Building a design portfolio is probably one of the most critical yet most time-consuming and, let’s face it, excruciatingly painful aspects of your design career. When you’re already stressed out and exhausted from the mental gymnastics that we call job hunting, you’ll want to optimize what precious time you spend working on it to be as effective as possible. And that’s just talking about design portfolios in general!
When we’re talking about enterprise UX, a whole other layer of complexity comes into play. (Hah, of course it does!) Despite being around since the dawn of technology, this area of design still feels like a niche and up-and-coming player. Maybe it’s the general secrecy around SaaS and enterprise software that lends some mystery to it. Or maybe it’s because it feels like the nerdy sibling who hyper-focuses on some obscure topic that nobody’s ever heard of compared to the well-dressed popular kid who knows how to style their hair. (I’m looking at you, brand design! 😉) In any event, if you’re working on your portfolio and want to focus on enterprise UX, a specialized take on how to approach this is just what you need. And we’re here to dive into it.
So what’s up with portfolios?
To begin, you may wonder if a portfolio is really necessary and if you can get by with only working on your résumé. I understand, I really do, but let me pause you there. You will require a portfolio.
Resumes are great for an at-a-glance overview of who you are and what you’ve been up to. However, in my experience, the school you attended and the number of certifications you’ve taken will not make or break a particular decision. You may have 7 certifications, but only the portfolio will show off what you took out of those courses.
Portfolios demonstrate your work and thinking. You’ll want to focus on quality over quantity here, and illustrate what your brain cells are capable of. Part of this means ux-ing your ux portfolio, which is honestly the first indicator your audience will see regarding your level of design thinking.
You don’t want your portfolio to be a repository of all the creative work you’ve touched since the beginning of time—be clear about your career goals and the kind of position you want to land, and then format your portfolio accordingly. The last thing a stressed-out design manager wants to do is wade through your photography, animation and branding case studies when they’re looking for enterprise ux samples to evaluate. And, of course, as a savvy designer, you’ll want to keep your target audience’s goals and limitations in mind
Cater to Your Audience
Your target audience will most likely be divided into two groups: hiring managers and design managers. We’re speaking generally here—if you work in a small company as the head of product, or as the CEO of a startup, for example, you may have some of these responsibilities as well!
The hiring manager will not be the final decision maker, but they’ll know the general shape and form of the role that will be filled. You’ll want to make your specialties and experience effortless to discern and your contact information easy to find.
🔥Hot Tip: Particularly for enterprise ux, I find that the format you choose to present your work in is flexible. You can put together a pdf, slides, use your preferred documentation platform or responsive website—the content (and ease of going through it) is what matters most. Just make sure you do not make anyone’s job harder than it has to be, ie: if you absolutely have to password protect your work, make sure to copiously and blatantly include your password on your other communications.
The design manager will hold a lot of sway in the decision making process. Their day-to-day won’t be primarily around hiring, meaning they aren’t taking a leisurely stroll through your work and will not be reading every single word and artifact you’ve included. Their first pass of a candidate’s portfolio could be less than 2 minutes! Imagine them as tired, stressed, and frustrated with the hiring process, and you’ve got their persona started.
Evidence of Deliverables vs Evidence of Critical Thinking
You know how we mentioned not using your portfolio as an “everything repository”? When it comes to enterprise ux, this is narrowed down even further. Not only should your case studies focus on ux, but the actual case study itself also shouldn’t be a willy-nilly dumping ground for every ux artifact under the sun 🌞. Whatever artifacts you include should be carefully accompanied by concise insights. There is a world of difference between being shown that a designer is aware of and can create an affinity map, journey map, and all the other maps, versus seeing evidence of how insights from these artifacts affect the final product. The former is what tends to be the goal of brand new designers, whereas the latter are the gold nuggets that hiring people are looking for.
🔥Hot Tip: Design artifacts are there to support and contextualize how you’ve arrived at the insights you’ve laid out. They don’t prove merit just by their mere existence. This is especially true for senior roles.
Any evidence of critical thinking and decision making is what we want to see. That zinger could be a simple one-liner that shows off your specific thought process and how that artifact affected the foundation of your ux approach. Make sure it’s easy to understand and visually distinct so that it will catch the eye of whomever might be scrolling through quickly.
🔥Hot Tip: Make insights easy to find and understand. Don’t just leave your research on the table—nobody is going to read each sticky note in your affinity map, and definitely not on the first pass. What did you get out of each artifact? Each round of design? How did this affect your process and decision making?
Approach your case study with the scientific method: Take the viewer through how the problem was defined, your hypothesis or assumptions, what research was conducted and by what methodologies, what came of the analysis and what your results were. Share how these steps influenced the final outcome, and don’t shy away from the unexpected surprises!
Another misconception is that a ‘good’ case study should always follow the happy path of success. Did you work on a compelling feature that never ended up getting launched, or on a project with a timeline that affected certain decisions and methodologies? These are real situations that designers face all the time and are by no means something you need to avoid acknowledging. Au contraire! Those in the position of hiring are interested in how you handle situations that are similar to things they’ve encountered, and what could be more relatable than a plan going unexpectedly awry? If the goals changed and the project evolved, talk about how that affected your ux approach, or perhaps it was your ux that affected the goals and project evolution! Anything you learned, reflections on contributing factors, or thoughts on what could prevent a repeat are some of the most valuable tidbits you can share.
It’s also helpful to reflect on what limitations you were working with, and share thoughts on potential next steps and other external considerations. An awareness of how you might balance the business needs versus the end user needs also elevates the case study.
Characteristics of Enterprise UX Case Studies
Alright, so you’ve got a good idea of who you’re designing for and what you should be communicating. As for the case studies themselves? If you’re zeroing in on the exciting world of enterprise ux, then the case studies you show should reflect that.
When I’m looking through an enterprise design, there are several areas I keep in mind:
Research and Assumptions
How does the research and foundational work behind the design influence the final output? What were the limitations of the research? Were there insights that didn’t make it into the final design, and why? Interesting constraints and pivots help tell a richer story and are often surprisingly relatable!
Could this design still work with 1000 data points? How about 10,000 or 1,000,000? What if a value had 135 characters instead of only 22, are there any examples of how this would be handled? How about if no results appear at all? How you handle edge cases around large amounts of data shows people how robust (or fragile!) your design decisions are.
What is the new user’s experience, compared to a one who’s been using this platform for work every day for the past 3 years? Are there shortcuts for the pro user? Do common actions and patterns align with the new user’s expectations based on their experience using other technologies outside of the platform? Is it sprinkled throughout with jargon, or are there ways you provide help and documentation? This thoughtfulness demonstrates how you center the users.
Are the ux heuristics addressed? How robust is the clarity and functionality of each feature? This is immensely important, as a mistake on an enterprise platform could potentially impact an employee’s job security (ie: Error prevention against accidental removal of users on a banking platform.)
👉🏼 Check out our UX Heuristics deep dive, starting with our 10 Heuristic Principles with Enterprise UX Examples article!
In addition to all the above, I’m also looking for how the case study tackles features or problems that are common to enterprise products—data tables, permissions, advanced filters, dashboards and search are all areas of interest.
Showcasing the Right Case Studies
How the user is guided through and empowered through a complex enterprise tool drastically differs from, say, a generic food ordering, weather or alarm clock app design. Think of it this way—no matter how well-researched and mapped out a weather app is, the complexity isn’t remotely comparable to an enterprise platform handling confidential patient medical information. Without the right case study, the viewer simply doesn’t have enough information to be convinced that you’re capable of handling a complex ux.
So, what happens if you don’t have that perfectly juicy case study? There’s several options worth exploring:
Think of enterprise products that exist out there that you might have tangential experience with. You’ve been checked into a doctor’s appointment before and seen them take notes on their computer—what might their platform look like, what kind of problems, goals and issues are doctors dealing with as they see dozens of patients a day? The same could be said for a university registrar dealing with thousands of student enrolments, or a travel agent.
You can look for a course specializing in enterprise ux, or grab enterprise ux prompts that are specifically set up to help you build your portfolio. To toot our own horn here for a second (hehe! 🤭), we’re rolling out a new workshop that does both. We’ll zero in on a particular enterprise ux case study prompt and how to highlight, communicate and demonstrate critical thinking around it.
👋🏼 Pssst!! We’re currently looking for user testers to trial this workshop with. It’s a 4-session workshop of 90 minutes each, live! Are you interested? Apply for one of our free trial seats and we’ll get back to you!
Chances are, you already use enterprise tools in your day-to-day life. Your case study could take the angle of an unsolicited redesign, where you call out the problems and objectives that you’re intimately familiar with. Just be careful that the redesign you choose appropriately reflects the features and considerations mentioned above—don’t get sucked into another Spotify or Netflix redesign (unless your goal is to get in with them)!
Of course, once you have that case study going, you’ll need to communicate them in the most effective way—simple to understand, yet with enough detail to highlight what super-duper brain cells are capable of.