The Usability of Resume Design


When we think of resume design, “usability” typically isn’t one of the first things to spring to mind. An art director seeking a new position might create an 8-point typographic masterpiece that, while beautiful as a design, is not the best read of information.

A developer may hammer out an exhaustive, experience-documenting, 4-page all-serif Word doc. While the ultimate opportunity you’re targeting should organically shape the design and information contained in your resume, clarity, quick-scannability, and definitive information hierarchy are vital.

As someone who’s received copious amounts of CVs in my various positions, the above examples are often not that far off reality.

Theme-designed” resumes (by that, I mean designs in which the resume layout in and of itself is intended as a showcase of your creative brand), while often visually and typographically stunning, can suffer from having key information not readily apparent on a visual scan basis.

This can be a trade-off, but whichever approach you feel suits you best, there are some tactics you can employ in any scenario to ensure your information provides an easier read.

The Art of Scannability

A usability best practice in the online space is reserving a specific color for clickable items (buttons, text links, etc.) so it’s immediately visually apparent I can take action upon them. We can leverage that broad concept – color usage as a visual cue – in a resume.

Example of a standard Resume/CV

Consider the CV of Jet Greyhound above. He’s using blue and orange to not only form visual cohesion with the pseudoroom design site (Jet is a big fan), but also as scannable, categorical devices.

Viewing this example, blue directly pertains to Jet and the roles he’s held, so we scan:

  • jet greyhound
  • Creative Director
  • Associate Creative Director
  • Art Director
  • Senior Designer
  • BFA, course of study

Orange is used to denote locations and general subheads, and we scan:

  • experience
    • Agency Four
    • Agency Three
    • Agency Two
    • Agency One
  • education
    • University of Awesome
  • skills

Make the Sought After Into the Readily Apparent

Next, let’s discuss hierarchy. Immediately within the top 20% of the design is a quick-hit global impression of who Jet is and what he offers. (1) Name, portfolio URL, and contact information. An elevator pitch of a few brief sentences noting (2) education, influences, and capabilities.

Usabilty of a resume

With education already tipped off, we can proceed directly into the next tier of the hierarchy an employer is looking for: what is Jet’s experience, and how does it relate to the position to which he’s applying?

Leveraging a timeline design is an immediate visual cue for how this information is segmented. A succinct description of each role is utilized in this example, but consider bullet points instead for even greater scannability.

Money, it’s Gotta be the Shoes

Wrapping up with a skills section provides a “keyword”-type benefit, again facilitating a quick-scan global view of capabilities. Referencing a “more information” URL immediately to the left of skills qualifies that if the potential employer would like to dig a bit deeper to that effect, the means to do so is directly present.

In particular, with that LinkedIn URL, Jet can keep the resume clean and recent to his most current (and relevant) roles. If the CV reader wants an exhaustive account of his career, recommendations, and a complete skill set listing, they clearly have that ability.

From a resume submission perspective, having a fully completed, detailed LinkedIn profile (that you can provide a link to) is absolutely imperative to qualify your “full story.” Your LinkedIn profile is your backup. LinkedIn is the Scottie Pippen to your resume Michael Jordan. Ok, I’ll stop.

These methods of making your CV more usable to a potential employer are conducive to any type of design; this layout is merely an example.

However, by ensuring your resume is an immediately scannable, hierarchical read, you’re making it far easier amongst a deluge of submissions to be noted for what a colossal badass you truly are.

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