Yesterday morning I once again had the pleasure of speaking to students in the web design class offered to Drake University’s Journalism majors. As I’m unlikely to be delivering a commencement address anytime soon, this is my chance to commune with the spirit of my college-aged self and lay down some “real world” advice I wish that I’d gotten at the time.

Amongst all the rambly bits, one of the smarter things I offered up was an encouragement to broaden one’s thinking about what’s worth saving for one’s portfolio.

From an employer’s perspective, what you’ve done is rarely as interesting or instructive as how you did it. A good portfolio should bear more resemblance to an inventor’s notebook than a family photo album.

When I lost my startup job at the end of 2011, I kicked myself over how few process artifacts I had saved. We were all learning together, and for much of the job, I didn’t yet understand that many of the things I did were long-established techniques from the fields of user experience design, information architecture, and content strategy. In my Radio/TV program, we were hammered to keep our “demo reel” up-to-date, to save our best finished pieces. No one ever told me to save my thinking.

Here are some ideas of what to collect during your next project:

  • scans or copies of any paper sketches – yes, even the backs of napkins
  • photographs of whiteboard brainstorming and wireframing sessions
  • diagrams, charts, and outlines used to plan the project or organize your thoughts
  • design briefs, requirements lists, and other documents about the project’s goals
  • personal notes from your daily work (consider keeping a work log)
  • any half-decent writing – emails, proposals, web copy, etc.
  • quotes from customers, especially if you do any sort of support or social media work

I recommended putting a bit of effort into organizing your collection, but not so much that the friction makes you resist collecting. Most of my stuff gets added to Evernote tagged “resume” and/or “portfolio”. We write and submit monthly progress reports at my current job, and I save those for myself as well. If you do any sort of review process, even just for yourself, the notes from that can later prove invaluable in jogging your memory.

AuthorScott Kubie
CategoriesUX and Design