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Last updated on 5/20/20

Consider the format

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The information you chose to include in your portfolio and case study template will not only be informed by the content, but also the format in which you present it. This could mean everything from orientation (vertical or horizontal) to how it will be displayed (PDF, website, computer, smartphone, etc.).

If you're really ambitious, you can design for multiple formats, but the reality is no one has that many hours of free time, so you need to figure out your priorities. Take into account which format will work best for your needs, the industry you're in, as well as your style (not everyone is as open to having an online presence). It's important to keep in mind that the more variations you design, the more upkeep will be required to make sure everything is up to date.

Creating simple storyboards (explored in Communicating your Ideas through design and storytelling) is a good way to help you think about the content to include, which will impact the format you use. Think of your portfolio as a presentation deck, or as if you were giving a face-to-face presentation. Whatever your approach to get started, sketch out some ideas!

Sketch of possible pages in a portfolio: title page, table of contents, about, case study #1, research, sketches, user flow, prototype, lessons learned, case study #2, contact info...
Sketch out ideas, so you don't forget anything key to include in your portfolio. You can always update, and adapt it as you go. Sketching is quick so you won't waste a lot of time.

Website portfolio

A website portfolio is very versatile. Anyone who is a freelance designer should expect to have a website—if you don't, how else will you attract clients!?! However, those in full-time roles can also maintain their own website. It's not uncommon for designers to take on freelance work on the weekends, or pursue their own projects.

Assuming you select a template (or work with developers) that takes responsive web into account, your website will seamlessly adapt between desktop, tablet, and mobile.

There are lots of great ways to create a website these days:

For a UI portfolio, you want to pay particular attention to how everything displays. If not, some of your great attention to detail may get lost by the viewer. You want to consider how you can embed interactive prototypes. Platforms like Invision allow you to export code that allows you to do this. You also may want to consider displaying the screens you design in mock-ups that include a smartphone, or desktop display to help provide additional context for the viewer.

Increasingly there is a culture of sharing and openness in the design community in order to learn from each other. However, for certain clients you may need to ask permission to share work you've created for them. Some companies will be more open to having rough wireframes shared than others.

It may sound obvious, but don't make it hard for people to contact you. This could mean providing an email, or including a contact form. If it's too hidden, people will give up. You never know what opportunities await!

PDF portfolio

If you don't have a website portfolio, a PDF portfolio is often required. You may want to put it together as a presentation, or a document of projects (case studies, of course). Make sure your name is on the front, and likely small on each page. It can often be useful to have all of your contact information (including any websites or online profiles) on the last page. This is extra useful because all the information the viewer needs is right there when they've finished flipping through the pages. Think of it as a call to action to invite the viewer to reach out to you.

A PDF portfolio submission is probably more common when you're applying for a design research or UX position than UI role, but it all depends on the company and the type of work you are showing. UI increasingly involves more interaction design, which displays better on the web than through pages the viewer scrolls through. For UX, you can easily integrate various tools and methodologies (wire flows, matrixes, journey maps) regardless of the platform. Keep all these factors in mind when you're figuring out how you want to present your work.

When submitting PDFs, pay attention to how you name your files. If you send a potential client or employer a file called PORTFOLIO-final.pdf, the name gives them no idea of what they're looking at, and it could easily get lost on their desktop, or worse, in their trash! I always use my last name in the file, and often a year. I learned long ago that files are never "final" even when you think they are, so IF I include that, I note it something like v1 or v2 to signal which version it is. When you put it together, submit your portfolio as 2018-LASTNAME-v1.pdf.

Regardless of the format, you should consider which OpenClassrooms projects you want to share, and how. Student work is acceptable, and don't be afraid to make a note that the client was a student project for OpenClassrooms. You can also create your own projects to integrate into your portfolio. And even if it doesn't always feel directly related to UX, think about how you can integrate any past work or experience into your portfolio. Showcasing a range of experience and ways of thinking can definitely appeal to an employer. When you present it in a professional way that is well designed, they'll likely start thinking about how they can adapt what you did for yourself to their own company.

Online profiles and existing platforms

An online presence doesn't necessarily mean having a website. Online profiles such as Medium, Behance, Dribbble, and LinkedIn make it easier for people to find your talents and discover your work. While managing multiple profiles can be time-consuming, it also can pay off when the right people find you.

Medium is a long-form writing platform created by one of the founders of Twitter. The clean display makes it easy for anyone to blog and share ideas—for free! Conduct a search for user research, UX design, or UI case study, and you'll land on a goldmine of inspiration. Figure out which channels you want to follow in order to be alerted when they publish a new article. In addition to reading the work of others, consider what you want to contribute. Having your own voice online can be a great way to connect with other designers. If you have your own blog, you can also cross-post your writing on both in order to reach a wider audience.

Behance and Dribbble are two design specific platforms. They're great for sharing visual design work and are popular with illustrators, photographers, and designers. Behance can be used to show case studies, depending on how you share your work. Dribbble is particularly useful for getting feedback from the community as you work through various iterations of a design. One complaint with both platforms is there is a lot of beautiful work, but not always a lot of substance. It's incredibly important to consider how you can share additional information about the process and the decisions you made. It's one thing to design pretty things, but it's another to be able to design within the constraints presented to you by a client.

As a designer, you're never done learning! Figure out which platforms or tools you find the most useful for staying up to date with the latest industry happenings, trends, and events.

Design your own challenge

Creating your own personal project or design challenge is yet another way to make a name for yourself. This can be time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be. It may mean prototyping your own app, or it could be as simple as sharing your UI work on Instagram every day for 30 days with a hashtag. You could also redesign an existing site. When it's your own personal challenge, the possibilities are endless.

By creating your own project rather than only working on client work, you have a bit more creative freedom. If you want you can give yourself creative constraints, work with limitations (limited time, tools, colors, etc.) to further challenge yourself. Sometimes with limitations, even more, creative work emerges.

Self-initiated projects are also a way you can work on building skills you'd like to develop. Taking it a step further and sharing your work helps keep you accountable. More often than not, projects and challenges help inspire others. These kinds of projects can be an interesting way to get noticed when done right.

Let's recap!

  • Depending on the type of work you want, the requirements of the position, and your own preferences, you may have an online (website) portfolio, or create a PDF document to show your work. 

  • Think about how the audience will view your work to help determine the format.

  • Explore other online platforms that can help highlight your work.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement