Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2021, and updated in January 2024.
I’ve been a UX Researcher since 2015, working across biotech, healthcare, fintech, and now I’m at Meta.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the pleasure of conducting work sample reviews while interviewing candidates, coaching UXRs in building exemplary research portfolios and, of course, refining my own.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about building and strengthening user research work samples for portfolios, and I’m happy to share some of the gems.
If you are new to UX and think only designers have portfolios, please keep reading!
A strong UX research portfolio should include a tailored collection of work samples or case studies that tell a story about your process.. Although UXR work samples can take many forms, they should always showcase the following:
- Your research process and toolbox
- How you collaborate with your key stakeholders
- Decisions you made during the projects you are presenting (and why!)
- Outcomes of your work
- Impact you made at your organization
- What you’d do differently if you could do a project all over again
What is a user research portfolio and why do you need one?
Let’s start off with the basics; what is a UXR portfolio (or work sample) and why should you have one?
Potential employers often ask candidates to present examples of their work in the interview process to understand how you think through research and address high-level questions that come up. This presentation tells employers and teams a lot about how you work and it is a preview of how you’ll present your future research findings.
Your UX research portfolio doesn’t need to include dozens of case studies to be effective—in fact, it’s often better to have one or two great examples in your portfolio than it is to have tons of just-okay ones.
💡Pro Tip: User Interviews is the fastest way to recruit participants for any kind of research. Talk to sales or sign up for a free account today.
UX research portfolio vs. UX design portfolio
A research-focused portfolio typically contains fewer visuals and more content around your process, philosophy and data.
Of course, that doesn’t mean your research portfolio can’t be eye-catching, or that your design portfolio can’t include details about your methodology.
Indeed, many UX Designers, UX Writers, and other UX-ers conduct research as part of their work—and the advice in this article also applies to those “non-researchers” who want to showcase the research processes, decisions, and impact of their designs.
So, what makes a strong user research work sample?
6 key components of a research-focused UX portfolio
There are a few things that separate a good work sample from a great one and perhaps the biggest differentiating factor is the ability to show your reasoning—in other words, why did what you did.
If you take nothing else from this article, understand that when it comes to your portfolio, the ‘why’ is just as important—if not more—than the ‘what!’
Now let’s delve into the key components that should be in every UX research portfolio:
1. Your research process and toolbox
No matter what kind of projects you choose to include in your portfolio, you should be prepared to talk through what your general process looks like, for example:
- What was your problem statement?
- How did you decide who to speak to?
- What information did you gather before getting started with a research plan?
- How did you keep your stakeholders in the loop?
- How did you analyze data?
- How did you share deliverables?
Make sure to walk through your approach to research questions and how your research is influenced by the overall objectives of your team and the business.
You should also think through how long projects usually take you and how you adapt to different timelines based on the needs of your stakeholders. Touching on these will show your forethought and creativity as you lead research efforts.
And make sure to convey your role in each project that you choose to include in your work sample portfolio. Don’t make your audience guess or assume your problem statement or project parameters, state them directly.
Pro tip: It’s always nice to include a list of the research tools that you have experience with so interviewers know that you can hit the ground running. Showcase your go-to tools for different methodologies and prepare to talk through some of their pros and cons.
2. How you collaborate with key stakeholders
Employers will want a sense of how you communicate with your stakeholders to keep them informed and engage them as your strategic partners. Oftentimes, stakeholders come to researchers with lots of high-level questions or gaps in their understanding. Be sure to include how you advise the scope of the project, and think through some of the following questions as you put together your case studies:
- How do you gather buy-in throughout your research?
- How do you get creative with tight timelines or limited resources?
- Do you build out your research plan alongside your stakeholders and help them to refine questions?
- How do you keep your team updated as you conduct research?
Pro tip: If you can, include examples of Slack messages, Asana projects, emails, Notion docs, surveys, or any other methods that you use to communicate with stakeholders. (You should ask for permission before sharing the other side of the conversation, and be prepared to redact some details for privacy’s sake.)
3. Decisions you made (and why!)
From choosing a research methodology to picking your sample and sharing your insights, you make tons of decisions as a researcher. It is important to articulate the decisions you’ve made and the thought processes behind them. For example:
- Talk through why you chose your methods. Did you consider alternate methods? If so, what were the pros and cons of each?
- How did you approach recruitment? Were there any constraints? If so, how did you manage them?
- Walk through how you socialized your findings. How did you decide your first audience and how to share your work?
Pro tip: Fold these details into the story to illustrate how you craft the path of your research and how you respond to constraints that arise.
4. Tangible outputs (deliverables)
It’s imperative to show what comes out of your research and how you use the information.
Some of the best work samples I’ve seen incorporate samples of the deliverables for a case study. If you can’t reveal the specifics due to privacy concerns or company rules about sharing research, a ‘clean’ or redacted sample can still help demonstrate your process to prospective employers.
Pro tip: To make your portfolio presentation stand out, speak to how you set expectations with your stakeholders in the beginning of your project, and how you follow through at the deliverable stage to make sure insights are actionable for each stakeholder? How do you socialize your insights and tailor them to your audience?
5. The impact you made at your organization
Possibly the most important point to touch on as you are presenting your case studies is your impact! What changed due to your research? What was your return on investment (ROI)?
There are many ways to assess impact—stats, user analytics, KPIs, NPS scores, stakeholder feedback, changes to the product roadmap, etc.
A strong work sample should clearly explain how you’re measuring the results of your research and how a team, company, or product improved thanks to your work.
📚 Read more: How to Track the Impact of Your UX Research
6. What you’d do differently if you could do a project all over again
I alway make sure to wrap up a case study with a note on what I would’ve done differently if I had the chance.
This shows humility as a researcher and that you are willing to learn and improve as you go. Would you have chosen a different method if you had more time, funds, or a bigger pool to recruit participants from? Include these details to demonstrate your commitment to continuous growth!
More great examples of UX case studies and portfolios
Usability evaluation case study that explains “why”
This case study example from UX Researcher Mia Eltiste not only explains which research methods she chose, but also why she chose them—with resources to back it up. And for each research deliverable showcased in her UX research portfolio, Mia provides context and explanations for how each deliverable came to life.
Healthcare product research case study that showcases the business strategy
This product case study from UX Designer, Researcher, and Strategist Kate McCurdy offers a truly end-to-end overview of the healthcare product in question (founded by McCurdy), and covers every step from initial conception to business strategy to design research to fundraising and launch.
It’s unlikely that you’ll have the same 360° view into every project you work on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from McCurdy’s example. Understanding the business strategy and needs of your company/client is an important part of doing effective UX research—and demonstrating this understanding in your work samples is a great way to elevate any UX portfolio.
Beginner UX portfolio example with case study walkthrough
UX-er Tiffany Yang creates helpful YouTube content aimed at aspiring and beginner UXRs. In this video, she shares the junior-level UX researcher portfolio that landed Yang her first job. She walks viewers through the case study and offers some good takeaways and tips for building your first portfolio from scratch
📚 Keep reading: See more examples, walkthroughs, and UX portfolio templates
I wish you the best in building your UX research work samples and presenting your case studies! If you would like more tips on how to structure your portfolio and coaching to help secure your next (or first!) role in UXR, check out my website: uxoutloud.com.
🎙 How to Break Into User Research: Career Advice for Aspiring UXRs
Eniola joined the hosts of Awkward Silences for a live podcast episode and audience Q&A on breaking into a user research career. Listen, watch, or read the transcript.