Help your designers create spectacular portfolios
The research that goes into creating such document would certainly help designer get their next gig
Are you afraid of your best talent walking out the door? You should be. Our profession is competitive and the best people are perpetually in great demand.
So why should you follow this counter-intuitive advice, and help your designers create spectacular portfolio pieces? There are many compelling reasons, which we’ll get to in a moment. But first off, I’m not recommending they do it in secret, but rather make it quite a public exercise.
Whenever the project is delivered, I ask the key perpetrators of its success create a sample portfolio piece, answering “UX” questions such as:
- Why was the project started in the first place?
- What did success suppose to look like?
- Did we achieve the goal?
- What process did you follow?
- What were your initial assumptions? Which of these proved to be false?
- What was the initial design? What was the user feedback?
- How many times did you pivot? What design difficulties did you overcome?
As well as including any “organizational” reflections, for instance:
- What organizational challenges have you solved?
- What relationships have you leaned on?
- What new organizational bridges have you built?
- What old ties have you strengthened?
Then I encourage them to dig up their initial design drafts and trace the journey through customer and engineering feedback to the successful deployment to create a complete story, a polished, distilled post-mortem, and a truly spectacular portfolio piece in every sense of the word.
The research that goes into creating such a document would certainly help the designer get their next gig, which cannot be argued with. However, this process serves several additional important purposes:
1) By creating beautifully polished portfolio pieces, your designers are helping your organization to publish internal stories of UX success. Never again will you have to scramble should your manager or anyone from the Executive Leadership come to asking about your recent successes! You have a set of complete, polished presentations ready to roll, complete with business outcomes, customer quotes, and organizational impact.
2) By building the complete stories, my designers understand their contribution and can communicate it to the large organization through their design sprint presentation. They are valued in the organization and they can clearly see their impact on the product and overall culture.
3) By tracing the route they have taken, designers learn where they could have done better and faster. By taking shortcuts, using design patterns, leveraging existing design system components, leaning on organizational connections and trust, and the sum of knowledge they now have created as a result of completing the project.
These lessons are extremely valuable: they can use all that to execute the next project faster and cheaper, increasing personal competency and that of the entire team.
4) Designers maintain trust in leadership for supporting them on their journey. They recall the excitement of the customers they showed their designs to, the breakthroughs and the “aha” moments of pure insight, reliving the pleasure and pain of creating their baby and actively shaping it into something they can now proudly put their name to.
The next project will benefit from this increased confidence, the belief in the UX process, trust in their colleagues, the increased cohesion of the company, precise inter-team communication, and faster and smoother execution at a higher level of quality.
5) Finally, the exercise also shows them that they are not unique. Many people can fill the role they are currently occupying, solve the same problems, feel the same sense of accomplishment. Being a UXer is a privilege, a treat, something to be always thankful for. Everything is a process, an evolution, always moving, always changing — this too shall pass.
The hard truth is your designers will leave — eventually, everyone does, and there is little you can do once the person makes up their mind to leave your organization. But you can preserve the personal connections, the friendships, the trust that outlast teams, initiatives, products, and even companies that employ us.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at DOW or S&P 500 — how many of the companies that occupy that lofty pedestal will be gone by the next decade? One only has to recall the fate of Bethlehem Steel, GE, AT&T, Citigroup, Sears, among many others.
By helping your designers make the portfolio pieces, you demonstrate that you trust them as individuals to choose the right path for themselves.
They are succeeding here, in your organization, and the proof is before them, created by their own hand. They are making a clear contribution, their accomplishments and struggles are recognized and celebrated, and here they are trusted with development and research budgets and business outcomes.
This may or may not be the case elsewhere. The only constant is change. All you can do is take the best care you can of your people and then have them choose for themselves if this is the best place for them at this point in their career.
But what if you do not have any good material for creating such portfolio stories? What if you have nothing of note to celebrate, nothing that you or your UX team helped create and ship? Well, in that unfortunate case,
I recommend you polish up your own portfolio, ASAP. Such an organization will not be around long, and you can clearly make a more impactful contribution elsewhere.
Originally published here.