How to Make the Most of Your Design Sprint

I participated in my very first design sprint two years ago and recently got a chance to be part of another Google Ventures (GV) inspired design sprint. Although the process was effective and I agree with the principles of the GV design sprint, I do think there are a handful of gaps in the process. Based on my learnings, I thought I’d pull together a little guide on how to make the most of your design sprint.

 

Since 2012, Google Ventures has been introducing design sprints to their portfolio companies and other companies around the world. However, in the last year or so, design sprints have grown in popularity due to the book Jake Knapp (and friends) published: Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.

Some product professionals swear by this design sprint process and attribute major innovations in their businesses to following this methodology. However, as I mentioned earlier, I think the book left out some crucial pieces. These pieces become even more crucial when you have someone who has never participated in a sprint before running (or facilitating) the sprint.

The basic idea of the design sprint is that a team can quickly learn and iterate without spending precious time, money, and other resources on the actual development of a product. This means the team will be getting invalidation on a bad ideas quickly and allow the good ideas to bubble up.

The book divides the days up with one main task for each day and then several activities that support the main task for the day. In this guide, I’ll go through my top recommendations on how to make the most of your design sprint.

Here we go!

Find an Experienced Facilitator

The facilitator is someone who is crucial to making the most of your design sprint. This person is the one who keeps the team on track, takes notes, and makes sure the process is running smoothly. The best sprint facilitators are ones who are somewhat experienced in facilitating design sprints.

If you in a bind and need to designate someone who may not be an experienced sprint facilitator, that is okay… but keep in mind, it is NOT ideal and may cause a few hiccups in the process.

The benefit of having someone experienced run your design sprint is that they will quickly and easily be able to detect problems as they arise. For example, the facilitator can direct the team to ensure activities are properly executed or settle any debates that come up.

Handing the power to navigate a sprint to one (experienced) person gives the team permission to follow that person’s direction. This eliminates confusion and is the best way to make the most of your design sprint.

Be Okay with Uncertainty

The most difficult part of day one, in my opinion, is for everyone on the team to be okay with uncertainty. People who are familiar with creative processes in general are pretty familiar with uncertainty when solving problems and these people have learned to let solutions arise at the right time.

As I mentioned earlier, I got to participate in a design sprint a few weeks ago as the “UX/design expert” on the team. This was a design sprint for a very small technology startup that wanted to solidify their product-market fit before building a product solution.

In this recent sprint experience, I noticed it was tough for some of the team members to put aside their urgent need for a product solution and surrender to the process. It was also initially difficult to be open to new ideas. The team members that had been working on solving this problem for months had already gone through iterations and ideas and it was tough for them to put some of those preconceived notions aside.

Looking back, I think it is important to spend time at the beginning of the process to lay out an agenda and set expectations about what is open to change and what is not. It’s important to set the precedence and let everyone get comfortable with the “gray area’ or not knowing the answer right away.

It is also important to let the group know that the research they have done until now won’t go to waste, but they need to let this process work before mentally committing to those solutions (especially on Day 1).

Sometimes it takes living in the gray area for a while to be able to wade through options and come up with the appropriate solution.

Embrace the uncertainty; it’ll serve you well for this five-day whirlwind.

Set the Right Goals

This lesson is crucial. In fact, the design sprint I was a part of recently got incredible derailed by this one piece. The team had failed to set a specific goal on Day 1 of the sprint, so by the time day two rolled around and we began the activities, we were feeling overwhelmed by the broadness of possibilities.

What we had to do to solve this was to actually go back and redo Day 1 (in an abbreviated manner) so that we could come up with an appropriate goal that targeted a specific area of the business.

We could have avoided this mishap by going over some basic criteria of what the sprint goal should include. Though the GV book covers this loosely, it didn’t provide enough color for the team to feel confident on how the final sprint goal should look.

I think it’s worth thinking about the sprint goal as a non-leading question on a specified area of the business in question. This way the team is not feeling limited or overwhelmed when going into Day 2, 3 and so on.

Recruit Someone to Recruit

One thing that we quickly figured out during our five-day sprint was that each participant and the facilitator needed to be 100% focused on the sprint activities for the day. This meant, in reality, we didn’t really have time to recruit participants for Day 5 of the sprint. (Day 5 in the GV sprint is supposed to be a full day of user interviews to test the hypothesis and prototype that were the outcome of Days 1 through 4).

The GV book sneaks in extra tasks during the week to get done during the “down time” of the sprint. In reality, we found that there was really no “down time” since there were so many activities packed into each day. In fact, the book gives you a detailed scheduled down to the exact times of breaks and lunch!

So if there is no time to recruit participants for Day 5, how do you still make Day 5 happen? My recommendation is to actually recruit an additional person who doesn’t participate in the sprint but can take the lead on recruiting participants.

This person needs to be briefed on the sprint goal, sprint questions, and the requirements of the study participants for Day 5. This person can then post an ad or Craigslist (or wherever), send out screeners and schedule participants.

This makes life SO much easier.

Trust me.

Since we had to do this in addition to being in the sprint itself, we had many little mistakes in the process of scheduling, sending out confirmation messages and so on. This person perhaps spends 10 hours or so during the week to help in the recruiting process and probably doesn’t participate in the sprint. Having someone designated to just recruit will help keep stress levels lower during a week where every minute is packed with important activities.

Don’t Get Swept Away in Debates

This one’s tricky. Naturally, you’re going to choose passionate people who have good ideas to be part of your sprint. The difficulty with this is that these are the kinds of people that tend to also get swept away by discussions and debates at the moment.

Most of the time, this isn’t a big deal, but since the GV design sprint is very specifically planned, 10-minute debates can really derail the process. Not only that, but they tend to be counter-productive in design sprints.

In the most recent design sprint I participated in, I saw that every time we had a debate, we didn’t really get to a conclusion in a moment, and we ended up just wasting time. Sometimes this can be avoided if the facilitator takes control of the situation to bring everyone back to the task at hand. But there are also times when even that doesn’t work.

The best way to make the most of your design sprint is to be very clear and set expectations firmly in the very beginning of the sprint. I would go so far as to spend 1 minute setting these expectations at the beginning of every day of the sprint.

The GV design sprint book only touches on this a few times, but I think it needs to be brought up frequently. The team should be extremely aware that debating derails the sprint and ends up being just a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, some debating is good when (especially in Day 1 and 2 of the design sprint), but there are moments when that will get in the way of the sprint process. The facilitator is the best person to be reminding the team of this on a regular basis during the course of the sprint.

Be Strict About Breaks

The final tip to making the most of your design sprint is to be strict about taking breaks. This one is probably the most underrated part of the GV design sprint. If I had to take a guess, it is also probably the most frequently skipped part of the sprint. When we get caught up in the tasks of the sprint it is easy to just want to keep going and power through the scheduled breaks.

In the design sprint I was part of recently, we only took breaks 3 out of 5 days of the sprint. We often had to push through breaks in order to make up for lost time. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but the issue was that without moments to refresh and grab a snack, we were burning out mentally.

Since the design sprint is a creative process, it is imperative that the team doesn’t burn out. One of the most efficient ways to ensure this is to be strict about taking breaks at regular intervals and letting the breaks run the full ten-minute lengths.
Again, this is one of those things that the team has to agree upon up front and the facilitator needs to help implement during the design sprint itself.

 

And there you have it, folks! These are just my top recommendations to make the most of your design sprint. Have you been part of a design before? What were your learnings from the sprint? Do you think the GV book left some pieces out? Comment below or direct message me on Instagram at @avanimiriyala; I’d love to hear your thoughts!!

First published on avanimiryala.com

Why All Designers Should Care About Numbers

Fast-forward a few years and a few internships and lo and behold I land a gig in Austin, Texas at the largest coupon website in the world: RetailMeNot. (Those of you that have never heard about RetailMeNot need to go check it out now; they always have some great deal going on for Express in-store and online!) I joined the RetailMeNot design team because of the brilliant minds that I was going to be able to work with. As a young designer, I was so hungry and eager that I honestly would have done whatever task they put in front of me, not really questioning it. And so I did…

I began on the optimization team at RetailMeNot and my job was to design the UI, UX and copy to drive revenue to the company from their store pages. The thing was, I had never done that before. Everything I thought about user experience design was about user research and qualitative studies.

It was only then that it hit me like a ton of heavy skeumorphic pixels… Quantitative data (NUMBERS!) matter in the real world.

Even a slight change in color, placement, wording or even font size could change the click rate and make a monetary impact on RetailMeNot’s revenue; I had no idea that design was so powerful.

As I continued working on the store page and other projects at RetailMeNot, I began to learn the ins and outs of A/B testing and multivariate testing. When a product has a huge flow of traffic to work with, incremental improvements can happen quickly. Imagine if 1 million user came to your website on a daily basis and they bounced immediately on page load.(Bounce is a fancy word for I came, I saw, I did not click, and I left.) If you had 1 million users leaving your site in a hurry, you would know there was an issue. Maybe your users didn’t find what they were looking for, maybe your call to action was too low on the page or maybe they overlooked the most important text on the page because it was grey-colored in 10 pt Helvetica font. The good thing is you have 1 million people to test with! You could change your text colors with 1/3 users, move the call to action up with 1/3 of the users and leave 1/3 of the users alone to see how the variations perform against the constant. And if that doesn’t work, try 2 more ideas.

Analyzing the numbers can give designers priceless insight into what users gravitate towards and what they shy away from. Being armed with this information and understanding what it means makes educated in your design decisions.

Being able to talk numbers and think critically about data also means that you can speak the language of product manager. As a designer, you can pull numbers, crunch them and present them with an idea to a product manager who will be much more compelled to put your proposal on a roadmap. Numbers and data are how you can speak to marketing managers as well. Most people in marketing are looking to hit activation or retention numbers for a specific service or a product. Imagine if you could take a look at a group of Facebook ads, determine what’s not working and what is, cut it out, and make a new set of ads that saved the company thousands of dollars. That’s what the power of numbers can do for you, the designer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should drop qualitative data like a bad habit. I’m just saying that you should thinking of them both as a pair. Qualitative data can compliment quantitative data. Quantitative data can tell you how many times someone bounced when they landed on your site, but only when you sit down and talk to that user (to gather Qualitative Data) can you determine why they decided to leave your site. Being able to gather qualitative information can help inform what types of changes to make in things like an A/B test. And running A/B tests will tell you what qualitative data to gather. It’s an endless circle but it will make your product better and your service stronger if you’re able to analyze the information properly.

Gathering this both qualitative and quantitative feedback will not only make your designs effective, but it will make you lethal as a designer. And trust me, in today’s world, where startups are popping up left and right like whack-a-moles, you want to be lethal. You want to be the designer that everyone wishes they had.

So what are you waiting for? You’re not going to spontaneously turn into a magical UX unicorn on command! Go to your boss, ask them for the numbers and pull out a statistics book. Your career will thank you, I promise.

First published on avanimiryala.com

10 Things to Know When Getting Started as a Freelance Designer

Getting started in freelance work is not easy, nor is it a walk in the park. Jumping into this life takes lots of guts, a great support system, and in my case, many cups of hot green tea.

This journey is most definitely a big, hairy, audacious challenge – but that’s what I love about it!

 

1. Be prepared to be ready to be all in!

For a few months, I was running and managing my freelancing business in my spare time (evenings and weekends) while still working as a full-time UX designer at Favor.

At first, it was very manageable since my client load was super light; I only had one client who needed a few easy design tasks completed. However, as I started onboarding my second client and longer term contracts, I realized that I wasn’t able to handle the workload anymore. It was at that point in time that I had to make a decision…

I had to decide if I wanted to go full-time with this consulting gig I had started. I knew that I couldn’t provide quality work to my clients if I was using my brainpower full-time as an in-house designer anymore. So, I made the decision to take the plunge!

As soon as I stepped into the world of full-time entrepreneurship, I was able to focus much more effectively on the work I was doing and reserve creative energy for the things that are important.

Bottom line? If you’re starting a freelance creative business, be aware that at some point in time you could oversubscribe yourself and you’ll need to make the decision on whether to jump in or not.

2. Start curating your mastermind NOW

The thing that has helped me more than anything else is the group of people I’ve put around me in the last few months. This is my mastermind! I’ve made sure to talk to enterprising individuals and solopreneurs who have made it out on their own to learn from them and their experiences.

Additionally, hanging out with people around that encourage you and cheer you on in your goals as a freelancer / consultant really helps keep your belief and excitement high.

I made sure to have regular coffees and dinners with members of my mastermind. I asked them questions about how they launched their business and what they struggled with the most. This type of in-depth research helped me start off with the right foot forward.

The one thing I had to keep in mind was that my time is precious. If I am going to spend time away from my clients, I should make sure that I’m surrounding myself with positive, uplifting people that I can learn from.

In this case, being selective is not only good, but crucial. You are the average of the people you hang out with!

3. Get good at selling yourself

“Selling” is a word that scares many people. Often when we hear the term “sales,” we think of door-to-door saleswomen or salesmen who want to show us a quick demo and have us buy their amazing product that comes with a free gift if you purchase in the next 5 seconds.

That, my friends, is selling using the “push” strategy. (Which is why it often feels so yucky, slimy, and uncomfortable to many people). The push strategy is when you are essentially pushing a product or service onto someone who doesn’t need it. You haven’t explained benefits or taught someone about the value of what you have to offer.

On the flipside, is the “pull” strategy. This strategy when implemented effectively, is very powerful. The “pull” strategy showcases the true value of the products and services before asking to create a partnership.

As a creative, this is what you need showcase to your potential clients. It’s important to demonstrate the type of value you can add and the benefits they will see by having you on their team.

So, how do I do this as a freelancer? I’m constantly asking questions and telling stories. I want to understand my future clients’ products fully and deeply, so I need to know everything I can. I also need to show that I care about the success of their business.

When I take the time to get to know the company’s needs and demonstrate that I have thoughts on how to help them meet their needs, the client is more likely to buy my services.

Being comfortable with selling yourself in this way comes with time and practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. However, it is a skill I’ve needed to cultivate in this new freelancing adventure. I know that at the end of the day, I am the one that brings in new clients and if I stop selling, that means no more business.

4. Make networking a habit (and enjoyable)

Knowing people is the best way you’re going to get new clients and interesting work. For me, networking came easy because I am naturally a social butterfly (or so my friends say!). I’m constantly making new connections through mutual friends and looking to have interesting conversations with smart people.

The power of networking is that when you maintain meaningful relationships, those people will have you at the top of mind when new opportunities come along. They will surely drop your name and make an email introduction. This is how I’ve gotten many of my clients at Avani Miriyala Strategy + Design (AMSD)!

The best way to make networking a habit is to set a weekly goal for yourself. I plan out my weeks so that I’m connecting or re-connecting with two people a week in my network and having meaningful conversations over phone or coffee. This way, I get into the rhythm of reaching out and setting up meetings with these individuals.

A bonus for me usually is when I can guarantee that at least one of those meetups is with a new contact of mine. This way, I’m also growing my network while I’m maintaining it.

5. Practice patience

Sorry to break it to you, but clients will not come clamoring at your doorstep to work with you. At least not right away. A big thing I’ve had to keep in mind as I’ve launched AMSD is to be patient when waiting for results (or new clients!).

I needed to remind myself that I’m putting in the hours to talk to people, make new connections, and put proposals together. Sooner or later, if I’m learning along the way, things will begin to fall into place.

6. Be purposeful about your work day

I’m still working on this one. The more I get into this new lifestyle, I’ve seen that having structure in my day is pertinent to productivity. I need to create rituals to start my day and to even get into a workflow.

One of the biggest things that helps me here is to start my days early (7am or 8am, and even sometimes 6am!) and get a headstart on my task list. For me, mornings are the most productive, so I want to make sure I capitalize on that time of day.

Of course, finding your day-to-day groove is different for different people, so you need to be self-aware when trying to find out what is best for your productivity.

The book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99u has been an amazing resource for me as I’ve kicked of this new way of working and living. I highly recommend it for anyone who is going out on their own as a solopreneur.

7. Take time to create things for fun

As creative humans, we thrive on making things. One thing that we do less and less in 2017 is make things for fun. I noticed this in myself over the years as an in-house UX designer. I noticed that I got so burnt out from designing for companies I was working for, that I forgot to create for the sake of creating.

Making things for fun brings a new sense of life and lightness to our creative minds. It’s important to make time for this weekly (or even a few times a week), so that we feel refreshed and invigorated.

Making for yourself can take many forms. It could be an article you write for your blog, a card you make for a friend’s birthday, or a quick sketch with the new sketchpad you bought. It doesn’t have to big or fancy – or it could be! It’s up to you. Let your creative brain flex its muscles!!

8. Become a boss at negotiating

One of the best classes I took in college was a negotiations course in the College of Business while I was getting my business minor. Though, I didn’t realize it at the time, I was preparing for my future as a one-woman design consultancy.

Why is negotiating practice important? You are now in the big leagues. You are negotiating with CEOs and VPs! That means you need to put your best foot forward.

I’ve had a lot of great practice in negotiating salaries and contractor pricing over the past few years. However, there are some great online resources that I go to from time to time. Ramit Sethi always has great tactics on negotiation in general and I highly recommend going to watch his videos to get a sense of his mindset.

Another great person to follow and read is Tim Ferriss. He has some great insight on how to position yourself after having hundreds of conversations with interesting and brilliant people. (And of course, this is a podcast Tim did with Ramit Sethi!)

9. Have fun!

Don’t forget to enjoy the ride in this new adventure. It’s so easy for us to get stressed and make ourselves work 60, 70, 80 hours a week to feel like we are making progress towards our goals.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need to hustle and get things done. But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to be every week!

Take the time to relax and rejuvenate, but also have a great time. It’s okay to give yourself vacations. Again, as creative people, we burn out at some point. You don’t want that to be hindering you from doing great work!

10. The grind doesn’t stop

This one may sound contradictory to #9, but it was somewhat intentional… Remember, you are now an entrepreneur. That means, you have to do what it takes to get things done.

I know that I’ve had moments where I’ve had to work well past midnight to get something done for a client. It’s not something I do regularly, but I know that I can when I need to.

You may also get phone calls or emails on evenings and weekends. As freelancer, you’ll have to make the decision on whether or not to respond and set boundaries for yourself. Remember, there will always be moments where you need to just jump into work mode and put out fires.

The Spiderman quote is extremely applicable here, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s how I like to think of freelancing. (Yes, I imagine myself standing in a power pose in a superhero outfit surveying the city for UX danger…)

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And there you have it, folks! Which of the 10 Things did you enjoy the best? Do you have any tips or advice for first time freelancers that you learned when going into business for yourself?

First published on avanimiryala.com

7 Tips to Increasing Productivity for the Creative Mind

We’ve all had that feeling…some of us call it “hitting a wall,” some call it “creative block,” and others call it being unmotivated. As a creative individual, I get this all too familiar feeling time and time again. Since I’m currently working in-house as a designer, it’s often hard for me to employ tips that I read such as taking an hour break to run errands, or taking a 20 minute nap, or even having a change in scenery. So, naturally, I had to think outside of the box to improve my own experience…

After many trials and errors, I rounded up the top 7 tricks that work for me. Enjoy!

 

1. Stand up!

Often, when I feel like I’m stuck or frustrated with a design I’m working on or a problem I’m thinking through, I start to zone out. Essentially, I get bored of being “stuck” and not making progress on that task at hand. What I’ve started doing when that happens is to actually get up and physically change my position. That means if I was sitting down, I find a tall table or counter to work at (I seriously need to invest in a standing desk of some sort…). If I was at a desk for awhile, I’ll move to a larger table or surface. If I’ve been in artificial lighting, I’ll try to sit by a window or even go outside. There are times when physically changing my surroundings or the way my body is allows new creative energy to start flowing through. It’s magical!

2. Time Yourself

I’ve only started using this technique recently and I don’t normally use it on a daily basis. There are several ways to do this, but one of the most popular is the Pomodoro Technique. You use a timer and work for 25 minutes and take a short break for 5 minutes. I’ve found that timing myself or putting tasks into a time block of 20-25 minutes has been super useful, especially on the days when I have a whole lot of my to-do list. The best part of this is that it actually forces you to hyper-focus and produce in a short burst of energy. Having to force myself to work for 25 minutes or so, I found that I could also force myself out of a creative block! Give it a try. (Not to mention, it’s very healthy to look away from a computer screen every 20 minutes or so to rest your eyes! Win-win!)

 

3. Move!

Sometimes all you need to do is take a lap around the office. Get up and start moving! Get the blood flowing. If you’re like me, you have a very hard time sitting still. You’re always standing up, stretching, tapping your feet, or swiveling in your chair. (Sorry to anyone who sits next to me at the office, I just can’t help it!) In order to mitigate the fidgeting, I began taking short walks around the office. Sometimes I’ll even step outside or go say hi to a coworker I haven’t chatted with in awhile.

Walking around helps me clear my mind and refresh my thought process. Stepping away also helps me come back to a problem in a new frame of mind. Fresh perspective can really help to bring about new ideas or epiphanies that weren’t there before.

 

4. Change Your Medium

I’ve been employing this method for years now. It’s super simple but it’s made a world of a difference for me. Often as designers, we jump into Photoshop, Illustrator, or Sketch and start pushing pixels around. It’s easy to do – the computer is so quick and anything can be undone in a flash. But often being boxed into the screen and tied to pixels can actually hinder your thought process. I’ve found that it forces me to put unnecessarily limitations on my thinking, which then causes me to hit a mental roadblock.

So instead of torturing myself by staring at the blank Sketch Artboard, I’ve started switching mediums completely. That means I either grab my sketchbook and pen and start writing down my thoughts, or I grab a colorful marker and start drawing out my ideas on a whiteboard. Being able to sketch and write quickly (and also dump bad ideas quickly), I’m able to let my mind free up a bit and start thinking outside of the box. It’s super liberating and inevitably leads me to a better idea for whatever I’m working on.

The interesting thing is that this idea of switching mediums works both ways! I’ve also found that when I have been sketching on the whiteboard for way too long and am having a hard time picture a screen or a product, I can jump into Illustrator and mock it up in a flash. During this, I end up figuring out where the kinks of the idea were and am able to fix it in the process.

 

5. Talk to Someone

Sometimes you really just need to talk to someone. Bouncing ideas off of a coworker, classmate, or peer can work wonders. As creatives, it’s easy to get stuck in our heads too quickly and too easily. There are times you just need to talk it out with someone who understands the subject matter. It’s not even that they will give you the right answer, but sometimes they just know what questions to ask. Sometimes asking them questions can solve the problem as well. Being able to get out of your own head and start generating valuable conversation with someone else can help to bring about new ideas and therefore bring you out of a funk!

 

6. Go back to research

I know several projects where I feel like I’ve tried everything I know. I feel like I’ve exhausted every trick in the UX book and tried every combination for the design, but no matter what, it looks terrible. Feels hopeless, right? These are moments when I’ve realized that I need more inspiration. I need outside ideas. I need to know how other people solved this. I need to know how similar solutions look. So, I dive back into the research phase of my project. I’ve found that sometimes you just need more data points or examples to steer you in the right direction.

 

7. Remember the Why

Last, but not least is the “why.” Too often we forget the main reason we are doing something. We lose sight of the big picture. Why? Because we are human! Day to day tasks, priorities or problems can start to get hairy and complicated. And sometimes when this happens, we get caught up in the complications and let it bog us down. This is when stepping back and having a refresher is useful! Knowing why you’re doing something helps put things in perspective and declutters your mind to think more effectively.

 

By no means is this an exhaustive list on getting past your mental block, but hopefully you can try out some of these little tricks to find your groove again. Often, it’s a combination of a few of the above tactics that are just the right blend for a day full of bold, beautiful ideas. For me, the way I stay creative is always changing; what worked for me yesterday doesn’t always work for me today (annoying, I know!). But I’ve always found one thing comforting: we all encounter mental blocks! So, good news, you’re not alone!

Do you have any tricks you use to get back in the groove when you hit a wall? Or have you tried any of the ones mentioned above? Comment below and let us know how they worked!

Stay fabulous, y’all!

 

First published on avanimiryala.com

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10 Steps to Creating a Design Portfolio that Dazzles Your Future Employer

Every very good designer knows that they have one thing that will showcase their unique skillset and set them apart from the masses: their design portfolio. Whether you’re starting out with your design career or have been in the trenches for decades, you’ve created some version of your portfolio to share with interviewers at potential jobs or future clients. And every good designer also knows that this “portfolio” thing is not an easy feat.

Friends, let me be straight with you… I have good news and bad news. The bad news: updating your portfolio never really gets easier. (Sorry to pop your bubble.) The good news: you can get better at updating your portfolio, which might make the experience and the outcome a bit more enjoyable.

I remember late nights in design school struggling to get my design thesis done, studying for my final exams and putting together a mind-blowing portfolio. I also remember procrastinating so much on designing my portfolio because I just did not know where to begin! After going through a couple rounds of this having updated my portfolio for various jobs and other projects, I’ve compiled the best tricks and techniques for a portfolio that will ‘wow’ you.

 

1. Focus

Decide what kind of designer you want to be. You can’t be a Product / UI / UX / Interaction / Motion Designer. It just can’t happen. Sending mixed signals is frustrating and often confusing for a potential employer. If they can’t figure out what you do and what you’re good at in 2 minutes of glancing at your portfolio, they’re going to toss you into the “No” pile. (I know this because I’ve done it before…) Not only is it good to focus the messaging of the portfolio for clarity, but it will also give you a focused vision when deciding which projects to include in your portfolio.

2. Make a List

Start by listing off all the potential projects you want to include in your design portfolio. Throw it all out their to begin the brainstorm; you can always pare it down later. Having more to chose from is always a plus. Remember, projects can also be from non-design classes you’ve taken or brainstorming exercises you’ve led. Think outside of the box – your future employer is probably going to ask you to do so anyway! Once you have a sizable list, you can start throwing projects out by determining whether or not they fit the main focus of your portfolio (See Step 1).

3. Choose Your Medium

For this one, I have a strong preference for personal website portfolio. PDF portfolios are great (and sometimes necessary for confidential projects), however having an online presence and persona as a designer is crucial in today’s day and age. This allows people to find you or stumble upon your work even if you haven’t applied to their website. Some people rely on their Behance, Tumblr, or Dribbble accounts as their portfolios, but I still strongly recommend having a personal website alongside those other options. With the limitations that these other platforms come with, it becomes increasingly hard to tell the story of your work. You don’t want to be limited in that way.

4. Find Your Platform

There are several great options out there for this one and I’ve only tried a handful. Popular portfolio platforms include: Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress, and Cargo Collective to name a few. I’ve used each one of these at some point for my portfolio and I’ve found that Squarespace has been the most effective for me. I pay $8/month for my Squarespace website that I’ve connected to a domain that I own. (I also strongly recommend buying your own domain with your name; it will make you seem more polished and professional.) The great thing about Squarespace is that you can use their tools to customize layout, colors, fonts and drop in your content. The best part about it is that you don’t have to mess with code at all, unlike WordPress. (This

5. Choose a Simple Website Design

My best advice is to choose a website design that is simple and clean. This way, your work can be the star of the show and really shine. You don’t want the layout of your website to have loud colors or harsh lines that take away from the quality of the work in your portfolio.

6. Limit Yourself

I’ve seen people overload their portfolios with dozens of projects and unless your specific area of design calls for it, less is more. Select between 3 and 10 projects to show off; find a number that feels appropriate and that tells the story of you, the designer. Currently, my portfolio only has five major projects, but I’ve gone in depth on each of them in order to tell my story. Too many projects signals to future employers that you don’t know how to curate properly and that perhaps you’re all over the place. It is always good to drop old projects that seem outdated or low-quality. You want to show off your best! (A little disclaimer here, there are a handful of successful designers that display tons of work (like the famous Allan Peters), but they are few and far in between.)

7. Show Your Process

This is probably one of the most powerful things you can do in your portfolio. Showing your design process is like giving the viewer a little tour of your magnificent brain. By doing so, you are showing them how you arrived at various decisions, where you had epiphanies and how it all came together. This allows your future employer to begin to visualize you thinking through the problems that their organization may have (SUPER powerful!).

8. Link Your Socials

Leverage the power of social media! Designers and recruiters alike are always snooping around the various social media platforms, so it is always good to have somewhat of a presences and link them to your website. Great social media platforms that I’ve linked include Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Dribbble. These can show off what you read, what your next project is or even how you get inspiration. You never know which amazing company will stumble upon your little GIF on Dribbble and end up hiring you for a lead designer role!

9. Show Off Something Unique

This step isn’t always easy and might take some time. Finding something (even something tiny) that says you’re different or unique will really help in adding a bit of sparkle to your portfolio. This shows that you are a multi-faceted person, and can do more than just strictly designing in your realm. For example, some friends of mine have included little comic books in their portfolios, while others have added in their Kickstarter projects. I included 3D work in my portfolio because I have an interest in jewelry making and love working with my hands!

10. Link to Something Live

If possible, point your viewers to something that you’ve made that is in the wild. It could be a video, a website, or even a small feature. Being able to play around with and experience someone else’s design work is powerful and if it’s done well, it can seal the deal for your future employer!

And there you have it! 10 simple steps to get going on your best portfolio yet. There are several other tips and tricks out there, but the best way to know what works for you is to just start trying them! I also recommend doing some research and pulling a few portfolios that you admire. Getting inspiration from others will really help these concepts click in your mind.

Lastly, know that you aren’t alone. All of us fellow designers struggle with our portfolios constantly. Creating and then updating your portfolio is scary! Take comfort in knowing that we all feel the same way!

 

First published on avanimiryala.com

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