User Experience at Hello Erik

What people want to see in a UX portfolio or website.

December 28, 2011

Here’s the tl;dr version of this post: I am redoing all my personal materials to be something much more deliberate and efficient. Starting with this website. Everything will be new.

I’ve learned some things recently. Partially from poking around the internet looking at other UX designer’s sites, and also from having to sift through some resumes for UX designers here at my place of employment.

See, I’ve learned 2 things.

  1. People usually don’t build their resume for what employers want to see. In fact, they usually aren’t ‘built’ at all, but instead they are just a thoughtless collections of data arranged in a fashion that was taught in a 10th grade English class.
  2. People don’t build a website (portfolio, personal brand, whatever) to cater to what their visitors want to see. I am talking specifically about online resume/branding sites (like helloerik.com).

Here’s something: have you ever known anyone who is out in the job market to send custom optimized resumes to different prospective employers? People expect to create one homogenous, vanilla resume that is made to have no roughedges and take no risks whatsoever. They desire it to be soft and sweet like a marshmallow.

Why don’t people optimized (A/B test even!) their resume for each and every place they send it? Layout, color, wording, arrangement, style.. whatever! How did we arrive at a place where people try their hardest to create one generic, comprehensive resume?

Granted – most people aren’t on a job hunt trying to land some great job and applying all over the country. Clearly if your resume is being stapled to a job application form, it doesn’t really matter. But for people who are claiming to be design and optimization professionals, people who shape the experience of the user, shouldn’t we be shaping the experience of the people who use our websites and view our materials?

The goal is not to be transparent and risk-free. This is your chance to paint whatever picture you want, and then stand behind it and back it up. Ask yourself “What do these people NEED to see here?” Work history, skills, references? Usually no.

They want to see if you match their (subconscious) expectations of who they want to hire. A bland resume and presentation doesn’t do that. That gives people an ambiguous slate for them to paint on, and no room to paint anything on it yourself.

It’s a bold move. It’s a risky move. But fortune favors the bold. When someone is looking at your resume, website… your cumulative personal brand, I would want them to be saying “This person meets my expectations of who I’m looking for” and not “Does this person meet my expectations of who I’m looking for?”

You can’t read minds, and you can’t predict what people want. But if you feel confident in yourself and your abilities, I say that you present something memorable and authentic. This isn’t some “stand out in a crowd” bullshit either. I don’t subscribe that that particular notion. The sentiment here is “Who cares if you stand out or not – give them something to look at and ask ‘This is what I’ve got, is it what you are looking for?'”

I don’t ever want some prospective viewer of my materials to be unsure and have to ask “Is this how a successful UX designer portrays himself?” Instead, I want them to see something with some balls and say “Well, I am not sure how a successful UX designer portrays himself, but this guy sure is making an attempt!”

The moral of this story? Don’t be generic. But also, don’t stand out in a crowd. Just put the same amount of effort and creativity you put into your work and designs into your personal materials; resume, website, business card, etc etc.

You don’t need to be ‘over the top’, or ostentatious, or braggadocios, or gaudy. Just define yourself in a way that has hard edges. You don’t want your resume/website/portfolio looking dead on arrival.

I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.
  • http://www.librarianavengers.org Erica

    And a huge hell yes to this post.

    It is so tempting to just pile up a bunch of screenshots and assume the reader will somehow grok
    1) the awesomeness of the project
    2) what it was like before, and
    3) what YOU did to make it awesome.

    Creating a UX portfolio should itself be a UX project.