It's no secret the product design industry is booming and competition is high. Product designers are needed now more than ever to help businesses build digital products that are easy to use and delight their customers.
In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know to make a product design portfolio that turns hiring managers' heads and gets you hired. Plus, we'll share a few great product design portfolio examples along to inspire you along the way.
The purpose of a product design portfolio
At its core, a product design portfolio is a tool to help you get the job you want.
Think about it from a product design perspective. If your portfolio is the product, then hiring managers, recruiters, and potential clients are your target audience. As the designer, your job is to convince them that your work brings value to their project or business.
A strong product design portfolio dives deep into your process and shows hiring managers how you solve problems. Next to your product design cover letter and resume, your portfolio takes center stage.
A strong product design portfolio dives deep into your process and shows hiring managers how you solve problems.
As you might imagine, a great product design portfolio does far more than show off the digital products you’ve previously worked on. It elevates your work and gives it context. It demonstrates that you have the knowledge and know-how to approach design problems and overcome them.
In other words, it’s not enough to include simple screenshots of your finished work.
What hiring managers want to see
Hiring managers want to see that you have the relevant experience, expertise, and a refined design process. To show them that, you need to walk them through your involvement and impact on each stage of each project.
"I recommend you build your product design portfolio the same way you would tackle any design challenge: Start by putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience." — Korin Harris, Design Recruiter @Figma
A strong portfolio includes detailed case studies that tell a story from start to finish. These case studies have clearly defined problems, and they follow the same path you took to solve those problems. They also include the challenges and setbacks you faced along the way and how you overcame them.
Of course, the best portfolios include great work. If you’re early in your design journey, that may be an intimidating thought. Only include your best projects. Hiring managers don’t care about how many projects you’ve worked on — they care about what you can do at your very best.
And when you show them your best, they show you an interview invite.
What if I don’t have any product design experience?
If you’re just starting out, it’s tough breaking through the catch-22 of finding product design jobs and creating a portfolio. It’s the ultimate chicken and egg conundrum. You need a portfolio to get hired, but you need work experience to make a portfolio, right?
A portfolio showcases your abilities, style, and design thinking in a way that resonates with hiring managers. While real-world experience is obviously great to have, you can still break through the noise and create a stunning portfolio without it.
When done well, passion projects can speak volumes about your ability to approach and solve product design problems. The key to doing them well is to take full ownership of whatever you come up with.
“Treat these projects as if you were dealing with a real client. Take the work seriously, focus on one project at a time, and make the most of it.” — Bojan Novakovic, Self-taught UI/UX Designer
Art by Bojan Novakovic
For example, if you’re redesigning one of your favorite apps, don’t simply overhaul the interface and add a few interactions. Take it back to the drawing board and redefine the product strategy. Do your research and find out what kind of pain points people have. Create something new and test your designs with real users.
Another approach is to give back to a community or organization in need. Tap your networks and look for nonprofits in need of your skills. While you may end up working for free, a dazzling design for an organization that’s doing some good in the world looks great in a portfolio.
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What to include in your product design portfolio
If you had to boil your portfolio down to one single purpose, it’s to find work. As such, your product designer portfolio should represent your expertise and talent across the skills associated with product desiger.
Taking it a step further, it should represent the kind of projects that align with your own goals as a designer. If your goal is to design apps for a specific industry, make sure to reflect that in your portfolio.
If your goal is to design apps for a specific industry, make sure to reflect that in your portfolio.
Some designers think adding side projects to their portfolio makes them more marketable, but that's rarely the case. You might be a great graphic designer or photographer, but your product design portfolio should demonstrate your product design skills.
✔️ An “About me” section
Your work takes center stage in your portfolio, but the story begins with you. An “about me” section gives readers a glimpse into who you are as a designer. Think of it as the backstory to your projects and connect your passions and past to the work you’ve done and would like to do more of. Just remember to follow the above principle of focus and keep it succinct.
This section is also where you’ll include all your contact details, such as:
- Email address or contact form
- Links to your professional networks (Dribbble, LinkedIn)
- Any relevant social media handles
You can check out a few great examples of about me pages to inspire you here.
Art by Caitlin Aboud
✔️ A well-designed landing page
Recruiters and hiring managers have to parse hundreds of design candidates, so their time is limited. When they first land on your portfolio, they want to do one thing as quickly as possible: see your work and assess whether you have the skills for the job description. Your portfolio’s landing page should provide an effective way to do this.
Your landing page should include very little else besides your projects. They should be organized in a way that provides just enough detail on each one to give context and background on the project and a glimpse of the work you did. Above all, it should provide a pleasant user experience.
"There’s nothing that makes me happier than opening a portfolio and seeing eight equally sized, thoughtfully crafted rectangles." — Korin Harris, Design Recruiter @Figma
Art by Ashley Golladay
✔️ Product design case studies
Product design is arguably more about design thinking and process than it is visual design. A bunch of images with captions doesn’t tell people much about your process and how you think, strategize, and problem-solve.
As a product designer, every project in your portfolio should be a case study.
While case studies do require more work upfront, there’s no better way to show your value to hiring managers—this rings true for any designer involved in the product design process: ux designers, interaction designers, visual designers, etc.
Case studies allow you to take the reader along the path of the projects you worked on. It’s the perfect way to show them how you think about design, how you tackle challenges, and even how you’ve grown and evolved as a designer.
Art by Laura Nuyen
How to make a product design portfolio from scratch
For obvious reasons, creating a portfolio can be stressful, especially for those who are just beginning their journey. While portfolios are professional tools to showcase your work, for most designers, it’s a deeply personal project.
But while it’s good to be thorough and put adequate thought into your portfolio, you also shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t expect to create an absolutely perfect portfolio the first time around. And definitely don’t compare your portfolio or your work to other people’s. As Alex Muench, a Digital Product Designer puts it:
“You are on your own path. Others might be in a different stage of their career. Focus on yourself and what you want to achieve.” — Alex Muench, Product Designer @Doist
Keeping that in mind, let’s dive into the necessary steps to build your product design portfolio from the ground up.
👩💻 1. Choose a portfolio building platform
There are countless ways to put your portfolio into the world.
Many product designers opt for portfolio website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly for affordable web hosting and easy-to-use tools to layout your site.
For designers who are technically proficient with HTML and CSS, building a portfolio website yourself provides the most flexibility, but requires a bit more work. You’ll need to register a domain, find a web host, create a custom web design, and then build and upload your site.
Whichever method you choose, make sure your online portfolio is easy to update. As you progress through your product design career, you’ll want to keep your portfolio website updated with new projects you work on.
Pro tip: Dribbble Pro lets you easily create an interview-ready portfolio on your own domain that always stays up-to-date and is ready to share with clients when you need it!
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💫 2. Select your best design projects
Before selecting the projects you want in your portfolio, take a step back and think about what you want your career trajectory to look like.
Consider the industries you’d like to work in or the clients you’d like to work with. Think about what you’d like to learn as a product designer and the types of products you want on your portfolio years from now.
When you know where you’re headed as a designer, choosing the right projects for your portfolio becomes much easier.
Career aside, you only want your best work in your portfolio. Unlike graphic designers or illustrators, this doesn't necessarily mean the most attractive or eye-catching work. Instead, focus on complexity and challenge. If a project helped you grow significantly and changed the way you approach certain design problems, it’s probably a winner.
📝 3. Write the copy
Most of the writing work in your portfolio will be in your case studies, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect the context of you as the designer of your body of work. It all starts with your “about me” page.
Write about your background, what inspired you to become a product designer, and what makes you tick. While your project showcase should be laser-focused on your work, this section is your opportunity to show off your personality.
Lastly, while portfolios should be professional, they can be informal in tone. Be expressive and let your personality or personal brand shine through in your writing.
🎨 4. Design your portfolio
Next, you’ll need to design the actual portfolio. Many designers see this as an opportunity to flex their creative muscles by designing something truly original, but that isn’t always the best approach.
A better approach is to focus as much as possible on providing a great user experience for your portfolio visitors. Your projects should be front and center and easy to navigate through. All the information a hiring manager needs to hire you (read: how to contact you) should be easy to find.
Focus on providing a great user experience for your portfolio visitors.
Lastly, and this should go without saying, make sure your design is mobile-friendly. You aren’t doing yourself any favors if your portfolio if a hiring manager opens your portfolio on their phone and finds it impossible to navigate.
Art by Tiffany Yeh
🧪 5. Test your results
In theory, portfolios are fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. But as a product designer, if you’re presenting a digital experience — even a simple one — you should show it the same consideration you would any other project. In other words, test it with real people.
If you have a design mentor or know design industry experts, ask them to check out your portfolio and give you feedback. If you have a friend or colleague who works as a hiring manager, even better. They go through a lot of product design portfolios, and they know what works and what doesn’t.
Even if you don’t know anyone personally, you can try doing a shout-out on social media to see if anyone’s willing to critique your portfolio. You’d be surprised at how many people are happy to help out an up-and-coming designer. Every one of them was in the same place as you at some point.
How to write a great product design case study
Case studies are the most important part of any product design portfolio. Design can be difficult to quantify, especially for those who don’t practice it often. A product design case study is how you demonstrate your value as a designer.
There are five things that every product design case study should absolutely include:
- Summary: The summary should set the stage for the story to come. It’s where you define the context of the project and the problem statement. What kind of project was it? Who was it for? What was your role in it and what were the end goals? Did you work directly with an art director or product manager? Open your story by answering these questions.
- User research: This is where you demonstrate how you leverage your research skills to build up qualitative data and use it to come up with creative design solutions.
- Design Approach: Then, explain how you tested and refined your designs to solve real user problems and translate human-centered design into reaching business goals.
- Conclusion: Finally, you’ll conclude by explaining what you learned on your journey. You can summarize how challenges made you think differently about certain problems or what new methods you added to your process. You can also include some testimonials and success stories for the project post-design. Most of all, you can demonstrate how the project made you a more heroic and well-rounded designer.
At the core, case studies are stories. They tell the tale of your design journey through the product you worked on, and there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end. Keep this in mind as you write your case studies and try to give each section its due treatment.
Your portfolio is an ongoing project
Just like the product design process, your portfolio is an ongoing project. If you’re new to product design or design in general, building a portfolio can feel overwhelming. But it’s important to see it as simply one of many steps on your journey to growing your design career. As you level up in experience, carve out a style of your own, and discover the kind of work you’re passionate about, you’ll naturally attract the companies and people you’d love to work with. Good luck!
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