Category: UX advice / How I work
I was chatting to a fellow freelance UX designer the other day and we were sharing stories about the realities of working in this field. Amongst other things we agreed that contributing to projects doesn’t really lend itself to creating a great portfolio.
In fact I said I don’t have one and haven’t needed one for a long time. Here’s why I don’t, and what I do instead.
A good UX folio should tell a story about how research was done, a problem (or problems) was found and how it was solved. They’re essentially case studies.
Certainly my projects do follow this kind of path but to do that I would need to explain what was wrong with a client’s site previously, which may not be something they want to promote. Whilst I could get permission to do that, it’s not something they should feel under pressure to share.
Any mistakes they made should be their business and we should consider the privacy of their users before publishing anything about them too.
I’m happy to talk about parts of previous projects confidentially in calls and meetings, where I can moderate the content for the audience I’m speaking to, but to publish a truly satisfying story you need all the details.
We increased conversion by 50%! Claims like that often lead the case studies of CRO and UX consultants. But how often can you honestly say that a conversion increase is down to your input?
Perhaps you can make this claim if you’re able to work with large amounts of traffic and can run A/B tests where you can clearly pinpoint the difference. Even then, these big changes often disappear over time after being put live.
The reality is that digital product development is a team game with many different factors that build to make up metric changes. My few weeks of work might only be a small part of a months-long redesign. UX updates can take months to be implemented by which time lots of other elements may have changed too (not lease what the business is doing in terms of traffic).
I want to be as honest as I can when advertising what I offer. I can promise you I will find problems with your site, and I can promise you I will design improvements that will benefit your users. What happens after this is usually out of my control and up to the client’s implementation.
The main thing I produce through my ‘design’ phase of work is wireframe prototypes. Wireframes aren’t very useful to look at, especially without the story and context behind them: they just look like an unfinished website. You really need to know a lot about the audience and their needs to understand why something is better than it was before.
Also when the work comes to have the visual design applied and it is actually coded up, it can end up looking very different to the early phases. This is a normal and expected part of an iterative design/development process.
Just because my work doesn’t look identical to what was produced, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t heavily influence and shape the thinking of the client. In fact what I offer is often better applied early in the process in the strategic phase to give principles that the company can follow.
When it comes to displaying wireframes that don’t match the final product can just look odd to outsiders, no matter how helpful they were. So I don’t.
If you take the potential risk of not having a portfolio you need something else to prove you can do what you say. I use two methods:
As a UX consultant I come into a project for a fixed period of time. I remotely deliver some specified work to help the client and then they use it as they wish. Thus the best measure of whether I do a good job is whether they are happy.
I’m fortunate to have worked with some great clients who have embraced what I offer. From what I can tell they have all been very happy with my work too. I know this because I get them to fill out a little survey at the end of working together. Some of these I adapt into testimonials for my site.
It’s a classic approach but testimonials really are valuable and a flexible way of showing what you offer: a lot of nuance and variety can fit into those words.
I also offer some paid products, like my book, online course, and workshops. Regardless of the medium I find this a great way to explain my approach and build confidence in people that I know what I’m talking about.
I offer up so much of what I’ve learned, that you could probably find most of my knowledge for free and not have to hire me. If you have no budget and lots of time then by all means do. However there will always be some clients who have the budget but not the time to do UX on top of everything else they do and so a consultant is useful.
I've found that if potential clients read an article or two about my process on my site and like what they hear about how I work, then we're likely to be a good fit.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a portfolio as a UX designer, I’m just saying you don’t necessarily need one. This is especially the case if you’re working as a consultant like I do. You still need to be able to tell stories and explain your process though: a skill that is massively beneficial throughout projects.
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