A question never asked is never answered

May 13, 2024 in Consulting

The other day I got an email from recent newsletter subscriber, Francisco (Hi!), asking a question. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but throughout me almost 10 years of writing and thousands subscribers, I’m still amazed when someone emails me and tells me they’ve been enjoying my writing. It’s not that I have low self esteem or anything, it’s just wild that I can write something and have it be read (and, occasionally, enjoyed) by someone on the other side of the world. Anyway.

Francisco had a question that’s been recurring for a while, so it might make sense to answer it publicly. His question is two-fold, but both are pretty common topics:

  1. How should I approach creating a portfolio if you’re an entry level/jr. designer without a lot of formal experience?
  2. How can I create a portfolio that’s focused on UX when most of my cases are brand & web designed focused?

Getting started is the hardest

In becoming a freelancer, transitioning into UX design, learning French, or, even eating healthier - the hardest part is often just getting started. This certainly applies to starting with design as a junior designer too. When I started, I was lucky because my education at Hyper Island included a 6 month internship. I was fortunate to spend 8 months at Lateral in London who was, at the time, a very cool agency where I got to work with clients like Levi’s, Boddingtons, the RSCPA, and more. This meant that when I graduated from school and went about creating my portfolio, I was able to feature these projects with confidence.

For any level of designer, I believe having personal/mock/fake projects in your portfolio is totally fine, as long as it’s clearly stated. With a junior role especially, what I’m looking to understand is, who is this person and, ideally, who will they become?. So, I think the answer is partially in your question.

I’m not necessarily looking for formal experience, I’m looking for experience; for craft.

Most importantly, I’ll say that regardless of what level of position you’re looking for, I’m always choosing to look for a person. Great case studies might impress me, but what I’ll remember is the person behind them. I’ll always go to their “About” page first to find out more about the who they are and why they do what they do. Craft is important, but it can be taught. To be completely honest, I really won’t even know if you have the skills you claim until we actually work together.

So what I’m essentially looking for are cues of who you are - i.e. do I think I would enjoy working with you? A lot of designers miss out on this and it’s such an easy way to stand out because there’s only one you.

A portfolio that’s focused on UX

Just like creating a portfolio as a design leader, creating a UX portfolio is hard. What do I feature? How do I present my cases? Regardless of what types of projects you’ve worked on, what I’m looking for in a UX portfolio is to understand your thinking about UX in general. One of the early blog posts I wrote was “The secret feature that everyone knows about”. I wanted to position my thinking on UX early on and, instead of focusing on wireframes, UXR, or anything else that every other UX portfolio at the time focused on, I choose to highlight the importance of speed instead. To this day I believe it’s true that speed is absolutely essential in building good user experiences, but also because it highlights what I believe UX is at it’s foundation.

UX is the combined efforts of design and development. No matter how something is designed, it’s not a user experience until it’s built and the user is interacting with it.

So, Francisco, even if your cases are brand and web focused, I’d like to learn about how you think the brand design works for the user in your portfolio. Did you specifically work with a palette that’s accessible? Did you pick a font with great legibility even at small sizes? These are not the typical topics discussed when reviewing a brand case and that’s exactly why it’d be interesting to see. A UX portfolio focused on the user experience of the brand, rather than wireframes or flows, is a GREAT idea.

I hope that answers your questions, if not - just email me back and I’ll go into more detail! And anyone else reading this has a question, hop on my newsletter and email me. I do answer every email - though not always with a full post.

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