3 tips to improve your information architecture samples or portfolio

published by Ben Allen

For all those budding IAs out there - listen up - I have a few tips for you. Perhaps it's just 1 tip but it's a biggie and it's one worth discussing - including some tactics. Let's cut to the chase here:

If you send in a portfolio along with your CV/resume make sure you add some context and explain your thinking

Simple but let me explain. I employ IAs, designers, developers and the like and it's become standard practice to send along a portfolio with your CV/resume (I'm going to refer to this as CV from now on). With any luck I see some good CVs - short, succinct and focusing on both "soft & hard" skills. With creative folks though CVs are not enough... I guess that the idea goes that employers read these CVs but cannot really get the feel for the real creative juice of the candidate - what can one do? Enter the portfolio - a collection of ones beloved works. Show a future employer all the work that you've done in college, your intern-ship, your professional life. Problem solved - right? Well kind of.

When is a good portfolio bad & what can I do about it?

Just as it is easy to write a bad CV it is equally easy to write a bad portfolio - even if it's full of the most gorgeous work you've ever seen in your life. I think the most common mistake made is the lack of context. While you would like to think that the "work speaks for itself" you need to make sure. Here are some ideas to make sure:

Tip 1. Group your portfolio

Break up your portfolio content into logical groups which show off different parts of your wonderful skill set (this should not be hard if you're an IA). For example if you've done lots of form design work - group that. If you've done some nice sales/e-commerce sites - that's another group. Mobile work, web apps, transactional sites - loads and loads of groups. The reason to do this is simple - different problems need different solutions and thinking. Good UX employers know this and they're looking for candidates that know this too. Furthermore by grouping your saying "I do X, Y, Z" not just "I do IA". If I'm the employer looking for an IA with transactional site experience and your portfolio has this group your portfolio is going to be screaming at me "give this gal/guy an interview".

Tip 2. Add annotations

This is huge. A lot of IA portfolios I look at contain sketches and/or wireframes. Lots of boxes and arrows lovingly crafted into a web page, user flow etc. Adding annotations is crucial in explaining this craft. The boxes and arrows are essential but the thinking that goes behind it is infinitely more important. I might look at a wireframe and think "hmm... nice placement of the call to action". Without annotations though - I don't know for sure whether you're a great IA who agonised over this placement, balancing against other trade-offs within the page, with respect to a pertinent research article, your analysis of Google Analytics etc. OR whether you just got lucky.

Tip 3. Walk the talk

Any IA or creative person has to walk-through their ideas. Whether your justifying your idea to the client, your boss, your manager - at some time you'll have to open up your wonderfully annotated wireframes and take people through your thought process. It's a massively important skill so why not show your employer how much you rock by showing them one of your own walk-throughs? This has never been easier - you can use screenr.com for free (and have an instant online library) or if you would prefer to have the content sit with you and you only you could download a free trial or buy Camtasia. Either way this approach is super-sweet because it kills 2 birds with one stone - you show your thought process AND you show off a key skill which every employer is interested in.

Final thoughts

Selling yourself takes work and implementing the ideas discussed above are no exception. Great content production & the great tenacity it requires are amazing feathers to have in your cap and should be appreciated by employers - thanking you with an interview.

Over to you:

  1. Does anyone do any of the above? Has it worked for you?
  2. What's the best portfolio you've seen & why?
  3. Do you get an interview every time? What do you do to shine?
  4. What's better - a static portfolio e.g. paper/PDF or an interactive portfolio e.g. web site?

Filed under: