The shoemaker's son always walks barefoot.

...and other UX portfolio challenges

'Do you have a portfolio site you could provide us with?' 'No, but here is a pdf with some of my work.' 


Oh, the money I spent on wordpress templates.  At some point it was enough money for my accountant to ask. 'What is this 'wordpress templates' and how much does one need of it?' I think 10, I went up to 10 until having to admit that I wouldn't be able to wrangle wordpress with any success into something that looked like a site. The super easy templates with a drag and drop toolbox? - Lies. There is a reason why some programmers have specialised in wordpress. I tried it all. The organised way - sitting down 9-5 making it a project that has to be followed through, approach it like a client's project. At the end, however, my recommendation to the client would have been: 'I don't think wordpress is the right choice for the project - also, the person that is currently in charge of the project - I don't think she's any good'. Second approach. Taking the stress out of it. Which means delegating most of the work to other people. 'So I asked my Designer live-in boyfriend to help. There was nowhere to run for him. And I knew where he lived. ' I need a logo and illustrations' Him: 'NO! and When? And you know that's not cheap, right' Me: 'Now! and I have no budget, I spent it all on wordpress templates.' I have since been called the worst client he's ever worked with. He's wrong. Obviously. 

Putting your own site together is a very interesting exercise, not only do you go through the work of the past years but you also re-evaluate the work in view of what you'd like your next projects to be and how you'd like to position yourself in the market- usually that would be 'less work, more money' - and that unfortunately is just a very oversaturated market. 

The next problem was as to what work I can share. The most interesting work of the past years I'm not allowed to talk about. NDAs had to be signed, livelihoods were threatened. Most of the UX deliverables would show how the data systems of large companies work. Again, that is something that most clients do not like you to share, which then means that we as UX run into troubles as to what we can actually show in a portfolio. We can show the visual design of a project and describe how we supported the process, but that's not far off from showing a screenshot of code and trying to explain as to how you were involved in that process. Or you actually show some screenshots of one of the deliverables you worked on, a screenshot of a document that was likely very large. A screenshot that most likely also omits the real hard work that was behind it. Talking. Asking. Asking more and then talking some more before actually being able to put the documents together. Trying to get everyone in the team to read off the same page. The same page being, the latest version of the wireframes and specifications. In the meantime trying to tread ever so lightly between the different departments involved in a project and trying not to step on anyone's toes in the process. 

I have looked at many a UX portfolio. I do appreciate a pretty wireframe and flow as much as the next person (lol). But, without knowing the background of the actual project and without talking to the person, it is impossible to know what challenges were solved - and again, this is something you, as a contracted UX practitioner are probably not allowed to talk about in detail.

UX practitioners should be a little bit like Switzerland and remind everyone around the conference table to just '...calm down. Everyone just calm down and LISTEN TO ME! Why won't anyone think of the USER?! *hand on head, dramatic Victorian fainting*. What Switzerland doesn't do that? Neither do I. I guess we established that UX practitioners don't always do like Switzerland does.

Coming back to my point - that it is difficult writing honestly about the sometimes utterly insane challenges you face when brought into a project. When you are brought in to solve a problem, a problem by which then everyone is just tired of discussing and talking about. I have a selection of amazing quotes from clients and meetings - which, again, I can't share due to NDAs and the wish to remain employable. Stupid common sense. We'd all have such a good giggle without it.  

So, once you come out the other end of a project, the work and documents that you are left with are mostly generic case studies and a few flows and wireframes. And those will very likely not even look like much, since the best flows and wireframes are those that look boring. The aim is to distill something complex into an easy, simplified system, which in turn will be visualised in a hopefully clear, concise flow and wireframe. I think what you should be able to do in a UX portfolio, is to give a sense of who you are and how you approach projects. What your working processes are, and hope that people understand that good UX portfolios, just like good UX deliverables may look boring but the work that went into it most certainly was not. And hopefully that will be communicated when experiencing the end-product.