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What does your portfolio say about you?

January 31, 2010

I find January is a good time to rethink my portfolio with the intention of improving my career feng shui for the year ahead. Last year, I created my first IA portfolio and have to honestly say that it served a purpose at the time but looking back I am cringing like it was a poorly thought out party outfit.

As obvious as it seems, we all forget from time to time that our portfolio should reflect the type of company you want to work for and the brands you want to work on. In my recent graphic design course, the portfolio was discussed and while it was a graphic design and not a user experience design course, it was clear that the same principles would apply.

During the class, we went through a live demonstration where we actually pulled apart a class member’s portfolio. The first thing we did was to look at all the pieces which were selected for the portfolio and then were posed a list of questions which lead to whether our portfolio successfully addresses the question every interviewer will ask:  Why should I hire you?

1. Packaging – Is the cover of your portfolio generic or cheap looking?

This is perhaps commonly overlooked because those off-the self black plastic folders with sleeves are convenient and does the trick but really aren’t loaded with any personality. Even now with the prevalence of digital portfolios, some form of personal branding in the packaging of your portfolio can help you to stand out and not make you look like a generic.

2. Portfolio work – Have you chosen visually graphic work that will stand out?

Perhaps this question skews more towards the graphic design portfolio but aside from sleek and clean lines the other advice is to take away work with too much text – no one will read it. However at the interview you want to be able to present the wireframes so it would be wise to have notes ready to present when explaining about the rationale behind the information architecture, nomenclature, interaction design and functionality.

These are just two main areas to consider whether you are updating or creating your portfolio but I am sure there are more secrets to ace an IA portfolio out there!


Create a portfolio and don’t make excuses.

October 19, 2009

I recently started a new job and there were several roles going so I thought I would pass the opportunity to my network. There was one guy (let’s call him Joe) referred to me from my network whom I had met briefly at a recent event; he had graduated, wanted to get into UX and had been looking for months.

I emailed Joe and told him that to apply he would need to supply his resume and portfolio. His first response was that he didn’t have one and that his computer was in repair, I responded and said I would be happy to offer advice if he wanted any but he really needed a portfolio to apply for this position. By the third email, I wondered whether he was really serious about looking for work in the industry because he was justifying too much about why he didn’t have a portfolio and to me, he simply was not ready. In this competitive environment, I honestly believe that if you snooze, you lose.

So, what if you have just finished your degree and have never worked in a IA/UX role?

I have learned that you just need to create a portfolio and don’t make excuses. The more I think about it (perhaps since I am a bit passed that new graduate stage), it seems like a complete no brainer. With so many websites in cyberspace, there is no reason why an aspiring IA/UX can go and redesign an established site ie. Craigslist. In your portfolio, you could include a site map, user flow, user personas and wireframes of how you would redesign the site and have a knock out cover letter. I mean if you can show your understanding for the processes involved and your potential – a picture really does paint a thousand words regardless of how many years of experience  you have in the industry.

IxDA NYC Fall Workshop 2009

October 18, 2009

wireframes2 I attended my first IxDA workshop in New York today. Forgoing my Saturday morning sleep in, I arrived on a chilly Autumn morning at this amazing sun drenched office loft in Soho for the Innovation Design Studio workshop conducted by Todd Zaki Warfel.

We were briefed on a local not-for profit organization called iEarn which is a network that enables young people worldwide to use the Internet and digital media to collaborate on educational projects. We were provided with a user persona and screen shots of visual designs from other sites to spark our creativity.

Our first task we were required to create a rough visual of what we would propose for the redesign in 3 minutes. When time was up, we had 2 minutes each to explain to our team what our ideas were and critic each other’s ideas.

It was at this point, I discovered our different backgrounds which explained what we each did in those 3 minutes. Julie a graphic designer,  focused on how the homepage “looked” and fitted the content into the layout.  Brendan a Functional Analysis, explored different homepage layouts, while Volkan a programmer focused on how to communicate to the user about the site’s mission from the homepage. I created a flow of what content required on the homepage for the user to acertain the strategic intent of the website,  how the user would move from the homepage into the different pockets and provided several filtering variations on how the user could find what they were interested in.

For our second task, Todd threw a  spanner in the works and assigned our group and another team with the task of creating a video environment for iEarn while another team was assigned with the task of designing an iPhone app. After our second task, we had the other team critic our work and were instructed that we had permission to “borrow ideas” from the other team.

The final task was to refine the concepts and present to the rest of the workshop, with the wider participants providing feedback on what they liked and disliked. In the end we all did a satisfaction survey about the workshop and were told that our efforts would be presented to this not-for-profit and would be used which was awesome!

This intense collaborative brainstorming experience was exhausting but extremely effective. This style of collaboration is  practiced by Todd at Messagefirst and it was exciting to experience what a true collaborative environment. I found the workshop to be very useful and I look forward to the next IxDA workshop – which unfortunately won’t be until next year.

SocialChangeCamp NYC Volunteer!

September 26, 2009

social change camp team I volunteered to be part of SocialChangeCamp today. I walked away feeling inspired and realised I am taking my social media knowledge and implementation skills for granted in terms of what I could be doing with them since I have decided to make a career shift into IA/UI that I could be helping non-for profits achieve their goals and objectives.

I found this volunteer opportunity on Craigslist because I am interested in being part of some different New York experiences and it was a bonus that event was technology and social media related.

I have been to previous BarCamps in Sydney and they usually consist of a handful of developers discussing what they are building and entrepreneurs seeing if there is any money potential behind it.

The setup for SocialChangeCamp is similar to your regular BarCamps, a handful of attendees would write on a schedule the topic and time they want to discuss but with topics focusing on social change. For example; how to use social media to raise awareness for health insurance reform, brainstorming grassroots activism, creative ways to move people from concern to action.

The best presentation I attended was presented by social entrepreneur Ben Smilowitz, who runs the Disaster Accountability Project which aims to improve the nation’s disaster prevention, response, relief, and recovery systems after the public witnessed the service gaps at the relief site of Hurricane Katrina. The presentation focused on all the free tools online that we can utilise to get a team together to build a movement for social change from recruiting and organizing the work for volunteers/interns to fund raising.

The event was also an excellent networking opportunity to meet people who were working for agencies that I had not yet heard of and it was interesting to learn about what the social media needs and usage by not-for profit organizations were. This event was run by Mathew Knell who is also a co-organizer for Social Media for Social Change. I often admire people like Mathew who have worked through the ranks in their career who then dedicate their time and expertise to help create and run events which empower members of the community to make a difference that doesn’t focus on pushing their own agenda.

As the first SocialChangeCamp NYC event and I believe it is an event worth attending and being offered across other cities for not-for-profits to meet social media experts, bloggers and developers to pursue social change one pixel at a time.

Business Cards – Starting from $3.95

September 25, 2009

BusinessCardPreviewI am officially back on the job hunting saddle after working for Kit Willow at the 2009 Mercedes New York Fashion Week. My goal is to  I network my way into my next gig so I purchased my business cards from the website which was recommended by a friend.

I was immediately impressed with the user-flow and information architecture of the site – with a few small exceptions; clunky ‘add text’ feature and multiple ‘add on’ product suggestions you could buy before you could get to the check out. offer standard and express delivery options and you can get 100 cards for $3.95, extra for glossy/matte textured paper.  My total came to $27 including delivery which enough to get me started but I would want to test out VistaPrint next time.

Coming Up: World Usability Day 2009

September 24, 2009

WUDlogoAs  a member of the Usability Professional’s Association, I  have volunteered to help organize the World Usability Day Event in New York which will be held on Thursday, November 12th at the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea.

At this stage, the speakers at this event are still being finalized and the last planning session discussed our viral campaign to  put 500 bums on seats. So far, it has been an interesting experience in meeting the professionals who are part of the team that participates in this sort of event planning and learning about how the event details will unfold – with only 6 weeks to go!

Up Skill: Continuing Education Courses

September 22, 2009

svaBeing unemployed to me means no extravagant fashion purchases but also an exciting time to up skill on areas that you were too busy to when you were employed.

I believe you can never stop learning and before my trip to New York,  I really wanted to take a graphic design course because my skills were feeling a bit rusty after working as a media planner for 5 years but the cost courses were sky high for the duration and were not offered on a part-time basis.

I was extremely relieved to find courses I wanted to take offered at the School of Visual Arts which I could take at night that didn’t cost an arm and leg and would achieve what I needed; to become a better designer and to have a competitive portfolio.

The two continuing education courses I have decided to take were; Information Design and Intermediate Graphic Design. Although I have studied both these areas before, my degree did not focus on building a great portfolio with lots of creative pieces to show off all the theory I acquired and wasn’t taught by industry professionals that work in a highly competitive environment like NYC!

The other great part of taking these courses is to save the brain from rotting into the job hunting routine and revive the creative spirit within. This is important to me right now because I am still very much in the process of shifting careers where I can be more involved with the creative process rather than churning out death by powerpoint presentations.