editione1.0.2Updated February 27, 2023
You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
Before you begin your portfolio, it helps to have everything all in one place. It’s common industry advice to “build your portfolio before you need it.” But let’s face it, free time can be hard to come by, and spending it on building a portfolio doesn’t feel like it’s time well spent. So my recommendation is to go an easier route and to develop the habit of capturing your work as it unfolds.
important To make portfolios, build the habit of capturing key screenshots or changes in your work throughout the process.
A portfolio project often tells a compelling story of design execution from beginning to end. Having artifacts of the experience will help you substantiate your story and provide the evidence you need to come across as an expert in your craft.
Capture your design process as you go.
Here’s a list of things to consider capturing. This list isn’t definitive, and you definitely don’t need all of these for a successful portfolio. Rather, treat this as a way to brainstorm assets that you may want to include:
Documentation. Product requirements, design specifications, user research guides, research findings, and so on. You don’t need to share the full documentation, but pointing to specific parts in a research finding or the user guide is helpful.
Photos of artifacts. Whiteboards, a napkin, or more formal sketches—anything that has led to interesting insights.
Video and audio recordings. You could use interesting interviews to pull relevant research findings.
Design mocks. These can be snapshots of your work in progress but also capturing the work that got left behind on the so-called cutting room floor. Showing what you didn’t do and why you didn’t do it is just as important.
Prototypes. Show your work come to life. These could be recorded or live.
Shipped product. This could be a series of screenshots or a recording of the live product, where you can reinforce the message of how you uphold design quality throughout the product development cycle.
Workshops and ideation. Capturing photos and recordings, these could be especially great if you can show a link from a fledgling rough idea to a polished concept and connect the dots.
At the end of the day, not all of your projects will follow the same process or have the same deliverables. But rough sketches can be an interesting way to break up your presentation and introduce some variety to your portfolio.
Using rough sketches can be an interesting way to break up your presentation and introduce some variety to your portfolio.
Having these raw materials handy puts you in a strong editorial position where you can pick and choose artifacts that can tell your story in a compelling way. Expect to discard 95% or more of these, and you may need to go back and find additional content to make a cohesive story. But having most of this content up-front will help you move much faster compared to trying to start completely from scratch.
These days, portfolios can take on many different formats. In the past, designers would create a customer site with six thumbnails for each portfolio project. Now there are more options to choose from. Remember, the goal of your online portfolio is to get a phone interview. During that interview you’ll do a light portfolio review with a hiring manager and the recruiter, so you want to show work that you’re proud of and that’s relevant to the job at hand.
Once you’re in the final rounds, you’ll have to create a different portfolio that’s specifically tailored to the company and the presentation format. So don’t spend so much time on building your online portfolio that you don’t submit it anywhere.