Many times, it’s not enough if you have an online UX design portfolio. Many recruiters also ask for a static PDF UX portfolio which contains more in-depth walkthroughs of your design projects. So, to get you perfectly ready for a UX job, let’s go through the steps to create your PDF UX design portfolio, followed by 4 essential design tips you should take note of when you do so. Finally, we’ll end with a sample PDF UX portfolio you can download as a reference.
What’s the Purpose of a PDF UX Portfolio?
To start, let’s examine why you need a static PDF UX portfolio.
While a PDF UX portfolio might seem similar to an online UX portfolio, it serves a slightly different purpose. Of course, both types of portfolios serve to help get you a UX job. However, you’ll often use your online UX portfolio to apply for a job and only send a PDF UX portfolio to interested recruiters.
PDF UX portfolios tend to showcase more in-depth detail about your UX case studies, which gives recruiters a better idea of how you solve design problems. Additionally, you can tailor your PDF UX portfolio to exactly match the job you apply for, unlike your online UX portfolio, which caters to every recruiter who visits your website.
Your static PDF UX portfolio allows recruiters to learn more about your design process, which is useful in the lead up to a job interview. Author / copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright license and terms: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
With that covered, let’s go through the steps to create your PDF UX portfolio!
3 Steps to Create Your PDF UX Design Portfolio
1. Start with a Tool You’re Familiar With
You should use a tool that enables you to quickly and efficiently write and edit your PDF portfolio. Your PDF portfolio will contain mostly images and text, so you can use anything from a simple word processor or slideshow editor to advanced graphic editing software.
We recommend these tools below to create your PDF portfolio. We try to be as unbiased as humanly possible—and receive absolutely no commission or other benefits from recommending these tools. Of course, also feel free to choose your own software.
Pro: it’s one of the easiest tools you can use to create your PDF portfolio.
Con: you cannot easily create beautiful graphics on PowerPoint.
Pro: it’s one of the easiest tools, plus you can create beautiful graphics with relative ease.
Con: it’s only available on Mac machines.
Pro: you can create advanced and custom illustrations easily.
Con: it’s not very efficient to use Illustrator to create text-heavy projects like your PDF portfolio.
Pro: it’s easier to use Sketch to manage texts than on Illustrator, and Sketch has almost the same features as Illustrator.
Con: it’s only available on Mac machines.
2. Create Your PDF Portfolio
Now comes the meat of the process. Once you’ve selected the tool you like, you can begin writing your PDF portfolio.
Use our skeleton outline as a guide for what to include in your PDF portfolio:
Keep this section short and sweet—use around 3–4 sentences to introduce yourself.
Add some information about your current and previous job as well as education.
Include basic contact information, such as your email address.
A note on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and confidentiality
If any of your projects involves an NDA, insert a page here to tell your recruiter that you’ve masked some information to retain confidentiality.
You can also include a line here that the recruiter should not share your PDF portfolio with anyone else, since it contains confidential information.
3 UX case studies
Each case study could span anywhere from 5 to more than 10 pages, depending on how in-depth you want to go.
Generally, your PDF portfolio case studies should be more in-depth than your online UX case studies, but remember to keep them manageable and relevant for a recruiter.
If you’ve earned an Interaction Design Foundation Course Certificate as part of the project, remember to insert it and add the unique link to the certificate’s page so recruiters can verify the authenticity.
Final page with contact details
End your PDF portfolio with a final page—you could include a short thank-you message plus your contact information.
3. Export to PDF and Upload It to Somewhere Accessible
We recommend the PDF format because it can be read on most devices, including smartphones. In contrast, Word documents cannot be read on some smartphones without the right app. The PDF format also ensures that your recruiter can only read—and not edit—your portfolio.
Upload your PDF portfolio to a cloud service such as Dropbox or Google Drive, or your own web server if you have a personal website. This way, you can quickly send a prospective recruiter the link to your PDF portfolio whenever you need to.
Upload your PDF UX portfolio to somewhere you can access quickly and easily. That way, you can quickly send it as a link or attachment to your emails or messages. Author / copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright license and terms: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
That’s it—you’re done! Now, you’re ready to send an in-depth PDF UX design portfolio anytime. To further help you, we’ve created a checklist of 4 tips to follow when you create your PDF UX design portfolio. Read on to learn more!
4 Design Tips to Follow for Your PDF UX Design Portfolio
1. Tailor It to the Job Role or Position
One advantage of a PDF portfolio over an online portfolio is that it can be tailored, whereas your online portfolio has to cater to all audiences on the internet. So, tailor it!
For example, you can tweak your “About me” page to focus on traits that are relevant to the job role you want to apply for. If you’re applying for a user research role, for instance, highlight your strengths related to empathy and data analysis. You can also tailor which UX case studies to include in your PDF portfolio, depending on what role you apply for.
Your PDF UX portfolio gives you the power to tailor it to every job role you apply for—and even to every job position in each company. Author / copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright license and terms: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
This is where it becomes incredibly powerful when, as we suggested above, you use a tool you’re familiar with to create your PDF portfolio. This way, you can make quick edits to create different versions of your PDF portfolio without breaking a sweat.
2. Make It Usable!
Your PDF portfolio needs to be usable, because recruiters will judge you for that. If your PDF portfolio is difficult to read or use, you will create a bad impression and hurt your chances of getting the job.
Here are a few guidelines to make sure your PDF portfolio is usable:
Make sure text is readable. Remember that recruiters might read your PDF on their (small) smartphone screens.
Take note of color contrast. Ensure that your texts and important visuals have enough contrast to be comfortably seen.
Check your PDF before you send it—sometimes, your tool might not have exported your portfolio into a PDF properly. Check if there’s any missing text or images.
3. Make It Visually Pleasing and Consistent
Like your online UX portfolio, your PDF UX portfolio has to look good. Even if you don’t have a background in visual design, it’s important to polish things so they give a great first impression.
Here are some ways you can make your PDF UX portfolio look good:
Use consistent fonts. This is a big one! A different font somewhere will instantly give recruiters the impression that you’re not a good designer and that you lack attention to detail.
Stick to a color theme. This is similar to the guideline above about fonts. Use the same few colors throughout your PDF to create a consistent visual experience.
Use PowerPoint or Keynote templates. We recommend Keynote, because templates in Keynote tend to look more visually polished than those in PowerPoint.
You do NOT want this: a visually inconsistent PDF UX portfolio is a sure way to create a bad impression. Please check that you use consistent fonts and colors! Author / copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright license and terms: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
4. Watch Your File Size
This is an easy one to forget. If your PDF UX portfolio contains a lot of images, you need to pay attention to its total file size. Remember that recruiters will download your PDF as an attachment in an email, from the cloud or from your web server. You don’t want recruiters to have to wait 10 seconds or longer to download your PDF (especially if they do so on their phone).
The difference between a PDF that’s 2MB and 5MB can be astounding, when you consider slower smartphone download speeds. At 3G mobile download speeds, a 5MB file can take a whopping 10 seconds to load!
Remember that not everyone will access your PDF UX portfolio via super-fast Wifi or broadband internet. If your PDF portfolio is too large, you will waste precious seconds! Author / copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright license and terms: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Optimize your images before you insert them in your PDF UX portfolio. Use services such as TinyPNG to shave off up to 70% of your image’s file size, which can make a huge impact!
Download Our Design Guidelines for Your PDF UX Portfolio
We’ve prepared a PDF of our 4 design guidelines, which you can download and use when you work on your PDF portfolio:
Get a Sample PDF UX Portfolio
We’ve created a dummy PDF UX portfolio, which you can download to use as a reference:
The Take Away
Your static PDF UX portfolio is meant to give interested recruiters an in-depth look at how you solve design problems. To create your PDF UX portfolio, follow these steps:
Start with a tool you’re familiar with, such as Keynote or Sketch.
Write your UX portfolio—use our suggested skeleton outline as a reference.
Export to PDF and upload it to somewhere accessible, so you can share a link to your PDF UX portfolio without much hassle.
Just like in online UX portfolios, there are essential design-related guidelines you should follow when you create your PDF UX portfolio:
Tailor it to the job role you want to apply for.
Make it usable.
Make it visually pleasing and consistent.
Watch your file size.
References and Where to Learn More
Check the color contrast of your PDF portfolio’s text and graphics with WebAIM’s color contrast checker.
Compress your images with TinyPNG’s service
Hero image: Author / Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.