8 min read
The format of your UX portfolio can make or break the experience that recruiters and hiring managers have when using your portfolio! You must step back and consider the full experience of how people will experience your content from the first interaction to what you might present in a job interview.
Failing to think through the pros and cons of the three formats for your UX portfolio could cause you to rush, make mistakes, and even prevent you from applying to roles if your portfolio isn’t ready. Keep reading to find out the options you have to create your UX portfolio.
The hardest part about making a UX portfolio is figuring out where to start. Maybe you’ve had an internal debate that sounds like:
“Should my UX portfolio be a PDF?”
“Do I need a website for my portfolio?”
“Is it ok to put my work on a site like Behance, Dribbble, etc?”
Trying to figure out what format to use for your UX portfolio is hard … but it’s not as hard as you’re making it.
To decide which format your UX portfolio should be, just consider the UX of it and consider the users of your UX portfolio.
Before we get into the format of your UX portfolio, you have to slow down a bit. Chances are, right now you feel the pressure of wanting to finish your UX portfolio fast. Maybe you are delaying applying to jobs because you’re not happy with your portfolio.
Don’t let the rush to get your portfolio to a state where you can actually apply for roles, cloud your judgment and cause you problems in a month or two. Failing to choose the right format for your UX portfolio could lead to frustrations in the future because it may impact how long it takes to make, or how easy it is to tailor your portfolio for each role, or whether or not you are ready for in-person interviews.
By the end of this article, you will also have a framework for deciding which format your UX portfolio should be. This will help you understand things such as:
- “Should I make a website or PDF first?”
- “How different should the content of the website and PDF be?”
- “Do I need a different presentation for my in-person interviews”
- And a ton more …
There are 3 options for your UX portfolio
After you’ve learned how to write effective UX case studies that answer all the questions that UX recruiters and hiring managers want to be answered, the next step is to decide on the format of your UX portfolio.
There are 3 options for how you take your case studies and translate those into a version that’s not 2,500 words of text in a Google Doc! Hiring managers and recruiters are busy people, they don’t have time to read all that text. That’s why you must have a portfolio that they can quickly scan and skim your work to determine if you should proceed to the next step of the interview process.
There are 3 formats for your UX portfolio, we’ll go into the benefits and risks of each in far more details, so keep reading.
- Website: If your portfolio is a website, you’ll need to code it yourself or use something like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, or something else.
- PDF Presentation: To generate the PDF of your portfolio, use the tool you can work fastest in, whether that’s InDesign, Sketch, Keynote, or something else.
- Portfolio Platform: Platforms such as Dribbble, Behance, Adobe Portfolio, or others are widely used by designers and UX professionals.
What to consider before you decide on a format of your UX portfolio
Before you decide on the format of your UX portfolio, here are some questions to consider that most UX professionals don’t consider.
Ease of creation
“How easily and quickly will you be able to make your portfolio?”
For example, if you’ve never used WordPress, then it may not be the tool to use to create your portfolio. On the other hand, if you are quick with Keynote, then use that.
Ease of tailoring
“How easily will you be able to change your portfolio for each role?”
I’ve written before about how important it is to tailor your UX portfolio to each role you apply to. For example, with a Keynote file you can make a new copy and tweak it for each role. With a website, it’s a lot harder.
Serves multiple purposes
“What will I show when I get to an in-person interview?”Imagine you have your UX portfolio as a website. After a few rounds of interviews, you get invited to an in-person interview where you’ll need to give a presentation of your work. What will you show? Will you pull up your website in a browser? In my opinion, that’s weird and not a good experience for the interview panel. However, if your portfolio is a PDF then voila, you can just use that, or a version of it.
Ease of accessibility
“How much work does it take for someone to access my portfolio?”In my conversations with recruiters and hiring managers, not one has ever said “I won’t look at a portfolio that’s a PDF” or “I won’t look at a portfolio that’s a website”. As for accessibility, if your portfolio is password protected, do everyone a favor and make that password simple and easy. Recruiters don’t have time to go back to their emails and find that 16-character password. Also, never ever send a link to a Dropbox or Drive folder that has a PDF for each project you worked on. That’s a bad experience.
Reduce the risk of view-ability
“What factors could impact how my portfolio looks?”
If your portfolio is a website, there’s a lot of risk for what it may look like to the viewer. It wouldn’t be a very good UX if the layout of your portfolio website didn’t work on mobile or was broken in Safari. The upside of having your portfolio be a PDF is that it will look the same to everyone, therefore zero risks that you get passed over because of view-ability issues.
Option 1: Make a website
If you choose to make your portfolio on a website, you can use a website builder such as Wix, WordPress, Squarespace, or something else.
A word of caution, I strongly encourage to to not use this as opportunity to learn to code though. You should only code your own portfolio website if you are confident in your coding skills or you’re a developer who also wants to showcase their front end development skills.
Consider these pros and cons if you choose to make your UX portfolio a website:
Pros for a website:
- When people Google you, it’s more professional for them to land on your website than your social media profile or other rogue pages that you may appear on.
- You may appear in organic searches, provided your site is optimized for SEO.
- A website is an opportunity to demonstrate your UX skills with the UX of your actual UX portfolio.
- Makes a lot of sense if you are also a front end developer and want to showcase those skills.
Cons for a website:
- Hard to customize for each role you apply to.
- Could take longer than you think to learn how to use the website builder or other software.
- Templates can be harder to use and may not be as flexible as you imagine.
- There are domain and hosting costs to consider.
- Could be strange to pull up a website in a browser to give an in person presentation at a job interview.
Option 2: Create a PDF presentation
If you choose to make your portfolio as a PDF presentation, then use whatever tool you know best, whether that’s Keynote, PowerPoint, Illustrator or something else. Make sure you get your dimensions right so that if you project it to a screen, it won’t look bad!
Pros of a PDF presentation:
- Quick to make and customize for each role.
- Low learning curve to use software such as Keynote or PPT.
- No risk of browser compatibility that you’d have with a website.
- Doubles as a presentation for interview purposes.
- No risk of people not being able to view if a website or platform is down.
- Free to make and no hosting fees!
Cons for a PDF presentation
- Can be a large file size, so may not be able to attach to an email or upload to a job application site … instead, use a link to Dropbox, etc.
Option 3: Use a portfolio platform
If you choose to put your portfolio on a platform you might use something such as Dribbble, Behance, or Adobe Portfolio. Some of these platforms also have a community component which has a few risks and benefits as well.
Pros of a portfolio platform:
- If you’re really good at what you do, your work may stand out against other people’s work when recruiters and hiring managers browser or search these platforms.
Cons of a portfolio platform:
- Your work is alongside the work of others. The user of your portfolio can easily get distracted and end up on someone else’s work or profile page.
- Associated hosting costs and fees.
- Some platforms give more focus to the visuals and don’t provide you with enough tools / space to truly tell the story of each project.
What’s the recommended format for your UX portfolio? Use a website and a PDF presentation.
The ideal format for your UX portfolio is to have a website and a PDF presentation. However, do not create a PDF and a website with the exact content, such as detailed case studies of the same projects. That’s a lot of duplicate work.
Instead, you have to think of the purpose of your website and the purpose of a PDF presentation.
The purpose of the PDF presentation
I’m an advocate for a UX portfolio that’s a PDF because if you think about it, you’ll eventually end up presenting your projects at an in person interview. Do you really think it’s a good user experience for the recruiters and hiring managers in the room if you pull up a browser and “present” pages of your website. I don’t think that’s a good experience, at all.
Plus, there’s huge risk that the website is down, or their browser is old and your site renders weird, or what if the wifi is down! Eventually, you will need a PDF when you get further down the interview process and are asked to present your projects.
The purpose of the website
Your website should give people a glimpse of your experience. You should show people just enough that they want to see more. Think of your website like an appetizer and the PDF like the main course. The primary call to action on your website should be aimed at getting people to contact you to see the full version of your portfolio.
Of course, if you have time to do both a full PDF presentation and to have the full version of your case studies on a website, then go for it. However, I see so many UX professionals delay applying to roles because they feel like they have to have both in place.
Focus on your PDF first and then when you have more time, create a website as your professional “home base” online.
Consider the entire job search and interview process before you create your UX portfolio
If you don’t already have a portfolio, then make sure you think through the format you choose to make it. If you already have a UX portfolio, consider whether or not the format you’ve selected is a good experience for recruiters and hiring managers.
Do not let the UX of your portfolio be the reason why you get passed over or don’t get invited to the next step of the job interview process! Even if you aren’t a “designer” you can still create a portfolio that is skimmable, scannable, and effectively communicates the range and depth of your experience.