You’re here because you want to use your design chops and knack for creative problem solving to take your career to the next level, right? UI/UX is a quickly-growing field that offers many opportunities, particularly in metro areas—though remote positions are on the rise, too. With a strong UI/UX design portfolio, you can acquire a job in the industry.
Before diving into specifics, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about terms. “UI” stands for User Interface Design, and largely refers to the design decisions made that impact what a person sees and interacts with on a digital screen, whether that’s a phone, tablet, or computer, through an application or a website. UX stands for User Experience Design, and has more to do with the overall experience (positive, negative, or in between) of the person’s interaction with the application or website. For a more in-depth explanation about these terms, here’s a thorough explanation of the acronyms.
Whenever someone asks me, “Should I get into UI/UX?” my answer is always a resounding “yes!” Combining the psychology of design with a purposeful and appealing aesthetic experience is powerful and holistic, a truly challenging and rewarding experience for a designer. UI/UX design not only considers what someone sees, but also takes into account research, a user’s experience, and criteria to evaluate the success of a design.
UI/UX Design has become so popular that there are now Masters degrees available in the field. Whether you choose to get a formal education, join a bootcamp, or dive into online training and teach yourself for a fraction of the cost, there are some critical components you need in your online portfolio to demonstrate your skills in order to get a job.
The Basic Components of an Outstanding UI/UX Design Portfolio
Gone are the days when throwing up a handful of static images on your personal website or Dribbble account served as a sufficient portfolio. Because UI/UX design is now so dependent on research and problem solving, it’s crucial to show the thought process behind your final designs. This includes more detailed components such as:
- Evidence and outcome of research
- Case studies
- Personas or “Jobs to be Done” describing user needs
- Visual insight about how you organized your thoughts (think sticky note walls)
- User journey maps
- Hand-drawn sketches
- Higher-fidelity designs representing the culmination of this process
From start to finish, each portfolio piece should tell a story. Because UX design is about solving a problem, it helps to state the original design problem or challenge, then outline the steps you took to solve that problem.
Introduction of the Project
To get started, talk about the goals of the project you worked on and what your role was in contributing to the solution. This is also the chance to talk about anything that may have been omitted from your portfolio piece due to confidentiality restrictions. You can also mention whether the project was freelance, part of a full-time job and a team, or was self-directed as an independent study.
If you want to dive into it, you can mention more conceptual aspects of the project like how you want the user to feel while using your design.
User Experience Research and Findings
Depending on the roles you’re looking at, you may want to demonstrate your research skills. A lot of contemporary roles are looking for a well-rounded designer who can help understand and contribute to the why—not just the how—of a design.
For the raw research, you can describe how you approached collecting data, who you talked to and how (phone, email, survey, in-person, etc.), and how you took notes.
Dive deep into the user’s journey and experience from beginning to end with the product design in question. Take it a step further and make your user journey map beautiful using your visual design skills, but make sure to keep it content-driven by highlighting pain points or processes that are currently working.
In this stage, you want to cover at least one persona of who will be using your app or design. This will help outline the goals of each type of user, what their level of comfort is with technology, and any unique traits they may have.
It might help to have a discovery or findings section in your case study to help illustrate how you transformed research findings into wireframes and design decisions.
Prototyping, UI Design, and Mockups
At this point in your case study and project story, you can start to show your solution visually. Sketches, wireframes, mockups, and prototypes will do just that.
What is the difference between these visual components?
Sketches are quick hand-drawn examples of a solution. They can help illustrate a solution without diving into the weeds of having the visuals be pixel-perfect. They can also help identify what screens are needed at each stage of the user journey or which screens need to be fleshed out into higher level fidelity designs.
Jenn Palandro, Sketches
Wireframes are the next level of sketches. They are typically drawn on a computer and can be high or low fidelity. Overall they use simple shapes to represent what type of content and interactive components will go where.
Jillian M. Pfifferling, Lerna Wireframes
Mockups introduce color, branding, typography, and imagery to wireframes. If your skills are heavier on User Experience and Research, your portfolio may not include more “finished” product design like this.
Yujean Park, Tailwind Mockups
Prototypes can happen at varying levels of wireframes and mockups. The purpose of a prototype is to show how the user interacts with the app through various buttons, links, icons, and more. A prototype can be in the form of a simple paper demonstration (think scissors and tape) or through an interactive demonstration tool like Invision.
Fantastic Examples of Thorough UI/UX Portfolios
Perusing effective and fleshed-out UI/UX portfolios is a great way to get a list of ideas for your own portfolio.
Simon Pan did work for Uber and outlined how he conducted research in the field. He gathered his insights and shared his discoveries, shared deeper insights, and then worked towards identifying the true problem and therefore a true, workable solution. He shared iterations of designs, whiteboard photos, journey maps, screen progressions, design principles and how they contribute to solving the problem, and more. It’s no wonder that Simon’s detailed case study is being shared virally this year.
Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to do UI/UX work for household-name companies.
Jillian Pfifferling has a sleek portfolio of UX design work where she showcases five projects from start to finish. Her piece on Lerna, an e-learning startup, is a tight example of a project including an overview, business and project goals, role, duration, audience, ideation (including hand-drawn sketches), user flows, wireframes, brand identity, and the final prototype. Each of her projects includes a clever “reflection” section which allows her to share personal insights and skills developed during the project.
Yujean Park, a local UXer who works at Philadelphia’s Linode, beautifully demonstrates a hackathon project for Tailwind. She explains the project challenge, the discovery, and the definition/goals of the project. She specifically contributed a user flow to help outline the app’s architecture and user journey, and also her wireframes based off of that flow. During the design phase, she explains and reflects on constraints and hiccups the team encountered.
Lizzie Willet is a multi-talented designer and front-end developer. Her portfolio is highly visual: it doesn’t include much backstory for each of her projects. However, Lizzie is careful to include succinct explanations of each phase of her design, especially for Bandana Studio, a design and development studio that offers services for creative entrepreneurs.
Other Necessary UI/UX Portfolio Components
As a designer seeking a new job, it’s important to think about your online portfolio from the employer’s perspective. The employer will want to know more about who you are as an individual and how to get in touch with you.
If you don’t like the idea of putting yourself out there, keep in mind that sharing a bit about your personality will help an employer decide if you would be a good match for their company. You don’t have to get extremely personal, but sharing a bit about your professional background and some hobbies may help you stand out from the crowd.
Include your resume! A link to your LinkedIn profile can suffice, but having a downloadable PDF of your resume on your portfolio website will help contribute to your general professionalism.
If you’re worried your professional experience is too thin to advertise in trying to get a job in UI/UX, get creative in thinking about how your past roles could contribute to a successful career in user experience and interface design.
Your resume is also a great place to show a list of your technical skills (specific apps like Sketch, Invision, Adobe programs, etc.), as well as research skills like journey mapping, conducting contextual interviews, and more.
Finally, a simple contact form will make you seem more approachable than if you just provide an email address or a link to your social media accounts.