Creating a UX Portfolio to Land the Job: A Step-By-Step Guide was originally published on Exponent.
This article is part of Exponent’s UX and product design interview prep course created by product designers at Google, Meta, and other startups.
Ann Grafelman, a UX designer and illustrator specializing in e-learning platforms, helped write this guide.
Looking to land a UX or product design job? You’ll need a solid portfolio to show off your work!
A well-designed, professional-looking UX portfolio showcasing your skills and experience can set you apart in the interview process.
You’ll need to ensure that your portfolio matches the position you’re applying for, just like your resume.
Recruiters and others evaluating your work are busy—you only have a few minutes to engage them!
Examples of Great UX Portfolios:
1. Rachel How highlights her minimalistic UX philosophy and work’s effectiveness in increasing user behavior.
2. Elizabeth Lin (Khan Academy) sets the stage for every project with a detailed overview of each step. Lin explains the thought process behind decisions.
How do you build a UX design portfolio?
Effective UX portfolios focus on user-centered design processes and outcomes—how did you solve the user’s problem? This focus is a vital part of being a UX designer.
Be clear about your skills, process, and specialty projects, but don’t go overboard.
Portfolios shouldn’t include all your previous work. Pick specific, recent, and outstanding projects that show your design skills.
How can your portfolio stand out?
“It sounds cliche, but there’s no template for standing out in UX. Your portfolio should be an extension of yourself and your work.
There are plenty of times you’ll go unnoticed, even with a fantastic portfolio. It’s not you, it’s them.
The right team that notices your work will appreciate it and welcome your design sensibility. Your craft and voice speak louder than any one project.”
Your portfolio and examples should show your knowledge of the following:
- User Research: Do you understand your customers’ and users’ pain points?
- Wireframes and Customer Journeys: Can you build wireframes or outlines of new ideas to communicate with your team?
- Prototyping Products: Can you ship MVPs or prototypes to begin testing with real users?
- User Testing: Did users or customers like the product? Did it solve their pain points?
- Analytics: Can you measure the effectiveness of your UX decisions with data?
Effective UX portfolios outline the entire design process, from user research, wireframing, and prototyping to final products. Image Source: BookZone
Some additional tips for building your UX portfolio for an interview:
- Keep it Clear: Avoid industry or project jargon. Focus on simple project descriptions and images communicating an outcome anyone can understand.
- Explain Your Process: Wireframes can be hard to navigate by people who weren’t there for the original project. Talk about your process, not the final wireframe.
- Provide Links: If you don’t have an NDA, share your work with a link! This makes it easier to pass around internally during an interview.
- Give Takeaways: At the end of each section, highlight what you learned and what’s important.
- Use Great UX: It seems obvious, but your portfolio should be beautiful as a UX designer.
How to highlight your best skills:
“Pick just one or two projects that you’ve worked on. If you have a lot of work, pick the most meaningful or relevant for the jobs you’re after.
– What was the main problem you were presented with?
– How did you set about tackling this problem? Did you do user research, and what did you learn?
– Do you have any helpful analytics?”
In short, designers must prioritize good work, tell an engaging story, and demonstrate their UX mastery.
We asked Ann Grafelman, who co-created this guide, how she deals with roadblocks and common self-doubts as a designer.
- Is my work good? “Your work is good if you are a thoughtful and empathetic designer. Be proud of it. Show it to a colleague or design friend whose opinion you value and who can give you honest, helpful feedback.”
- What if I haven’t had the opportunity to create a complete user experience yet? I’ve got the knowledge, though! “You probably feel like you’ve been working in UX since the beginning of your career. But unfortunately, you never were formally awarded a UX job title. My advice is to embrace your experience, even if it’s disparate. Your skills are valuable. Your technical know-how has helped your current, and past teams achieve their UX goals, so own it! Put those projects on your resume.”
- What if projects I worked on were never released? Can I include them in my portfolio? “In a recent role, I was part of a talented team that didn’t have the technical bandwidth to execute large UX projects. Despite that, we still designed ideas that we believed would push the company forward: predictably, many didn’t see the light of day. However, I still believe in the power of those ideas and present them in my portfolios. I talk about them until they were stopped and how I would pick them back up again given the opportunity.”
- What if my work is “old?” Should I revamp it? “As long as sound design principles were applied in the process, you can talk about it if you want to highlight it. It’s a personal choice if you want to rebuild your portfolio from the ground up to feel more modern. The Internet’s design trends change constantly—it’s easy to feel like some projects are outdated. Good design is good design.”
- What if I don’t have statistics or analytics? “Well, if you don’t have stats, you don’t have stats. Talk about how your work has demonstrated an improvement for the people using the product. Stats are concrete, but improvements can be in sentiment as well.”
What is a UX portfolio for?
The role of a UX designer is unique in that you can show your skills directly through your portfolio.
Your design skills and accomplishments are more than a bullet point on a CV—they’re right there for the hiring managers to see with their own eyes!
Show. Don’t tell. Your UX Portfolio should clearly illustrate your design skills and accomplishments to hiring managers and recruiters.
An effective UX and product design portfolio shows off your skills across multiple projects and for different user personas. Image Source: Ann Grafelman.
The design of the portfolio should also represent your personal style.
For example, if you’re more into an illustration-heavy aesthetic, you might use a bold color scheme and handwritten fonts.
No matter the style you choose for your UX portfolio, make sure it’s clear and easy to understand.
What is a UX hiring manager looking for?
What are hiring managers looking for in your portfolio interview? It depends on the type of company you’re interviewing for.
UX at Startups vs. Big Tech
“Design interviews at startups look different than UX interviews at big tech companies. They have different product design needs and focus on different user personas.”
Generally speaking, you can expect UX hiring managers to look for similar things in the UX design portfolios of their candidates.
Hiring managers want to know the following:
- How did your work produce value for users and the company?
- Why did you make the UX design decisions that you did? What alternatives did you consider?
- What research and data did you use to inform your final design?
Prepare for the UX Designer Interview (Questions & Answers)
Want to get ready for your upcoming UX designer interview? We asked UX and product design interviewers from top tech companies what to expect and what questions you need to answer.
Online portfolios vs. in-person portfolios
In UX design interviews, you’ll need two portfolios:
- online portfolio,
- in-person portfolio.
Online UX design portfolios
At the very least, you should have a website that showcases your design work.
You could designit from scratch or use a template using something like WordPress, Behance, Dribble, or other design-minded websites.
Your online UX portfolio should include both projects and case studies.
Elizabeth Lin (Khan Academy Product Designer) uses design case studies to outline the problem, solution, and steps in between.
A UX design case study is an in-depth analysis of a specific project focusing on how the user experience was:
- and measured.
An excerpt from Tiago Pedras‘ UX research case study for an e-commerce website. It highlights prototypes, testing, and user interviews.
An impactful UX or product design case study includes things like:
- UX research findings,
- design process documentation,
- results from usability testing and other forms of evaluation,
- prototypes, or wireframes used for development,
- and the final design.
The goal of the case study is to show the value and impact your design provided to the user.
Sample UX Case Study Outline — Mobile App
Background: This project was for an urban farming mobile app. The app featured TV shows and tutorials on how to get started with urban farming. Despite the extensive content library, many users struggled to find new content and abandoned the app after a few times using it. We wanted to keep users more engaged in the app so that they could successfully start their urban farms.
Solution: We implemented a recommendation feature based on a user’s previous watch history. Many users wanted to create playlists for their own types of gardens. Users can now save their favorite shows and tutorials on their dashboards.
We conducted user testing and displayed recommendations prominently on the app’s home screen to make the feature easy to use. Filtering options let users browse by plant types, climate, and more.
Results: Personalized recommendations increased user engagement. Average session time increased by 28%, and the number of users returning after their first session doubled. 75% of users used the “watch later” feature for discovered content.
Conclusion: Personalized recommendations increased app engagement. By offering personalized recommendations and the ability to save gardening videos, we increased long-term usage and engagement.
Building an Online UX Design Portfolio
Be sure that each project or case study includes the following:
- The problem(s): What were you trying to solve from a business and user perspective?
- The solution: Showcase your prototype and visual and interaction design craft.
- The outcome: Highlight the relevant metrics to solving user problems.
Many UX designers also include these alongside a summary:
- An overview of your design process.
- The competitive analytics that informed your design decisions.
- A heuristic review if you used (or deviated from) established design processes.
- User research results, including user personas, user stories, affinity diagrams, usability testing results, etc.
- Any combination of sketches, flow diagrams, wireframes, design specs, prototypes, etc.
- A project retrospective covering what went well or could have gone better.
So long as recruiters and hiring managers can look at your portfolio and feel confident in your skills as a designer, you’ll be in an excellent spot to receive a phone screen.
From there, you’ll need to present your UX design portfolio.
Where to host your portfolio
Several websites allow you to build a stunning UX portfolio quickly.
Here are some of our favorites:
Behance is a favorite for designers of all stripes. Behance is a platform that allows creatives to showcase their work and network with other professionals.
Publishing projects is easy with Behance. And it integrates with your Adobe Cloud membership.
It provides users with tools to organize and present their portfolios, create custom landing pages, collaborate on projects, and find creative opportunities. The site also offers job postings from employers looking for talent.
Dribble is another platform similar to Behance that allows designers and creative professionals to share their work, find inspiration, give feedback and collaborate.
Due to its limited image uploads, Dribbble’s free plan may not be ideal for publishing certain case studies. A paid plan is required.
Dribble makes it easy to build a professional UX portfolio on the platform. All you need to do is upload screenshots of your designs, share stories about the design process, and show off animations or interactive prototypes you‘ve created. It is an excellent platform for networking with other designers in the community.
While Dribble and Behance are more designer-oriented, Squarespace is an all-in-one platform that allows you to create professional websites, online stores, and portfolios.
It provides users with a selection of templates (including some perfect for UX design portfolios) and drag & drop tools to help you quickly design your portfolio.
Webflow is like Squarespace, but it allows much more customization in the overall design of your portfolio.
Webflow is a more hands-on platform that allows for custom code editing and creating web designs from scratch.
With Webflow, you can easily create a UX portfolio with all the elements you need to showcase your projects attractively and professionally.
Finally, Adobe Portfolio is a website-building platform explicitly designed for creative professionals.
Using Adobe Portfolio you can create custom, responsive websites that showcase your UX design portfolio and other professional work in an attractive format. The platform comes with dozens of portfolio layouts and themes, all highly customizable. You can easily add text descriptions or multimedia content to each project page and even integrate analytics tracking tools.
Building and presenting an in-person UX portfolio
Hopefully, your portfolio is impressive enough to get a call from a recruiter.
If they ask you to come in for an interview, you’ll need to present your portfolio in person.
The UX design interview consists of more than portfolio reviews, so you may only have 30 – 45 minutes to present yours.
Introduce yourself (3-5 minutes)
Start by taking a few minutes to introduce yourself.
Talk about yourself as a person. What do you like to do outside of work, what are some of your interests, etc.?
This shouldn’t take too much time, but it helps establish rapport between yourself and your interviewer, making them more receptive to your portfolio and your candidacy.
It also will help establish culture fit, although behavioral questions will be dedicated to this later in the interview.
Present the big project
After you’ve made your introductions, you’ll want to dive into a big, complex project on your portfolio.
Ideally, this project should showcase your general skills as a UX designer rather than some specific skill set (that’ll come later).
Be sure to talk about how you worked alongside a product manager to define the product strategy and developed the frameworks to think through the problem you were aiming to solve.
If you worked alongside other UX designers, make sure you illustrate exactly what your personal contribution was to the finished product.
Your presentation of the projects should follow the same general outline as your online portfolio. That is:
- The problem(s),
- The solution,
- The outcome,
Most times, you will spend the majority of your portfolio review on this big project presentation.
Check out this sample portfolio review by Sara Tajima.
Present a more targeted project
Next, present a smaller, more targeted project on your portfolio. Highlight some more specialized UX skills.
For instance, rather than summarizing every single contribution you made on a project, just showcase one.
This could be anything from an impressive design choice, an innovative approach, or a cool interaction you developed.
It’s really up to you, but make sure it shows your unique capabilities as a UX professional; something that sets you apart from other candidates.
Considering you already walked through a complex project, the recruiter or hiring manager will probably already (or hopefully) understand your design process and all that goes into it.
So, you can focus more on the targeted project than reiterate all those details.
One final “mic drop.”
Instead of just stopping there, pack one more punch with one last “mic drop” project.
“With a few weeks left before the project deadline, we designed and developed a companion Apple Watch app. It received 30,000 downloads, leading to a 3% increase in our business goal.”
This “mic drop” will be most effective if it shows the aspects of your UX prowess that haven’t been demonstrated much thus far.
Build a UX portfolio without previous experience
How do you build a UX portfolio if you have little (or no) experience with user experience design?
This is a common problem for aspiring or junior UX designers who, like many professionals first starting their careers, can’t first get a job/experience without a portfolio, nor can they build up a solid UX portfolio without a job or experience.
Of course, if you find yourself in this spot, you shouldn’t cast aside your design ambitions.
There are plenty of ways to build excellent UX portfolios without professional experience.
One great way to flex your UX skills is through unsolicited redesigns.
This is when you use existing products or services and create new designs for them.
Typically, UX designers will redesign the product or service in a way that is innovative or unique.
Unsolicited redesigns are a great way to showcase your creative problem-solving and design chops if you need additional projects for your UX design portfolio.
Design a unique personal project
Another great way to build a UX portfolio is to design personal projects.
Think of some apps, products, or services you wish existed.
Did an old college roommate share ideas for the next great iOS app? Build a prototype for your portfolio (with their permission if needed)!
As a UX designer, designing personal projects can be an exciting and rewarding experience.
It allows you to explore your own creative ideas and develop skills in user research, user testing, usability testing, and design implementation.
Volunteer as a UX designer
While personal projects are fantastic additions, nothing quite packs the punch of real-world experience.
Many small, local businesses or nonprofits may require the help of a UX designer but may lack the funds to hire one or the resources to do so themselves.
Chances are (so long as you have the skills to do so), they’d accept your help if you offered it to them.
Luckily, there are plenty of volunteering websites you can use to find opportunities to build your UX portfolio.
Here are some good ones:
Finally, you could try enrolling in a UX design internship.
Not only will this allow you to build an excellent UX design portfolio, but it will also help beef up your resume!
As an intern, you will typically work alongside an experienced senior UX designer on real-world projects and learn about creating user-centered designs.
Most times, you’ll also get to attend workshops, seminars, or conferences related to the field.
Exponent has connected hundreds of thousands of job seekers in countless tech roles with expert courses and resources to prepare them for their upcoming interviews.
If you’re interested in more UX/product design-related resources, be sure to check out:
👨🎓 Take our complete UX/Product Design Interview Course.
📖 Read through our company-specific interview guides
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and interviewing skills with our mock interview practice tool.