Did you recently graduate from a UI/UX bootcamp with a portfolio but didn’t hear back from job applications? Or did you take the famed Google UX Design Certificate course or bought a course on Coursera, left without real projects, and struggle to compete in an increasingly saturated design job market? You are not alone.
In this article, we will explore the criticisms bootcamps have received specifically in the portfolio quality department; why portfolios are still important for UI/UX design jobs; what hiring managers really look for in a UI/UX design portfolio; well-known courses that don’t have a portfolio component and more importantly, highly-rated programs that either has a great portfolio component or specialize in portfolio building for UI/UX designers.
The Bootcamp Portfolio Curse
Bootcamps have gained popularity as a quick and intensive way for aspiring UI/UX designers to acquire relevant skills and kickstart their careers. However, some critics argue that bootcamps often fall short when it comes to preparing students with high-quality portfolios. Since bootcamps have limited durations, they may not offer sufficient time and resources to focus on portfolio development. This can leave graduates struggling to showcase their abilities effectively to potential employers, hindering their job prospects.
What Hiring Managers Really Look For In A Portfolio
Why Portfolio Is Still Important, At Least For Juniors
A portfolio serves as a visual representation of a UI/UX designer’s capabilities. For employers, a well-curated portfolio acts as evidence of a candidate’s suitability for a role, making it an indispensable tool for job seekers in the UI/UX design field.
While senior-level designers may get away with a not-so-updated portfolio and convince with their experience at big-name companies, junior designers have only one way to convince companies that investing in them is a good decision — portfolio. Without an outstanding portfolio, it’s all talk and no proof. Why would companies invest in an inexperienced person who cannot demonstrate what they can do in tangible ways?
So what do hiring companies and managers really look for in a portfolio? Let’s hear from real hiring managers who are interviewing junior UI/UX and product designers on a regular basis.
Product-Thinking Over Textbook UX Processes
The telltale sign of a fresh graduate from a bootcamp is the cookie-cutter and formulaic presentation of the UX design process throughout case studies. Hiring managers have to screen thousands of applications — if all they see is a copy-and-paste series of textbook UX processes, they lose interest within seconds.
Companies are hiring designers to create solutions for business problems. Instead of presenting a surface-level, formulaic process that every bootcamp teaches, think critically as a problem solver, not a pixel pusher who follows a manual. How can my solution really help solve this problem? What is innovative about this solution? Why does this solution make sense? How did I come to this solution based on evidence gathered from research?
More importantly, show a deep understanding of products. The UI/UX design field requires hybrid skillsets — product acumen, critical thinking, and creativity on a business level are all valuable skillsets that will set a candidate apart from competitors.
The hybrid nature of UI/UX design necessitates another ability — storytelling. Unlike traditional design jobs where designers sit in front of the computer, design something and pass it on to a client-facing colleague to communicate the solution, UI/UX designers are also the communicators.
One of the biggest criticisms bootcamp graduates receive is that they lack storytelling abilities both in their case study presentations and portfolio design. When hiring mangers need to screen thousands of portfolios in a day, they have to look for those that stand out in every aspect — visual design, case study writing, storytelling and product thinking.
Storytelling abilities empowers designers to become excellent persuaders. If designers are able to connect different parts of their projects into an engaging story and tell it to hiring managers and stakeholders, they are already half way there in getting the job or project approval.
Strong Visual Design and Attention to Details
Whether an aspiring designer chooses to specialize in UI or UX, they need to demonstrate strong understanding of visual design principles, which unfortunately, many bootcamp curriculum skips over due to the companies running them not being founded by designers.
Strong visual design skills is the foundation for success as a designer, even if user experience is their specialty. The biggest reason is — companies nowadays prefer to hire hybrid talents to save money — if they can hire someone who is good at both UI and UX, why would they hire someone who is only good at one?
When choosing a program, always look to see if visual design is taught with depth and emphasis. Good visual design skills need time and practice to develop while UX processes can be found in any article simply by typing in “UX” in your browser search bar.
Big-Name UI/UX Courses without a Portfolio Component
There are quite a few “big-name” UI/UX design courses on the market that cover the basics but leave students to fend for themselves when it comes to portfolio development. Most of these programs are lower-cost, self-paced programs without a dedicated teaching and career-coaching component.
Google UX Design Certificate
The Google name surely sells — plus the low cost of the the Google UX Design course, it’s a popular choice in students who want to get a taste of designing for digital products before committing to a more comprehensive program.
One of biggest problems in Google’s UX design program is the lack of instructions from working designers, instructors. Instead, it relies on a peer-to-peer critique system where learners receive feedback from other learners. While the interactive social element with other learners are fun, it isn’t the most effective way to learn design. Imagine trying to improve your French pronunciation practicing with another learner who is also not a native speaker!
The other problem in Google’s UX design course is the lack of portfolio development. Due to its low cost, there isn’t resources available for portfolio building, critique, partnership with companies for real projects etc.
While this is an acceptable choice to get a quick taste of learning design, learners often end up spending additional time and money on a more complete program.
Coursera UX Design courses (and other similar “quick purchase” courses)
Coursera is a wonderful platform for all kinds of video courses. Similar to Google’s UX design certificate, it relies only on video instructions without much of any other components. There are also other programs that are similar in a way that learners can quickly purchase them and start watching videos, but hey, they can also do that on YouTube, for free!
Highly-Rated UI/UX Design Portfolio Programs
So are there any programs that are actually good at producing graduates with stunningly beautiful and highly-effective UI/UX design portfolios? We found quite a few, and yes, we are one of them.
Path Unbound Portfolio School
Path Unbound is a UI/UX design school founded by designers, for designers. While working as designers and design instructors, the founders realized a lack of programs that really get portfolio building right.
Since the inception of Portfolio School, Path Unbound has helped students from around the world achieve fundamental improvements to their design portfolios. Graduates have gone on to secure jobs within weeks, months and some, even before graduation.
Portfolio School by Path Unbound is created to help designers who are already trained in design fundamentals to cross the finish line in getting their dream design jobs. An admission assessment and interview is required for all applicants.
Portfolio School consists of 2 tracks:
Portfolio Express is a 9-week online accelerator program for aspiring designers who already have developed portfolio projects from another program but are unhappy with the results.
Portfolio Kickstart Portfolio Kickstart is a 12-week online accelerator program for aspiring designers who have finished training in design fundamentals from another program but are lacking portfolio projects.
Students can expect to receive personalized instructions from dedicated instructors who are working at top-tier companies as designers and hiring managers.
Path Unbound School of UI/UX Design or Visual Design
If an aspiring designer has not finished design fundamentals training or is not confident about their crafts, School of UI/UX Design or School of Visual Design by Path Unbound are two highly-rated programs that take students from 0–100 in their design career journey. Both of these programs include Portfolio School as part of the curriculum so that students can finish their studies and be ready for the job market in 6–8 months while maintaining a part-time, flexible learning schedule.
School of UI/UX Design
School of UI/UX Design is created for students who are interested in pursuing a career in UI/UX design, UX design, UI design, interaction design, product design either in a top tech company, at in-house design departments in many other companies or design agencies.
School of Visual Design
School of Visual Design is the right fit for students who are interested in pursuing a career in brand design, graphic design, UI design, visual design, art direction, creative direction or any other creative careers that require design skills.
Much like Portfolio School, students can expect to receive personalized instructions from dedicated instructors who are working at top-tier companies as designers and hiring managers.
RookieUp is a boutique portfolio building program that connects students with an assigned mentor. The programs at RookieUp run in a self-guided manner with mentor support that is up to the students to schedule.
RookieUp offers 2 programs: Get A Job Bootcamp and Portfolio Bootcamp. Both have overlapping parts but the Get A Job Bootcamp is for students who are at least 9 months into design training and the Portfolio Bootcamp is for students who are 3–12 months into design training.
RookieUp does not provide comprehensive design learning programs but rather focuses on the “last mile” of the portfolio-building process.
Shillington is a global design school with campuses in several major cities around the world. It is one of the oldest design career schools with course offerings primarily in graphic design. While Shillington offers online programs, the school shines more in on-campus instruction.
Shillington graduates boast excellent portfolios and have secured employment from a wide variety of companies. As a school with multiple physical locations, the tuition at Shillington is also among the highest, although it is still much lower than a college degree.
Portfolios play a pivotal role in the success of UI/UX designers in their job search. While bootcamps have received criticism in the portfolio quality department, specialized programs that focus on portfolio building can address this issue effectively. Aspiring designers should invest in high-quality programs that prioritize portfolio development to enhance their chances of standing out in the competitive UI/UX job market.