Who will look at your portfolio and judge your work? A lot of students and designers new to their careers will assume that other designers will critique their decisions, and their talents should communicate the intent of their work. I assumed the same thing when I was early in my career. It was not until I was on the other side of the application process that I realized non-designers will need to understand your work too. Here are four tips to help you structure and present your design portfolio to hiring managers, development leads, product owners, and other non-designers.
1. Clarify to non-designers what you did in you design portfolio
When I do group portfolio critiques with multidisciplinary teams, the most commonly asked question is, “What is this project about?” Too often we see portfolios that thrust the reviewer into wireframes and screens with little context to the goal of the project and what the designer did.
2. Show your process
The team will ask you how you came to your design solution and why you made certain decisions. This is where you need to explain your process. Think about the logical steps that helped you identify what problems were most important to solve. Then step them through how you solved that problem.
3. Tell a human story
I learned from my creative director that people will remember and connect with compelling stories. Can you put a face on the person using your product? What are the trials she will go through? How does your product come to the rescue?
4. Make it real
This is the hardest for a lot of designers that focus on the research and interaction side of UX. I have gotten job offers from my ability to tie the process from research and wireframes to the visual. The hiring manager and the rest of the team could believe the mockup in my portfolio was real.
Take out any opportunity for (the portfolio reviewers) to question your ability
For some of my colleagues and former students that struggle with visual design, they have received the opposite feedback. Ravi Morbia discussed during our talk about his struggles to land his first UX job that a potential employer passed on his application because the “visuals were lacking.” While visual design may not be your expertise, ask yourself, “How can I bring these wireframes as close to finished as possible?” At the same time, non-designers may also be sensitive to trends. Do your designs reflect the current aesthetic? Ultimately, make sure you take out any opportunity for them to question your ability.
Non-designers will look at your portfolio. While they will not judge your understanding of design principles, they will interpret your ability to solve their problems. In the end, you will not do work for other designers. You skills will provide solutions for people who need help.
*Editor’s note. This is an updated post from January 17, 2017.