The Text-First Portfolio


Creating a UX Portfolio is daunting. It’s been a long time since I’ve revised mine, and I’m dreading it. It’s going to take so much work!

I realized that it wasn’t the amount of work that scares me, but it’s these factors instead:

  • Making my portfolio eye-catching
  • Redesigning my personal website
  • Getting all project assets together to make my portfolio

Then something struck me…I’m worrying about the little things.

I get caught up in looking at other people’s beautiful portfolios, and end up worrying about the aesthetics of the portfolio more than the story itself.

Because what is it that actually matters at the end of the day?

It’s the content.

The story behind each project is what matters. The process you went through. Conflicts you resolved, or didn’t. New ideas that you tried.

So if you’re like me, and got paralyzed about making a pretty portfolio, try this:

Write your portfolio first. 

On numerous occasions I’ve bent myself into a corner with a certain WordPress Theme or template, and used that as a starting place for designing my portfolio.

To use a frontend markup analogy, I should have focused on producing my content first (like writing HTML), then worry about styling later (like CSS).

This approach is fast and requires no images, no code, no website.

But the most important step is the simplest of all of all – turning your thoughts into words.

So, let’s explore how to create a Text-First UX Portfolio

_ _ _

Part 1: Choose your weapon

First, pick your word processing application (that sounds so 90s) of choice. My favorite is Google Docs because it’s simpler than Word, easily shareable, has versioning built in, and the minimalist interface helps you focus on writing.

Here are a few other writing apps I love and switch between them depending on my mood:

  • Draft – minimalist, revision-enabled webapp
  • IA Writer – no frills minimalist Mac app
  • OMM Writer – emotional writing Mac app

But really, any software will do.

Part 2: Outline

Outlining is a skill. Start with the most important project you want to show off in an interview, and start outlining the things you want to talk about.

A straightforward outline can start with the Situation – Action – Result framework, which I wrote about in Minimum Viable Portfolio. Sample outline:

Mobile App Portfolio Project

  • Intro
    • What the project is
    • Who the team members are
    • Your role and contribution on the team
  • Situation
    • How/why the problem exists
    • Why the problem matters
  • Action
    • The process you and your team took to get there
    • UX Deliverables/activities done to help solve problem.
      • Personas
      • user research
      • wireframes, etc
  • Results
    • Stats, analytics
    • User testing feedback
    • Survey scores
    • What you learned from the project

One of my favorite quotes:

Freedom without structure is its own prison

With a simple outline, we give structure to the otherwise chaotic process of creating a UX portfolio.

Part 3: Write the damn thing

Now, flesh out your outline with real writing. Just start with the first paragraph and feel out the story you want to tell with each project.

As you write your project, you may be distracted by all the media and assets to include in your portfolio piece. How do you stay focused?

Use a simple notation method to indicate the types of assets you want to use.

If you know you need to show an image related to your project, consider using [brackets] :

We did collaborative design sprints to figure out how to increase bookings.
[image of me sketching with team]
This was one of the iterations that we made:
[GIF of prototype]
Finally, these were the results from our user-testing study
[Screenshot of Google analytics page]

The content in brackets are notes to yourself, so when you finish writing everything you can focus on putting the assets in.

_ _ _

I’m done writing my portfolio…what now?

Sure enough, you now have the bones of your portfolio. Having this structure allows you to take your portfolio piece stylistically wherever you want.

Feel free to add in vector icons, fancy graphics, or even CSS animations.

But the truth is, all of that is just icing on the cake that your portfolio piece must deliver.

If you’re getting stuck on wrapping up the aesthetics of your portfolio piece, consider just making it into a great-looking blog post.

This has the benefit of forcing you to publish and share your portfolio piece, and takes the pressure off of creating stunning visuals.

You can use WordPress or Medium to do this. The strategy doesn’t change: a compelling UX portfolio piece is simply a compelling story. 

Remember, the best portfolio is the one that can be seen!

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