This is the original copy for the portfolio rant from last year as hosted on London IA forum.

If you want to see the wealth of comments, you will need to be a member of the site, but I shall try to paste in some of the key comments in.


Hi all,

I have to apologise in advance for this discussion and its tone.

I am deeply upset at the moment, and i’m fed up of limiting my sharing of this rant to those that I speak to. In fact i’m getting tired of talking about it, and would like to talk about nice things when I see you face-to-face, or at least more ways to solve this problem.

This is a rant about portfolios.

I share my views with you all, because I care deeply about our industry and I want to make sure that we raise the quality of our offering for our employees, clients and the people that use or are affected by our design decisions.

I want the best people get to work on the best projects. I also want those that need improvement to get the constructive critique and support to become better.

Selfishly, I also want to recruit some top talent and nurture promising junior talent. My cards are on the table.

But, people’s portfolios are getting in the way

Since starting my new job about 6 weeks ago I have probably seen about 150+ cvs. I get about 5-7 a day from recruiters. I arrived to see a rejection list that my boss had compiled which was 8 months old and had 280 names on it. Some of whom are people I have worked with and rate.

I have also been interviewing heavily over the past 4 years at LBi, The Team, and now RMA Consulting. Chances are that I have seen many of your cvs, maybe some of your portfolios. I have probably led 150+ interviews in recent times, and I have worked with about 200 people who might call themselves UX folk. I talk from experience.

Most of the candidates we have to reject because they don’t share any examples of their work. Believe me, I have heard every excuse in the book. But seriously, do you think you deserve your day rate and the risk of me employing you without seeing what you do, how you do it, and what YOU have actually done. Your employers will be busy people. After all, if they are recruiting their projects and teams need support, so they don’t want to be interviewing unnecessarily.

Share some work in advance – get over NDAs

I understand the NDA issues, but there are a few tactics that I would recommend to get over this, quite frankly, annoying excuse for professionalism.

  • Most work will be under NDA whether explicit or not
  • User Experience and Visual Design disciplines are part of a Design Portfolio industry – Design portfolio industries have existed as long as NDAs have existed. If you want a job, only a fool will
    give you one without a decent portfolio showing what you have done (and ideally
    how you did it). There are exceptions (trusted referrals – never from
    recruiters) but they are rare
  • Employers usually respect and expect mutual confidentiality – and things we will share in an interview are also confidential on our side. We would have a pretty bad interview if we couldn’t share industry, trade or company secrets, and candidates couldn’t share work.
  • Employers are unlikely to steal Intellectual Property – we have barely enough time to look at portfolios to even register an idea or solution, let alone store it in memory should we have a similar project with a competitor
    in a few year’s time (or even a current client)
  • Candidates can anonymise work very easily – There are many ways that associations with organizations or ideas can be masked including de-branding, recreating or blurring out logos and names etc. Many people use this tactic and it doesn’t detract from the presentation
    of work.
  • Work can be password and time protected – We have had a few candidates lock pdfs or websites behind a password, either with a time-limit or without. Not having a time-limit is useful if we look back
    through our records, but if someone is really worried, it’s a good option.

Portfolios are communication tools
Your pre-interview portfolio is a self-contained communication tool. Respect that an employer has potentially hundreds of cvs and portfolios to sift through. They haven’t got time to interrogate every detail on a wireframe or navigate the website that you haven’t really had time to finesse.

  • Tell a story about you and your work.
  • Illustrate that story with examples of your process and outputs. Words need pictures, and pictures need words. Use both.
  • Use a format that can be accessed offline (ideally) and found on a computer full of cvs and portfolios (e.g. titled so that it can be quickly referred to through Spotlight search on your name)
  • Use whatever visual design and presentation skills you have to make it feel like a semi-professional document or things

It’s as much about process as it is about deliverables
I do still think that it is important to show well presented, detailed, annotated wireframes in a portfolio. Employers need to know that you can do these, and can think through the detail that a developer and designer will need.

But, no employer worth their salt will just want to see a bunch of wireframes. You should share aspects of your process.

All those things you list in your cv (collaborative workshops, sketching, personas, sitemaps, process flows, user journeys, prototypes). Where are they?

  1. Prove that you have done these stock UCD activities that you can learn from the many books that exist
  2. Demonstrate how you have adapted the technique to suit your style or the problems you were faced
  3. Show how they helped a project, or even better how the activity failed for whatevr reason

Get your nomenclature right
UX people tend to reinvent terms all the time, I know, but there are a few things that everyone should understand.

  • Personas are based on research – call them something different if they are made up
  • Paper prototypes are not flat sketches – they involve paper engineering and interactive elements
  • A wireframe is a wireframe, not a blueprint, or a schematic (although they may be better terms)

Honesty is the best policy
If you lie, you die. There is a high chance that you might not get found out at first for taking someone else’s work and using at as your own (i have heard many stories of this). Or maybe, the interviewer won’t probe your process for developing personas from research. But you’ll feel bad. You will eventually get found out. And your name will be mud across the close-knit community that we are.

If you haven’t done a particular activity or don’t have experience in an area, it is incredibly refreshing to hear/see that presented honestly. It’s so rare though. Most candidates have done everything it seems.

Don’t lie, please.

Maintain a portfolio of current work – for yourself first, employers second
I don’t want to dictate how you do your portfolio. It might be a document (pdfs usually work best). It might be a website (hard to do well). It might be a collection of files on a share somewhere (i hate this if I have to access).

You decide what you think is best. I am getting close to mandating a format for applicants, but i think that might limit creativity and make more work for good candidates who don’t really have much time.

The key is to having a portfolio of work is to collect as you do. It actually helps you in your projects, and gives you that sense of achievement when you refer back to what you have done over the past week, month or year. Do it for yourself first, and employers second.

Heres a few tips:

  • Take screenshots of parts of your documentation – no-one wants to see the whole thing prior to an interview. But make sure parts are readable (if not deliberately obscured for NDA reasons) by making them big enough and compressed appropriately for sharing
  • Photograph (or video record) activities – sketching, workshops, notes, mind maps
  • Write concise narratives explaining any pictures – pictures don’t mean nothing by themselves to someone else, and words are hardly read.
  • Write concise summaries of projects – e.g. the challenge, what you did, outcome, what went well, what didn’t
  • Capture who you worked under, alongside and above – most things are collaborative, and not your own sole work. An interviewer may have seen one of the other team show the same work and want to know how your roles differed.
  • Store original source files and documents in a decent folder structure that you can get around (say in an interview)

That’s it for now. I am spending far too much of my life talking about this, but I would like to help be a part of the solutions and not just highlight the issues.

If you’d like to join me in this quest, I would be grateful. Maybe we can have a working session some time soon.

I know that Leisa Reichelt is keen to help something that is more of a community tool. There are overlaps but they are very different. We have discussed working together to set some good examples and a framework for others to use.

Big love,