Tips for Building a World Class Design Portfolio

Bridge is a professional development program for experienced designers hosted by Designer Fund. Bridge designers join one of our vetted partner companies full time. Once a week, they attend intimate workshops and talks with leading designers and are welcomed into our community, which includes some of the most influential designers in the world. To learn more about Bridge, check out our site and keep in touch here to be invited to apply early before applications open September 15th. 

 

I’ve reviewed thousands of designer portfolios over the past 10 years as a former hiring design manager at Facebook and now as the cofounder of Designer Fund and Bridge. Whereas beautiful screenshots could carry you into an interview many years ago, design managers at top startups today are looking for much more. Below are guidelines for building a top portfolio site based on feedback from our Bridge partners:

1. Quality over Quantity

Don’t be afraid to write (a lot) about your work, talking about the goals, context, constraints and your thought process. I want to see more than just big beautiful images. – Josh Puckett, Dropbox

It’s much better for you to go deeper on a few projects than go shallow on many projects. This will give you the advantage of showing off your highest quality work and let you give a lot of context around that work. If you simply throw in some work to “round out your portfolio” get ready to be judged by your weakest work.


place_pins_thumb

A great example of going deep on a high quality project is the Pinterest Creative Team’s deep dive into Place Pins.
View the site here


2. Structure your Projects

Make sure to include the following information for each project where appropriate:

Project Background – Set the context for the project. What was the goal of the project? What were your constraints? What was the timeline?

Team and your role – What was your explicit role, what did you uniquely contribute and who did you work with?

The Work – Go deep to show what you produced. Research, sketches, wireframes, mocks and a link to working site or application if possible.

Success Metrics – Why are you showing me this project? Do you have any results that show this project achieved its intended goal?

What You Would Have Done Differently – Based on the process and outcome is there anything you learned you would have done differently. This is a great way to show growth and introspection.


 3. Show Process

Seeing how you frame the problem (text), how you think about the problem (sketch), and how you solve the problem (pixels) really tells us everything we need to know. – Justin Edmund, Pinterest

Probably the top piece of feedback we hear from design managers is that they want designers who have a great process. This means the frame the problem well, collaborate effectively, explore many options, and ultimately execute with a high level of craft. If you are not showing your process on a project you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to showcase one of the key ingredients startups desire.


thumb_francine_leeDropbox Designer Francine Lee, who also participated in Bridge Session 3, uses Medium to show off her fantastic user research process.
View Francine’s User Research Process


4. Get Visual

Designers need to take advantage of the visual potential of an online portfolio. Too often we see scaled down versions of visuals, visuals out of context, or visuals that don’t best support the narrative of the work. If you are a UI designer and sweat the details, show the pixels in all their glory at full scale or even magnified. If you are a user researcher, show beautiful photos of your user research sessions, your findings, and how you present those to your team. It is worth spending the time to select and present the right images to tell a compelling story.


thumb_ben_barryBen Barry, former Bridge speaker and Facebook designer, has one of the most visually effective portfolios which beautifully showcases his work.
View Ben’s Portfolio


5. Show Interactions

Today’s products have much more motion and movement. The best product design portfolios showcase those flows in the products they’ve designed. To startups this is a great sign that you can think over time rather than in static mocks. Extra credit if you’ve prototyped the application or link to a live demo.


thumb_ed_leaEd Lea, designer at Inkling and participant in Bridge Session 3, showcases his motion skills in product videos as well as interactions on his portfolio site.
View Ed’s Portfolio


thumb_kevin_shayKevin Shay, designer at Brigade and participant in Bridge Session 3, showcases interactions as the final part of his design process on his portfolio site.
View Kevin’s Portfolio


6. Side Projects

A wonderful way to show off your personality and how you think with different constraints is to devote a piece of your portfolio to side projects. These can be as simple as photos you’ve shot all the way to applications you’ve built and shipped with friends. To many startups, this can be a good sign that you are driven and able to work on a broad set of problems when needed.


thumb_jason_perezJason Perez, designer at One Kings Lane and participant in Bridge Session 3, shows off some amazing photography in his portfolio.
View Jason’s Portfolio


Closing Thoughts

Portfolios are a wonderful way to catalog your work and get you thinking about the intentions behind your work. Like long form writing, they force you to organize your thoughts and often prepare you to talk through your work in person – a step you’ll be required to do on your path to working at a great startup.

Once your portfolio is dialed in and you have interviews coming up, make sure to read our tips on interviewing at startups for designers.

Bridge is a professional development program for experienced designers hosted by Designer Fund. Bridge designers join one of our vetted partner companies full time. Once a week, they attend intimate workshops and talks with leading designers and are welcomed into our community, which includes some of the most influential designers in the world. To learn more about Bridge, check out our site and keep in touch here to be invited to apply early before applications open September 15th. 




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