Should UX designers have portfolios?

Person sitting in a cafe with a laptop
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

This point was raised in a recent Slack conversation where we discussed whether UX designers should have portfolios:

When talking about recruiting for UX and asked about portfolios, the speaker said “all that tells me is that you are a UI designer who thinks they know about UX”

My unedited response:

Interesting point that one, I understand where they are coming from and why, however I don’t agree entirely.

I am generally in favour of having a portfolio on hand when discussing a role, however not in the Dribbble or a ‘polished final deliverable’ sense.

It’s more for these purposes:

  • What were you trying to solve, and why? How did you arrive at that problem, or was it given to you?
  • Discussing the work in concrete rather than in abstract; having something to point at
  • Is design research threaded in all the way through; what core insights did you create around?
  • Understanding the journey, the thought process, the rationale and compromises required to arrive at the final outcome
  • Separating the work (outcome) from the team and the individuals having created the work
  • Having a focal point around which to explain what you contributed vs. what the rest of the team did.

For me, the less shiny portfolio the better – I want to understand the intent, the thinking, the collaboration, and the way the users were represented all the way through.

Plus, behind the orderly scenes, everything is always really messy – because we are ultimately all human.

Update: I’ve come across a couple of related articles after the above conversation:

Whilst I appreciate the sentiment in each, both articles make the assumption that having your portfolio online is the only way to go. Yes it does make things easier in the earlier stages, however meeting in a cafe around a laptop can be just as powerful, if not more – it’s about the story and the telling.

Update 2: This tweet from Nick Finck is very apt regarding the original conversation:

Author: Jussi

I would like to ensure that there remains a liveable world for our kids to enjoy – I'm @jopas on Twitter –