Ask DN: How to write a case study?

almost 7 years ago from , Designer

I know this is where my portfolio is lacking, but I don't know how or where to start about the projects I have worked on because I've never known how to write about a process. Any tips?


  • Nathan GathrightNathan Gathright, almost 7 years ago (edited almost 7 years ago )

    To get a feel for what people were looking for in a case study, I asked for good examples a few months ago and got a couple great responses.

    A couple of my favorites not in there are:

    My tips are:

    • Share insights into particularly tricky problems you ran into and how you solved them.
    • Persuasively explain to potential clients/employers with words how your experience on this project would be applicable their needs.
    • Show your typical process Again so that potential clients/employers can put themselves in your last client's shoes.
    • Clarify the scope your involvement as part of a larger team. Don't inflate your importance if it's not deserved.
    19 points
  • Jon SchaferJon Schafer, almost 7 years ago

    I think Nuno Coelho Santos does this really well (see Currency app):


    5 points
  • Lauren HollidayLauren Holliday, almost 7 years ago

    5 key elements of good design case studies

    1. Executive summary

    Hanno is a simple, but excellent example of a good executive summary.

    This is a general overview of the project. It should be short and sweet for the skimmers because only a few conscientious prospects will actually read each project’s case study.

    The content in this section should detail a high-level overview of the other sections, including:

    Main problem: The reason they hired you. Solution: How you solved the problem. Key results: What were the deliverables or KPIs?

    Productivity Tip: Write this section last, after you’ve written all the content for the other sections.

    2. Context and challenge Next, you should give prospects context into the problem you were hired to solve. You can do this by answering the following questions.

    a) Project background description: What context information do you have for this job?

    Again, Hanno does a simple yet effective job providing a quick contextual overview for site visitors.

    b) The problem: Why did they hire you?

    Notice how Hanno highlights the problem in big H2s then follows up with an interesting story.

    c) Goals and objectives: What were the agreed-upon goals of the projects? While difficult sometimes to get, the key here is quantifiable metrics. Think about the tangible goals of the project. Maybe you reduced the number of cart abandonments or your design increased conversions by X%.

    Work&Co quantifies its contribution to the client.

    Helpful Tip: At the beginning of new projects, make sure these points are clearly articulated to you by the client to save you a headache trying to figure out this section after the project is done and shipped. If you’re working on a case study for a completed project, look back to your creative brief, project description, or request for proposal (RFP) to find this information.

    3. Process How did you get from the problem to your solution?

    The process section should describe how you approached solving the client’s problem and why you made the decision(s) to approach the project this way. It’s helpful for prospects because it gives them a glimpse into the experience of working with you.

    You’ll want to present clients with a walkthrough of your research and workflow as well as with iterations at various stages of the process. From the research you present -- anything from A/B tests to user interviews -- prospects should be able to extract key insights into how you arrived at your findings.

    Efficiency Tip: Try to accumulate as much information about a client’s audience as possible. Ask for buyer personas. Talk to support and see what people are asking most frequently. This can save you time, when it comes to developing a key insight to guide your design decisions.

    Most processes I found are detailed stories, making it harder to take a screenshot of. The simplest process I’ve found is by Nunrun.

    4. Solution Take screenshots. Include links. Record a video. Do anything to showcase your solution in this section.

    While this is the place to showcase all your hard and beautiful work, it is not the place to skimp on the textual details. Spend time refining clear copy that provides more insights into everything you present -- from navigation structure to mobile-only attributes.

    Above-and-Beyond Tip: This is the place to truly impress your prospects. Take the extra effort to consider adding a video or interactive features.

    Here’s part of a solution section taken from Hanno’s Uber Case Study.

    5. Results Show them the numbers.

    This section should showcase your success metrics from the project. Success metrics could be qualitative (a testimonial or press quote), quantitative (KPIs), or better yet, both.

    Here’s a nice, compelling results’ slider that showcase bigger business objectives.

    It’s vital that the metrics/results you showcase directly address the objectives you detailed in Section No. 2 (Context and challenge). This proves you directly contributed to the client meeting their big picture goals. This will increase their trust in you and differentiate you as more than just a designer, who makes things pretty.

    As for testimonials, in order to be effective, they must be compelling and show that you made a measurable impact on a client’s business. Paul Jarvis details three types of effective testimonials in the Creative Class.

    The before-and-after changes a client experienced from working with you. The excellent results they achieved. They unexpected value they received from your work.

    Jarvis also recommends following up a few months after the project is completed.

    “Following up a month or two after the end of a project is another way to collect more powerful, results-driven testimonials. Ask how your work has affected the business, created quantifiable sales spikes, or if there have been other positive changes that speak to the value of your knowledge and services.” (source)

    This testimonial is perfect.

    Think-Ahead Tip: Plan the experience of working with you, and build securing client testimonials into your design process so you don’t have to ask for them five months later. Also, each time you begin a new project, make sure to connect your work to quantifiable business metrics and objectives. This will make your life way easier when it comes time to build your case study later.

    Tell a compelling story, and the clients will follow. While a good case study presents all of the above, there is no hard and fast rule that you have to include every section and/or present your case study in this exact order. I’ve seen loads of gorgeous and compelling case studies, yet no two tend to look the same because each designer has a unique style and personality.

    In order to hit my point home, I’ve included a list of a few of my favorite case studies below. So what are you waiting for? Get inspired now.

    4 points
  • Deny Khoung, almost 7 years ago

    I recently wrote this post about product design portfolios and case studies: https://medium.com/perpetual-perfection/positioning-yourself-as-a-product-designer-f270dcd9a75b#.ci1xpgspl

    Happy to answer more specific questions.

    3 points
  • Philip LesterPhilip Lester, almost 7 years ago (edited almost 7 years ago )

    I've noticed that nearly all design case studies fail to answer a seemingly obvious question... What are the results of the work?

    Did the work:

    • Improve conversions?

    • Increase DAU?

    • Increase traffic?

    At the end of the day, our job is not simply to create pretty things to look at, but to use design to produce business results for our customers/employers. As designers I think we all should be looking deeper into specific numbers to make a compelling business case that helps justify our roles.

    3 points
  • Shaun Smylski, almost 7 years ago

    Hello Folake,

    I'd be right there with Nathan Gathright, but not all case studies deserve a large spotlight. For your simpler projects, define who/what the client/project is, then state your challenge and the solution to that challenge. Sometimes you can accomplish this in just two sentences, or in two paragraphs.

    Though this may not be related to your work, Wieden + Kennedy does exactly that. One of my favourite case studies is the writing they did for Ivory

    2 points
  • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, almost 7 years ago

    I've gritted my teeth over making my portfolio over this question for 5-8 months. Where I've come to understand the foundation of a good case study. it's still completely up in the air as to whether or not a case study should be A. kept as simple as possible, or B. super detailed.

    2 points
    • Deny Khoung, almost 7 years ago

      I think somewhere in the middle. You can certainly create a super-detailed version and keep it handy for on-site interviews.

      1 point
  • Rob GillRob Gill, almost 7 years ago

    If you would like to see some examples, Brian Lovin put together an awesome list of Product Design Protfolios a while back.

    I've referenced it quite a bit recently, hopefully it might give you some inspiration to possible structures and information to include :)

    2 points
  • , almost 7 years ago

    Thank you everyone for your responses, you're awesome!

    1 point
  • Jan Haaland, almost 7 years ago

    Start with inspiration, look what others have done. You can find many awesome case studies over at Case Study Club.

    Theres a couple in there that explain how to do great case studies. One I would recommend is How To Build a Better Behance Case Study. Best of luck!

    1 point
  • Chris Cacioppe, almost 7 years ago

    I enjoy writing them ... still takes some time tho .. heres one of my personal favs:


    i like to hear about about failures and struggles, i try to share those in my writings.


    1 point