Posted on

056: Building an Effective UX Portfolio with Sarah Doody

User Defenders podcast
Land a Job in UX
056: Building an Effective UX Portfolio with Sarah Doody

Sarah Doody challenges us to think of our portfolio as one of the most important products we’ll ever create. She urges us to not only communicate our contributions, but to both show and tell the story of each project. In the end, she teaches us that using the right process is more than just about landing our next UX job–it will also make us better designers.

Sarah Doody is a user experience designer and product strategist based in New York City. She helps product teams create products people need and love. She does this through smart and fast research, prototyping, and experience design. She produces a highly acclaimed weekly newsletter called the UX Notebook. She created and taught General Assembly’s first 12-week User Experience program back in 2011. She was originally going to be a neuroscientist.

  • Ideal Number of Projects (4:07)
  • Lead with the Best Project (5:40)
  • Alternate Portfolios (7:13)
  • What a Recruiter Is Looking For Most (13:03)
  • Proving Your Knowledge (15:52)
  • What Does Storytelling Mean? (23:47)
  • Edit Your Work (29:48)
  • Do You Need a Website? (39:44)
  • Build a Portfolio Quickly (49:36)
  • The UX Academy (54:09)
  • Best Advice (56:31)

Sarah’s UX Portfolio Formula Course

UX Portfolio Formula Sarah Doody

Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for Sarah’s courses, so enrolling means you’re helping User Defenders at no additional cost to you.

Sarah’s Twitter
Sarah’s Website
Sarah’s FREE UX Portfolio Blueprint Download

Toyota Robots [ARTICLE]
Portfolio Walk-through [VIDEO]
Anticipatory Design [VIDEO]


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: Welcome user Defenders I’m your host Jason Ogle and with me today is Sarah Doody, the one and only. Hi Sarah, how you doing?

Sarah Doody: Hey Jason, I’m excited to talk to you again.

Jason Ogle: Well, likewise, yes, and Sarah is a repeat guest, a repeat Super guest and I love that, there’s a reason for that. So, Sarah is a user experience designer and products strategist based in New York City and she has done a lot of stuff– I don’t need to read her bio again, it would probably take too long because she’s done so much, but I’ll just highlight a couple of things. She’s an entrepreneur, she’s created some incredible courses and one of them happens to be on the topic we are addressing today, which is building an effective UX portfolio. Which I know Defenders listening, I know this is a really important topic for a lot of you listening.

So, I know this is going to add a lot of value and Sarah has been doing a lot a ton of research on this for a while now, I’d say probably several years, would that be correct Sarah?

Sarah Doody: Yes, definitely hard core for the past 2 years and I think unknow– un [unintelligible 00:01:08] to me many years before that.

Jason Ogle: Okay, that’s what I thought, so, I got the right person on the other end of the mic here to talk about this and I’m super excited. So, I’m going to officially say welcome to user defender Sara, I am super excited to have you on the show today.

Sarah Doody: Thank you!

Jason Ogle: So, this is again, all about UX portfolio building and let’s just jump right in, I’m curious and I know a lot of the Defenders listening are curious. What’s the ideal number of projects that we should have in our portfolio and why?

Sarah Doody: Great, so this is a question that I see over and over and I wish I could come back and tell people an exact number, but it’s one of those things where it is– it’s honestly just so subjective. It really goes to the idea of is the work that is in your portfolio providing enough evidence that you have the skills and experience to do whatever that job is that you are applying for. But one kind of– one way to look at it, is to think about the experience of the actual user of your user experience portfolio, which is a little ironic, but you don’t want to overwhelm them, they are busy, they probably have a stack of virtual or literal portfolios to get through. So, you have to be careful not to probably have 10.

I think there is a risk in only having one though, because you’ve only got one and if they don’t like that for some reason and your kind of up the creek– but I would say that you have to use your best judgment as user experienced person to know has the portfolio reached the point of overwhelm or the actual user.

Jason Ogle: I feel like it’s probably good to lead with your best project, is that– would that be likely…

Sarah Doody: Yes!

Jason Ogle: Like come in with like a really strong project that you have really affected change with?

Sarah Doody: Definitely, don’t be cute and save the last project until the end and think that’s the way to go, because if you read it online, you see it on Twitter, you see it on Linked In, where recruiters are saying we only spend 60 seconds, 90 second 120 seconds, looking at portfolios on the 1st pass and that is not a myth, that’s true. And so, you want to put that best one at the beginning to really capture their attention and then make them desire to see more of what’s in your portfolio. And another thing I would add there is that, I think we’re going to get to this topic, but the idea of tailor your UX portfolio and that can seem very intimidating to a lot of people, because it makes them think– oh my goodness, I need to create an entirely different portfolio and– no, one way to tailor your portfolio would simply be to change the order of the projects.

So, maybe for one role you’re applying to a certain project as the 1st, but then a different role you’re applying to, you swap it out for some other project, because for whatever reason, that one’s more relevant to that role that you’re applying to.

Jason Ogle: Yes, that makes a lot of sense, I can see some Defenders– myself included like I can see some of us going like, well, I don’t want to– like I don’t want to spend time building like 2 different portfolios, like that just seems like a lot of extra effort, is it really worth it. What would you say to me and Defenders listening?

Sarah Doody: So, I would say that it doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think and what I personally do and I still have a portfolio, because from time to time potential clients want to see examples of work or from time to time, full time opportunities come my way and I decide to pursue them and they want to portfolio. But what I do is, I personally have my portfolio as a key note file, which will probably get to you, but the beauty of that is that I have a master version with all of the projects that could conceivably be in my portfolio and then let’s say client– one comes along and they want to see some work. I think to myself okay, based on the needs of this client, what industry they’re in, what they are interested in me doing for them and then I choose those projects and I delete all the other ones that are relevant and that’s how I can maintain this idea of a customized portfolio, because I have one that I am constantly remising based on the user.

Jason Ogle: Yes, I like that advice as well, you don’t have to completely read tool, reengineer your portfolio, maybe it’s just like duplicate this code base like if you built it yourself, like duplicate this code base and just change a few things and just have a separate U.R.L. or something set up to just– to lead to that right. It doesn’t– I think that what I’m feeling already is don’t over think this, but don’t underestimate it either. So, there’s this fine balance isn’t there, in this process.

Sarah Doody: Well, yes and if you, you have to think of your portfolio like a product and especially, you have to think of yourself as a product and you have to apply product marketing principles to yourself, your portfolio and frankly your whole career. And if you look at what is really effective in marketing right now, especially, digital is the ability to customize the content and customize the message to the user and so, if you can speak their language a little more– a little bit more or put the project that is most relevant to them closer to the beginning of the portfolio. Then you’re going to likely or at least increase the chances that you’re going to pick their interest and lead them down the path of being interested in you, seeing the value you can provide to them and hopefully me speaking in product terms, getting to the point of conversion, where conversion for you hopefully means getting interviews or getting hired.

Jason Ogle: Wow! So, you mentioned a little bit ago about recruiters and I know you’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of recruiters as well, about what they are looking for and what their process is in selecting ideal candidates for specific roles. And I’m curious– you and this was– that was a sobering statistic that they only spend like 60 to 90 seconds on average looking at your portfolio. And I guess I have a point and I have a question.

Sarah Doody: Okay!

Jason Ogle: And maybe I’m going to kind of lead into your answer a little bit, but my note that I thought of when you mentioned that was, we just talked about leading with a really strong project and always doing that and I thought about like the screenplay writing process, like with screenwriters. Because I did some studying, I thought that after I saw Napoleon Dynamite, I was like think, anybody can write a screenplay. So, I was super thrill– I actually was really pursuing it for a while and I have a couple ideas, but anyway, I just did some research on screenwriting and what I learned was, you want to open– it’s the same concept and obviously movies cost a lot of money to make. So, there’s a lot at stake here, so, you want to open with something that just looks the reader on page one. The very 1st page, and I think some of the most memorable movies– I think we can– if we reflect on it enough.

We will realize that those were the movies that started out with something that shocked us or hooked us within the 1st minute or 2 right, of the story. And so, I think that that’s the kind of my little take away on your advice on leading in with a really strong project, I think that what they say in Hollywood is you want to write us a page turner, right. So, because your screenplays are hundreds of pages, so, if you don’t hook the reader or the perspective filmmaker or your studio so to speak, on the 1st page or 2 then you lost them, your screen Play will probably go away. I just feel like there’s a lot of parallels to that, so that was kind of my little note– you made me think of that when you were talking about the time. But I’m curious, what’s the number one thing that a recruiter is looking for in a UX portfolio that will keep a perspective designer at the top of the pile so to speak?

Sarah Doody: Right, so, based on what I’ve heard from recruiters and companies’ various sizes, internal recruiters, accidental recruiters, recruiters in different geographical locations as well. The theme is that they want you to be able to tell the story of each project and I know that is so cliché right now, and I know so many articles out there– riff on this but don’t necessarily really tell you how to actually tell that story. But that’s what they’re looking for, they want to see your ability to communicate your ideas and to show and tell the story of each project, because– and I intentionally say kind of show and tell because one mistake that keeps getting repeated is this notion of just dumping screenshots and not telling people about each one and what they should notice or take away from each one.

So, that idea of telling the story and going beyond these screenshots, but another really important point to make and this is more applicable for junior designers or people entering the industry early in their career, is that your challenge is that you don’t have a ton of work to show, you don’t have a ton of experience. So, what they are also looking for with Junior designers is the you factor, like Who are you, why do we want you on our team, why did you maybe get into design, what are you passionate about, what’s going to set you apart. So, thoughtfully thinking about and then being able to communicate those things should also be something that– like you said is in the 1st couple of scrolls or pages of your portfolio, to make it be a page turner so to speak.

Jason Ogle: I have a listener question that kind of touches a little bit on this, and what you were just talking about was– in being able to be real and how you explain your story and I want to get to storytelling too, because I think that’s really important, but I feel like this is an interesting question related to how to do those call outs like you said and this person on Twitter– she responded, Her name is Katherine and her handle is @KatJWin and she asks:

Katherine: Hi Sarah, for someone starting out of school, what’s the best way to demonstrate your knowledge and your thinking/design process?

Sarah Doody: Right, so, this is a question I get asked all the time, because if you are just coming out of any education program, one of the challenges is that you probably haven’t worked on real world projects. You’ve probably worked on projects that have been just mock briefs that have given– been given to you, maybe you’ve worked on some projects for– I don’t know, some pro bono opportunity or something like that. But when you’re doing something for pro bono, I feel like they’re just so grateful and thankful to have someone working with them, they might not be as challenging or involved as a real paying stake holder. So, for people that are in school, what I recommend is– in addition to the experience that you have on whatever projects you’ve worked on.

I always tell people get into the habit of being a problem spotter, because designers today are so obsessed with solving problems and I’m honestly so tired of the question in my inbox, like how can I get more experience if no one will hire me and I think well, how are you going to succeed as a designer if you can’t look around you and see all of the problems that exist. So, I would say to Katherine like keep a little notebook, a note thing on your phone and document all the problems you run into, take screenshots, do whatever you need to do– videos. And honestly after week, you’ll have so many things that you could solve, now, the follow up answer and because I know she would probably have another question is: okay, so, now I have these real world projects, but from the perspective of a recruiter or hiring manager that still is kind of “fake”, because– and I use fake in quotation marks, because you still don’t know business information, you still don’t know constraints about budget, timeline etcetera.

So, what I would do is I would do a little bit of research to see if you can find any articles, data, etcetera about that. So, one example would be if I spotted something and the– I don’t know Check out or something like that and I had a bunch of screenshots and I thought I’m going to redesign this, I would go and try and find if there’s any existing articles or data about that and one tip would be just to go to the Research company that exclusively focused on e-commerce and from there you could probably find some data or after reading a few of their articles, they would tell you the problems that exist and then you could have not only problems, but some data to work off of and that makes a project then a little more realistic.

Jason Ogle: Yes, that’s such great advice and I especially love your take away Sarah, about documenting your problem solving, like that is awesome, like I haven’t thought about that– doing that even personally myself, but I mean we’re always– if we have a designer mindset. We’re always thinking about how to solve problems and we’re always seeing problems at least and so, I think it’s being intentional about using your observations superpowers like I said and actually– like thinking about, like wow! this this is a big problem, how can I apply my design thinking to solve this problem. And maybe it’s something really simple and that’s okay, I think that– even just like– I’m not saying like redesign Spotify, but hey if you want to, please by all means do that, but I’m just saying if you see something while you’re out on your walk or whatever, in your morning walk and even if it’s like an industrial thing, even if it’s architectural, I think that really interesting and I think that shows your diversity as a UX designer, because you know what, UX it does not– is not just constrained to the 4 corners of a screen and I think that any– a lot of recruiters and a lot of companies that are looking for really good, smart designers are actually looking for more diversity in how you solve problems.

Sarah Doody: I love what you said– the idea of going beyond the screen, because you were talking about robots and machines and things and I think– if I think about the future of UX Design I think it’s about beyond to the screen and using our abilities and super powers to spot problems, to connect the dots, to teach other people how to be problem spotters and things too, because I think we don’t need the word designer in our job title to influence the experience, and so I think as our industry evolves and as businesses start to see the ROI on design. Our role really becomes more of educators and facilitators of allowing everyone else to contribute to wherever they influence the experience, whether that’s in emails that are sent or social media or in-store or the packaging or customer service or all these different touch points that can happen as someone interacts with your product or service or whatever it is.

Jason Ogle: That’s so good, because robots can– they can solve problems, but they can only solve problems that they’re programmed by another human to solve for, right?

Sarah Doody: Yes!

Jason Ogle: I think that’s really the key, we have that Defenders, we have that advantage, we always will over robots, because we can solve problems from a human perspective and robots just cannot do that. So, I would love that take away and I think that may be one of the biggest takeaways from this conversation, I think start with solving human problems from a human perspective and then build a portfolio around that, how you did that, because that is, I think one of the number one thing that recruiters are really interested in and companies and culture and company cultures.

Sarah Doody: Well, I love this kind of tangents of the robots and things, I have this talk I’ve done in the past and it’s all about anticipatory versus automated design, but I use a lot of examples and one of the examples was about how– I believe it was Toyota, replace a ton of people with robots and things. And then they actually went back to people, and maybe not all people, but a significant reversal, and the reason was that– sure, robots may be able to do things faster, but robots can’t do things faster and better, meaning that the robots could just keep doing the same thing over and over, but they could not look at what they were doing and think this could be done better. And that’s where the ball came back into the picture of the factory, Yes!

Jason Ogle: Oh, so good.

Sarah Doody: I’ll send you a link to that one.

Jason Ogle: Oh, please do, yes, and we’ll post that in the show notes Defenders. Sarah, we always hear that we should be storytelling when we’re presenting our work and I certainly agree with that, but what does that mean and what are the best practices for using storytelling in our portfolio.

Sarah Doody: So, I think this goes back to our little tangent on the idea of filmmaking and Hollywood and the like that, because when you think about it, like that’s what people want to hear and you want the reader to feel like they have peaked in the virtual room, the design room, whatever it was. And they got to look over your shoulder as you did this, and so, what you need to do at a high level is Answer 3 questions. if your portfolio doesn’t answer or if a project in your portfolio doesn’t answer these questions, then I think you’re probably not going to do so well. But the 1st question is what was the product, what was the company and what was the problem to be solved.

And it shocks me how many people don’t do this and just jump right into screenshots after screenshots, after photos of posted notes on a wall and things like that. But you need to that adds context of the product and the problem and if you think of storytelling and films and things like that, any great piece of work you’ve read or watched or listened to. The 1st thing that happens is some character is introduced, whatever that character is, it could be a person, a place, whatever it is, but you meet the character and in the case of a project in your portfolio, the character could be many things. But I think it’s probably the company products that you were doing this for.

And then you have to introduce the problem, because in every great story, the character has some type of problem and then the 3rd step…

Jason Ogle: And a goal.

Sarah Doody: Yes, there’s many ingredients to the story, but I think it’s a character, has some type of problem, they have this desire and then there is a resolution. Whether that is comedy, tragedy, whatever it is and so, your portfolio for each project needs to say what was the character, meaning the product or the company. Then what was the problem to be solved, what you did, the process, kind of the journey if you will and then what was the outcome and if you don’t hit all 3 of those things, then it just feels like and probably literally is just dump of screen shot, after screen shot, after screen shot of like 30 artboards and sketch that no one can decipher and it just is meaningless, but…

Jason Ogle: This is so good, this is like totally expanding my horizons, this is opening my mind a lot and I’ve never thought about it this way before and I think that it’s so fascinating. Again, the parallels to a screenplay and characters and story to building up effective portfolio and all this kind of –you just said it, but I’m going to– I put it in an order here Defenders, that this really, this is it right here, this is the stuff. What was the product and company, what was the desired outcome, the problem to be solved and how you helped solve it. Bam! Right, for each project and…

Sarah Doody: And then what happen…

Jason Ogle: Go ahead.

Sarah Doody: What was the outcome, whether that outcome is quantifiable, whether that outcome is like you what? This never saw the light of day, but, because I’m a thoughtful, reflective, insightful designer, here are some lessons I learned or here’s what I would do differently or here’s why this whole thing tanked. You have to be okay with letting people know about the failures, because I don’t think I would want to work for someone if they looked down at those failures, because that’s just the reality of design. Like, there are going to be failures. So, it’s another thing to consider when it comes to outcomes, because a lot of people will say but this never launched or it actually didn’t move the needle and I said well, that’s okay, that that’s your job, sometimes that happens.

Jason Ogle: Yes and I want to add onto that too, when you’re writing, your description of your project– like I’ve seen some portfolios where– You’ve touched on it already, but there’s like probably like 20 or 30 images and a lot of it is like here’s us putting posted notes on the wall and that’s great, like that’s important stuff, like maybe just one of those, not like 5…

Sarah Doody: Amen!

Jason Ogle: Like just edit your stuff and that’s really my main point right now, is edit, edit, edit yourself and think about– use your empathy superpower to put yourselves in the shoes of the recruiter who only has about 60 to 90 seconds to actually get hooked on your portfolio, to actually read more. So, think about it, put yourself in their shoes, put yourself in your potential– your desired employer shoes and not just at the images, but edit your text, because I’ve seen pages and pages and I– which is it’s not going to be read, you’re using a lot of energy to write a bunch of stuff that probably is important, I’m not taking away from that, but you really need to go back and edit yourself and just– what is a strong and white rules, eliminate useless words right, eliminate needless words. So, go back and do that, spend– I’d say when your time blocking the building of your project, I say schedule in the editing of this stuff, what you think?

Sarah Doody: Definitely, definitely and I would say too that concerning the whole editing process, one of the challenges that people encounter is that they end up working on their portfolio in isolation, because you’re not going to ask your boss for feedback if you’re thinking of leaving that company or they find it hard to get feedback or they ask peers which are maybe at the same level or like friends but my one caution is if you want really quality feedback, you have to ask the right people and so, you need to find either of those online communities or those people that are going to give you helpful contextual and really actionable feedback. And I want to touch it if I can on the idea of kind of writing about your projects, because as I’ve been– I mean spent ungodly amount of hours on my portfolio over the years, but packaging everything I’ve learned so that other people can learn how to do this.

One of the steps in the process I recommend is that in the same way as when you’re designing and developing a product, you don’t just jump to coding, you have to apply to your UX process, you have to understand the user. You probably are going to do some research, then you think about your content, then maybe you do some user voice and wire frames and so, for me, anyone that I work with, I say before we ever design your portfolio, before you ever open word press or Squarespace, whatever you’re going to use. You’re going to open a Word doc or Google Doc; Whatever Doc and you’re going to write about your project and consider that the wire frame of your portfolio if that makes sense. So, that by the time you get to the designing and layout part of things, you’ve take in that little case study that you’ve written, you’ve edited it down and now you know the story– excuse me, the details of the story that matter to your user, because you said this editing process is so important and I think there are definitely details that are probably very interesting about the project, but the filter that you need to use is: are those details interesting and needed by the reader.

And there are details that you should include in your portfolio and then I really believe there are details that you can omit, but have in your back pocket to discuss in an interview or something, because as we now know you don’t just want to dump the kitchen sink of the whole project in the portfolio, because A, no one’s going to read it and it just– it creates a very confusing and overwhelming experience.

Jason Ogle: Defenders, approach your portfolio as a UX process because it is, that’s so good Sarah.

Sarah Doody: And to be honest, I did not plan to have portfolios and things be like a major part of my business or anything and when my inbox just got to the point of– I don’t know, frustration of seeing this question over and over. I literally used to email people back and politely say like, if you are having trouble figuring out how to make your portfolio, I’m not sure that UX is right for you. But people kept asking that so much, I thought I spotted a problem and so I prototyped this out and I’ve applied the product development process to this and now portfolio creation for me is an actual product offering in my business, which still kind of makes me chuckle, but when I get emails from people saying they’ve been hired at major places, like American Express, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Home Depot, Google, Harvard, all these places.

I think I’m just going to roll with this, because it’s working and its changing people’s lives and I didn’t expect this, but it’s clearly something that is needed.

Jason Ogle: Yes, yes, exactly, that’s– and you’re smart enough to know that when you start hearing the same questions over and over again, from the same audience of people. Wow! there is a problem that needs to be solved and I just appreciate you for diving in and helping a lot of designers and I see your tweets and I love that you share that, like wow! this is another designer that landed an awesome gig due to just some advice I was able to offer and so, I just think that’s great. I want to thank you personally Sarah, for really helping our community in this way.

Sarah Doody: Well, thank you for helping me spread this message, but you made me think of something else I wanted to share. So, one realization that’s come out of sharing this process that people, is that this idea of telling the story of your projects is not just about landing your next job. It’s making you a better designer, it’s making you be able to articulate your design decisions, communicate your ideas, present your work and so, that’s the feedback I’ve received from people that I’ve worked with. Where they say I have a great portfolio now, but now that I’m in this role, I realize when I have to present designs or researcher things, I’m able to actually create this story and people are able to understand it or maybe they’re experiencing less pushback from those stubborn stake holders and things like that. So, I hadn’t thought of that when I was kind of going down this path, but now it completely makes sense.

Jason Ogle: Wow! I love that takeaway, it’s not just about landing your next job, I love that, it’s making you a better designer when you design your own portfolio…

Sarah Doody: Exactly.

Jason Ogle: When you would propose it and design it.

Sarah Doody: Exactly.

Jason Ogle: Yes, that’s so good.

Sarah Doody: I think it’s the most important product you’re going to ever work on, because it’s your career, it’s your livelihood and you need to treat it with the same care that you give to the product you work on at your job or with your clients or whatever it is. But for some reason, I almost feel like we tend to treat it like a little side project, a hobby and so, we work on it when we feel like it or we don’t have true dates deadlines and things, but when you can kind of make this mental shift and think to yourself maybe pretend it isn’t even in your own portfolio, if you need to like mentally make that separation, but switch it so that this is a real product. These are the jobs it has to do, etcetera, etcetera and that should help you– I think get over one of the big problems which could probably be a whole episode, but this idea of like perfectionism. So, that’s just one tip that has helped me and things I do, but when I have people like make a little project plan with actual dates and things, somehow, they magically do it. Versus without that, they’d been trying to work on it for 4 months or longer and it never happened.

Jason Ogle: Wow! that’s so good– yes, there’s something called Parkinson’s Law Defenders and what that means is tasks will expand to the time allotted. So, what Sarah said is so important, like if you’re in a place where you’re like– you need to– you know that’s a thing, like you need a portfolio. It’s not a matter of do you, it’s you do need it, especially if you’re looking for work. I think it’s good to have one anyway as Sarah so well-articulated, it’s good to have one anyway, all the time as a designer at the ready and I think even be updating that too as you go, because it’s a lot harder to go back and reflect and try to remember a lot of the details and storytelling we’re trying to achieve here. It’s a lot harder to look back and try to remember those things, so, I think this is– that’s another great takeaway, but yes, Defenders, you do need a portfolio. And what I’m curious about Sarah is, does it have to be a website?

Sarah Doody: This is my– one of my favorite questions, so, I would say no and the reason that I say no is, I don’t know where designers have got it in their head that they have to have their portfolio be a website, but my thinking is that it doesn’t, because you should make your portfolio in whatever format you can work fastest in and time and time again, when I’m on the phone with people or in my groups and things. I say why are you not finish your portfolio and quite often the answer is Well I decided I needed to learn how to code, like this was a great opportunity to learn how to code or I thought I should use this is a chance to learn squares based and then I realized, “oh! it’s not as flexible as I thought” or insert whatever portfolio website builder tool and the content and the layout and then as a result, the story is compromised, because of the medium selected.

So, I say why not just have a PDF, I don’t know if there is a rule that says it has to be a web site, but I say have a PDF, A It’s faster, B it’s much easier to customize, then you don’t need to create duplicates of your website and log ins and all this stuff. C, it solves the problem of maybe privacy or having work public on the internet and maybe you don’t want to have public. And I think too frankly, recruiters and hiring managers– I have asked this question they don’t care, they just needed to being easily accessible. So, that’s why I’m a huge proponent of the PDF, but I will say this, if you have a PDF, you still need a website and I call it kind of like a home based online, because you know people are going to Google you. So, let’s just have some type websites, you can and now there is like a P.R. person and me talking, but so, you can control the story a little bit.

So, you can tell them who you are, rather than them stumble upon random content and piece together an assumption of who you are. So, remember the about me pages that everyone uses to have, like maybe it’s as simple as that, a 1,2,3, page thing, where it’s just showing a little bit about your personality and then giving people a preview of your work. So, maybe that’s Text that says some of the companies you’ve worked out or logos or maybe it has a couple of screenshots of one or 2 projects you’re really excited about, but then, now the marketer in the is talking, is you have a call to action on your website that says, like hey! if you’re interested contact me and I’ll show you more of my portfolio. So, now, you’ve created a conversation with them rather than having a website or an upper hand or a dribble, where your content is just like out there and then people might be visiting and leaving and you never get of a conversation with them. So, if you have the call to action, it’ll be like “Here’s some of my work” contact me to see more, then it’s an opportunity to maybe connect with some of those people and maybe get further down the process or faster down the process of hiring etcetera.

Jason Ogle: Yes, that’s so great and Defenders learn from me, because I talk to Chris Coyer, I think about nearly 2 years ago and you can go and hear that episode where I was almost bragging, like I’m not going to use WordPress for my portfolio. I’m going to hand code it. [laughter] I said that, you can– it’s documented now, so, you can go back and hear me say that, nearly 2 years ago and guess what? I think I started hand coding my website about 6 months later and guess what, I still don’t have a website up [laughter] So, learn for me and thankfully– now listen you all, thankfully I haven’t been in a place of maybe desperation, where I’ve had to really churn something out quickly, because I find myself in transition without a job, and I know what that’s like, I have empathy, because I’ve been in transition multiple times.

It’s– I’ve probably been laid off 5 times in my career and so, I understand that, but thankfully I have been in that position, but I still don’t have something online that I feel proud to present. I don’t have and so, I think what– I love what Sarah is encouraging you to do, is, just use the medium that you’re most comfortable with that will allow you to do everything that Sarah has guided us into today and using our story placed– our story telling screenplay structure in presenting our work and our personality. Just use whatever is available to you that you’re really efficient at and time block it, set some time writes calendar this stuff, because what gets schedule gets done. And again, look at me as an example, I never set a deadline for myself, I made a lofty promise that I just could not achieve and I don’t have anything still. So, I love that advice Sarah, it doesn’t have to be a website Defenders.

Sarah Doody: No, and I would say, your portfolio is never done, just like a product is never done, you’re always iterating it, so, the 1st version of your product will be messy, probably hacked together in the background and that’s okay as long as it gets the job done. So, maybe the 1st version is a PDF and then you decide for whatever reason, I’m going to make it a website or you decide to make a better version of a PDF. That’s another thing to think about and that’s another kind of piece of feedback I receive from people, is when they say Oh! once I heard my portfolio was never done, that allowed me– it kind of like took the handcuffs off and let them be confident that you may as well start applying with Version 1.0 and see how people respond to that portfolio and things. Rather than try and perfect it, because during that process of trying to perfect it, maybe you missed out on four opportunities that the portfolio version 1.0 would have been just fine and maybe you would have already been hired. But you’ll never know until you launch it, again, all these parallels of your portfolio being a product.

Jason Ogle: Wow! Yes, that’s so great, done is better than perfect and I think Jeffrey Zeldman said that good is the enemy of great and great is the enemy of shipping.

Sarah Doody: Oh! I like that.

Jason Ogle: Just gets some out there, and iterate upon it, isn’t that what this field is about? Learning and the other thing I would say and you touched on earlier is that It’s always great to have a portfolio ready to go regardless of if you’re actively job searching or not, because you never know what opportunities are going to fall into your lap, but the other thing is that I think as a result of creating your portfolio, this can often help designers overcome that– all too common imposter syndrome, which I know we talked about before but when you can truly look back and see the depth of what you did and not just that you move things around on a screen and put stuff on a stick on a wall and all that stuff, but when you can present it in a more– well, when you can learn how to communicate those things, it makes you more confident in yourself as a designer and that’s one of the awesome transformations I get to see where people who feel like ohm I don’t know if I’m good enough or maybe I should just stay in this job, I’m like no, you have awesome skills, you just are terrible at communicating them. So, let’s fix that and then good things start to happen.

Jason Ogle: Wow! so good. I’m going to do– I’m going to ask the kind of the Stephen King pencil question. I don’t know– there’s a quick back story to that. Stephen King is that obviously and incredible writer, that goes without saying and he’s done– there’s a story about how he was at a conference or something and basically the number one question he was getting was what kind of pencil do you use, what kind of pencil do you use to write? Right and we all– and we– and of course we have some incredible tools available to us and I want to plug Adobe XD, because they are a sponsor of this show and I use the product, it’s an awesome product, it gets better and better. But of course, we like our tools, we certainly do. so, I’m going to kind of you know ask the Stephen quick king question do you Sara, even though you thankfully stated that you don’t have to have a website to effectively communicate your portfolio. But I would say if you did have a do– you have any recommended services for assembling a portfolio quickly and painlessly and powerfully?

Sarah Doody: Yes, so, I wouldn’t want to make a distinction here. So, there’s a difference between like having your own website like versus being on a platform such as dribble or be hands or something like that. And I think when you look at the purpose or the initial goal, from my perspective of those platforms, it was really to show and show off individual bits and pieces of your work I think, and now, these products have really started to evolve for people who are trying to use their profile pages on there as their portfolio, but the challenge that I see is that the ability to tell that story may be limited by the tools that are currently available in some of those platforms. And the other challenge with those platforms is that if someone is on my be hands page– I don’t even know if I have be hands, I did at some point, but if someone’s on my page, they are so likely to click away, because they might see something in the column or something at the bottom and so when they’re on your own, You’ve got them isolated and they can focus on you.

I want to point out that distinction but concerning– so let’s operate on the assumption now, you’re going to make your own dot com and I would say– I think Squarespace and WordPress are both great options and it really just depends on how your brain works and your level of comfort with each of those, but I’d also say to you for WordPress again, don’t try and be all cute and learn how to code in things if like you’ve never written a line of HTML but become aware of the amazing world of WordPress templates and themes and plugins that let you literally drag and drop things all over without even really needing to see the normal WordPress interface. So, you might square space, there’s just so many great templates to give you a starting point, I actually did a partnership with earlier this year, where I created a portfolio template and I also– because the educator in me couldn’t resist, I also created like a YouTube walkthrough about okay, here is the strategy behind each section.

So, it’s like this is why this is here, this is why that’s there, this is what you might want to do. so, we can link to that as well, but I think any of these are great options. I’m sure there’s many other ones but I wouldn’t be afraid to use a template. So, one thing that people say is Well, if I use a template isn’t– isn’t mine going to look like everyone else’s and I say Well, no, because it’s all about the content inside of it. So, that’s one thing and then I also created template files for Keynote and PowerPoint that again, are kind of like wire frames of what a portfolio in Keynote or Power Point could be like and the feedback that I get concerning that is that it helped me not spend an hour debating fonts, or figuring out how to lay it out or deciding the structure, the templates just allow you to focus on the content and that’s how you can create your portfolio 5, 10 times faster.

Jason Ogle: I love that, it’s like a constraint, right, that allows you to really focus on your storytelling aspect.

Sarah Doody: Yes!

Jason Ogle: I really like that, because designers– let’s admit it, we just get caught up in the minutia, we get caught up in the details and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s part of our role, but it can certainly distract from us really focusing that energy on telling an effective story about how we help solve problems. And also, in presenting ourselves, presenting who we are and bring in a personality in. Sarah, I want to open this moment here for you to pitch, do– you have a portfolio– UX portfolio building course, yes?

Sarah Doody: Yes, so, in all the research I have done on this topic, I realize the best way to help as many people as possible is to package your sell up into a program that would really walk you through– 1st of all, identifying who you are as a designer, because I think a lot of people struggle with getting specific and going beyond just a label of hey, I’m a UX designer, but to your point you know personality and passion, you really have to do some work on you before you can make your portfolio. So, the whole program is designed to help you get clear on who you are, because you’re a product and then create that portfolio that attracts the right roles and that provides evidence that you have the skills that they are looking for and then hopefully helps convert you into interviews and offers from companies that you want to work at.

So, we can link to it, but I really believe you can get through the program in 4 weeks, I’ve had many people e-mail me and say I finished my portfolio in a month and I was hired within another month. So, this works over 700 people have been through it, and we will link to it and I also– because I know not everyone can afford things. I also make a lot of free resources available, so, my YouTube channel we have a bunch of videos and then also– you won’t be able to join, because you’re not a Facebook, but we do have a Facebook group, that may change, but right now, we have a free Facebook group that is just focused on your UX portfolios and careers, because they find there’s a ton of noise out there and so, nothing beyond that topic is allowed. And there’s a lot of people in there who’ve had great success, who follow my advice and now have awesome new jobs or got a different job at the company they’re at, because they were able to show their value and you know move up.

Jason Ogle: And I was going to ask you if there’s anything else you want to leave us with that we didn’t cover, I feel like you’ve given us so much, but I want to open it up if you have any other– even like some encouraging words to some of the Defenders listening, who are like just really struggling or kind of pulling their hair out a little bit, like in there and I don’t know maybe they just feel like. They’re just feeling a little helpless, like you have some encouraging words for them?

Sarah Doody: Yes, so, for those people I would say– I would be the 1st to admit and we say this on the page, all about UX portfolio formula, but it will not be easy, like this is not some magic solution to all your problems, because to create a portfolio, it’s going to take a lot of work. But time and time again, I get feedback from people who literally write, it was so much work and the hard work paid off and so, you have to remember that just like with a product, you’re not going to get it right on the 1st time. Your portfolio won’t be right on the 1st time and you have to keep tweaking it, or reading it, and editing it and then also not be afraid to put it out there, because you will probably be rejected at some point in your job search. I definitely have over my career and it’s just part of life, it’s kind of like dating, like sure, you’re not going to like marry the 1st person you went on a date with probably.

If you do congratulations, but you have to think like this is a process, it’s not going to be easy, but if you can maintain a positive attitude and stays really, really, dedicated and avoid that perfectionism, then you can do it. But if you treat it like a product, it’s going to make it be a lot easier.

Jason Ogle: Wow! I Love it, and don’t be a– I love– don’t be afraid to share or yourself, share your work, share– have confidence in yourself, because you’re awesome, you are a bad butt…

Sarah Doody: Yes, and…

Jason Ogle: It’s a family show, so I didn’t say it the other way but…

Sarah Doody: Yes, and that’s why it’s so important to highlight these outcomes and like we said in the beginning, sometimes that is quantify, sometimes maybe that’s quotes that you got from the client or paraphrased quotes from meetings and things like that or it could be reviews or feedback from customers after you launched some new feature, Get creative about the outcomes portion, because it doesn’t just have to be we increased conversions by 20% look at us.

Jason Ogle: Wow! Sarah, this has been incredible.

Sarah Doody: Awesome.

Jason Ogle: I am so, so, thrilled that we got to have this time together and I have learned a ton myself and I know I’m just like bubbling over with new inspiration from this conversation.

So, I thank you personally, I know our Defenders are driving, so keep your hands on the wheel Defenders, but they’re Yes! Like I, they’re probably feel charged up to really attack this and make this a UX project and just really put their all into this and now, it pays off like Sarah said Defenders, like this is one of the most– and I’m biased, but this is such an awesome career, this is such a fun, fun, career in work. And especially when you’re not realize you’re solving problems that help people and change their lives, like how much better can it get right. So, this has just been incredible Sarah, I’m so thankful for your work and your research and your expertise on this, Defenders check out Sarah’s course, I’ll be sure to link everything in the show notes and last but not least Sarah, I just want to say fight on my friend.

Hide transcript

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pandora | Amazon Music | Stitcher | Android | Google Podcasts | RSS Feed

Here’s your chance to use your superpower of support. Don’t rely on telepathy alone! If you’re enjoying the show, would you take two minutes and leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts? I’d also be willing to remove my cloak of invisibility from your inbox if you’d subscribe to the newsletter for superguest announcements and more, occasionally.