A review into the current state of my portfolio and thoughts for the future.
My last blog post was an account of what I have accomplished in my portfolio journey and ended with some ideas about next steps.
At the time, I said I would try and create a design using Tachyons, a lightweight CSS framework. That sample page, pictured, is available on github.
I also wrote about fears using vanilla HTML/CSS, related to updates. I ended up going with DIY anyway. I still have that fear. I also wrote about using WordPress as a portfolio. I considered I installing WordPress in multiple folders and testing out different options.
Current State of My Portfolio
My portfolio is still at the same domain, but now it’s at a subdomain: alliwalk.com/ux. The reason is it gave me more navigation options rather than putting everything on the homepage.
I ended up using Tachyons for the entire site. It took a while to get decode the classes, which are a bit cryptic. I wrote some CSS, but not that much. I kind of missed writing it. But it was also a very interesting way to implement styles. And it looks pretty clean.
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the long-term strategies I had in mind for the site was to create more than one portfolio for my different interests, blogging, art/design, and UX. I got the idea of multiple portfolios after watching a YouTube focused on PDF portfolios for graphic designers.
This video is linked to the appropriate moment in time, or you can watch the relevant 40 seconds here.
To alleviate one of my fears about updates, I created a landing page with nav links to each of my three interests. Now I can modify the link destinations, if I need to take a portfolio offline for some reason.
And finally, I did test a WordPress option, but it’s never as quick and easy at it seems. My portfolio went through a few versions, including PDF and a test in WordPress.
Strategy: Some designers create their portfolio as a PDF to supplement their online portfolio. I’ve tried this before and I did not have good results. However, I thought that using my new font and style would help created compelling layouts. Plus, I needed something to point people to while working on updating my website.
Actions: I went through several iterations. I created PDF versions, which I created in Google Docs and Sketch. I attempted to use the J. A. Van de Graaf canon, popularized by Jan Tschichold, to lay out the content. I referenced the book Grids, by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris, for inspiration.
Aside: I could write a whole post on page layout, Tschichold, Van de Graaf, but instead I’ll just share a few short videos.
Review: I shared both versions as direct links or by uploading to Behance. I used both for job applications. Neither got me very far. So essentially, my previous experience was the same as it is now. However, creating them helped me later on when I was testing out my blog/website. And I now have portfolios available for future discussions, that I can present and discuss on the phone or in a group.
Quantitative Research and Analysis
Strategy: As per my previous post on portfolio resources, I found that although I had a lot of summary and raw data on portfolios, I hadn’t fully analyzed it. My strategy was to thoroughly research the portfolios listed in one of my linked resources. I wanted to answer questions like:
How many portfolios are from students and do they seem different?
What types of profile images to designers use of themselves?
What is the most common greeting on portfolios?
How many designers use their own domain?
What do most people use to create their portfolio?
Action: It took a while, but I completed a significant amount of quantitative research. I have not yet shared my report, but I’ll probably post it on SlideShare and link to it. I hope to present it at a UX related talk.
Review: My research clarified many questions about portfolios and helped answer questions on how to design specific areas of the site. For instance, previous reviewers suggested using my own domain (vs using cargocollective). I didn’t understand why this was so important until I concluded my research, which showed the vast majority of designers used their own domain.
The reviewers also made comments related to not getting a sense of who I am. I always find this difficult to articulate, but the research helped again. Ultimately, I decided that this blog would be able to serve as a supplement for anyone to learn more.
The research also helped guide my headlines. Most designers used a very similar type of greeting on their site. I chose to use something that stood out a little bit more. I also used yellow on my landing page, to help people remember that yellow site, if they enter from that page.
WordPress or DIY
My research revealed that most designers, about two-thirds, use a CMS to build their portfolios. The 2 most popular are WordPress and Squarespace. The rest, or one-third, use a DIY solution.
Initially I thought WordPress could be a good option. It’s free, I’ve used it for many years, I know how to install it. I decided against using this blog as a combo portfolio+blog website. I’ve been using it as a blog for too long. And also, I wanted to keep the size of the database down. I considered installing a WP blog into a subdomain.
Free or Paid Themes. Many of the popular WordPress themes, such as Semplice, are not free. But found a solution. As I wrote previously, WordPress Twenty Twenty will be based on the free Chaplin theme by Anders Norén who leads WP 5.3 development. I went to Anders Norén’s lovely website and found multiple free templates.
I created a test site, uploaded images, and added some write-ups. At the same time I was also created some test pages using Tachyons. Ultimately I decided against using WordPress. Anders Norén’s templates are beautiful, but I felt that in order to have a portfolio that could compare to the portfolios I reviewed in my research, I would need to still need to make a number of customizations. DIY was simply more fun and enjoyable.
Present and Future
And, I have some ideas about updating the layout of the yellow landing page. It might give me a chance to use more of my own CSS.
Maybe one day I’ll use one of the templates on Anders Norén’s WordPress theme site for this blog.
I’m still using the cargocollective account, but I’ve re-repurposed the site and it’s now back to showing creative/art/design projects. If that site gets too full, maybe I’ll create another portfolio focusing on one or two of those interests.
The next time I write about this, I hope it will just be about my research. Because on this, I’ve written a lot!
For now, I’m happy to be done writing with this topic. Plus, I’ve written a number of other posts that are waiting in drafts to get posted.
Revisiting my portfolio again, this post is a structured account of the work I’ve completed in updating my portfolio. And I have some nice photos of the East River. 🙂
Time to circle back on some portfolio stuff. For the most part, I’ve finished updating my portfolio. Done enough to publish, ask for more feedback, and start collecting analytics.
But before I get too far into where the portfolio is now, let me jump back to a few weeks ago, and pick up from when I wrote about George Pólya and his book on problem solving…
Applying The Pólya Principles
In the middle of my updates, I had a conversation with someone about my job hunt. I had paused the job hunt to more finish analyzing UX portfolios. The person I spoke with did not understand why I had paused my search. Why was I analyzing portfolios, not fixing my own and getting on with the search.
Thinking back on that conversation, the problem was in how I was communicating. I was only explaining what I had recently done, not what I had already achieved before that point. Much of story got skipped.
When I came across that question on FreeCodeCamp about logging development progress, and the ideas in Pólya’s book on problem solving, I thought I should take the time to write down all the steps I’ve done. It would help provide a comprehensive and structured account of what I’ve accomplished and why.
My strategy is that it will help me organize my thoughts and resulting actions. My hope is it will help me either solve my problem(s) or cross an strategy dud off the list.
Skip to below…
And that’s what I did — I wrote an analysis of my main problem, broke down the steps, and listed what I’d accomplished. I also included some images of my favorite park — sunny days and bike rides, sacrificed to finish up this project.
I have more to add about the present state of my portfolio. That will be in the next post. So two posts: one on the past and one on the present.
Check out the rest of this post below. Keep in mind, it was written several weeks ago, in reverse-chronological order. The next post will be on the present.
Continued from above….
For the rest of this blog post, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s just going to be a bit of a stream of consciousness, so consider yourself forewarned!
Main Problem: All of the portfolio problems I’ve been trying to solve for is directly due to job hunting. I’ve been so focused on my portfolio because of the feedback I received related to that, and I simply haven’t finished making updates.
Breaking this problem down into sub-problems has led me to spend time improving my resume in the beginning of the year, and now I’m focused on improving my portfolio. I don’t truly know if my portfolio is a contributing reason for any job hunting difficulties, but my research has indicated it is incredibly important. And since it’s under my ability to make changes, I’m making updates to see what works.
Although I got some portfolio feedback, I still wasn’t exactly sure how to improve my portfolio or the best tool to use for it. But the information I’ve gathered about portfolios has been helpful to help me narrow my options down.
Sub-Problem: Which tool is best to rebuild my portfolio
Option 1: DIY is a common option and I recently discovered Tachyons.io CSS framework.
Strategy: Explore Tachyons.io as a DIY option, vs Bootstrap which I have used before.
Actions: I learned that the default WordPress 2020 will be using the typeface ‘Inter‘. From the Inter website: “Inter is a typeface carefully crafted & designed for computer screens.” When I looked at some of the samples, I saw these Swiss style posters.
The posters reminded me of Jen Simmons who uses a similar style for her site labs.jensimmons.com, which explores experimental layouts.
There are a few Swiss poster-inspired websites and articles exploring experimental web layouts:
Anyway, because of CSS grid + the Inter font (which is free), and GridbyDesign.com, a site providing InDesign grids, I thought: Wow I could really create a unified online and offline experience based on the Swiss poster style!
Outcome thus far: Tachyons classes are a little cryptic because they’re meant to be applied one at a time. The other problem is that I don’t really have a design in mind (a sub-sub problem?) so it’s a little difficult to evaluate whether this is a viable option. (A sub-sub-problem I experienced was using BackgroundSync, which I couldn’t initially get to work. I find sub-sub-problems often come up in coding.) Ultimately, I might be better off using a CMS, like Squarespace, to solve the online portfolio problem / job hunting problem, which is more critical than a unified user experience at the moment. WordPress can be free/cheaper and it can be installed on a subdirectory. Squarespace and other CMS tools can only be installed on subdomains or the central domain.
Sub-Problem: How to improve my portfolio.
Strategy: Use quantitative analysis to uncover what specific elements make a top UX portfolios. And then replicate those elements on mine.
Actions: I started a quantitative analysis of a list of 80-90 UX portfolios to find out what makes them so great. For example, in the portfolio guides I read through, they suggested spending time making images look good. But I realized I didn’t really have a clear understanding of what this meant. And given that I’m an exceptionally private person, I also realized I didn’t really know what was appropriate for an About page. And I was curious to learn what most people used to build their sites. So essentially, I set about answering these questions, to help me put together the pieces for my own portfolio redesign.
Outcome thus far: Although DIY makes up a sizable portion of portfolios, I’ve been surprised to learn how many people use paid CMS tools for their portfolios. I’m trying to learn a little more about the backgrounds of the DIY authors, like are they students, who have time to build a DIY site, or developers who do it all the time. But now that I’m writing this down, I think I need to think a bit more about CMS options.
Sub-problem: Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of resources and need a place to put them all.
Strategy: Make an orderly list of resources that have been influencing my portfolio revisions and/or could serve as a resource in the future.
Outcome thus far: Creating this list has led to more investigation on how to create a portfolio. I’m starting to see some overlap and understand more meaning in the portfolio suggestions.
Sub-Problem [Hypothesis]: Online portfolio projects weren’t showing my work and myself as a designer as well as they could.
Strategy: Go with a temporary PDF portfolio, and remove all projects from my website. Re-evaluate all online materials.
Actions: I removed all projects from my website and put in a message to contact me for sample work. My concern was that my website was a) out of date in both style and programming [Bootstrap 3]; b) didn’t represent me well in part due to A. I also took screenshots of all my online portfolios, at Behance, Cargo1, CarbonMade, and Coroflot, to view how I was really representing myself online.
Outcome thus far: Coroflot is still available, but I don’t link to it from anywhere. CarbonMade is online and I also don’t link to it from anywhere. The different sites have slightly different visual expressions and the experience using them can be different and limited based on the way that the site works.
Reflections: On her website, which is built with Kirby, Jessica Hische provides the following advice for getting freelance work:
Have a website.
This might be a no-brainer, but a ton of young people looking for work don’t have a functioning website because they’re still struggling to build some crazy flash bonanza themselves. STOP. Unless you want to do web work for a living, sites like cargo collective, indexhibit, and carbonmade are perfectly fine ways to make portfolio sites. Many professionals use them as they are easy to update, which you will learn is THE MOST important trait a portfolio website should have. Illustrators, this goes for you too.
I read this advice a while back and I think I may have misunderstood a little bit. While using a CMS is important, such as cargo collective, it’s apparently MORE important to have your own domain than it is to use a CMS like cargo collective.
Sub-Problem: Without an online portfolio, I need a way to share my site. Also online portfolios might be showing too much, leading to more opportunity for criticism.
Strategy: Use large, static images on Behance, rather than a true online portfolio. I attended a virtual portfolio session with Google, where a portfolio from a UX designer and a Visual designer were reviewed. The UX designer was Simon Pan and his Barclay’s bike project. The visual designer’s work was shared on Behance. The visual design project we reviewed was essentially a series of very long images that appeared to be created for Behance. I figured that if Google’s recruiting team was showing us this project as a viable format, it could potentially work for me. I could draw pictures and tell a story vertically, like the Behance version.
Actions: I chose to create 4-5 projects in Sketch, for the purpose of sharing on Behance. I figured I could use them as slides for an offline presentation if needed.
Outcome thus far: I put them up, but they did not receive wide spread acclaim; like 4 appreciates. And the one recruiter I shared them with for a freelance gig didn’t get back to me, and the “views” didn’t increase so I’m not sure what the response was; my assumption is negative. Reflection: Simon Pan uses a custom WordPress theme. My assumption is that it would be significantly work to customize than even a basic site. But maybe this is an opportunity to use one of Pólya’s heuristics, the inventor’s paradox:
The more ambitious plan may have more chances of success […] provided it is not based on a mere pretension but on some vision of the things beyond those immediately present.
Maybe I should start with BlankSlate and customize the heck out of it.
Sub-problem: Fixing my Cargo1 (Cargo Collective) portfolio and website.
I’m writing these all under this one heading for brevity and also because they’re related.
Strategy to focus my website on only UX: Some of the feedback I got on my Cargo1 portfolio was that other links related to coding and design should be removed. I didn’t ask why, but my guess was they were either not interesting or not very good. When I tried taking a more objective view of my website, I felt that the code examples, which were set in a list, weren’t presented well. I chose to update my website to remove references to code examples. There were still 3 projects available, with individual pages for each.
Having more than one portfolio. I didn’t include this video in my other post on Portfolio Resources, but I came across a YouTuber discussing design portfolios. A point he makes is that it’s OK to have more than one portfolio. For some reason, it seemed revolutionary and I remembered labs.jensimmons.com. I can include my code examples, but I can put them on another site/portfolio that presents them more appropriately and doesn’t confuse an audience looking for UX projects.
Strategy to take my Cargo1 site offline to address negative feedback. I spent a LOT of time writing a significant amount of custom CSS for my Cargo1 site. I also watched a video on web writing to focus on improving how I explained my projects. It’s a good video; I recommend it.
Despite all this work, I got plenty of feedback. To be honest, the feedback shocked me. I wrote about that in an earlier post.
I did attempt to make many changes back on feedback received — such as describing myself/who I am; improving the writing. I unpublished my entire portfolio of projects at cargocollective.com. I did not want to use the Cargo1 template and site as-is serve as my homepage. This would mean changing my DNS to use the Cargo1 site as my domain. This decision was driven by the design heuristic to not show anything you don’t want criticized. Given the feedback and feeling that my attempts to improve it wouldn’t be enough, I chose to unpublish it entirely until I settled on another strategy for my UX projects. At that time, I can use it again to show my ITP projects.
Strategy to narrowing down projects from 7 to 3. At one point, alliwalk.com had 6-7 projects and an About page with logos of companies and brands I had worked for in the past. But analytics showed that no one was viewing the About page. Actions: I removed the About page because it seemed useless. Meanwhile, the few people that did come to the site in general only viewed a few projects. I decided to remove every project except for the 3 most trafficked, which I re-ordered according to popularity.
Interestingly, one of the projects was a series of experience journey examples, not an actual project. Despite this, visitors were visiting the page. I’ve followed the lead from the analytics ever since. Those 3 projects, including the experience journeys, have always appeared first in their specific order, anytime my projects appear online. Ironically, some of the feedback I got from my acquaintances was that I had too many projects. :/
Something I haven’t talked about is how many weekends of beautiful weather I’ve missed trying to solve this main problem and all of these sub-problems.
One of my favorite activities is riding the ferry around NYC or riding my bike to my favorite park. I’ve missed at least a month of weekends and ridden my bike about twice in 3-4 months. It’s really been a heavy feeling to see the sun shining outside and feel so much pressure to complete this project, yet not knowing the right way to solve this problem. We only get so many days on this planet and each day is unique.
Here are some photos from some sunny days.
Writing blog posts takes time but I find writing helps me organize my thoughts. And this exercise has been helpful to review and take an account of what I have already accomplished.
Given everything I just wrote, I’m going to try and create a design for Tachyons, or at least a layout for a portfolio. Or, I should say create a design again – when I reviewed all my other websites, I found a design that I put together a few years ago!
Regarding DIY with vanilla HTML/CSS, I know that there are static site generators people use, but I don’t really know about using them for my own domain. It’s a bit of an esoteric problem that I’m not sure I want to get into yet. Maybe this knocks DIY off the list, since not using a CMS makes updating kind of painful.
I also want to look into some of the themes I found for WordPress. Probably not BlankSlate, but the guy who is leading the design for WordPress 2020 created a free theme called Chaplin. (Although he uses a theme called Harrison that’s not on his site.) Chaplin has 9,500 downloads. Maybe I’ll look into that. Since I have my own site, I can install WordPress in multiple folders and test out different options.
I think it’s also worthwhile exploring Squarespace (again), at least temporarily.
And maybe I’ll go take a walk while the sun is shining.
If you haven’t noticed, tiny homes have become really popular.
My theory is that the consumerist lifestyle advertised in capitalist societies have led to physical, psychological, and financial burdens, such as high-debt, overpacked garages, unaffordable McMansions. In addition, the financial crisis of 10 years ago and the resulting Great Recession left many people with a visceral fear of becoming burdened again. Given the dual rise in popularity of decluttering and minimalism — ex: Marie Kondo; “Goodbye, Things” — these events have clearly had an impact and many people are looking to avoid or escape this lifestyle. One outcome of this search for freedom is the rise of the tiny home movement.
One YouTube a series I’ve been watching features an extraordinarily good-natured New Zealand-based host, Bryce, and his talented videographer (girlfriend/partner who always remains offscreen). Together, they travel around the world to visit different individuals, couples, and families who are living in tiny homes. The pair don’t just visit people from New Zealand, although there are many people with tiny homes in New Zealand. The show also visits people from all over the world: Canada, Australia, Japan, the United States. It has some great theme music.
As a resident of NYC, I have been interested in small space living for a while. There are a lot of different tips and tricks for small space living:
For small space living, I found another YouTube series a few years ago. Here’s a video where the tenant transformed her very small studio into a little gem.
In this next one, the tenant (or owner) has used a center storage unit to create zones in his studio. It’s pretty clever.
[Note: I do not vouch for their website!]
There are a number of different styles of tiny homes. Watching the show as an apartment dweller, I have fantasized about living in one. Could it be so different? Fewer neighbors? A garden? What would my tiny home be like?
I decided to share features from some of my favorite homes to look for patterns that would make a tiny home more pleasurable to live in.
Having looked at the YouTube channel on my computer and not just on my Roku, I can see there are other videos that aren’t just home tours. There are a series of videos about building a tiny home and building a tent (like a yurt). To be honest, I haven’t looked at those. Maybe I will; maybe not.
In an upcoming post, I’ll go through some of my favorite Living Big in a Tiny House videos!
I have a lot of thoughts about the idea of “culture fit”, because rarely is culture so clearly defined in a company. I think most companies use it to discriminate and/or to try and get away with bad behavior.
Two Stories About “Cultural Fit”
There are 2 stories I think about when I hear about companies hiring for “culture fit”.
I will never forget this talk because something she said was so relevant about why diversity is important. She said: if everyone is the same, it means they can all fail the same way.
As a new member of her company’s engineering team, she came in with a bit of a non-traditional background, which gave her a different perspective when approaching problem solving. In her example, she explained how she solved a critical error that all the other experienced team members failed to recognize because they all thought about the problem in the same way. Her value to the team was not her skill as a developer. Her value was her knowledge about their customers. It was that unique perspective that allowed her to view this critical problem differently and find a solution that everyone else missed.
Story Two: What is your culture?
The second story is my own experience from job hunting. A few years ago, I was on a call with a creative director and the CEO/President of a small e-commerce company selling men’s clothes. As I talked to them about the role and what they were looking for, they revealed that they’d spent a long time looking for the “right person” who could fit into their culture. When I asked them how long they’d been looking, they told me 8 months. (8 months!?)
When they told me that, I realized they didn’t know what they were looking for and all this time they’d come up with some type of excuse to eliminate candidates from their list. And I basically told them that it sounded like I was unlikely to get the job. I even asked them, what was special about their culture. They couldn’t articulate any details about their company culture that made them any more unique compared to any other company.
So what is culture anyway?
I love going to cultural events. It’s such a great way to learn about people and different parts of the world, without actually traveling and spending money on a trip. 🙂
Culture is the combination of art, language, food, dress, religion, music and social rules of a society. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the individuals in these groups.
Humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, which is shown by the diversity of cultures across societies.
A cultural norm codifies acceptable conduct in society; it serves as guideline for behavior, dress, language, and demeanor in a situation, which serves as a template for expectations in a social group. Accepting only a monoculture in a social group can bear risks, just as a single species can wither in the face of environmental change, for lack of functional responses to the change.
I think companies neglect the second paragraph: enculturation and socialization. Enculturation is the process by which people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture. Socialization is the process of internalizing the norms and ideologies of society.
The first question to ask is whether a company is truly aware of their culture, and the second is if they have a plan to help new employees learn it. All companies have a culture, but do they recognize the elements of their culture enough to help new people learn them.
With so many companies cutting back on HR departments, I wonder how many of them have truly invested in the process of enculturation and socialization to help people learn and internalize the culture of their workplace. And have they considered how much time they’re willing to allow for assimilation to happen. My guess is too many employers are looking for exact matches, which makes no sense because the only way someone would have a company’s exact culture is if they already work there.
Is “cultural fit” just an excuse for bad behavior?
To be totally honest, when I hear people talk about “cultural fit”, what I think they really mean is:
Will this person complain or push back at working nights and weekends?
Is this person going to get offended at our sexist jokes?
Can we drink in the office or have bottles of liquor on the desk?
Can we swear like pirates at work?
Can we get away without a true HR department?
Maybe in some cases, it’s Will this person turn us in for doing something illegal?
But I think what they’re really asking is: Is this someone we can control? To some extent, that’s a fair question. On the other hand, is anybody asking, controlling for what?
Same Words, Two Deliveries
I sometimes think companies try to squeeze the individuality out of their employees, so that they can all become the same type of person over time. For that, let me share an example from Shakespeare (aka culture).
What I love about this is that despite the words being exactly the same, the director gave them the freedom to express their own versions of the character. The video is under 12 minutes, so it doesn’t take long to view.
This example is kind of the embodiment of what I wish companies would really get about “cultural fit” and diversity. I really don’t think the question to ask is ‘Do you fit in?’ To me, that list is pretty short:
be pleasant to be around
don’t do illegal stuff at work or on behalf of the company
It shows a theater company that has hired two accomplished actors who can do the same role and speak the same exact words, yet their individual and diverse perspectives are what brings value to their performances. It also shows that the theater company, either at the same time or at different times, not only values the diversity of a heterogeneous theater troupe but they also recognize that their audience does too.
I hope that for-profit companies can also get to a place where they value that some of their employees will express the company culture differently than others, or express different aspects of the company culture at different times — and they’re OK with that. They’re still getting the job done, but the uniqueness each person brings to the job is still valued and ultimately will be a benefit to their company and their customers.
And just for fun, here’s Al Pacino doing the same scene: