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Though we may be past the blog’s golden age, publishing a design portfolio offers up a prime way to put the focus where it matters: on you. But with all the power in your hands, it takes some refining to make sure visitors—from casual observers to potential clients—don’t get tripped up by a bad user experience. You’ll need to perform your own UX testing, and if you’ve never done that before, your portfolio is a great project to practice on.

Here’s how to handle a UX test that’ll take your portfolio to new heights.

Set your goals: What part of the UX are you testing?

Start with the basics and focus the test you’re conducting. All elements of usability, functionality, and visibility are connected. You can choose to focus your test on one of these design aspects, but ultimately, there are two things you want to figure out:

  • Does your portfolio do what you need it to do?
  • Does your portfolio do what your user needs it to do?

In an ideal scenario, those goals are one and the same. Read on to see how. 

Figure out who’s watching—then make your site work for them 

Though it’s your personal portfolio, don’t fall into the trap of designing only for yourself; your site should serve the user’s needs. 

UX design is all about knowing and understanding your audience. That’s why the field relies so heavily on personas, or archetypical users whose goals represent a wider group. For an earnest UX audit, you’ll want to create a user persona by identifying your user, empathizing with them, and understanding their needs. 

Developing a persona comes from thorough research collecting qualitative and quantitative data, and most importantly, time spent speaking with users. If you’re not sure how to gather data on current users, you can try using a program like Hotjar. A service like that will help you understand how users behave on your site through a variety of tools like heatmaps. Hotjar depicts data values in different colors, so that you can easily visualize how users are interacting with your site, where they’re clicking, and where they’re dropping off. 

If you’re planning on conducting interviews of current users, be sure to ask open-ended questions that are non-leading, specific, and clear. For example: “When you first see the landing page, what expectations does it set up for you?”

No time to make cold calls or slide into the DMs of potential users? Try this instead: review the clients you’ve already worked with. Who are they? 

To create a persona, give your past clients or current users an imaginary name, job title, and even a favorite color—give them personality. You’ll also want to identify what their goals are and what their frustrations are; keep those in mind as you complete your DIY UX audit. 

Remember, a persona represents a group of users, and ultimately serves as your design North Star.

Prioritize usability

You understand your user now, you have a picture of who they are. The best way to understand whether your site is delivering a good experience for them is to put yourself in their shoes with a user journey map

A user journey map illustrates a scenario (or several) in which your user interacts with your site, from start to finish. It can help you understand your usability from the user’s perspective, which is paramount. Often, journey mapping will also point to possible friction points in your site’s structure. 

Tree testing is an effective tool here, to review your site’s information architecture (IA) and ensure that users are finding what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it. 

And just like that, you’re testing your usability.

Put in the SEO work 

At this stage, you know your user, you’re delivering a killer site that’s meeting their needs…but you never make it to the top of the “cool designer” search on Google (or Bing). Enter: SEO.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a practice that helps improve your findability on a given search engine. Search engines (currently) look for results to a query based on word or code matches, which means you’ll want to include as much ‘frequently searched’ text on your site as is possible—and relevant. 

If you’ve got an image-heavy portfolio, try alt text, or alternative text. This is text that lives in the backend of your site, but ensures that your images are searchable on an engine. Good alt text is specific, accurate, and simple. For example: “Ceros interactive design tool campaign.” 

Depending on your site architecture and content, you might also try SEO titles. A good and accurate title makes you searchable, something that can be aided by using the right keywords to rank in the top results on search engines.  Ultimately, the point is to get clicks and more eyes on your work. Be descriptive and to the point. 

Keep things fresh 

Finally, keep your online portfolio updated, just like you would your resume. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for what designers across industries and mediums are doing with their portfolios. You might learn something new, or get a fresh idea. Here are some portfolios to give you some inspiration:

Keep it simple, silly: Rachita Habbu & Shelby Hipol

These designers offer a very simple layout. As a user, you know where to find what, and are able to peruse their work intuitively and quickly.  

Move on up: Albert Tercero & Stefano Colferai

These designers also keep things simple. A little animation goes a long way and, as a user, your eye is drawn to the movement on the site without being overwhelmed.

Out there: Mariano Pascual

This designer’s work is really out there—animation greets you when you enter the site. You’re invited into a world. Though the navigation is a little less intuitive, as a user—if you’ve got time to browse—you find pleasure in discovering the architecture. This portfolio offers an experience. 

Remember, your portfolio serves you when it serves your user. So roll up your sleeves and get testing.

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