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As an aspiring UX designer, your portfolio is the most important asset you have in your job hunt. A well-researched, focused, and comprehensive portfolio can help to show employers your unique perspective as well as your deep expertise in a particular area. Taking a short-term and affordable UX Design Bootcamp is a great way to quickly learn the fundamentals and start building an amazing portfolio, but if you’re just starting to learn User Experience and User Interface design, you might be wondering what sorts of projects you should be working on to get a job as a junior UX or UI designer. Luckily, we chatted with tons of UX recruiters and designers over the past few months to ask that exact question and to hear their tips for building a UX portfolio full of amazing projects that truly stand out and showcase your abilities. In this article we’re going to outline the different types of UX/UI projects you might be working on in your your career. By the end of the article, you’ll understand the types of projects employers might expect to see in your portfolio and understand how each type of project can convey to recruiters that you understand the value of each project type from a business and user perspective.
Follow process and always consider the user
Before we dive into the 7 projects you should consider working on, we want to make a quick point of emphasizing how important it is to follow process when working on UX projects. Every employer and recruiter we talked to told us the number one thing that makes them pass on a portfolio is a lack of explanation or context. Many young designers make the mistake of diving straight into Sketch or another wireframing or prototyping tool before conducting necessary research. This is a bad idea! Employers want to see a portfolio site that explains why you made the decisions you made rather than just seeing the final deliverables mocked onto a desktop or phone. If you’re studying Visual Design, your final portfolio might be a bit more abstract, with designs based on your moodboarding, ideating, and sketching rather than deep industry research and usability testing. However, as a UX designer, it is crucial to base all of your design decisions on research and to constantly be iterating based on user feedback and usability testing. While a branding campaign or icon design project might be difficult to tie back to specific results, all of your UX/UI work will likely be directly tied to specific KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that your client or employer will use to determine whether the designs are successful at achieving their goal. So be sure to research your industry and client prior to starting any projects and then create personas and use cases so you understand how users will be interacting with your designs. And once you create an initial prototype, review your designs with users (this can be friends or mentors), watching how they interact with it and iterating accordingly.
The 7 projects every aspiring UX designer should work on
Here are the 7 types of UX projects that you’ll likely experience at some point in your career. We’d suggest trying out one or two projects in each category so you can at least be familiar with the process for creating each and also get the chance to see whether there is any particular part of the UX world that you’re especially passionate about.
Digital Publication or Blog
This might be a UX project type that you’d normally skip over, but multiple employers told us that being able to craft a unique digital blog or content site is a great skill to possess. While you might think that the availability of thousands of DIY blog templates available on platforms like WordPress and Squarespace makes the need to design a beautiful blog from scratch a thing of the past, this might make a case for the importance of this type of design work. Companies are putting more and more money into content marketing (creating owned written content that is used as a lead gen tool for acquiring inbound traffic) and most content marketing is tied directly to a business’s marketing budget and growth. Being able to design a unique blog that optimizes for lead capture and is beautiful enough to convince visitors to come back over and over again is a great skill to be able to promote in interviews! For this project, we’d suggest designing a homepage, category page, and article page. Your final deliverables should include sketches, wireframes, and a working hi-fi prototype of the final site including a basic Style Guide.
If you’re interested in working in an industry that focuses on selling products (physical or digital), it’s probably a good idea to have some experience designing ecommerce sites. For an ecommerce project, you should focus primarily on maximizing conversion rate for visitors to the website, with a product search page that makes filtering and searching simple and intuitive, as well as a product detail page that makes it easy for visitors to gather information about the product and purchase it. While metrics are a key focus of any good ecommerce site, you should also try to create a compelling and unique visual look for the site to differentiate it from the millions of other ecommerce sites on the web. For this project, you should choose a client in an industry you like (you can either make up a fictional client that sells a product you’re passionate about or choose a client whose ecommerce site you think could benefit from a redesign) and design the Product Search, Product Detail, and Checkout pages for this client.
Lead Gen Landing Page
One of the simplest but most impactful UX projects you might work on for employers and clients is designing a simple landing page whose sole purpose is to convert visitors into signups or leads. This is generally done via signup forms, lead gen forms, or simple user registration widgets! Your job is to design a page that maximizes the number of visitors who submit their info (i.e. become leads) so the client’s sales team can follow up with them afterwards and try to convert them into paying customers. For this project, come up with a client in an industry you’re passionate about and think about the type of information you’d need to gather from a visitor to convert them to a lead. Also consider what information they’d be most interested in learning before being convinced to “convert”.
Mobile App Design
Mobile app design is one of the most popular UX/UI specialties and for good reason. People spend more time on their phone than on any other device, so being able to design simple and intuitive apps that delight users is a highly desirable skillset. For this project, think about problems you encounter in your everyday life and think about how a simple app product could solve those problems. This could be as simple as a productivity or reminder app or as complex as a social network. For this project, think about designing a simple onboarding flow, as well as the in-app screens and user dashboard or profile. Your final designs should include personas and use cases as well as sketches, wireframes, and a final prototype beautifully mocked up.
Email Drip Campaign
This is another one of those projects that might seem nonobvious or less-than-glamorous. However, it’s another project that can show employers that you understand their KPI’s and are able to convert those metrics into beautiful designs that help them grow their business. Emails are an important in the marketing and acquisition funnel of most companies and there’s a good chance you’ll have to design at least a few early in your career. For this project, you’ll identify a business client and design a series of 4 emails for them, designed to convert new subscribers or trialers into paying customers of their product. Come up with a product that these users have trialed and think about the flow of information they’d be receiving over the 4 email series, with a focus on moving them down the acquisition funnel.
Similar to a lead gen page, a marketing website is a customer-facing site that a business or startup uses to promote and explain their product and to convert visitors into customers or trialers. For this project, come up with a client in an industry you care about. Think about how your design can showcase relevant information about the product and help them reduce their high drop off rate and help move visitors from the discovery phase (search engine, social media marketing) to the conversion phase on their marketing website. Research successful marketing websites to understand how brands optimize their marketing website for conversions.
Web App Design
Finally, we’d recommend working on a web app product. Similar to a mobile app, a web app is a digital product that users engage with via their computer. A few popular web apps are sites like Facebook, Gmail, or Trello. For this project, think about a problem that exists in your target industry that could be solved by a simple (or complex) app. Then design the signup flow, in-app screens, and dashboard for the app, presenting your final work as a comprehensive case study including sketches, wireframes, and a hi-fi prototype mocked onto a device.
Now that you know the types of projects employers want to see in UX/UI portfolios, jump into it! Try as many projects as you have time for and once you find yourself being drawn to a specific field of UX or UI Design, start to deepen your expertise in that area. Employers love to see subject matter experts who have experience across a variety of different types of work, so remember to keep practicing multiple types of work even if you decide to focus on just one. If you have an idea for a client or product you want to design, but aren’t sure how to get started or what process to follow, never fear! We developed our Portfolio Starter Kit and Career Bootcamps to teach you how to take your ideas and turn them into well-researched projects that follow the proper design process and will impress employers so you can stand out from the competition.
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