10 Questions To Critique Your UX Portfolio

Have you ever thought …

“I’m a UX Designer. So why can’t I design my own UX Portfolio?”

Here’s the problem.

You are your own worst client. You’re too critical. You’re stuck in the weeds. You’re designing in a vacuum and you’re focusing on details that probably don’t matter.

You know when you’re working on a project and a client or stakeholder or someone goes down a rabbit hole … and won’t stop talking about it. And despite what anyone says, they can’t stop focusing on that thing?

And you’re sitting there in the meeting thinking, “it doesn’t matter!!!!!!!”

Because you’re smart enough to see the big picture. And because you are the UX person whose job it is to sweat the details but also balance it with the big picture.

So back to your UX portfolio …

You’re just like that client or stakeholder. You’re stuck in the weeds of your portfolio because you’re too close to it. It’s yours! And you desperately need someone else to come along and pull you out of the weeds.

Not because you’re a bad designer …

But simply because, I’d say it’s true for about 95% of people that “you are your own worst client”.

So, what’s the solution?

You need feedback. Now I know you’re thinking “oh I don’t want to show it to anyone yet, it’s not ready.”

Ok, that’s one excuse and I get it, I really do. So if you’re not ready to ask other people for feedback about your UX portfolio then, listen up.

At a minimum, spend a few minutes critiquing your own UX portfolio.

Focus on asking questions to help you think less about the “design” of your portfolio and more about the content of it and, dare I say, the usability of it.

10 Questions To Critique Your UX Portfolio

These questions are a mix of career questions and portfolio questions because if you want to create a great portfolio, you need it to map back to your career strategy.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the industry for a while, I think it’s helpful to always re-visit these questions.

It’s easy to get blinded by being comfortable. I find these questions help me find and refine my focus so that I can put more energy into doing activities that help me reach my goals.

1. Do I know what type of designer I am?

Unicorn doesn’t count. You need to tell people where you fall in the field of UX. Now, of course, this brings up the question of a generalist versus specialist, which we don’t have time for in this article. But, define what type of designer you are.

2. Am I clear on my skills as a designer?

UX titles are all over the map and mean many things to many people. Because of this, you can’t just rely on your title. You have to define your skills. User interviews? Usability testing? Content Strategy? Experience Design? Visual Design?

3. What type of role do I want as my next job?

Tell people what you want to be doing in the future. Maybe this is in your resume or cover letter in more detail. But, think about your future because you will need to tailor your UX portfolio to the type of role you want next.

4. What type of company would I like to work at?

What you’ll do as a UX designer is dependent on the type and size of the company you work at. Want to work at a startup? Make sure you talk to other UX designers who’ve worked at startups of all stages, so you know what you’re getting into.

5. Would I like to specialize in a specific area of UX?

If you’re at the point in your career where you want to focus on a specific area, then try to show that your past work provides a good foundation for you to do that in the future.

6. Do the projects in my UX portfolio reflect the skills I said I have?

The projects you include should demonstrate that you can do what you say you can do. They should be evidence of the skills that you stated you have. If a project doesn’t match those skills, then cut it.

7. Do the projects in my UX portfolio go beyond pretty pictures?

Every project must tell a story. It’s too easy for people to create deliverables that look good. But design isn’t about deliverables. Design is about solving real problems. Tell the story of the journey from problem to solution. Focus strongly on process, approach, and results.

8. Am I proud of the projects in my portfolio?

If you end up with an interview, you’ll likely have to talk about some of the projects in your portfolio. If you aren’t excited to talk about some of the projects, then cut them. You’re lack of enthusiasm will show and could leave a bad impression.

9. Do the projects in my portfolio represent the type of work I want to do in the future?

If you’re trying to get away from a specific type of work, then don’t load your portfolio with projects that reflect that work. If you don’t want to be a wireframe maker and want to do more research or strategy, then work hard to show more evidence that you’ve done research or how you were involved in the strategy phase of the projects.

10. Did I have someone proofread and critique my UX portfolio?

Seems obvious, but worth stating. Sometimes we get in a rush and don’t leave enough time to get feedback because we like to tweak our UX portfolios right up until the last possible hour! Stop doing that. Work time into your project plan to have someone else look at your UX portfolio.

8 UX Mistakes To Avoid On Your UX Portfolio Website

After reviewing over 100 UX portfolios in the past year, I realized that many UX designers struggle to create a portfolio website that has … well, a good UX. It’s ironic. But, I can see how this happens.

A portfolio website is a content website. And designing a content website may be new to you if you’ve been working on SaaS products, internal tools, or other products that are not “content sites”.

When it comes to creating your own website, you struggle because you don’t have months or years of experience thinking about content websites, playing with different layouts, understanding how to make it scannable, and considering the behavior of the user on a content website.

It’s also important to acknowledge that perhaps you aren’t always the on the actual interface or visual design side of UX. Maybe you’re a user researcher or an information architect and creating the actual wireframes or visual design isn’t something you normally do.

Whatever the case, I wrote this for you whether you’re …

  • Working in UX and want to get that next job you’re eyeing.
  • A recent graduate and want to get your first job.
  • Not looking for a new position, but want to be ready in case an awesome opportunity lands in your inbox.

So before you spend another long night working on your UX portfolio, read the rest of this article to make sure you are not making these 8 UX mistakes on your UX portfolio website.

Ok, let’s dive into the UX mistakes you don’t want to make …

1. You’re using excessive animation.

Just because the website or portfolio builder you use has animation, does NOT mean you should use animation. Animation should serve a purpose.

If every single image on the page slides or bounces in, it’s distracting. And for some people, it’s dizzying. I actually get motion sickness quite easily and if there’s video or animation automatically floating / dancing around the screen … I’m out. Focus group of one here, but I know I’m not alone.

Unless you are positioning yourself as a UI designer and you’re trying to showcase your design and possibly coding skills, then think twice before you insert fancy animations.

Pro-tip: Great designers can justify their design decisions. Force yourself to JUSTIFY the reason why you’re adding the animation in the first place.

2. The heirarchy of your past experience sends a confusing message to the user (recruiters).

When you put all your past experience in your portfolio, you are sending a confusing message. As the user of your UX portfolio, I don’t know which work I should focus on. And more importantly, I don’t know who you are as a designer.

When you fail to establish heirarchy of your past work, you leave it up to me to decide what to click on … and I’ll likely make inaccurate assumptions about what type of role you want in the future.

Example, if you’re a branding designer or 3-D animator who is transitioning into UX, your past work should NOT be in the same heirarchy as your UX work.

In the example above, the navigation places equal weight on all of Jane’s past experience.

But as a reader, I have MANY questions! And it may raise a yellow flag for me depending on the type of designer I’m looking for.

Pro-tip: Don’t make recruiters think. Be specific about who you are and what you do. Make clear distinction about your current focus and past relevant experience.

3. Inserting images of slides Keynote / PPT directly onto your website is a terrible UX.

I’ve literally seen UX portfolio websites where people simple took the exact slides from a Keynote or PPT presentation or project and inserted them as images, one after another after another, on their website.

The problem, it’s a HORRIBLE user experience. I can’t read the slides because you shrunk the image down so small. And also, it kind of feels a bit lazy … why didn’t you take the time consider how that content could be presented in the context of a web page?

Further, even if I could read the slide, what value is it adding? Is to good content? Because a lot of times, that presentation you made was something you presented — and that’s a different user experience than if someone is looking at that slide all alone, without you telling them about it.

Pro-tip: The content you include in your portfolio must be re-worked to suit the medium that you make your portfolio in. You can do better than putting images of Keynote slides onto a webpage.

4. A complete lack of context about each project.

Chances are that you’ve been thinking about and working on some of the projects in your portfolio for months and quite possibly years. That’s awesome … but it also creates a HUGE problem.

Why? Because when you’ve been in the trenches of a project for a while, it’s hard to explain it to someone who is hearing about it for the first time. You have acronyms and internal project buzz words baked into your vocabulary. When you talk about the project, you operate with all kinds of knowledge that someone hearing about the project for the first time is not privy to.

If you want to stand out as a designer, you should take the time to educate the user (ahem, recruiters and hiring managers) about the project a bit before you throw them into the deep end of your process and deliverables.

Giving the reader a quick primer about what the company was, the goal of the project, and any other pertinent information is going to help frame what you did, how you approached it, and your solution.

Pro-tip: Establishing context about each project will help the reader gain confidence that you understood the business problem and objective and seriously took that into consideration.

5. Small text below an image is NOT a sufficient caption, and is frankly, useless.

When you only rely on the built in image caption features of a website to describe your image … it’s pretty much useless. Why? Because it’s normally TINY TEXT that’s a faint gray and placed below the image.

As a user, when I’m scrolling, I see an image and then what? I start looking at it, a tons of questions pop into my head … “is this the before version or after version of this homepage?”

This actually happened to me a few days ago when I was doing one of my 5-minute UX portfolio tear-downs. The caption was below the image and I had no clue it it was what the designer had created or it was what they were trying to fix.

Let’s see this in action …

Pro-tip: Tell us what WHAT the image or visual is in a better position, and preferaby at the top of or beside the image so that I do not miss it.

6. Don’t make it difficult for me to actually SEE the visuals and images in your portfolio.

Let’s not have the carousel debate here. But, after reviewing hundreds of UX portfolios, I continue to see many people inserting images of deliverables into the portfolio … but they are SO SMALL that I can’t decipher the deliverables.

You must operate with the assumption that people will NOT click the thumbnail to view it as a larger version.

And to be honest, it’s a webpage, so use the screen real estate to your advantage. Half the time it’s not even obvious that the little image is actually clickable unless my mouse is over top of it and I realize I can enlarge it.

Pro-tip: Make your images bigger. An image I can’t decipher is serving ZERO purpose in your portfolio.

7. Your website does not pass the “scan-ability test”.

I have no idea if there’s such thing as a “scan-ability test” –– it’s a concept … but as people are scrolling down your site, they are probably not reading every single word. People SCAN. And this is why it’s CRUCIAL that you make your site scannable. What does that mean?

Well, it goes back to the content. As someone scans your website, you want to give them the “gist” of the project with reading every word.

Imagine a recruiter is viewing Jane’s page about a project she worked on. And the recruiter is now at the section about the user research Jane did …

See the difference? One is easy to scan. One is not. Practically, you should definitely make use of HEADLINES –– exacly how I am doing in this article you are reading. If you didn’t read each paragraph, you’d still get the gist of this.

Other strategies include:

  • Headlines
  • Bullets
  • Short paragraphs
  • Bolding important words

Pro-tip: Design your website and write the content with the assumption that people are only going to read the headlines.

8. Don’t show deliverables on a page without telling the story.

The other day I saw a portoflio that had a ton of deliverables in it. It was very visual, which is nice, because I just told you that people don’t read very much, they scan.

But here’s the problem. When you just show me a wireframe … I think to myself “ok, this person can make wireframes”. And that’s it. And sure, wireframes might be part of the role. But, what will make you stand out as a mature, thoughtful designer, is if you not only show me the deliverable but TELL ME what’s going on.

If you were presenting wireframes to a stakeholder or client for the first time, you wouldn’t just email the wireframes with no explanation (at least I sure hope not).

What you would do, if you’re a thoughtful designer, is provide some context.You’d set the stage, you’d remind them of the scenario, and key traits of the user. You’d inform them about the problem so that your solution (in this case, a wireframe) had context.

So please, do NOT just show me your wireframe, user flow, or pretty UI for a search results page.

Pro-tip: A deliverable without a story only tells someone that you can draw things on a screen. What you want, is to show people that you know how to think like a designer.

The strategy behind your UX portfolio website.

Ok, now I’m all about helping you take ACTION. Theory is nice, but if you can’t take action then I haven’t done my job!

So if you’re looking for a UX portfolio template for your website, then you might be interested in this UX portfolio template I created for Wix.

However, to use this template correctly, you MUST understand the strategy behind it. There are specific reasons why I designed it the way I did. So have a watch here and then grab the website template.

Parting words of advice about your UX portfolio website

It should go without saying, but before you start working on your UX portfolio you should treat it like a real UX project. Don’t jump right to the design phase. Just like an other project, there is a user, and you should do research and consider the needs of the “user” of your UX portfolio.

And don’t forget to make a project plan. Because if you don’t, this will turn into a project that you’re working on 5 months from now. But if you treat it like a real project, with deadlines, and process, it’ll be a lot more manageable.

I truly hope this helps you create a UX porfolio that helps you now and in your career for years to come!

Want more of my actionable tips about how you can create a UX portfolio that gets results?

I’ve helped hundreds of UX folks and some of them have been hired at Google, GM Financial, Tableau, Deloitte, Salesforce, Wal-Mart Labs, and more!

There are 2 ways I can help you with your UX portfolio and career …

1️⃣ Grab my free UX Portfolio Blueprintwhich includes a step-by-step action plan to help you understand how to write about your projects and showcase your skills.

2️⃣ Join my secret UX Portfolio & Careers tribe on Facebook where I give more UX portfolio advice and do 5-minute UX portfolio tear-downs.