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How to Build a Strong UX Research Portfolio

John Bellio
•  06.07.2023
Portfolios empower UX researchers to showcase their expertise, skill, and experience. Whether you’re just starting out on your research journey or have years of professional experience, crafting a strong portfolio will help build credibility and trust, and catalyze opportunities for engaging work with like-minded teams that value your contributions.

In the realm of user experience, UX research portfolios are a commonplace tool for professionals in the field. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to help explore what UX research portfolios are, why they’re important, and offers valuable insight about how to create the most impactful UX research portfolio possible.

Key Takeaways:

➡️ UX research portfolios serve as invaluable tools for effectively conveying the skill, expertise, and experience of a UX researcher

❗ UX research portfolios typically showcase previous work, accompanied by a bio or ‘about’ section providing insights to the researcher’s background

Case studies craft a compelling narrative about problems solved and incorporate deliverables and key outcomes  

🧠 Strong UX research portfolios help candidates stand out in a competitive job market

💡 UX research portfolios are a standard in the user experience industry, and offer a benchmark for showcasing one’s capabilities and accomplishments

What is a UX research portfolio?

what is a ux research portfolio?

A UX research portfolio is a thoughtfully curated collection of an individual UX researcher’s work that showcases experience and expertise in the field of user experience (UX) research. UX research is the systematic process of studying the behaviors, attitudes, pain points and habits of end users who interact with a product or service. Its primary objective is to gain insights that can enable designers and teams to make more informed design decisions for the product.

UX research portfolios typically include a range of projects, case studies, or other examples that exhibit a researcher’s distinct methodology. They often showcase tangible deliverables like personas or user journey maps, and explain how findings from research influenced the overall product or design.

Strong portfolios detail how research impacted a business or project goal, strategy, or metric, in a positive way. 

UX research portfolios can be likened to the canvas of a researcher’s professional journey. Just as an artist’s canvas beautifully displays their artwork, a UX researcher’s portfolio is crafted to showcase the accomplishments and experiences of their career journey.

By painting a vivid picture of their research abilities and talents, a portfolio can leave a lasting impression on potential clients or employers, capturing their attention and appreciation.

What is the purpose of a UX research portfolio?

ux research portfolio

The job market for UX researchers (or designers) can be fiercely competitive, particularly in areas of high demand for research professionals. Recent years have seen significant shifts in the landscape of UX research, highlighted by a surge in demand for skilled practitioners, scarcity of senior-level positions, and an ever-changing set of required skills. 

Within that competitive landscape, certain expectations for researchers arise.

Qualified UX researchers must exhibit an expected level of skill or experience, and portfolios are the industry standard method for displaying those qualities. Employers look to recruit talented researchers for positions in their organizations – and sift out candidates by reviewing and comparing their portfolios and resumes

For UX researchers early in their careers, portfolios can be an invaluable tool to help secure employment.

In a sometimes cruel and unforgiving job market, junior researchers are easily overlooked by companies seeking more senior talent. Without experience, these junior researchers sink to the bottom of the talent pool of potential candidates. Where experience may be limited, however, a strong portfolio of case studies can help prospective researchers rise above the rest

It is important to note, however, that while strong UX research portfolios can open doors to interviews, it does not guarantee immediate employment. Successful integration into a new team or company requires additional skills beyond portfolio preparation and presentation.

Qualities like effective communication, collaboration, leadership, adaptability, and other soft skills are vital to help researchers excel and rise above other candidates. These transferable skills become a strength for researchers with less experience than their counterparts.

A mix of skill, experience, and common organizational skills are indispensable components to what makes a UX researcher successful, and portfolios are the medium where UX researchers convey a compelling snapshot of their talents. 

What should a UX research portfolio include?

what should a ux research portfolio include?

If a UX research portfolio serves as the canvas of a researcher’s professional journey the same way an artist’s canvas constructs a visual story, masterfully crafting individual details in a research portfolio is key.

Some of the most important elements to a strong portfolio include the following:

  • Project case studies. Case studies form the backbone of a UX portfolio. They are the essential, primary content that best demonstrates the researcher’s skill, expertise, and capabilities. They depict problems encountered and the steps taken to solve those problems. Highlighting a few case studies is crucial, as well-constructed quality studies can have a lasting impact.
  • Process methodology. Communicating the process from the beginning to the end is what potential clients or employers are looking for. They seek to understand how a researcher will work with them in their organization. Clearly outlining the process taken to solve a particular prompt or problem enables others to envision what it would be like to work with a particular researcher. Condensing the research process into clear, digestible steps highlights effective communication skills.
  • Research deliverables. Visuals and other assets serve as tangible demonstrations of a researcher’s ability to digest inputs (or data) into valuable outputs. For example, condensing vast amounts of user information and synthesizing research into assets like personas or customer journey maps showcases the researcher’s understanding of the target audience’s pain points and improvement opportunities. Highlight all deliverables that added value to the project.
  • Key outcomes, metrics, or impact. Understanding the impact of a problem solved is one of the most important details UX researchers can highlight in their portfolios. Businesses interested in tangible results want to understand the value research provides, and teams want to understand how work they invest in aligns with their overall strategy and goals. Measurable outcomes detail the thorough understanding needed to focus on high-impact problems that provide the value organizations prioritize.
  • Contact or connection. Encourage viewers to take action by providing actionable and easy steps to contact you or connect. Enabling potential customers the ability to continue engaging with you helps convert interest into opportunity. 

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These aforementioned areas tend to draw the most attention from viewers. However, additional secondary details are also needed to contribute to a strong portfolio. Subtle details in a UX research portfolio, though not immediately visible, evoke a subconscious impression – much like the secondary elements in an artist’s canvas enhance the overall beauty and depth of a piece.

Keep in mind the following elements when curating your portfolio:

  • Writing. Clear communication is key in all you do. Having simple and effective communication and documentation demonstrates the ability to be concise. In a world full of emails, messages, and notifications, it’s difficult to stay focused – and viewers tend to read through only the first couple words of a sentence. Formatting content in ways that are easy to scan (bullets, headings, bolding, etc.) and convey a concise message is vital to success in your work. 
  • Collaboration. Highlight how you collaborated with others on projects. Potential clients or employers will look for how a UX researcher collaborated with others on a project. Most research isn’t done in a vacuum, and showcasing what you did individually and with a group provides greater depth into individual skill while also demonstrating the ability to work with others when needed.
  • Testimonials. Testimonials demonstrate what it’s like to work with you and can create a powerful impression. Audaciously listing all of the details as to why you’d be a great addition to another’s team is easily overpowered by someone’s simple testimony of their experience working with you. Include references from those who have had positive experiences working with you.

How to make a UX research portfolio? 

how to make a ux design portfolio

Constructing a compelling portfolio involves several key steps. Here are some of the best steps to keep in mind when crafting or enhancing your own portfolio to make it the best it can be.

1. Know your audience

Consider the individuals who will be reviewing your portfolio. Are they potential clients that need to understand the skills of an independent contractor? Are they potential employers who need to understand how you will integrate into their team?

Take a user-centered approach in constructing your UX research portfolio. Tailor content, case studies, and details toward your target audience to find greater alignment and success with the type of work you aspire to do.

2. Select impactful projects

Rather than overwhelming viewers with a plethora of projects, curate 2-3 of your best works. Quality triumphs over quantity as viewers compare your portfolio to many others.

Hiring managers don’t have time to go through 5+ case studies for each potential candidate. Even though experienced researchers may have many projects to choose from, don’t give into the temptation to highlight all of them. Focus your efforts on 2-3 incredible case studies to help you stand out.

3. Showcase your work

Case studies are the traditional way of showcasing work on a given project. If choosing to highlight your work with case studies, ensure you provide proper context to the work.

Was this a team or individual effort? If you collaborated with others, how and when did you do so? Craft a meaningful story for each project you showcase. Be concise, but provide details that will be meaningful to your audience.

4. Demonstrate your process

As a UX researcher, detailing your process is key. Highlight the decisions you made and explain why you made them.

Demonstrate which research methods you used, and how you conducted your studies. Speak to any constraints the project had (timelines, business pressure, lack of resources, etc.). Summarize findings of what you learned throughout. 

5. Highlight deliverables

Deliberately break up the content of your case study by including artifacts that provide valuable context. These elements provide tangible evidence that you conducted the research, and showcases your ability to synthesize data into digestible artifacts others can use.

Deliverables like research plans, wireframes, testimonials, affinity diagrams, storyboards, excerpts from diary studies or other reports are all examples of deliverables you could include. Highlight what was created as a result of the research.

6. Communicate impact

Calculate the positive impact your work had on the organization. If the research led to measurable differences in results, highlight them by including a before-and-after section.

Hiring managers are making a business decision when hiring a UX researcher, and they need to understand how you will bring value to their business. Examples of how you’ve brought measurable change in the past helps convey to others you can find ways to drive results for their organization as well.

7. Present yourself

Remember that you’re not just telling a story about your work, but about yourself as well. Be natural and genuine in your portfolio in the way you communicate.

Convey what you love about your work and tell your story about why you’re a UX researcher. Include personal tidbits of what makes you unique and present yourself as a well-rounded professional.

💡Pro Tip

Learn more about Why we do UX Research?

8. Test your portfolio

Once completed, enlist help from trusted individuals to examine your portfolio. Have them test functionality, making sure it’s working online and across devices.

Be open to feedback and ideas that come. Make edits to your writing and work based on their suggestions. Work out any kinks before sharing with potential clients or employers. 

9. Share and iterate

Now that the hard work is done, begin sharing it with others. Continue to stay open to feedback, and make changes when necessary. Use it to pitch yourself for opportunities or jobs, providing concrete examples during discussions. The combination of your talent, experience, and the innate personal touch you bring will help you secure the kind of work you desire and find long-term happiness.

Keep in mind that rejection is part of the journey, and that’s okay. Not every opportunity will be the right fit for you, and businesses need to make decisions that align with their needs as well.

Don’t get discouraged, but press on and continue to work hard and believe that your efforts will pay off. Build bridges and relationships along the way. Continue to gain experience and enhance your portfolio iteratively if finding success continues to take time.

Storytelling through UX research portfolios

ux research portfolio

Vinod Punyani, a Senior Manager of UX Research Design at Walmart Global Tech, believes that storytelling is one of the most critical skills research professionals should practice and embody.

“When I review portfolios of candidates for a role on the research team, regardless of the level I am recruiting for, I assess the candidates’ storytelling abilities. I consider storytelling to be one of the most critical skill sets for researchers. 

I am familiar with the standard advice for structuring the case studies in a portfolio – namely specifying your role, articulating your thought process and approach, and highlighting your learnings along the way. Most candidates’ portfolios I’ve reviewed follow similar patterns, 

… 

With that said, I also look for the candidates’ abilities to set the stage, surface the problem, highlight the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. I look for impressions of a candidate’s ability to influence change – which I believe to be an outcome of effective storytelling.”

Vinod states that while research acumen is important, being able to influence change in an organization is a key element to doing meaningful work in any organization. Storytelling is at the heart of how ideas are shared and how outcomes are articulated. 

Ensuring that you’re telling an engaging story through your work will ensure you have a greater chance of capturing the attention of a hiring manager - and potential stakeholder in the future.

Vinod Punyani, a Senior Manager of UX Research Design at Walmart Global Tech
Vinod Punyani, a Senior Manager of UX Research Design at Walmart Global Tech

Creating a strong UX research portfolio includes crafting an impactful story to support it. Articulating that story to others is a skill necessary to succeed in the field of UX research today. 

UX research portfolio examples

ux research portfolio examples

When seeking to enhance or create your portfolio, it’s helpful to look at other examples.

Here are a few portfolios worth exploring for inspiration:

Take the time to explore these portfolios, and search for additional ones that you admire. Understand how others communicated their strengths, and find ways to highlight your own natural abilities and talent.

UX research templates

For additional resources to enhance your testing or UX research portfolio needs, check out the available templates and tools below: 

  • Research and analysis templates – MURAL offers a collection of design research templates ➡️ Explore them here 
  • UX research template – Miro provides a UX research plan template to assist in structuring research. They also have many additional templates to leverage. ➡️ Access this template  
  • User journey map guide – Learn more about creating user journey maps with the comprehensive guide provided by UXtweak.
  • Preference test tool – Additionally, check out UXtweak’s preference test tool to help find even more valuable insights through research.
  • Figma portfolio template – Using a Figma portfolio template from the Figma community offers a free template to get started with designing your portfolio. ➡️ Check out the template
  • Product research guide – Gain insights into product research with this invaluable guide from UXtweak.
  • Card sorting tool – Card sorting helps facilitate information architecture exercises, and is a useful tool to help conduct your research studies.

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Wrapping up

Crafting a compelling UX research portfolio that appeals to future employers is no easy task. However, by leveraging some of the best practices for showcasing your work and using storytelling, you’ll be able to stand out from other candidates and secure your dream job.

And if you’re looking for an all-in-one UX tool to help you with research throughout this journey – take a look at UXtweak! Create your UXtweak account, start testing today and master one more essential UX research skill – working with online research tools!

FAQ: UX Research Portfolio

Does a UX researcher need a portfolio?

Yes. Most UX professionals have previously had, or actively maintain, a portfolio exhibiting their work. Doing so allows them to present their past work and showcase their talent to potential clients or employers.

Well-structured portfolios give others insight into what it’s like to work with the researcher and help them understand the methodologies they employ. It also provides evidence of experience in a competitive job market. 

How do you create a UX research portfolio?

Creating a UX research portfolio begins by understanding your audience and selecting projects from your experience that highlights skills relevant to your target audience. Demonstrate your UX research process, and showcase skills and expertise to help you stand out from others. Include deliverables, assets, or artifacts that surfaced from your research.

What items should be part of a UX research portfolio?

UX research portfolios should include detailed projects or case studies that highlight the expertise and experience of the researcher. They typically include elements such as (but not limited to) process outlines, methodologies, captured visuals, testimonials, personas, journey maps, outcomes, recommendations, and metrics. Any elements that highlight the skill of the researcher may be included.

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