UX design is so popular right now, the field is flooded with both new talent and seasoned designers shifting their focus to get a job. With more competition every day, it’s becoming difficult to secure a design role in user experience (opens in new tab). At the same time, companies are still learning how to hire UX designers (opens in new tab) and what it means for their business.
Given these challenges, it’s more important than ever to have a great design portfolio (opens in new tab) that sets you up for success. But that’s only the beginning – you need to position yourself and your work in a way that stands out from the crowd. Whether you’re new to the field or an experienced UX designer, here's my advice for creating a winning portfolio that will help you secure that coveted UX design job.
01. Show, don’t tell
The word 'empathy' is thrown around so much in the design industry, especially within UX design conversations, it’s beginning to feel trite. In my experiences as co-founder of portfolio system Semplice (opens in new tab), I have seen so many portfolios that lead with “empathetic designer crafting meaningful experiences”, it’s hard to remember who is who. At this point, you will be noticed for thoughtful, original writing that shows you understand UX beyond the buzzwords.
Make it clear you are empathetic through your portfolio case studies, rather than spelling it out. Instead of saying you craft meaningful experiences, explain how a specific project impacted a client in a positive way. Rather than saying you care about inclusive design, show us how you approached your UX work with inclusivity and accessibility in mind.
Disclaimer: Empathy is indeed relevant to design, or really any job, so feel free to mention these terms in your portfolio – especially because companies have been trained through the industry to look for these buzzwords. Just don’t lean on them.
02. Don’t deny your past
Considering how many people are tacking 'UX' onto their capabilities list, you can make an impression by simply proving you have real-world experience. If you specialise in UX design and have served in that role on a project, you are already one step ahead of many other designers. Curate your portfolio to show your best UX design projects so companies and recruiters know you’re not just another designer taking advantage of a trend.
However, your other design experience is still relevant here. If you have worked as an interactive designer, product designer or something similar in the past, feel free to include a couple of those projects to show your depth of experience. But aim for every project to make your case stronger, pointing back to why you’re the best UX designer for the job.
To be clear, most designers are not wrong to add UX design to their offerings. For a long time, user experience was part of any interactive design job. Given the fact that UX design as a field is not only relatively new, but encompasses a wide variety of skills (strategy, design, content, and so on), it’s fair to say many 'traditional' designers can meet the job description. That’s why showing genuine passion and a specialised focused in user experience will help you stand out.
03. Be a great communicator
Strong communication skills may be the most important requirement for a UX design job. You not only have to make abstract concepts tangible for your team and your client, you also touch many points of a project. In this role, you collaborate with developers, strategists, designers, copywriters, project managers and more. In some cases, the UX designer even writes UX copy. Any good design director or recruiter interviewing you will look for this skill.
Show you’re a strong communicator from the beginning of your relationship with a company. Write concise, professional emails when you reach out. Speak clearly and with intention on the phone and in an interview. Create compelling case studies that tell the story of your work without rambling and wasting your reader’s time. And most importantly, proofread everything. Ask a friend to read your writing and point out typos or areas of improvement. As designers, we tend to focus on the visuals. But especially for UX designers, the content is just as important, if not more so.
04. Deepen your understanding of design
It’s easy to say, but it’s the surest way to land the job you want: Strive to be the best at what you do. With a saturated field comes a range of talent. That naturally leads to undercutting, which lowers the overall quality of the work being produced in that field. If you want to rise above all this mess, you have to be great at what you do.
Knowing UX fundamentals is a given. Thanks to the accessibility of digital fields like ours, we can attend a three-month UX design course and become certified UX designers. That means many UX designers today (with plenty of exceptions) have a shallow understanding of design as a whole. So what makes you stand out? A deeper, sharper grasp of our field.
Beyond growing in UX design and all that comes with it (strategy, research, etc.), seek a deeper understanding of graphic design. Learn what defines good typography (CB's roundup of typography tutorials (opens in new tab) can help with this). Learn the function of layout and composition. Immerse yourself in media and culture that refines your taste (beauty is function, no matter who says otherwise). Aim to get better at copywriting, too. Combined with some common sense, research and curiosity, you'll be in high demand.