5 Things to Look For in the Portfolio of a Good UI/UX Designer
Updated: Jul 28
Hiring good people is a tricky thing. It doesn’t start and end with talent. You want to make sure their personality, world view, passion, and values align with yours. After all, once you hire them you are responsible for them, and their families. It's painful to have to let someone go, just because you missed something and learned a little too late that they aren't exactly the right fit.
Keep reading for 5 major things to look for when reviewing the portfolio of a UI/UX artist, and minimize the chance of that happening with your next hire.
1. LOOK FOR THE FLOW AND PROCESS, NOT JUST THE SHINY BUTTONS
It’s easy to lose attention, as we look at a beautifully rendered screen. Visuals are funny that way. Things can look polished and gorgeous, and this is usually a great sign when looking for a UI artist - someone who creates the final assets. But when looking for someone who will also make sure the usability is there, and that the flow makes sense you want to see more than just the shiny buttons.
Always make sure to look for screen flows in the portfolio. If they are not there ask the artist for some. You want to see the process of creating the final product. Like in math the way an artist reaches the final product is just as important as the assets themselves.
When you look at the process and the flow, you can understand the decisions the artist made, and decide if they make sense to you as well. When you see the process you can quickly evaluate if the iterations are logical.
2. MAKE SURE THEY CAN EXPLAIN THE DECISIONS
In addition to the flow and process, you should check to see if the artist can explain the decisions he or she made. Very few add those explanations to their portfolio (and that’s a shame), but when you bring them in for an interview, you can and should ask them about it.
In general, when an artist can’t explain his decisions to me, that’s when I know I won’t hire them. As professionals, everything has to be done for a reason. Sometimes the reason is, “we looked up what the most successful apps were doing and modeled ours accordingly”. That is a great answer (and will lead to the next point in a moment) because it tells you that they made their homework when working on their product.
3. UNDERSTAND THE RESEARCH PHASE
Time to go deeper and understand how the artist went about conducting their research. Again, this is something that should be in a good portfolio, but sometimes you will just have to ask them for it. While ideally, the artist will get a detailed brief and references, a good artist will always do a bit of their own research. You want an artist that thinks, that tries to see what else is out there and comes back with solutions and flows that will improve on the design created by the product.
When discussing this phase with the potential candidate, ask them not only on the research phase but also about the way they will come back and present their findings. I usually go a step further and ask them how they would convince me to make changes to my brief after they found a better way to do something during the research phase.
4. BEWARE OF THE APPLE INFLUENCE
The words “clean design” and “Apple-like” are two things that immediately turn on all the alarms in my head. I love Apple. Tim Cook probably bought a jet with the amount of money I spent with them. I admire their work and aesthetics. I also don’t really care for “clean design” when I’m talking to an artist about a game.
Games don’t always have a clean UI. They can be messy, they can be crazy, they can be overly detailed and colorful. Different products need different things from the UI. Apple’s aesthetics are not always relevant.
What you do want to see and hear the artist say is "CLEAR UI", because you do want the interface to be clear and make sense even when it’s a wacky game.
5. TIME CONSTRAINTS
Sometimes, I will see stunning portfolios with screens and icons to die for. And the first question that pops to my head is “how much time did you have to do that?“. It’s easy for a good artist to create amazing work when there is no deadline. But what happens when there is? How good will the assets look when they only have a week or a couple of days?
Artists should add the time constraints they had for each project to their portfolio. If they didn’t, you should feel free to ask them to tell you because this is critical to understanding how to go about them and professional they are.
One additional thing you want to look for are mockups vs real products. There are artists with great talent that haven't had the opportunity to do games yet, so they create mockups with their own renditions to familiar games. That’s great and fair. It’s also misleading. If they are professional, they will make sure to note in the portfolio what they created as a mockup. You can then discuss with them what drove them to do those specific mockups and why.