to demonstrate your approach to the problems discovered whilst redesigning.
It’s common for even industry professionals to redesign popular apps such as AirBnB or Snapchat to gain exposure on channels such as Dribbble or Behance.
If you’re looking for inspiration or a great starting point, I would highly recommend the Daily UI challenge. It’s a great way to consider some UX problems and challenges whilst producing content to showcase. You can learn a lot from the community too!
A portfolio is informal, giving you the opportunity to show off your personality and design flair. Show that you’re a human with a strong sense of character!
What to Include
It’s important to show full projects rather than just simple images and screenshots of wireframes. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see your process, your involvement, your impact on each phase of the Product Design lifecycle and your own evaluation of your solution.
The best Product Design portfolio show full stories from start to finish; how a problem was identified and solved fully. Make sure to explain the challenges you faced, what pitfalls you overcame and most importantly, what you learned.
Another key consideration! Only show your best work! I’ve had this issue myself too many times and many creatives have the same challenge. Do I show all my work in the hopes it will impress, or should I show a few comprehensive projects? Well, the answer is to show your most curated projects that you are proud of. Highlight projects that were particularly challenging, rewarding or innovative.
Your portfolio could be shown off on Dribbble or Behance but I’d recommend a customised website with your own professional domain name. These are easy to acquire and set up. SquareSpace is an easy choice with a great UI and themes but there are tons of other options that are cheaper such as Adobe Portfolio or WordPress.
How to Structure a Portfolio
- Home page – welcome your visitors and give them a warm greeting. It’s a good opportunity to showcase some awesome designs or your most recent projects.
- About me – you can show personality and explain further detail in your journey to where you are now.
- Contact – this is a stage to provide links to your LinkedIn, Dribbble, Behance and Instagram if preferred.
- Projects – The most important and vital page would be your case study/projects page where you’d showcase all your designs and case studies.
How to Structure a Case Study
There’s a massive amount of great case studies or project write-ups out there, just check out the thousands on Medium! A great collective resource is the Case Study Club as they have a whole curated set of the best case studies from designers around the world.
The structure of your case studies and documentation is key and it should match the generalist UX lifecycle. Here’s a general guide to structuring these:
- Brief introduction – set up the context of project, how the problem arose and what were you asked to do
- Problem Statement/Challenge – describe the problems faced by users, how you will solve this and what your aims are
- Research – create personas and identify users needs while aiming to prioritise them, take consideration of what is most important for your users
- Solution – go into detail on how the problem was solved, your involvement and the steps taken to solve it
- Within this section, you can focus on ideation stages such as information architecture, user flows and wireframes
- Final Design – show how your design evolved and the iterations toward a solution
- Insights and findings – take time to evaluate your solution and question whether it is a true solution using an evaluatory process such as usability testing
- Summary – what did you learn, did the project go as expected, what would you do differently if you had more time or resources
Truthfully, not all projects or case studies will require each section and knowing what to include is dependent on the context of the project too.
A key consideration when designing and filling your portfolio with content is to consider your user! Often I find that portfolios are designed for other designers. This may be the case to an extent but consider your audience and how you would want to speak to them.
It’s important to note that most viewers of your portfolio will be hiring managers and recruiters (like us). If your main goal is to progress in your career and land that sweet Senior Product Designer role at your favourite start-up then it may be a good idea to prioritise recruiters and hiring managers when designing your portfolio. Ultimately, hiring managers are often the ones who make the final decision on whether to hire or not.
I personally spend around 5-10 minutes on your portfolio because I am naturally curious. As a recruiter, I want to see that your skill and output reflect what is stated on your CV or LinkedIn profile. However, a hiring manager may have 5-10 portfolios and CV’s to review which gives them a smaller window of opportunity in which to dive in deep. Make sure the content is centre stage and your best work is presented first!
As an ex web developer and designer, I found myself presented with poorly coded and/or maintained portfolios. Even when using a CMS such as WordPress, a lot of little mistakes are often still made.
Here are some tidbits of advice!
- Use HTML5 videos rather than gifs to showcase any motion design or animation as they playback at a higher refresh rate, are generally better quality and load much faster!
- Compress all of your imagery using a service such as TinyJpg for example. If you have 20+ images on a single page ranging from 3mb to 10mb for a large image, this can cause your page to load extremely slowly. Consider mobile users too as this may display even slower on a mobile connection.
- Embed prototypes and wireframes using Invision Embed features and check if your preferred prototyping tool offers such capability. Showcasing live, clickable prototypes will help display your project off in a more tangible way!
- Finally, ensure you follow native design guidelines for iOS and Android respectively. It’s common for these to be overlooked. Check Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and follow Google’s Material Design standards when designing for mobile or tablet products.
Examples of great portfolios
Simon Pan’s portfolio deserves some extra credit! Not only did he perfect Uber’s major user experience overhaul, he documented the entire process and has detailed experiences in the challenges they faced.
It is considered an excellent example within the industry for a reason. It’s clear to see why Uber has been so successful since his input as his case study shows exactly what involvement he had, what research was carried out and what the outcome of the entire project was!
There are thousands of excellent portfolio’s out there. However visually stunning they may be, it is down to the documentation and justification of design that truly sells it. After all, design is just solving problems.
A CV/resume is a summary of all your relevant experiences and extra-curricular pursuits that you attain throughout your professional career. Your CV is one of the first points of contact you will have with a recruiter, hiring manager or any prospective employer so it’s imperative to make a positive first impression and therefore, attention to detail is key. 🗝
With regard to UX design, a CV is one of a few key components to your application with support from your portfolio and LinkedIn profile (very important).
Again, the Case Study Club has a great guide with examples of CV’s that you could use for inspiration!
- Make sure you use the same language and speak in a tone that matches the industry
- Tailor your CV to the audience and remember that not all those who view your CV will understand technical terms
- Read your CV thoroughly to avoid making any typos or errors – for a designer, an eye for detail and care is important!
- You’re a designer, make your CV attractive and present information clearly and accurately
- Include easy to find links to your portfolio and other social media channels
- Highlight your key skills. Whether you are a product, UX, UI or interaction designer it should be clear what kind of designer you are.
- State what tools and processes you have experience with
- Highlight the impact you’ve made in a position and use action words to inform what you did. You will find these on most job descriptions
- Lead a team of x or delivered project y or implemented design system z for example.
- Keep it to a maximum of two pages!!
- List your entire career history with irrelevant positions. This doesn’t aid your CV or profile
- Show your secondary school grades either! Only include relevant education and courses
- Make typos, layout mismatches such as alignment or use multiple typefaces
- Add too many colours or over the top designs. This distracts from the actual content which is more important
Top Skills to Highlight
Ensure you highlight the most relevant skills you have in UX Design and make sure they’re still relevant and desirable! For instance, designing for native mobile app experiences is a niche skill that is highly sought after. As a result, incorporating such a skill will surely make your profile stand out!
Design is more than just knowing how to use Sketch or being a “wireframe-ninja”… there are a whole host of soft skills such as communication and empathy. These skills are core in making UX designers so great at their jobs.
Implementing this in your CV and portfolio is key. This is done by communicating ideas clearly – a workshop or perhaps mentoring another junior designer. This shows you are capable of empathy by explaining the research you carried out on a project – by being the voice of the user!
The Most Important Takeaway 🍔 🌮 🍕
Product Design and UX is more than just purely aesthetics or visuals. With the changes in the market leaning more toward Product Design job titles, it’s important to highlight exactly what skills you have and what impact you can bring to a team!
The best lesson I can give you from this article is: the best way to design your portfolio and CV is to think of it as one of your products. Conduct research, identify your user, design and write the content that is most relevant and applicable to them. Make it easy to access, consume and process.
Simply put, approach this as a problem that you can solve.
This is my advice from my experience in recruiting Product/UX designers and from when I was once a designer myself. There are many conflicting arguments as to what a “Product Designer” is and whether designers should be able to code… I’ll leave those arguments for Twitter and Medium.
Recently, I have begun specialising in UX Research roles so I will be writing a piece to help anyone wanting to get into UX Research as a discipline or improve their career prospects!
If you require any advice on your CV and portfolio or are looking for the next step in your career, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or any of us at Few&Far! I specialise in UX Research roles too and will have a blog post about how to get into this discipline soon.
We are more than happy to help!
Jawad Rehman, Talent Consultant – Research and Product Design at Few&Far
Luke Pallett, Team Lead – Product Design at Few&Far
Megan Sweeney, Talent Consultant – Product Design at Few&Far