How to Build a Portfolio (UX or Otherwise): Insights From 20+ Industry Experts

With over 6 years of experience in R&D and academia, coupled with a background in software engineering, I never considered a portfolio to be essential. However, diving into the UX job market changed that perspective. In this piece, I share key takeaways from 600+ minutes of conversations with 20+ experts in research, design, and UX that helped shape my portfolio.

People healping each other!
Image credit: Work illustrations by Storyset []

Portfolio Content and Structure: Beyond Work Samples

  • Highlighting Specific Projects: The consensus was to spotlight 1–2 comprehensive projects that capture my journey. These should showcase different methods and topics to show my work’s depth and breadth.
  • Demonstrating Challenges: The experts underscored the importance of illustrating the iterative nature of my work, detailing challenges and decisions. This demonstrates the ability to navigate imperfections and adapt because no research is perfect!
  • Clear Titles: Consistently, experts advised using descriptive titles for each project or section.

Visual and Textual Presentation: Finding the Perfect Balance

  • Visual Appeal: A visually attractive portfolio is memorable. While some UX managers leaned towards design aesthetics, others appreciated a balance — possibly because UX people come from different backgrounds, including design and social sciences. Many emphasized narrating a story using icons, infographics, and relevant images.
  • Scannable: Highlighting or bolding key points facilitates quick scanning by hiring managers. Seems like recruiters and hiring managers don’t spend more than 1–2 minutes per portfolio (at best).
  • Information Chunking: Presenting content in easily digestible sections was advised. I use PDF slides to show my work. People were happy with slides or web-based portfolios, so it’s a personal choice. I don’t recommend Powerpoint or Google Slides. I used Google Slides initially, but people were frustrated with all the clicking; scrolling is easier.

Collaboration and Impact: Highlighting Collective Efforts

  • Teamwork: Emphasizing collaboration from the outset signals the collective nature of the work. Some suggested including the names of teams I collaborated with, even on the first slide.
  • Negotiation Skills: Demonstrating negotiation and persuasion skills, even in academic settings like grant applications, is very important. This is also a question I often get asked during interviews, so it seems an essential aspect of work that people want to know about.

Learning and Reflection: Present Growth

  • Personal Growth: Ending the portfolio with some personal learnings can be impactful. To show things I learned from problem-solving through the research journey, not just the values it brought to the team and company.
  • Research Reflections: Discussing alternative strategies for future challenges and their significance can set a portfolio apart. This should be specific, like things I would do differently next time and how they would benefit me.

Research and Methodology: The Pillars of UX

  • Highlighting Methods: Clearly delineating research types and specific methods can demonstrate versatility. Making sure I talk about multiple methods in the portfolio as a mixed methods researcher is essential.
  • Decision Making: Experts appreciate a clear rationale between research questions and chosen methods, along with an understanding of any constraints. This would show my thinking process, that I considered different approaches and alternatives, and for this specific problem, the method I chose was the best.

Feedback and Iteration: Engineering Iterative Process

  • Hypotheses-Driven Presentation: Beginning with initial hypotheses can frame a persuasive narrative, especially when these evolve based on research findings. This was a superb framing and presenting tip as I could start by saying, “Hey, I thought developers were about to benefit from this tool because this is why this tool exists,” and then later on the show, based on the research findings, I was wrong. So, it makes the story strong and has an aha moment in it.
  • Feedback Loops: Showcasing how feedback was integrated and influenced the approach can be a selling point. I get questions about this during the first interviews, too, so showing it in the portfolio could be helpful.

Crafting a portfolio is an art of presenting work, skills, design thinking process, and unique value with a personal touch. I’m incredibly grateful to all the mentors at ADPList who guided me; their insights have been transformative. As I navigate the job market, I hope these insights also benefit fellow researchers and job seekers!

Check out my portfolio here.

I’d love to get more feedback! So, please do reach out if you have thoughts about how to improve my portfolio.

If you found this article helpful, you might also be interested in reading about my journey reworking my academic CV to a resume tailored for industry UX roles

Mohammad Tahaei
Mohammad Tahaei
Research Lead

Research Lead