Creating and Curating Your Design Portfolio

2021 marks ten years since I became a full-time designer. Throughout this time, I’ve always worked consistently. I had internships while I was studying, got my first job a month after graduating, and have been working ever since apart from a few weeks between jobs (and a few months of unprecedented furlough last year).

So, I thought I might pass along some of the tips I have for creating and curating a design portfolio, particularly for newer designers who might not know what employers are looking for!

Throughout the years, the scope of my job and the expectations have definitely changed. When I started off I was simply a web designer/developer. Now I am a user experience and product designer. The landscape is always evolving, but generally speaking these tips should apply to anyone looking to get a role in web/mobile/voice UX, UI or Product design.

Show your work

The most important thing you can do for your design portfolio is to show your work, but not in the way you might think. Yes, a picture says a thousand words, but what employers and your future design colleagues really want to know is how you think. How do you approach a problem? What is your process? What methods do you use for research? How do you collect feedback and iterate on your work?

If you don’t have projects where you’ve been heavily involved in the thought process, planning and research phases, don’t be afraid to create some examples, especially if you’re a new designer.

Include your rough sketches, your wireframes, notes from your user testing – all of this, and a look at the final product.

Quality over quantity

I am the worst for this, so maybe I should take my own advice, but remember to curate your portfolio. Prospective employers would rather see one detailed case study about a project process from beginning to end than 20 logos you whipped together for family friends during your undergrad.

In a competitive market, you also might be against the clock when it comes to getting your work under a prospective employer’s nose. You want to make sure that if someone has only 5 minutes to look at your portfolio, they’re going to come across a thorough case study that showcases your best work, and not have to dig through older projects that may be irrelevant to the role you’re applying for.

If you’re not ready to let go of your older work (I’m really attached to my old e-commerce websites despite working in the Product world since 2017), at least prioritise your highest quality work so it is at the top of your portfolio where it will grab attention.

Get to the point

Similar to the above point, keep your portfolio website straightforward and focused. I’ve encountered many student portfolios where the first page is something similar to an early-2000s splash page with information about themselves but no sign of their work anywhere. Don’t delegate your best work to another screen – display it up front and centre on the homepage where it will grab the attention of a busy hiring manager.

Be enthusiastic and ready to learn

Sometimes the tech industry can feel a bit too-cool-for-school and you might be tempted to match your own personality to this trope. But let’s be real, the majority of us designers aren’t working 18 hour days in Silicon Valley. We’re not in some cutting edge Netflix drama. We’re just inquisitive people who are trying to solve problems and we are always learning.

We learn by reading, we learn by doing, and we learn by researching and testing, but mostly, we learn from each other – from other designers around the world, and from our colleagues. One of the most important lessons to learn is that, no matter how much experience you have, you should always be open to learning, open to critique and approaching design as a collaborative process.

If you’ve worked collaboratively on a project, mention this in your case studies. Talk about the lessons you learned from others. Link to resources that helped you along the way. And remember that a project is never finished, there are always lessons to learn and improvements to make. Be humble, and reflect this in your case studies.

Finally, especially for a new designer or if you’re transferring to a new focus area, be enthusiastic. It’s not always about your skillset. A lot can be said for candidates that show enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Employers are often willing to take risks and set aside the time to teach and train a candidate that shows passion for their work, even if they don’t have a tonne of experience.

Your design portfolio reviewed by an experienced designer

I am now offering website and design portfolio reviews with a special discounted price for design students and new grads!

Hi, I'm Aisling!

I’ve spent over a decade working in agencies and startups, designing for different mediums; coding responsive, user-friendly web experiences; and converting customers into loyal audiences. Now, I am so excited to bring those years of experience to your project, and to share some of my insights on this blog!

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