The number one question my students ask me is be how to make their design portfolio stand out. After reviewing graduating students’ work as well as applicants at IBM, I often see a hodgepodge of what seems like everything they have ever done. Most of the time I have no idea how the applicants did their work or what they did. Occasionally, we find a portfolio that stands out and answers all of those questions. How can your work make it to the top of a reviewer’s list? Here are five ways to make potential employers take note of your work.
1. Identify the best work for your design portfolio
This is where designers start to “kill their darlings.” Not everything we do is precious, and we have to cut lesser works to make our best designs stand out. One recent graduate best explained it as a process of identifying work you invested your heart and soul. The next step is to make sure this stands up to industry standards. Finally, tailor it to align with your target employer’s product.
2. Outline the problem
Avoid the Dribbble Effect. You are not designing for the sake of designing. Your work should be a solution to a problem. Clarify this problem and how your design attempts to solve it.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in portfolio reviews from designers of all levels is just showing the finished designs
3. Tell a human story
Your designs are made for human consumption. Who are the people that need your designs? How does your work affect their pain points?
4. Show your process
One of the biggest mistakes I see in portfolio reviews from designers of all levels is just showing the finished designs. Reviewers are very critical of designers who do not include a process. They question what you did and how you arrived on your design solutions. Map out your process. Show them that you explored possibilities. Then show them how you decided on a certain path.
5. Bring your designs to life
The second biggest mistake I see is that designers do not take that extra step to bring their work to life. Interaction designers often just show annotated wireframes. Visual designers are content with sharing completed mockups. The reviewer is left to imagine how the designs fit into a finished product. When I applied to my current position at IBM, I invested time to present my wireframes in a little higher fidelity with real data. I also added conceptual visual mockups. For some projects, I created a short animation to initiate the conversation around UX and motion. This makes a more complete project.
You portfolio is a collection of the best work that defines you. It is also a well crafted story of your process and how you applied it. Put in the time to show potential employers the whole story for your projects and you the designer.
Interested in more tips for getting that elusive first design job? Check out this post on interview tips.
**Editor’s notes. This is a repost from an earlier article. Over the past year, I have talked with former students to hear about their stories interviewing for their first UX designer role. Their lessons combined with my interview experiences have helped shape the following revised interview tips.