7 Tips for Reviewing a UX or Design Portfolio
No matter what creative discipline you work in, portfolio reviews are a valuable way for experienced practitioners to provide mentorship and support to people entering the field. Here are 7 tips to help managers make the most of a portfolio review.
On May 25, 2023, we're teaming up with our friends at Triangle UXPA to host virtual portfolio reviews for emerging UX designers. So naturally, we've been thinking about what advice to give managers when they’re reviewing a portfolio. Whether you're a Designer Director, a UX Manager, or a Creative Director, here are seven tips we think will help you more effectively share your wisdom and experience in a portfolio review with people just entering the field.
Feedback is best received when it comes from someone we know and trust. Begin to establish a connection and build rapport with some light conversation at the top of the call. Even a simple conversation starter like “how’s your day been?” can go a long way toward breaking the ice and creating connections. Also remember that opening yourself up to critique can be scary, especially for those new to the portfolio review process. Connecting as humans first, then moving into the review, will help put you both at ease.
Avoid making assumptions about the reviewee and their needs by taking a moment to establish context. Ask about their background, goals, and interests before diving into their portfolio. For example, are they working on an early version of their first-ever portfolio? Or are they polishing their portfolio for an application that’s due tomorrow? The kind of feedback needed in each case would be quite different! Keeping this kind of context in mind will help you frame your suggestions in a way that is appropriate and helpful for the reviewee’s specific circumstances.
Keep it constructive
Constructive feedback is feedback shared with the goal of helping the other person improve. What makes for constructive feedback?
Feedback should be actionable. Provide suggestions for what the reviewee could do to improve. For example, “this section lacks clarity - what do you think about a diagram to guide readers through your thought process here?” is far more helpful than “this section is confusing.”
Feedback should be clear. Being critical can be challenging, but dancing around your point to avoid discomfort isn’t helpful for either party. Be direct, clear, and concise with your critiques.
Feedback should identify the good. Knowing what you’re doing well is just as helpful as knowing what you should improve. If your reviewee is on the right track, tell them!
Feedback should also focus on the structure and design of their portfolio. Does their site or deck do a good job of introducing who they are and the breadth of their work without requiring too much work of the viewer?
Near the end of your session, check in with your reviewee to gauge how they’re feeling. For example, “we’ve talked about a lot today. How is all this sitting with you?” This “pulse check” may help uncover lingering questions or concerns that you can then address. Or, if they’re feeling a little stressed, this is a good final opportunity for encouragement and identifying - together - a few clear, easy-to-tackle action items to build confidence.
Remember that this is not the last portfolio your reviewee will ever create. As their career progresses, their portfolio will change and new projects will be added over time. Your feedback should provide them with the tools and knowledge they’ll need to keep their portfolio evolving in a compelling way. Rather than just listing off a handful of edits, try to help them arrive at their own solutions, or explain the “why” behind your suggestions.
Speak from your experience
Share insights from your own experience in the field. If you’re a hiring manager who has reviewed hundreds of applicant portfolios: What are you thinking about when you’re reviewing portfolios? What’s your process? If you’re not a hiring manager: What do you think about when creating your own portfolio? What do you know now, several years into your career, that you wish you knew on day one? This kind of insight is incredibly valuable for early career folks.
If you’re open to staying in touch with your reviewees, invite them to add you on LinkedIn, or exchange emails. Inviting them into your network, even passively, may open doors to opportunities, connections, and resources they might not have otherwise had access to.
Try to avoid making the review a stressful experience. Meet participants where they are and try to put them at ease.
Use your best judgment on suggesting heavy-lift changes or major overhauls to their portfolio. And do your best to back up your suggested changes with specific reasons.
Try not to give them the answers. Instead, tee them up to arrive at their own solutions.
Best of luck on your next portfolio review and keep an eye out for upcoming events hosted by Viget.