Spreadsheet portfolios for UX designers

Apr 23, 2019


I tweeted a screenshot of the spreadsheet I was using to plan my next portfolio update (as I steeled myself to do the remaining work), calling it my new UX portfolio. I was joking-not-joking, but it got a great response so I wanted to capture my thoughts here.

Read the Twitter thread

UX portfolios are a weird thing because visual design is NOT the bulk of your work, but a “portfolio” construct emphasizes looks.

Plus, “user experience” is a phrase that has different meanings for everyone, so it needs to be defined (or deconstructed) at the start of any conversation.

In my case, “doing UX” usually means I’m providing research-driven strategy, layouts, and interaction designs… but I’m a generalist so I might be working with users, on whiteboards, on paper, in documents or spreadsheets, in design apps, or in code. So for my portfolio, I wanted to highlight the particular methods that I chose for each project’s unique context and team, and clarify my roles throughout (since people often don’t understand how much I can do after 20 years in the field).

To get organized, I made a spreadsheet (the timeless all-in-one tool), with columns for the highest-priority information I wanted to get across:

  • the challenge — the context or priorities for the work

  • the timeline — my projects have ranged from 6 days to 2 years, it’s crazy to compare those two without that context (and I did a spate of rush projects where meeting the deadline was a huge success in itself)

  • the process — looking back at my work, I was able to break this down into seven buckets: research, prototyping, testing, strategy, visuals, front-end, and back-end

    • the tabular structure made it easy to show how each project is a custom combination of appropriate steps (due to goals, timeline, budget, or existing work), and when I’d done it myself or collaborated or managed other people

    • the order of steps (listing prototyping before strategy and visuals) also revealed my principle of prototyping as a valuable early-stage testing tool, not just a hi-fi demo for investors or teammates

  • the results — whatever success the company and community saw, whether qualitative or quantitative

  • the URL — with interactive work, it’s often simpler and clearer to have the visitor interact with the actual product (and to show that it survived past launch!)

  • any NDA — a Y/N column to indicate the reason for purposely vague rows

I limited the sheet to my top ten favorite projects, figuring that would also provide some nice clues about the industries and roles I enjoy.

Additional columns that were incomplete when I tweeted, so I cropped them out:

  • the team — I wanted to list the particular people I worked with, not just “two developers”, since “one developer” or “one CEO” is most definitely NOT the same as another

  • client quote — still collecting these, I’m terrible at asking for them lol

  • link to case study — the “more details” link for each row, helping me review and utilize the ones I’d already written, and prioritize the ones remaining

  • launch date — more context (and documentation before I forgot)

The “case study?” column was the whole point of the spreadsheet — identifying which projects I still needed to write up for my portfolio — but at this point I looked at the sheet, and thought “This is honestly a better overview of the work I do than any ‘portfolio’ I’ve seen”.

So I tweeted a screenshot, joking/trolling that it WAS my portfolio (I didn’t include any winks or notes that I was still planning a “real” portfolio), but people didn’t respond with the lulz I expected — they got the idea, or took it at face value and said they were going to do their portfolio this way too! It really took off when Jared Spool (with 90k UX-focused followers) retweeted it, and got another bump when the UX Design Weekly newsletter included it as their featured UX portfolio. I picked up 500+ new Twitter followers, and it’s still getting liked and retweeted eight months later, so it might be the most well-received portfolio I’ve done :)

If you’ve done something similar, or want to, please comment below, I’d love to see!

Read the Twitter thread

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