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As mentioned last week, I’ve applied to join as a freelancer, and they have a fairly intensive interview process. My initial interview went well, so I was asked to create a PDF portfolio for submission as part of the second round. Because I work for startups, I don’t have a ton of time to work on my portfolio and I’ve been lucky over the last few years and just found clients by word-of-mouth, so this would have to be built from scratch.

I’m sure purist designers will balk at this but, with just a few days to prepare, I needed to take a few shortcuts and work smarter, like the lean designer that I am. (more)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned designing for startups, is that it’s often not necessary to completely reinvent the wheel to get good results.

I figured this might be helpful for some younger designers that may be unsure where to start. Below is the process and tools I used for the project.

Creating a PDF Portfolio for Toptal

The most important, and most challenging, aspect of creating a design portfolio is selecting the work. This is hands down the hardest for me when sharing the work – sometimes UX doesn’t result in crisp, pixel-perfect comps you see on Dribble. How do you show the complexity of UX projects? Being pressed for time was a bit of a blessing here, as I wasn’t able to overthink it. I just picked out 8-10 projects that I had readily available artwork for that showed a range of skills – wireframes, user flows, comps, etc., across web and mobile.

Next, I searched for “responsive mockup PSDs” and downloaded a few templates I could play with to see how my work looked. Seeing my work mocked up on various screens made it a little easier to narrow down projects too – some projects just don’t show as well as others in this formate. The PSD’s required some modification as well, but I easily saved a days worth of work by using design freebies.

Once I had a collection of art to display, I set to work on the portfolio template. I started doing it from scratch but realized it was just going to take too long, so I purchased an InDesign template from Creative Market. I modified the template to better fit my brand and changed a few things, but this gave me a solid layout and I didn’t have to develop my own grid.

From there it was really just a matter of writing a few descriptions and adding a resume. I used pieces from a free InDesign resume template and modified it to suit my needs. Bespoke design it’s not, but I think it came out pretty well for a couple days of work. What do you think?

For my final Toptal portfolio submission I had to narrow down the projects from eight to just five but you, dear reader, get to see my top eight UX projects from the past couple of years. Feedback is always most welcome.

To get the above flippable PDF booklet for this post, I exported my .indd file to PDF with single page settings and created a free account at It took less than 30-seconds from their software to transform my PDF into a booklet – pretty neat. It’s a little pixelated, but I think I could probably fix that by exporting at a higher resolution.

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