What the Best UX Designer Portfolios Have in Common (Including 10+ Examples)
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For recruiters looking at UX designer portfolios, it’s easy to get caught up in the visual design and how beautiful and stylish the end result of each project is. But UI design and UX design are two different skill sets. So if you want to know how good a UX designer is, their process is the thing you need to evaluate.
The process of creating a good user experience is a messy one — think roughly sketched wireframes and Post-it notes spread out over a table or a white board. Kind of like this:
That process can be difficult to communicate. But that’s what sets really good user experience (alternatively, “IA” — information architecture) design portfolios apart. The portfolio should show you how a designer thinks, solves problems, and develops products that are simple and friendly to use. You want to know the actions they took, the roadblocks they encountered, and the decisions they made to continually get to the next step — all the way through to the final product.
That’s in contrast to UI designers, who focus on taking the structure and flows created by UX designers and making them visually appealing. If someone says they do UX/UI design, then you would want to evaluate each design skill set separately.
In this article, we’ll discuss five qualities that the best UX designer portfolios share, along with several portfolio examples for each one. If you’re looking to hire a UX designer for your next project, use this post to help you find the right designer for your team.
Note: Are you looking for top-notch UX designers to join your team or elevate your next project? Get access to 2,000+ of the most respected UX/IA designers around on WorkingWorking today.
5 Characteristics of the Best UX Designer Portfolios
1. Display Use of Wireframes and Flows
Sharing wireframes and user flows are probably the clearest way a UX designer can help you visualize their process in a project and give you the insight you need to understand their design approach.
Wireframes and user flows range from “low fidelity” — like a rough sketch or series of arranged Post-its — to high-res images that look more like a nearly finished product with clean graphic design.
Let’s take a look at how some top UX designers are including wireframes and user flows in their portfolio design.
National Parks Service Interactive Tour
Liz Wells is a Manhattan-based UX/IA designer and Working Not Working Member. In this project, Liz was tasked with creating an interactive tour of five of America’s most beautiful national parks for the hundred-year celebration of the National Parks Service (cool, right?).
She pairs this graphic with a description of the first major UX challenge she set out to solve: mapping out the entire content experience so they could determine what needed to be filmed at each park. In doing so, she’s able to display some of her process, while connecting it to the problem.
Tiago Varandas is an Amsterdam-based UX/IA designer, art director, and digital product designer. In this project, Tiago was building a website for HealthPlus.AI, a company seeking to bring artificial intelligence to healthcare to simplify and improve medical treatment for doctors and patients.
In displaying the project in his portfolio, he begins with images of the initial white board sessions (pictured in the introduction) and then moves into the wireframe seen above. From there, he moves into the component level wireframes and eventually the interaction-level prototype.
While he doesn’t describe the images and graphics on the page (which would give you more of the insight you want about his thinking), he manages to tell a compelling story with just the images and graphics.
Nike Skate App
Christine Walthall is an Austin-based UX/IA designer, product designer, and game designer. In this project, Christine was the primary UX designer responsible for user flows, wireframes, functional specifications, and game design.
Here, Christine shows a mockup of what the mobile screen would look like. Notice the multiple levels of context she shows you. On the far left, she describes what this app was for and what you’re looking at in the graphic on the right. Then in the graphic itself, she describes the options she was mapping out in the annotated wireframes she’d created.
In other words, Christine both communicates her thinking clearly and displays it beautifully (common ingredients of a great portfolio).
Brewdog Mobile App
Joe Robinson is a Brooklyn-based UX/IA designer and product designer. In this project, Joe was tasked with building the MVP app for the new site launch of the brewery Brewdog.
Joe said he made this flow graphic to help guide the developers and to discuss with clients the core journeys for the app (two key advantages of using flows). And this display clearly shows how Joe was thinking through the user experience.
2. Explain the User Research That Goes Into Each Project
In addition to showing wireframes and flows, great UX portfolios should also tell you a bit about the research that went into any given project. Whether it’s for a new or existing product, understanding the user is what enables a designer to build a product that meets the user’s needs.
When a designer describes a project in their portfolio, ideally you want to see which research methods and tactics they used, what they learned about users, and how it informed their decisions.
Here are some examples of designers showing user research in their portfolios.
Telia’s Support Pages
Anton Sten is a Malmö-based UX/IA designer, product designer, and creative director. In this project, he and his team set out to improve the support pages of a telecommunications company called Telia. Let’s look at how Anton describes his process for user research.
Anton writes: We asked users where on the site they’d look for help installing Spotify. Our assumption was that they’d look at “Other areas,” but a click map clearly showed that “Phone” or “Ask a question” were the most clicked areas.
Throughout the different tests, “Discussions” attracted quite a few clicks. This supported our belief that user-to-user support should be a key feature (and would help with SEO).
In the end, we incorporated both modes into our final design. For the most common problems, we created a huge knowledge database with video tutorials of things like installing your new router or setting up your new email address. For more advanced or uncommon problems, we decided to tap the knowledge of Telia customers with an online forum where users can both ask questions and provide answers, which turned out to be an excellent mode of online support.
Anton’s explanation does well here to show his team’s thinking. He discusses their initial assumption, describes the testing they performed, and shares how the insights they uncovered informed what they built.
SHAPE UX Research and Interactive Wireframes
Anna Stevenson is a Sydney-based UX/IA designer. In this project, she redesigned a website for one of Australia’s leading commercial fit-out and refurbishment specialists.
Even though a third party was hired to conduct the research for this project, she includes the basics of their research and findings (partially displayed in the screenshot above). She bridges these findings into the wireframes and interactive prototyping that followed, and by doing so, Anna is able to clearly display how user research was used in her design process.
3. Present UX Projects as Case Studies
When you see a UX portfolio that presents previous design work in detailed case studies, you will get by far the greatest insight into that designer, their thinking, and their process.
A case-study-style portfolio will give you compelling titles, problem descriptions, role definitions, in-depth process descriptions, and results. UX projects are a journey, and there’s no better way to get an understanding of a designer’s experience than through a case study.
Uber Pickup Experience
Simon Pan is a product designer based in San Francisco. In this case study-style portfolio page, Simon sets the scene:
In 2012, tapping a button to Uber across the city felt magical. By the start of 2016, this magic receded to a slew of disparate features that made the experience slow and complex to use.
I was part of an ambitious project to redesign the Uber pickup experience for the fastest growing startup in history.
What follows is a brilliant, in-depth description of the different phases and findings of the project, how they approached problem-solving, the discovery that took place, the work that was done, and the results. It’s truly a magnificent display of a UX case study.
NYTimes Cooking App
Brandon Burns is another Brooklyn-based UX/IA designer, product designer, and creative director. In this portfolio page, Brandon was responding to a design challenge that asked him to share insight into his step-by-step design process by reimagining a feature that fits into an existing app.
Brandon chose the NYTimes Cooking App, with a concept to solve the problem of the sometimes impractical nature of translating online recipes to your grocery list (relatable, right?). In the post, Brandon outlines and explains his user research and design process at length.
One particularly effective element is his explanation of how the problem he'd identified compared and differed with the way interviewees saw the problem. By showing this part of his process, he gives you insight into how he applies research and learning to his designs.
4. Show Persona Development and User Understanding
UX professionals will commonly develop personas, also known as “avatars,” that they can reference throughout product development. Having personas allows them to keep the user at the forefront as they work their way forward in the design process. And when designers show you elements of persona development that they’ve done in past projects, you can see the extent to which this skill is a part of their repertoire.
Let’s look at how a couple of our community members incorporate persona development into their portfolios.
Coffee Company Site Design
Sean Curran is a Portland-based UX/IA designer and front-end developer, and in this project, he was designing a website for a coffee company that was “pushing to see more ‘out-there’ explorations” for site design.
In his project page, he shows a comprehensive set of user stories that were developed, including all of the ways users would want to interact with the website. And while this isn’t a persona per-se, it allows you to see how deeply he was working to understand the user.
Katie Fitzgerald is a Los Angeles-based UX/IA designer and product designer. In this project, she was hired as the UX designer for an app that would provide guidance, centralized information, and relief for caregivers.
While Katie doesn’t go deep into the development of this persona (Caregiver Carey), her inclusion of this graphic acts as a signal that having a well-developed persona was an important part of her project to create iOS wireframes for the app.
And last, but not least...
5. Show Results and Testimonials from Past UX Projects
Just like in a resume, a good UX design portfolio will include results. Results can look like discussing statistics and metrics about how a particular project performed. They can look like sharing what didn’t work on a project (and what the designer learned from it). And they can look like testimonials from someone who cared about the project’s outcome and think it was done correctly.
Uber Pickup Experience
Naturally, the comprehensive case-study-style portfolios from above capped off their projects with sharing the results. Here’s a glance at Simon Pan’s results from his project at Uber:
Sisense Prism 5.0 User Experience
Muriel Naim is another Los Angeles-based UX/IA designer, director, and writer. In this project, Muriel was part of a team tasked with creating a slick user experience with beautiful visualizations for Sisense Prism 5.0, a big data analytics platform.
In her portfolio page, she includes screenshots of customer reviews of the product when it was live. In doing so, she allows you to see what real users actually thought of their experience with the product.
Anton Sten’s Portfolio Website Home Page
Anton Sten (also featured above) shares client testimonials throughout his portfolio site. And by tying the testimonial to a specific person alongside their position and brand, he’s able to establish legitimate credibility, giving you a sense of what it’s like to work with him.
The ‘How’ and the ‘Why’
To recap, the best UX designer portfolios focus on the details about their process, their reasoning behind decisions, and how they moved through their projects to continually get past obstacles and arrive at the next step.
By presenting their past projects as case studies, showing you their use of wireframes and flows, and describing the user research involved in their projects, they give you the glimpse into their creative process that you need to make smart hiring decisions. Those are the UX designers who will likely deliver the best work on your project.