Revamping my design leadership portfolio: goals

I’m not in a big hurry to leave my job (hi, folks!). But every once in a while a really nice opportunity comes along, and I’d like to be prepared for it. And of late I’ve felt that I’m not prepared. I think my portfolio doesn’t reflect my value as a design leader; it’s only a little bit past a designer portfolio, and a hastily thrown-together one at that. Sure, it was sufficient to get my current gig, but I fell into the lap of this company at JUST the right moment; a lot of this last transition is down to good luck.

This is a good reminder that you should be looking for your next job before you want your next job.

Roy Rapoport, Director of Corporate Engineering at Netflix

Recently we’ve started to revamp the company site, which has gone untouched for half a decade. In doing so we’ve selected two audiences we want to impress based on our business goals, done research on each, and penned some aims and a mission for the site based on that research and some hopefully reasonable assumptions when research didn’t suffice.

I’ll take a similar approach, at least conceptually, to improve my own portfolio, using my own goals (why have a portfolio site, after all?) and what I’ve learned in my many contacts with recruiters and hiring managers over the past few years. Over several posts I’ll go through the process, and eventually arrive at a portfolio site that I am proud of and I expect will do the job.

My highest-level goal is to be an impressive candidate design leader to firms that are looking for experience design leadership. They needn’t work hard to qualify themselves; I’ll assess these companies myself for culture, personal growth opportunity, financial opportunity, and interesting work to do.

My design leadership portfolio will contribute to that goal by suggesting to recruiters and hiring managers looking for a product design leader at the director level or better that I am worth further evaluation and an interview.

It’ll do so by demonstrating that my teams make great experiences for normal people in software, hardware, out-of-box, and services.

It’ll do so by showing how my organization of the team, the process, and the work, and my wrangling of the particular challenges of each project, contributed to outstanding results.

It’ll do so by reflecting how I lead teams to use research, usability testing, and metrics to produce good experiences and improve them over time, and where organizational failure to do these things left money and opportunities on the table.

It’ll do so by making it clear that I’m concerned with exactly the things that a growing business needs to pay attention to, including

  • delivering delight,
  • becoming recommendable,
  • demonstrating thoughtfulness through meaningful differentiation,
  • avoiding churn, cancellations, returns, and support costs, and
  • demonstrating continuous improvement.

Further, it’ll do so by demonstrating that mentoring and developing designers, writers, researchers, and accessibility specialists is a part of the job that I find important, enjoy, and am successful at.

These writings have a part to play, of course. My ability to explain concepts, reveal my thinking, and work in public are all facets of my work personality that are material to whatever success I’ve had so far. So it’ll be a help if these sometimes refer to the portfolio and vice versa.

Equally important are non-goals:

  • While I know a bit about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and cut my teeth on CSS back when we were rebuilding table-based layouts without tables, it’s not important that I showcase particular skill with these tools. So I don’t need to shy away from tools that make producing a site easier. I don’t need to hand-roll everything.
  • While I’m a design leader, I’m not producing a lot of shipping design myself; rather I’m helping teams of people think about and organize their work, and developing those people and the processes in which they operate, to deliver excellent experiences that drive business results. So I need just enough polish to demonstrate thoughtfulness and get my points across. I don’t need to create a truly bespoke design. The content will matter more, and team results will matter more, than the frame in which these are shown.
  • I’ve learned that designer-manager positions often become one or the other to the dissatisfaction of everyone. I know that what I love is coaching, up and down, and I don’t want a player-coach role. So while my own design aptitude is important, my individual work should take a back seat to the results I lead cross-functional teams to achieve. My own sketches to help foster that achievement may have a role to play, however.

So I’ll need to select projects and produce case studies that provide opportunities to do these things, and be explicit in pointing these things out as I go.

Along the way I’d like to do things a little differently. I’d like to share credit, perhaps by naming people who played a special role on the team. I’d like to discuss the sort of culture I hope to foster on design teams, where the team makes decisions together, knowingly for the good of users and the business, and sign-off by a superior is neither necessary nor sought. And I’d like to set myself up for regular maintenance of the portfolio, such that it’s not burdensome to add to it over time. I’d rather not go through a spasm of intense work as I have at each major job transition in the past; rather I’d like a small amount of continuous effort to result in my preparedness for these transitions when the opportunity arises.

What’s next? I can see a handful of needed activities:

  • Product-managing the various possible portfolio pieces
  • Considering overall positioning and messages that reflect that positioning
  • Selecting and preparing to measure the appropriate primary actions that denote success for the site

It’s probably sensible to go after the hardest part first: the portfolio pieces. Watch this space.