UX Portfolio Case Study: Zach Kuzmic

This is the second in our series of UX Portfolio Case Studies, featuring Zach Kuzmic.

Today’s post is organized as follows:

  • Intro to UX Designer Zach Kuzmic
  • Case study of Zach’s UX Portfolio
  • Interview with Zach. In-depth portfolio and UX career advice here.

Intro

Click on Zach's Picture to follow him on twitter

Click on Zach’s Picture to follow him on twitter

Zach Kuzmic is a User Experience Designer who hails from Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Austin, Texas. He currently works at SpringBox, a digital agency, and previously in-house at Pearson, the world’s largest education company and book publisher.

I stumbled upon ZachKuzmic.com and thought it was a great candidate for our second UX Portfolio Case Study.

The UX Portfolio Case Study

Note that Ed’s portfolio is responsive, so the case study uses image grabs of the mobile version of his site.

Click on the first image below to start viewing the entire case study:

The Interview

How did you become a UX Designer? Can you share some background about yourself and your journey into UX design?

Believe it or not, my plan wasn’t always to be a UX designer! I actually studied music production in my undergrad, and my plan up until 2010 was to make music for a living. Given the current state of the record industry and the fact that the best advice for starting my career was to “find someone in New York City who would let you crash on their couch for six months while you work an unpaid studio internship”, I decided I should take my career in a different direction. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved studying music production and certainly don’t regret doing it – it’s just not a career path I want to follow right now.

In 2011, I began my foray into the world of UX by enrolling at the Ohio University School of Visual Communication, with a  focus in Interactive Multimedia. I studied there for two years, learned a lot of great stuff from a lot of really smart people, and eventually got my first job at Pearson as an Interaction Designer. 

When and why did you decide to build ZachKuzmic.com?

From the very beginning, we were taught that your portfolio is what gets you a job – not your degree or even your resume necessarily. The most obvious location for my portfolio was ZachKuzmic.com, and thankfully it was available. For those who aren’t so lucky, you might need to get a little creative with the domain name.

How did you decide what should go into your portfolio? Why did you show what you showed?

It’s tough to decide what to include and what to leave out. My first reaction was to include every project I’d ever done, big or small, but I don’t think employers want to see that. They aren’t going to sift through fifty different projects to see if you’re a fit for them. They just want to see what you’re capable of. I ended up including only four projects from the last few years, and I consider it some of my best work.

How did you approach the presentation of each portfolio piece?

In most cases, I don’t think it’s enough to include just a link or a couple screenshots of your work. You have to provide context and describe your process. Talk about about some of the challenges you faced throughout the project. I think this goes a long way in showing your value as a designer and will help employers understand how your contributions can help them achieve their goals.

With that said, I do have a couple exceptions on my current portfolio. Two of the pieces on there now don’t actually have case studies – they are just external links to the actual projects. I did this for a couple reasons. The first was that I didn’t feel like they were big enough projects to warrant a long write up. They were projects that I did entirely by myself, and I thought they were relatively self-explanatory. The second reason was that I simply ran out of time. I was applying for jobs and had to get my work online quickly. At the time, I thought it better to include the work without a case study rather than not including it at all.

I noticed that you went into great detail about your process for SafeTime and Viscom. Can you tell us more about that?

As I mentioned above, I think employers want to know how you work and solve problems. The shiny end product is great to show off, but it’s important to explain how you arrived there as well. Employers want to see that.

What did you use to build your online portfolio (CMS, handcode, toolkits?) and why did you choose those methods?

This version of the portfolio is actually just a bunch of hand-coded static html pages except for the blog which is using the Ghost blogging platform. It’s not the most sophisticated setup, I will admit.Copying the same header/footer into each page is kind of a pain in the ass.

But it was fast to build initially. As I mentioned earlier, I needed to rebuild my website quickly since I was applying for jobs at the time, and circumventing a CMS like Drupal or WordPress helped facilitate that.

How long did it take to get your portfolio to the stage it is today? What was the most time-consuming part of it for you?  

Creating the current version of this site probably took about two weeks working evenings and weekends a few hours at a time. The most time-consuming part was coming up with content. Writing case studies, collecting deliverables/other artifacts from past projects, and blogging take time.

As I created the site, I chose to focus the majority of my (limited) time writing engaging content rather than creating a masterpiece of front-end/back-end code (but that’s something I’d like to start working on soon!).

How did your portfolio evolve over time? I see from LinkedIn that you’re currently working at an agency, previously at Pearson and you also did freelance work before. 

When I first started my portfolio, I lacked the focus I have now. I was into audio, video, photography, some visual design stuff… and I tried to include it all at first.

On my “Work” page I had tabs labeled “audio”, “video”, etc. to filter all of my work down to the different types… but this didn’t make sense for the jobs I would eventually be applying for.

Employers only really cared about my UX-oriented work. Now, I do see some value in showing an employer that you’ve been exposed to different media or other aspects of creating digital products, but you shouldn’t make that stuff part of your main focus.

Instead, highlight your most relevant work and downplay/remove the other stuff. For example, include a link to your Vimeo account in your footer instead of highlighting video projects individually in your main “Work” area.

How did your portfolio play into each one of the jobs that you held? E.g. was it instrumental to getting your first UX job, or does it continue to be a source of inbound leads?

My portfolio was instrumental in getting hired at Pearson and then Springbox, where I am now. It’s absolutely the reason I got both of those jobs. In interviews, we talked extensively about the work I showed in my portfolio.

Did you specifically tailor your portfolio for each new job you’re interviewing for? 

The portfolio I showed Pearson was the less focused one I mentioned above. It had good work in it, but there were plenty of extraneous projects that didn’t really help sell me as a UX designer.

I focused the portfolio and relaunched ZachKuzmic.com by the time I was applying to Springbox. I wanted to show them that I understood my audience (a design agency looking to hire a UX designer) and was providing the content they were most interested in seeing (my work!) up front with opportunities to dive deeper if they were interested (twitter, dribbble, LinkedIn, blog, etc).

Are there certain things you’re waiting to fix/improve on in your portfolio?

Yes. I cut a lot of corners from a development standpoint, and I would love to fix those things soon. For example, the footer on the blog doesn’t match the rest of the site right now (the blog is in Ghost and I just never got around to fixing the footer within it).

From a content standpoint, I want to add some new work soon (and then remove some of the older stuff to keep the number of projects to only four or five). I’d also love to blog more. Everyone says that, though.

What are your top recommendations for UX Beginners (those just breaking into the field) when building their first portfolio?

A few things:

HAVE ONE – This is far and away the most important. No matter what it takes, get it on the internet, as soon as you freaking can. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Mine isn’t. Don’t feel like you need to make something from scratch either. Using Squarespace or a WordPress template is totally acceptable. Whatever you have to do, get it online. Now. You can fix/iterate/improve on it as you go.

Quality over quantity – It’s way better to have two awesome projects with case studies than to have twenty mediocre projects with screenshots.

Show your personality – Give them a glimpse of who you are on a personal level. You have to work with these people after all, and it’s to both your and their advantage if you are a good fit from a personality standpoint.

Bonus question from UXB Reader: 

How different should it be when you interview and talk about this project v.s. simply having audience browse your portfolio. I’m afraid if I put everything in my portfolio, when it comes to interview, I have nothing new to tell them

In my interviews, I’ve talked plenty about projects that they had already seen and read about on my portfolio. You can’t include everything in a case study, and they will always have questions for you about your process or other details surrounding the project.

If you still think this may be a problem, you could always save some of your work for the interview itself and not include it in your online portfolio.

_ _ _

That concludes our case study and interview with Zach.

Make sure to follow Zach’s Twitter @zkuzmic and subscribe below to be notified of the next UX portfolio case study

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