Portfolio projects

Gain practical experience and create great portfolio content. You will work on these projects as you complete each part of the syllabus.

The best way to perform these projects is to find a company whose website you can update. This can be any small business, charity, or faith-based organization that you know. I’ve added suggestions for how to find a suitable company below.

PROJECT: Cognitive Walkthrough

Linked with Part 2, Interaction Design Principles. Perform a cognitive walkthrough on a task flow from an existing website.

Watch the video from the UX Insights Weekly course on performing a Cognitive Walkthrough. Download the handout.

Now perform a Cognitive Walkthrough for an interaction flow on the site you’ve chosen for your project. An interaction flow is any user task, such as finding an item on the site, buying an item (checkout), signing up for an account, and so on.

Note down areas of concern. Use what you learned from the two core courses to decide what might constitute an issue.

One common way to write this type of information up is to paste each screen in the flow into a presentation deck and use call-outs to show where each issue is that you found.


Linked with Part 3, User Research, you will conduct a survey with representative users to identify how they interact with your target site.

Use the methods you learned in the Surveys course to create a list of desired outcome statements and then turn those into a short survey that will help you understand how people currently use the site. Collect responses from (at least) 15 representative people either in person or online, and analyze the results.

Write the results up using the desired outcome statement format and adding visualizations (graphs or tables) where it helps.

PROJECT: Business site redesign

Linked with Part 4, Design Practice, you will (re)design the flow you mapped (in the homework) for your target site.

First, watch UX for Small Business Websites, then use the workbook (download it from the course’s exercise files) to step through the process of determining audience, messaging, site layout, and content for your target business.

Having done this, use the flow map you created as homework (for the core task on your target business site, based on what you learned in Diane’s Interaction Design: Flow course) to identify what areas might need to change to better meet your audience’s needs.

Now choose at least three of the interface areas (pages) that need to be changed, and sketch out how they would look. You can do this to a wireframe level or create screen comps as you prefer. 

If possible, focus on the homepage, a category page (if they exist), the “about us” page, and a detail page. This will help you to demonstrate that you’ve thought about each “level” of the interaction.

After you’ve done each redesign, create a presentation that shows the flow, the original version of each page you changed, the reasons for changing it (based on the analysis you did from the Small Business Websites workbook), and what the new version looks like.

Benefits: You’ll be able to talk at interview about the practical steps required to undertake a redesign process, as well as the real-world trade-offs that have to be made.

PROJECT: Content re-write

Linked with Part 5, Content Creation, you will perform a content re-write for three areas of your target site. These areas are the home page, a category page (if the site has them) and at least one content-rich detail page.

This will form part of your portfolio later. Save copies of the “before” and the “after” text. Sometimes it’s interesting to create a presentation that displays the before and after text side-by-side at the same font size. Even if it isn’t totally legible on the page, it shows just how you managed to reduce and re-format the content.

When you’ve completed this project, go back to your site design project from Part 4, and see whether your content fits in the design. Here’s a learning opportunity for you… in the future, would you start with the visual design, or the content that has to fit inside the design?

PROJECT: Design Thinking

Linked with Part 6, The UX Process, you will run a design thinking exercise for a product or service, from user research through to testing a paper prototype and creating an implementation plan.

This is the major project in this whole syllabus. It is possible to do this on your own, but you will get the most valuable experience if you can work as part of a multidisciplinary team.

That team should include stakeholders from the target site, people who would be responsible for implementing the changes (developers), marketing people, and obviously the UX people. It helps to have a couple of UX people involved. That way you can share the planning responsibilities and have more pairs of eyes on the process as you go through each step.

I’ve created a handout to help you and the rest of the team you assemble understand each stage of the process.

This is a big undertaking. It’s important to plan it well. The steps involved are:

  • Describe the process to all the people who will be involved, get their agreement to participate.
  • Schedule and conduct observation sessions with representative users (or remote user interviews if in-person work is not possible). Invite the other team members to observe and take notes.
  • As a team, create an experience map of the findings from the observation sessions, extract pain points and turn them into project goals.
  • Create personas from the observation data.
  • Ideate on solutions to the pain points using a design charrette exercise. Decide which ideas to take forward.
  • Create scenarios or storyboards describing how users would work with the chosen ideas.
  • Build a paper prototype of the interface to support the scenario or storyboard.
  • User test the paper prototype.
  • Use the findings from the prototype testing session to update your design, then create a story map to plan out how you will implement the changes.

Keep copies of every digital artifact and take photos of every physical artifact. You will need these as you create your portfolio. Although you’ll pick and choose which elements you want to use, it’s important to have all the pieces available to help you tell a good story about how you went through the process.

Note: if you are unable to work in-person, it’s still possible to run design thinking sessions at a distance. Dave Birss has a great course called How to Create and Run a Brilliant Remote Workshop that will help you set up the environment and get attendees ready for an online event.

There are several tools that can help support remote creation of experience maps and story maps. These are also useful for storyboard creation:

It is possible to run a design charrette remotely, where each person sketches on paper in their own location, then shares the sketches digitally (or just by holding them up to a video camera) for the rest of the group to see. It’s really important that everyone uses thick marker pens so that their sketches show up!

You can create scenarios in a shared document. You may have to create a digital prototype rather than a paper one, but please keep it low-fidelity. Believe me: you won’t get such good feedback in your usability sessions if the prototype looks too much like a real product.

You can run usability sessions remotely. There are specific tools to help you do this, but it’s also possible just by sharing a screen in a video call.

PROJECT: Resume and portfolio

Build your reputation. Your reputation comes from the value you add. By this stage, you have knowledge, opinions, and something you can share with others. You can summarize topics, write posts, and analyze events.

Think about a UX article you read recently. What was thought-provoking about it? What did you agree with? What did you disagree with? What questions did it leave unanswered for you? Answering those four questions is enough to generate a whole new article of original content – YOUR original content.

Put your answers together in a short-form or long-form post on LinkedIn. Now keep doing it! You can talk about things you learned in different parts of this syllabus, UX books you’ve read, the projects you’ve undertaken, and things you learn about the job search process as you look for work.

Create or update your resume. Use the information you learned in the courses to make your resume concrete and outcome-based with clear descriptions of what you did and what impact you had. Share with others in your study group for feedback.

Pull all your projects together into a portfolio, and then share that with others in your study group for feedback. Portfolios only used to be necessary for visual designers. Now, pretty much anyone in UX needs one.

Unless you’re applying for visual design jobs, your portfolio doesn’t have to be visually stunning. What it does have to be is information-rich. Include write-ups from each of the projects you completed during this course. Include visuals wherever you can – the wireframes you created, the content re-write you performed, and so on.

Check out these professional case studies and these competition winning entries for examples of how you could format your write-ups.

How to find a company to work with for your projects

Before you start on the course, think about a small business, charity, faith-based organization, or other group that you know who has a website. 

  • Approach the business/organization and ask whether they would be prepared to help you out as you learn UX. The benefit for them is that you will provide them with content that they can choose to integrate into their site, or use to change their site. 
  • The choice of whether to integrate your findings is theirs, not yours. In effect, they are your client even though you aren’t being paid for this work. If they don’t like what you’ve created, however wonderful you think it is, then they don’t have to use it.
  • Consider whether you have the skills to actually make any changes you might suggest, or whether you will be able to work with the person/people who do have those skills and responsibilities.  
  • You need to let the organization know how much of their time you will want up front.  

Why choose a smaller, local company? Well, anyone can do an evaluation or redesign of a large site like LinkedIn or Amazon or Facebook. But you don’t get a chance to understand the constraints the team is working under, so you don’t know if your proposed solutions are even viable. Also, you can’t get feedback from these companies and your work will never be implemented. Working with a small company means you can really understand their business, their needs, and what might or might not work for them. There’a a much higher possibility that your work will make it out into the real world too.

I normally say don’t ever work for free but doing charity or pro bono work is an exception. I still would suggest that you be very clear up front with the organization that you are helping out about what you will deliver for them, by when, and what resources or assistance you will need from them to make this happen. As I say in the linked article, contracts are about setting expectations, not about money. 

If you really, really can’t find a local project to undertake, consider https://productdesign.tips/challenge, although it’s aimed more at visual designers than at UX researchers and interaction designers. It might be possible to partner with someone. I do NOT know what the terms and conditions are. For instance, who “owns” the submission you make? Check before you commit. They suggest doing these projects with a 7-day turnaround. That’s possible but won’t allow you to do your best work.