My Experience with Creating a UX Portfolio

First, a little bit about me:

I recently transitioned into UX/UI from a background in music. Fortunately for me, my background in music has many similarities with UX and also provided me with some of the technical skills necessary for UI (primarily Adobe Illustrator).

I took two courses through BrainStation and am on track to finish UX Academy at DesignLab by the end of the month — and part of finishing involves having a fully functional UX portfolio.

The process of creating a portfolio has been exciting and challenging. And although I am not an expert, nor am I even completely finished with my portfolio, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my personal confusion about the priority of elements in a case study.

Almost automatically, I found myself focusing on the “wrong” things.

Now to be fair — if you have the time, there are no wrong things to focus on. Do it up. Make every deliverable beautiful, tell your story, show a complete mobile app or a finished, built-out website. However, when trying to create a portfolio in the limited timespan allotted in a “bootcamp-like” UX design program, it is reasonable to assume there will be elements that get more attention than others.

When I began the creation of my case studies, I immediately focused far too heavily on the visual design of the deliverables. I spent hours perfecting customer journey maps, I created Information Architectures repeatedly and I even spent too much time on choosing the typefaces for my website. Now that I’m at a good place, closing in on a complete portfolio, it is easy to look back and realize that my focus on design elements was my own form of (albeit productive) procrastination.

When I got enough material down to start asking for feedback, a thread appeared:

  • “Tell a story.”
  • “Explain this like you’re explaining it to your best friend.”
  • “Hiring managers won’t be looking at all of this, they’ll just be wanting to see that you can tell a story.”

I realized (far too late) that I had gone about everything backward. So I went back in, and I started writing the story. I started changing how I explained things, and I tried to use my natural voice as opposed to the voice I thought people wanted to hear. A little bit of humor found its way into my case studies and I treated the deliverables like supporting actors instead of the main star.

I don’t want this to get confused — the deliverables matter. The final screens matter, the prototypes and the animations and the user personas matter. However, they matter a LOT less if the story isn’t worth reading. So I’ve begun to think of it as a challenge. My goal is to engage the reader so that they are exposed to all those pretty deliverables. And I try to tell the story with my voice AND my work.

I’m a Product Designer at Grubhub working on the LevelUp Team to create branded apps for restaurants.

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