UX Portfolio Case Study: Ed Lea

Kicking off our first series of UX Portfolio Case Studies, featuring Ed Lea.

Today’s post is organized as follows:

  • Intro to Ed
  • Case study of Ed’s UX Portfolio
  • Interview with Ed. Really great UX career advice here.


Ed Lea. Click to follow him on Twitter

Ed Lea is a product designer who has been working in the field of design and UX since 1999…that was when we had dial-up, Encarta Encyclopedia CDs, and maps printed out from MapQuest. So yeah, Ed’s a veteran in the field and has some serious design experience.

He also worked at Qype before it got bought out by Yelp for millions of dollars, and is now Senior Product Designer at the publishing startup Inkling.

I stumbled upon Ed Lea’s portfolio and thought it was a great candidate for our first 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?

I studied Graphic Design at university, graduating in 1999. Straight out of university I worked at Abbey Road Studios as a motion graphics designer for 4 years, then went on to do more agency type work for a number of years. I did a bit of everything in that time, from flash sites to branding to print – whatever the project needed.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I got in to product design and started working on some projects for myself, the first of which was ArtFlock (an Etsy kind of marketplace). That opened up a whole new world for me where all of a sudden customer support, conversion rates, (code) performance, amongst other things, became variables in my design process. With the agency work it had been more about fulfilling the brief (whether or not you understood the problem behind it).

In 2008 I started working on mobile, and picked up a freelance gig for a company called Qype. I ended up working remotely at Qype for 4 years on both their iOS and Android apps until they were bought by Yelp in 2012. I got the job at Qype after I wrote in to the founder about a separate project he was setting up. Once I’d discovered that product design was what I really wanted to do, I wrote to lots of people that worked at companies I thought would be get me somewhere down that path.

Today, I’ve moved from the UK to San Francisco and am working at Inkling.com. The theme that has run through all of my career is to keep learning. Partly learning about my craft but also learning what I want out of life. On the learning theme, I’m currently taking part in the Designer Fund Bridge program, highly recommend for product designers or experienced designers in other areas looking to make the switch.

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

I’ve had a collection of projects on that URL for as long as I can remember. My next project after ArtFlock was a portfolio generator called qiip (although it now lives at http://auto.edlea.com). The idea was that you would post to where people see your work, like Dribbble, Instagram, Flickr etc and qiip would collect all that for a personal site. So I used that for my personal site for a while. You can still see it here: http://auto.edlea.com/edlea/

I decided to build the current version of edlea.com because I was more interested in design process by that time and grabbing shots from dribbble etc didn’t really tell the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the story of the thinking rather than the end result.

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

I only chose projects that covered my full design process. I wanted to position myself as a product designer, someone who does a lot of work on prototyping for customer discovery, problem validation, product ideas and all that early stuff that used to just get handed down as a project brief. I’ve always needed to understand the “why” and my portfolio was an opportunity to position myself for that kind of role.

How did you approach the presentation of each portfolio piece?

Each piece is a story. That’s how I approach it: can I tell the story of how I did this. I want the reader to know all the steps I took, I want them to understand my role.

I also use it as a diary, a kind of how-to for myself if I get stuck on a project later on.

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

I use http://bolt80.com/piecrust/ which is a PHP static site generator. I then have a VPS with Dropbox running on it, so when I render my website on my Mac it syncs the files up to my VPS via Dropbox. For the site itself I use jQuery, and for the image grids I use a plugin I wrote called CollagePlus.

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?

The most time consuming part was collecting all the assets and writing the text. Luckily I’d done a ton of interviews that year so most of this stuff was in various Keynote presentations, PDFs and emails. I’m much more diligent about collecting assets from projects as I work now, especially videoing/photographing work in action. Literally photographing review sessions where my work is on display or videoing someone using my prototypes. It’s a great way of transporting people into your design process, which is my ultimate goal for my site.

How did your portfolio evolve over time?

It got smaller and more focused. It really depended on who I was targeting. I’m much more specialized now than when I started. I’m narrowing down the content so that my site really only reflects my interest as a product designer (rather than any illustration, brand or photography). I still have some way to go!

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?

At the time I was looking for my first official product design role, UX wasn’t really floating around the way it does today. I mean it pre-dates all this internet stuff, but I didn’t really go for a UX role. I think my personal projects helped me get my first gig as it was really the first go I’d had at build a product. Now, my portfolio is very important. I get contacted a lot as a result of my site. I’ve done around 20 interviews in the last few years and I have a hierarchy of material that I go with.

  1. My intro email, that contains a link to my site and a couple of other links like dribbble or maybe a relevant piece of work I’ve done.
  2. I have a short intro showreel of my work, something that’s easy to hand around a design team at a prospective company
  3. I have a Keynote presentation of work that is not on my site. 2 deep dive projects. Usually I deliver this presentation in person but sometimes over Skype. It’s about 45 minutes.
  4. I have another Keynote presentation that’s about 100 slides long that I can dive in to if I get specific questions that I can demonstrate previous work on.

My site is more of a taster than all of my work.

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

Not my site, but certainly my portfolio. What I sometimes do before contacting a company is I spend a weekend working on a project with ideas around their product. It’s like an unsolicited design challenge (but not an unsolicited redesign). I’ll go in to some concepts their product doesn’t do and just show my working. I only do this occasionally if I don’t feel my portfolio is strong enough for that particular area.

I’ll tweak the Keynote presentations to go into more detail that is relevant for the role I’m applying to. I think it’s important to treat each job application as pitching for a new client. I want them to know that I really want to work on their product, but I also want to measure how they react to the effort I put in.

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

I want to remove the illustration section and further focus on product design work. I’m also going to add a tl;dr section so readers can get an overview without having to look through each project.

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

A portfolio is a great way to realize the gaps in your skill set. Be honest about your design process and what roles you’ve played in product development. If there are gaps, that’s an opportunity to find a role where you’ll learn those skills.

I always found myself justifying why I hadn’t done much user testing at previous roles. I’d struggle to fill that part of the story on my portfolio. So when I interviewed I acknowledged the gaps and said I really wanted to learn in those areas. Today I’m doing user testing almost every week. Without taking the story approach to my portfolio, I’m not sure I would have thought of those gaps until they came up in an interview.

_ _ _

That concludes our wonderful interview and case study with Ed.

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


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