What does an Interaction Design portfolio look like?
This question still bothers me today. When I had to create a portfolio in grad school, our only real frame of reference was graphic design portfolios. These are obviously good starting points but they are showcases for visual design. They often look beautiful but this is slightly out of scope for Interaction Design (ID). Visual design is a part of what we do but the interactions we design are difficult to illustrate in a presentation format. I recall many design presentations in school using the format of following a user scenario. This was a highly effective technique given in this format but doesn’t translate well to paper or web (feel free to disagree). And that’s the problem. Many techniques we use to present our designs in grad school are difficult to translate to passive mediums. In grad school, we are futurists: proving a problem exists, communicating a proposal to this problem and finally demonstrating what our solution might look like in this constructed world. So as interaction designers we need to decide what we need to convey in a portfolio and how to convey it. Here’s what I found employers wanting to see and how I went about solving this problem.
What employers want to see from a potential interaction designer:
- Design process – Almost anyone can display a beautiful product. What they want to know is whether you can do it again. You prove this by showing that you arrived at the product consciously and thoughtfully. Think of all the projects you’ve done with a team. If someone judges all of you by the finished product, you all look the same. But, you know there was someone who had little input. That’s why it’s important to separate yourself from the field by showing your design process. Note: I am not implying there is a “design process” as a universal standard-rather, you should be able to defend how you make design decisions.
- Design communication – Can you talk about design? Design is not art. You arrive at design through communication, collaboration and an articulate vocabulary (all of these pertain to art on some level too). Of course, there is corporate jargon you will have to pick up at any company but as a designer you should demonstrate your ability to communicate in a “design language”.
- Know your stuff – Okay, this one’s a little more crass but it’s vital. Whatever medium you choose to convey yourself to an employer, you better know your own material. You will most likely get grilled to some extent as to why you did certain things (not much different than a design critique) so it’s best to ensure you can discuss your stuff backwards and forwards. I got locked into an unanticipated conversation about my hard-copy portfolio in an interview and survived because I reviewed my projects. Some are 3+ years old and if I hadn’t reviewed what I did on those projects, I would have looked foolish. You study your material like your studying for a test.
Of course there are other things to consider in interviews but this is what I found specifically geared towards interaction designers. It’s a fairly new field without many of the axioms that other established field have to take into an interview situation. But the real question how can we (as interaction designers) accomplish the above in a design portfolio. This is an open question because I still don’t have a great method for doing so.
What helped me get my current job:
- Resume – No discussion really necessary here. Though, the format for interaction design should be slightly different. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to highlight some of your big projects.
- Blog – This will show that you are a reflective designer. You can give an employer a way to know you without meeting you. An employer may spend about 30 seconds thumbing through an online portfolio but you can really engage them with your thoughts on design.
- Hard-Copy Portfolio – We’re all pushed to make a digital portfolio, which is no doubt, beneficial. However, in two of my one-on-one interviews, I didn’t have access to a projector. Giving the employer this to use as a reference is powerful. People want to look at a printed page more than a digital one (aren’t you sick of reading this on the screen already). When you leave the interview, they have a physical sample of your work that they can’t as easily ignore.
- Digital/Online Portfolio – This is the biggest point of discussion. There is no good way to do it. Of course I believe this is a vital piece for an interaction designer to maintain (even after getting a job). But, given the needed material I described above, I don’t know how best to convey this. The link I provided above (and here if you’re lazy) is really effective on all fronts. The only problem is that everything in it is beautiful. We all know in HCI/d, we have created some flat-out ugly material. Stuff that’s much better to talk about than show. How can a designer reconcile this in a digital portfolio? Personally, I just had to omit some things, but I don’t think this is a long-term solution.
This is what I’ve found from personal experience. I’m curious to see what others might have found or any other proposals for how an interaction design portfolio might be constructed.