97 UX Things

Shanae Chapman - Create a Design Portfolio That Gets Results

February 08, 2022 Shanae Chapman & Dan Berlin Season 2 Episode 1
97 UX Things
Shanae Chapman - Create a Design Portfolio That Gets Results
Show Notes Transcript

Shanae Chapman provides best practices for building a UX portfolio

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here your book editor and podcast host. I'm joined this week by Shanae Chapman who wrote the chapter Design a Portfolio That Gets Results. Welcome, Shanae.

Shanae Chapman:

Hi, Dan. Thanks for having me today.

Dan Berlin:

Thanks for joining the podcast. Can you please introduce yourself to the audience?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I'm Shanae Chapman. I'm a senior UX researcher and designer with a focus on developer experience and API's. I also am a UX professor at Lesley University, and the author of the chapter on designing a portfolio that gets results.

Dan Berlin:

Focused on API's. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How how do you focus on the UX of API's?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I have had the pleasure in my career to work on developer tools. And as part of that work, I have done research and design on API design and development tools. And for a UX perspective, it really is tying in those best practices around understanding your personas and understanding their needs and expectations, and applying that to this niche area of creating tools for other developers and highly technical people.

Dan Berlin:

Very cool. And can you tell us about your career trajectory? How did you first discover UX? And how did you wind up where you are today?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, definitely. So it's really a funny thing. I didn't know what UX was. I just was doing the things before I had the terminology around it. I knew that I really enjoyed my design classes as part of my college degree at St. Louis University. And I continued to pursue web design and development at Webster University. And then I went to Northeastern in Boston and studied information systems and informatics. And as part of that degree, I took classes and usability and understanding heuristics and evaluations. And that was really my introduction into this world of UX and found the UXPA Boston organization and attended events and talks. I learned a lot from the people who would share their case studies and their experiences, and just soaked up all that knowledge and continue to work on my portfolio and did freelance work for a while before landing my first UX position where I had the UX in the title, and have been doing it for almost eight years now.

Dan Berlin:

Great, great. And do you tend to focus more on the design side, research, strategy... anywhere in particular you tend to focus your work?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, you know, I'm a mixed bag. I've worked on teams where we had just a small amount of UX people in organizations, so maybe like five UX people for a 600+ employee organization. And I've also worked at really big companies where we've had hundreds of UX people. And we had over 100,000 or so employees. So I've worked in different positions, which causes you to wear multiple hats. So there definitely have been cases where I've been doing a lot of research, I've been doing service design, and really trying to understand how systems work and the different stakeholders who are involved and capturing a lot of those assumptions and facilitating research, but also have had opportunities where I've done design work, where we are actually taking those insights, and creating those mock ups and prototypes. So I've done a little bit of everything. What I do now is focus more on the big picture, the research side and strategy and using that data to help influence designs.

Dan Berlin:

Great, it's great to hear your background there and how you ended up where you are today. Can you please tell us about your chapter Design a Portfolio That Gets Results?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, so I love to share information to people who want to break into UX because I know what it's like. Having a lot of passion and wanting to see your dream come to life and having this career where you can be both creative and also have the abilities influence technology and also have the ability to work with different business stakeholders. So it's definitely a very exciting field. But it is very tough to get that first position. And I know from experience how hard that is. That many times, employers will ask you for a portfolio for examples, but maybe you've been in college, or maybe you went to a boot camp, and you only have school portfolio samples; you don't have examples from working with real clients and real businesses. And that was definitely a situation that I was in when I started my career. And that's why I turned to freelancing and consulting and working with nonprofit organizations, and working with higher education organizations to help build my portfolio up. And even then, trying to understand what do people look for when they are hiring for UX researchers and designers? And I heard these questions come up from mentees, and from coaching sessions that I've had with people throughout the past couple of years, really trying to understand what is it that they should have in their portfolios for those those first entry level positions and also for folks who are transitioning to more of the leadership side of UX as well.

Dan Berlin:

Hmm, yep. I love that you mentioned doing work at a nonprofit to begin with. That's something I always tell folks, when breaking into the field, it's a great way to build your portfolio is go find some nonprofits do some pro bono work.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, definitely.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, there's some portfolio. How about that starting point for whether you're a designer or your focus is design, your focus is research or strategy... What is that starting point on building your portfolio?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I like to tell people try everything, try everything. And even if UX is not, in your current job title, find ways to bring UX best practices into your role. And that is something that I did in my career as well. When I worked at IBM, I was hired as a UI testing specialist. So I was the person working on the software development team testing that nothing broke after they made the updates.

Dan Berlin:

Right.

Shanae Chapman:

Testing that everything that was introduced as new features was actually going to meet the user expectation. So there was some element of understanding the users, but it was way at the end of the software development cycle. And I knew that in order to make more of an impact, having the ability to do preliminary research and create designs before the implementation process was going to be key. So that's something that I saw as a gap. And I started introducing, hey, how about we do some interviews, let's do some stakeholder interviews, let's get some feedback on what people would expect to see. And then we'll have that data as well. And you know, just really kind of shopping it around and propose that to people on the team and say, hey, and just taking the initiative. I think that's a big key as well, being proactive, and taking initiative and seeing what the business, what your teams could use, could find value in and you doing it. I'm definitely in the camp of ask for forgiveness and not permission.

Dan Berlin:

Yep.

Shanae Chapman:

And it has served me well. And there are definitely times where I have had to apologize, but I think it's really nine times out of 10 it's really about seeing where you can bring value seeing where you can bring in tools and methods that can help your teams and then also your career as well, so that you have some good samples to take with you to your next position.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And to amplify something you just said, it's in terms of the business, right? So finding value that you can bring to the business in terms of the business goals and understanding user goals and then aligning the two.

Shanae Chapman:

Definitely, absolutely. And I think that is a really big piece that sets user experience apart from just doing graphic design, for example, which is something that I started out doing. I took those classes as an undergraduate, but the piece of understanding the business and the needs of the stakeholders as well as the users and the customers and having that influence while you create your designs. That is a game changer. And that's really what's gonna set you apart as a UX practitioner.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. So how does one get that across in their portfolio?

Shanae Chapman:

Yes. So this is the meat. Yeah, this is where people have different ideas about how to show what they've done and their portfolios. I am a fan of having a high level summary. Telling the story, telling the high level story. This is the beginning, this is the problem that the users face, this is the middle, this is what we did to you on a team and describe who that team was. This is what we did to create more understanding. And lastly, at the end, this is the solution that was created and the impact and the outcomes from the solution.

Dan Berlin:

Telling that story. I love that.

Shanae Chapman:

That's right. Absolutely. Absolutely. And then I also recognize that it depends also on what your goals are for your career. So if you are someone that you really just want to focus on research, then really highlighting that and your portfolio and diving into the different methods that you use. How do you choose between different research methods, showing some of those artifacts. And I have been on both sides of being someone who was hiring on the hiring committee for bringing in more UX people to a team, and also as an interviewee interviewing for positions, and it is baffling that there's so many people who, even for research, don't bring in case studies and artifacts. So being able to talk to some of those situations that have happened throughout your career is important. So that ties back into how do you get that experience, being proactive, seeking opportunities with nonprofits or freelancing is a great way to store that.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Often enough, in research, the things that we have to show are study documents or interview guides. And, again, to amplify what you just said, I always tell folks to tell that story of what you did, what results came about, and what your role was in that. And in terms of research or design, that you want to focus on.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, cuz I'm always curious what happened after the research and design work. What happened? Did the team take that information and start building some features? Or was it a situation where it went to a backlog and it never got built? So I'm interested in hearing what happened after the work that the UX team did. And if there were opportunities for you all to negotiate with your product managers and engineers who get some of that work done as well.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, being results oriented, not only in your documentation, but also in how you present yourself and how you talk about yourself.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, and that's a big key, especially for UX practitioners who want to move up. So if you're mid level, and you want to move up to the senior level, definitely being able to communicate and articulate how do you work with other UX researchers and designers. But also, how are you partnering with your product managers, with your business stakeholders, with your executives, as well as your engineering team, how are you building those relationships? How are you influencing the product roadmap and the design work that's happening as well?

Dan Berlin:

And how are you implementing the processes behind design? What are your design and research processes and how you've implemented and were successful in that.

Shanae Chapman:

Absolutely, yeah.

Dan Berlin:

So tell us a bit more about the different types of portfolios, if you don't mind. So there are folks who are going for design positions or research positions, how do these portfolios differ? Or how should they differ?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, definitely. So we talked a little bit about research, focusing on... I think that they can start with that story narrative in both cases. So the beginning is the problem the users face and the business face. And where they're gonna differ is that middle ground, so if I'm someone who is seeking research positions, I want to focus a lot on that discovery phase. How do I understand the users and the stakeholders and doing competitive analysis and benchmarks of the industry and understanding what are common patterns? How do I do qualitative research and quantitative metrics which maybe you're using some analytic tools to help with that as well. For our designers, that middle piece of what do you do is going to focus more on how are you taking in some of those research findings and actually applying it to building out concepts, how do you gather your team together for design studio to come up with buy in and new ideas and experiment together and use that as a way to move the design forward and creating that design. And whatever tools that you are skilled in using, whether it's Figma, whether it's Adobe XD, outlining how you use those tools, how you communicate those mock ups and prototypes out to the rest of your team; how do you get feedback across UX, product management and engineering. And then lastly, that solution piece. So when you have that final agreed upon solution, what is that process like? How do you share that information out? How do you keep track of the progress from a design perspective? And then for research? What does it look like for you to do long term studies versus some of the short term research initiatives? And are you able to tie in your research into overarching goals for the business that lowers? So I think those are some some key ways to highlight research and design. And you can do that for separate research portfolio and separate design portfolio. Or if you're someone like me, who likes to do like a mix of both, you can definitely include both of those methods and strategies within your portfolio as well.

Dan Berlin:

How about telling that story? So the commonality between the two there is telling that story and it's a matter of where you focus there. But there's a lot to tell. How do we do so succinctly when someone is thumbing through resumes and portfolios?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, I think definitely focusing on the key highlights. And it's like, we always say this in UX, it depends. Yeah, it depends. So really focusing on what are the highlights that stood out in this particular case study that led to outcomes, and lead to alignment between those business objectives and those customer needs. That's where I would focus the highlights. Because sometimes we run into situations where we gather data that we actually don't end up using for a particular feature set. So there's no reason to bring in additional data in your portfolio that's not relevant to a specific outcome that you're focusing on. So I would really tie it into focusing on one problem. And I know that's hard to do, but focus on one problem, one feature set that your team worked on, that you were able to contribute to and then you'll have a succinct story about that one problem and what you did rather research or design or both, and then the solution for that one problem as well.

Dan Berlin:

That's wonderful. I've seen so many portfolios where it's 'here's every little step that we did'.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah.

Dan Berlin:

Here's so many words to tell you just that and I love what you said there of just keeping it focused on a single problem and telling that story as succinctly as possible.

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, kind of like an MVP for your case study. So one of my case studies is around work that I did on MATLAB Drive when I worked at the MathWorks. And the story in this particular case study covers creating the delete and restore functions of MATLAB Drives. So MATLAB Drive, kind of similar to a Google Drive for scientists and engineers who use Matlab. And today, it seems so basic, of course you would have the ability to delete files and be able to recover them and restore them if you needed to. But this functionality did not exist in 2017 for Matlab drive. So there was a lot of research that was done and there was a lot of conceptual design work that was done just for this particular feature set. And for the engineering point of view, this was a big architecture move as well. So there was a lot of pulling together different people from across the business in order for this feature set to actually be successful and to be implemented. And that's the story that I share in that portfolio. So I think it's really important that you pick something that's complex that shows your ability to work across different teams and functions, and something that has a huge impact on the organization. So I think those are the key elements to showing off how well you can work with different types of people and how you can help businesses and organizations meet their goals.

Dan Berlin:

Fantastic. Yeah, totally. Thank you for that. One thing to add to that is don't forget to use UX principles in your documentation, like using bold words should highlight important things.

Shanae Chapman:

That's right. That's right. And I know that so many people, you know, creating their portfolios... the thing they do that's always pushed to the side and only go back to it when they're job searching. But if you are constantly thinking about, 'Oh, this can be something that I add to my portfolio', just from a career development perspective, not necessarily that you're job searching, you're going to have less work that you'll need to do when you are ready to job search. So just think about that: in your your daily roles, how are you crafting stories of identifying a problem that the business and the users have, coming up with methods and opportunities to uncover more data and build concepts and designs? And then lastly, how are you delivering on those outcomes and creating a solutions that are impactful? So if you think about that and the work that you do on a daily basis, it's going to be very easy for you to pull that information together. And when you're ready to update your portfolio. Yup, absolutely. Shanae, this has been wonderful, so much great information for folks. So thank you for all that. Moving on the last topic here, the career tip either for folks moving into UX or who have been in UX for a while, do you have a career tip for folks? Yes, this is something that we don't talk about enough. Networking is everything in UX, everything. And it's something where, if you know, you know, but if you're a new person to the industry, you may not understand that because it's not really something that we talk about a lot. But really getting in touch with professional organizations and being able to attend those meetings and webinars. And when we get together in person again, attending events in person to really just understand how do people who are in the jobs that you want to be in, how do they actually approach those UX best practices and apply them on an everyday basis? Because what you learn in your college courses is not always the way it's going to be implemented in real life. So being able to be a sponge, and take in that insight, and take in the information that people are willing to share and willing to discuss with you. And UXPA Boston has been a great resource for me and my career, also UXPA International also has some great insights and speakers that come in. And then being able to share your time as a volunteer. That's a great way to network and build relationships. And you will be definitely surprised by how many opportunities will come your way if you put yourself out there to engage with people in your network and be proactive and volunteer your time and you're bringing your energy as well.

Dan Berlin:

Absolutely. A lot of folks forget that volunteering isn't just for students.

Shanae Chapman:

Mmm hmm, that's right.

Dan Berlin:

That's a great way to meet people, it's great way to... and then as you said, we're all applying UX in different ways. It's great way to hear other people's stories so that you can apply it to your own world.

Shanae Chapman:

Definitely, because sometimes you need a sanity check, especially if you are in an organization where there's not a lot of UX people. So I've been in organizations where there are only five of us and there are 600 other employees. So we kind of felt like a little island. So still having those networks with UX researchers and designers through UXPA Boston, UXPA International, for example. I'm also a member of STLX here in St. Louis, and having those relationships where you're able to ask questions about how do you have recruiting done for new potential research studies? What has been successful for you? What is something to avoid? Because sometimes these are the things that can make or break your particular deliverable. Do you have access to your users? So finding creative ways to reach users through email marketing campaigns, social media, even posts on GitHub. I got creative and partnered with some developers and say, 'Hey, can you post this link to sign up for UX research?' And we got a lot of feedback that way. So really sharing that information and find some tips that can help you be successful, especially when you get in sticky situations. We have been there before and using your community for that.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. And it's a very giving community, everyone loves geeking out and figuring out the best ways to go about things.

Shanae Chapman:

Absolutely, yes.

Dan Berlin:

And there's a lot of slack communities out there worth checking out. Whether you're in design or research, there are so many slack communities, especially ones that have popped up over the past couple of years, that can be great networking resources.

Shanae Chapman:

Yes, Slack is where it's at, as well. I also want to share UX Her is a organization that came about in the last couple of years. They focus on sharing resources and tools for especially women of color who are interested in UX. So definitely check that out as well. Either to grab some of those resources and build connections, or if you want to volunteer, and you want to share your expertise, that's a great organization to support as well.

Dan Berlin:

Great. So Shanae is there anything else that you were hoping to convey to folks here today about building your portfolio or any other career tips worth conveying here today?

Shanae Chapman:

Yeah, definitely. Keep going. I know it's challenging. You're gonna hear a lot of no's, you're gonna have a lot of rejection in this line of work. But what matters is the companies that say yes. The people that say yes. You only need one 'yes,' that's it, you only need one. So if this was something that you enjoy doing, it's fun for you to investigate and do research and create designs and see that out in the world. Like, I'm still very proud of the work I did on MATLAB Drive, it still exists. It's really amazing to see that work and to know that millions of people use the tools that you have researched and designed. So if this is something that you're passionate about, stick with it. Be persistent, it's going to work out and continue to network and build those relationships.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Great. Yeah. And don't be afraid to ask for help from your fellow UXers, because we're ready to give it.

Shanae Chapman:

Yes. Ask all the questions. Yes.

Dan Berlin:

Shanae, this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me to here today.

Shanae Chapman:

Yes, thanks for having me. I'm so happy that we were able to make this happen. We both have crazy schedules. I'm so happy that we got those done.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. Likewise, likewise. We gave a lot of great stuff to our listeners here today. Everyone, thanks for listening today. You've been listening to the 97 UX Things podcast, Dan Berlin, your host. Have a great rest of the day. You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast, a companion to the book 97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know published by O'Reilly and available at your local bookshop. All book royalties go to UX nonprofits, as well any funds raised by this podcast. The theme music is Moisturize the Situation by Consider the Source. I'm your host and book editor, Dan Berlin. Please remember to find the needs in your community and fill them with your best work. Thanks for listening.