How To Build An OUTSTANDING Portfolio (from the pros)

Last evening I got to go to a “Perspectives on Portfolios from the pros” talk hosted by Fluxible “Canada’s UX Festival” ( which was a panel of Jennifer Pretti User Experience Lead at Thalmic Labs, Kem-Laurin Kramer Innovation Coach & founder of kemlaurin, Manulife, Mark Connolly, Partner and Design Lead, Zeitspace, & the panel was moderated by Kanwar Anand, Innovation Lead at Manulife.


“Perspectives on Portfolios from the pros” – Fluxible @ Communitech/Velocity Garage, 2018

I wanted to summarize a bit of what they talked about for everyone here! (keep in mind these people now do a substantial amount of hiring for their companies)

There was a large focus during the talk on showing your process and what you specifically were thinking, and worked on for each project in your portfolio. The emphasize here was showing your design process OVER showing the final results. These pros know there are many different ways to reach an end-product, and talked about many experiences where seeing HOW they came up with these designs made them a favorable hire to someone just showing some great final work. This is based in helping them understand what to expect from you and to see you actually used some form of “Creative Selection” and put real thought into your designs. There was more than one “joke” about making sure you ONLY include the work you personally worked on if a project was created with a team as the design community is small and lying about your contributions makes employers question how you would act within their company.

One point I absolutely loved by Kem-Laurin was when she said “.. your portfolio must speak for itself and yourself when you can’t.”, meaning an employer or customer may see your portfolio before they get a chance to talk to you, so if you need to be there to explain the portfolio, it probably won’t get you anywhere. Make sure your portfolio tells a story and does not leave a viewer with questions or lack of context about the work and its goal. Which leads nicely into a point made by Mark Connolly about including the original specs and goals + motivation for the project to help the user understand how you completed a goal, not just what your designs look like.

Jennifer Pretti talked about hiring individuals with an outstanding portfolio straight out of school OVER someone with a lot of seniority in the industry. Ultimately these companies want unique and well thought-out designs, so don’t just rely on experience and seniority, a bold portfolio is always the best guarantee to get a job or customer. On the topic of bold, Mark Connolly talked about portfolios with statements such as “I AM THE BEST DESIGNER YOU WILL EVER MEET”… pretty much if you make these statements be prepared to back them up, and if your work does not reflect this confidence, don’t expect to get the job/customer.

The last point is a combination of knowing WHO is viewing your portfolio and making sure the work and style are relevant to their company and personal needs, with networking and trying to meet some of these design pros and hiring managers before applying to their companies or attracting their business. Kem-Laurin talked about always being surprised when new graduates requested to chat over coffee but how she loves this and always agrees to meet! This can be a great way to get some local perspectives and to understand what pros are looking for before applying to work for or with them! No matter what at least understand the company you are looking to work with and ensure all your cover letters, emails & portfolios show you have done your due diligence of digging into their vision and needs and make sure you SPELL THEIR NAMES RIGHT or your resume/portfolio may only end up in the trash.

Some short tips:
~ 5-7 items recommended for a professional portfolio, first 3 will be the BIGGEST impact
~ Make sure adding work to a portfolio does not break an NDA
~ ALWAYS update your portfolio so it doesn’t look like you are quitting when you ask to use a project you’ve worked on in a portfolio
~ (from me) Do some dream portfolio designs if you haven’t completed much paid-work (as in pick a large company/product and redesign it thoroughly, or pick a local company and design what you WISH their software or media looks like)
~ Be picky if you have free time go over old designs, improve them, record how & why you modified them in this way
~ Get as much feedback from as many sources as possible!

On that topic give me your feedback on these posts below!

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