Kevin Cheng  


April 26th, 2004 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

As Tom and I head into CHI 2004, job hunting is on a lot of people’s minds. Résumés, interviews, brainteasers and of course, portfolios have become a regular topic of conversation. The topic is especially close to home for me as I find myself in the “soon to graduate” camp for the second time - certainly a strange feeling after being in the interviewer seat for a year or two.The one area that people talk about most when referring to HCI/Interaction Design job searching is the portfolio. Some contend that they are useless because they do not display interaction elements. Others contend that they are useless because they are easy to fake, and that those with the ability to take credit for others work in a portfolio can do so verbally as well so asking them doesn’t help. Still others worry that portfolios cannot really contain any work from previous clients. I have even heard a statement that any company who requests a portfolio is not a company worth working for.

All of these statements are extreme stances – exaggerations on the typical case. A portfolio does not show interactivity but there are ways around this. We use static images to convey interactivity all the time. That’s what low fidelity prototyping and rapid iterations is all about. Storyboards illustrate interactivity, as do wireframes. Even pieces of paper can illustrate interactivity when presented with the correct context. How well you can present the interactivity is an element of your portfolio itself.

As for lying on your portfolio, most people can be caught out with a few carefully selected questions about your responsibilities. If I claim to have designed a product, and could convincingly talk through the entire design process, including the problems I encountered and the tradeoffs which had to be made, I probably don’t need to lie. Also consider that the candidate can lie about anything at all, not just portfolios so the claim that portfolios are particularly bad because they can be falsified doesn’t really hold. While I’ve never embarked on the practice, I have heard rumour from my cousin’s flat mate’s father that some embellish in their résumés and applications. Not that I’ve ever seen this sort of behaviour myself (cough cough).

Regarding the problem of what aspects you can show, that’s much trickier. Not being a lawyer, I have no real authority on this side of the discussion. Of course that implies I have authority on other subjects I write about, which is debatable in itself. My policy is generally to err on the safe side and only show enough to get an idea of the look and feel but not the specifics. While this doesn’t sell the solutions I design as well as I’d like, it’s better than accidentally giving away any corporate secrets. If the potential employer would like to know more, I always have more detailed screens I can show with appropriate non-disclosures. Of course, the best solution if you have the flexibility to do so is to ask your clients for permission but not all of us run our own consultancies or set our own policies.

Obviously, the portfolio is not the be all and end all to representing what a candidate is capable of. I think design tests, on-site problem solving, interviews, lunches and even the right kind of brainteasers all contribute to finding the right candidates. Prior to seeing a candidate, the portfolio is the only face you can really give a potential employer so I think it’s definitely a valuable tool in the interviewing toolkit.

Given my own need to develop and pitch my portfolio in the near future, I hope I’m right.

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?