I've been working for a year at my first 'real' UX contract at a giant financial institution. My manager liked me enough to extend my contract for another year, but I realized that this place isn't the right fit for me and I need to find a job somewhere else. Adding this company's work to a portfolio that would make me way more hirable than I've ever been before, but the problem is that I can't think of anything that I've done here that would make a good entry to my UX Portfolio.

You may be asking, how could someone work somewhere for over a year and have nothing to show? What is he, an idiot?

Well yes, I feel like an idiot, but please understand that for most of my time here I've been the only UX Designer on a team of 8 business people who don't have any idea of what my job is. I'm also new and I'm trying to prove my worth, so I say 'yes' to a lot of things that a Senior level employee would be able to brush off. My life here was consisted mostly of:

  • Long meetings that go nowhere
  • Starting projects that lose funding or executive backing
  • Massive team restructuring
  • Research for the sake of research
  • Graphic design/mockups
  • Jumping into the middle of someone else's projects
  • Wrangling interns
  • Beautifying older pages, AKA "Putting lipstick on a pig"
  • UI design (without UX process behind it)

I may be pretty new at this, but even I can recognize that what passes for UX here is laughable. Many of the times that I've pushed for research, testing, wireframing, etc... I'm always met with "well, we need this by Wednesday, so just get me a comp ASAP. Okay? Thanks buddy!" UGH. There have been many frustrating times where an entire experience has been reduced to a banner ad because of time or money. Another frustration that I'm working through right now is that these executives keep having all kinds of 'cool' ideas for products that don't actually solve users' problems, but we have to do them. There have been a few times where I really felt like we were getting somewhere and doing the right thing, but every time, upper management had a change of heart.

Skip here if you want the question and not the narrative

I'm tired of having a 'Minimum Viable Portfolio'. I'm tired of piecing together a bunch of random stuff with duct tape and faking my way through an interview. I really want a portfolio that tells a story, showcases a process and that's actually enjoyable to look at.

How can I achieve this with a scattered body of work?

I do have hope for the upcoming months. My team just absorbed a few senior UX Designers who have decades of experience at this company and they can navigate the corporate landscape much better than I. One of them is going to step in as a mentor/manager and we've talked about making sure that I get specific UX work. My plan of action is to document everything that I do on a day-to-day basis, so hopefully, I can be able to tell a story going forward.

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    Well, you have definitely mastered the art of storytelling. An essential skill of a UX Professional :D
    – Kish
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 17:16

3 Answers 3


A portfolio is not simply a catalog of work you've done for previous companies. Here's a quick definition of a portfolio from Wikipedia:

Career portfolios serve as proof of one's skills, abilities, and potential in the future.

Does this include sample work for other companies? Of course. But there are issues with basing your entire portfolio on previous work, many of which you've outlined in your question:

  • UX work experience hasn't yielded start-to-finish successes
  • Previous work may not exactly fit into a new role's skills and requirements
  • Companies may have distribution limitations on work you've done for them

In your view, your previous professional UX experience doesn't work well for your portfolio. I would disagree, as there are many points in your question that could be used as portfolio material:


What research did you do? What was the goal of it? What did you learn from it? You may not be able to visualize it, but it may be useful in a written or oral form (Resume/CV/interview) as a discussion point.

Graphic design/mockups

Great! Are you able to use these outside of company functions? If not, solve a similar theoretical problem with mockups and designs.

Beautifying older pages, AKA "Putting lipstick on a pig"

This may be a "band-aid fix" in context of your company, but this can still highlight your skills as a designer. You took a dated, hard-to-use page and made it clean and usable? Sounds like skills to me.

UI design (without UX process behind it)

This is the making of a great portfolio piece. What parts of the UI missed a UX process behind it? What should have been the process behind it?

A coagulation of all of the above: start a personal project! A website, an app, a redesign of a problematic UI/UX in the real-world. Does it have to be fully functional? Of course not, but you should be able to prove your skills by actually using them from scratch. This will yield portfolio material devoid of the issues of previous work, and ideally highlight your skills.

  • Thank you, this is extremely helpful. I have been looking at too many examples of amazing portfolios of people who work at Amazon and Facebook. Those are nice examples to aim for, but I guess I forgot to do what I should be doing, which is solving a problem with the resources and skills at hand.
    – WushuDrew
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 17:21
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    I second Alan. Even I'm in the same situation but I have chosen to work on side-projects, Fix what is broken, find the unmet needs and work on them. Sometimes these are also called as Fake projects where you are the king of thinking limitless and big. Good Luck Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 7:49
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    Although I'm a programmer rather than a (dedicated) UX/UI person, I've had to do a lot of the programming equivalent of "putting lipstick on a pig", and to my mind, doing that well (with the constraints of "by next Friday" and "no you can't change that bit" etc.) is often more difficult, and therefore demonstrative of greater skill than producing a great UI from scratch.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 16:13

I've been in this situation before.


1-Pay a good UX course which is portfolio and mentor based only. If you can avoid large classes. Personal projects are hard in terms of motivation and commitment. When you have someone to be accountable for, specially when you are feeding them money the game really changes.


2-Focus on a medium (mobile, web app, etc).


3-Do 3 iterations on a project. It might take 2-3 months each full product. In 1 year you might have solid portfolio, you just need 4 solid projects. If you want to be a UX designer use http://simonpan.com/ as a model for documenting your process. You don't need to work on real projects, Ideo and Fantasy UX do hypothetical projects too. After 1 projects you might be able to help a startup for free, try on https://www.reddit.com/r/startups


4-Sacrifice weekends and evenings, cut your TV and video-games to build time. make this a life priority.


5-Focus on a type of niche and not brand names. Example, if you like health, do health related projects, it will help you build domain knowledge. Don't follow trends, like IOT, VR, AR, etc. Focus on a domain (transportation, food, healthcare, accounting, sports, etc) trying to solve an existing problem.


6-Don't do research with your friends. Pay users like it's a real job. Try to get it documented so you are not pretending doing UX work

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    "7-Don't do websites unless you want to be a visual designer". Why? This depends on if you are in charge of the IxD. Then websites are perfectly fine and follow the same or similar research and execution methods as any other product. Someone has to lay the groundwork for the visual designer to work with after all. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 9:00
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    Hey Wanda. I removed that part. I agree with you, I just think that from the general hiring landscape if he has 1 year to develop a portfolio I would try to be more focused, such as doing 4 mobile apps to get a job at a mobile startup Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 14:45

Alan provided a great option. To build upon making your own projects...

Find a website or a product that you believe has flaws. Conduct user research (this could be gathered by product reviews) and create a plan to improve upon it.

Create portfolio pieces for the job you want! This is your chance to show what you can do (without the limits of your current employer).

The most important part of your portfolio will be documenting your work step-by-step to demonstrate your thought patterns and the way you go about solving problems.

  • Yeah, I'm trying not to sound like I'm lazy and making excuses, but my portfolio is already full of stuff like this. I recently interviewed at another bank and found it difficult to sit in an interview and explain to a hiring manager that I've been at a company for a year and I have nothing to show in terms of UX Process. But as Alan pointed out, I actually do have stuff to show. I just need to organize it and be able to articulate it.
    – WushuDrew
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 14:47
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    The easy way out of that is to say that you signed a non-disclosure agreement with that company, so while you can't show them that work, you can still explain ideas, concepts, etc... And yes, once you learn how to articulate your work, it will be much easier.
    – sjsteve
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:57
  • I'm only worried about that because it's just so easy to disregard the designer who doesn't have a portfolio, even if there's an NDA (and this company is pretty well-known for their confidentiality). I plan to write about UX on Medium.com, which might even be better than a portfolio, and it will absolutely make a difference in my communication and documentation skills.
    – WushuDrew
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:59

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