the

the

case

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study

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How the formulaic approach to UX case studies is numbing our critical thinking as designers, and how to bring a unique point of view to our work.

How the formulaic approach to UX case studies is numbing our critical thinking as designers, and how to bring a unique point of view to our work.

factory

factory

As editors of a large-scale online design publication, we receive a high volume of emails every week pitching case studies to be published on our site. Most of what we receive is from students and designers just starting out who are looking for an opportunity to have their work reach a broader audience.

 

As editors of a large-scale online design publication, we receive a high volume of emails every week pitching case studies to be published on our site. Most of what we receive is from students and designers just starting out who are looking for an opportunity to have their work reach a broader audience.

 

271

271

case studies submitted to the UX Collective in the first half of 2019

case studies submitted to the UX Collective in the first half of 2019

38

38

new case studies published on Medium every day with the tag “UX”

new case studies published on Medium every day with the tag “UX”

52%

52%

of all UX-related articles published on Medium are case studies

of all UX-related articles published on Medium are case studies

We understand how much work is needed to organize and write case studies, and how helpful they can be to other designers who are just starting out in the industry. The fact that so many case studies are being published every day is a sign our industry is more active than ever.

 

But given the plethora of case studies out there, how can companies find the talent they are looking for? And how can designers differentiate themselves when applying to a position? To be able to answer these questions, we decided to step back and try to figure out why so many case studies were being produced in the first place.

We understand how much work is needed to organize and write case studies, and how helpful they can be to other designers who are just starting out in the industry. The fact that so many case studies are being published every day is a sign our industry is more active than ever.

 

But given the plethora of case studies out there, how can companies find the talent they are looking for? And how can designers differentiate themselves when applying to a position? To be able to answer these questions, we decided to step back and try to figure out why so many case studies were being produced in the first place.

Hundreds of professionals are joining the workforce every month — each of them with several case studies in their portfolios.

 

Hundreds of professionals are joining the workforce every month — each of them with several case studies in their portfolios.

 

CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY °

 

 

CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY ° CASE STUDY FRENZY °

 

 

UX bootcamps have been adding new designers to the workforce at a more accelerated pace than traditional schools, filling a gap in the higher-education system of certain countries. Their offerings enable aspiring designers to learn about the essential tools needed to become a practitioner in a matter of months.

 

Because these bootcamps are by definition short programs, they tend to focus exclusively on the practical skills and methods that a UX designer needs to find their first job. This means that such courses tend to skip what might be considered the foundational disciplines of digital design, such as anthropology, philosophy, art history, and graphic design.

 

Instead, these shorter programs are designed with one key output in mind: the UX/UI case study.

UX bootcamps have been adding new designers to the workforce at a more accelerated pace than traditional schools, filling a gap in the higher-education system of certain countries. Their offerings enable aspiring designers to learn about the essential tools needed to become a practitioner in a matter of months.

 

Because these bootcamps are by definition short programs, they tend to focus exclusively on the practical skills and methods that a UX designer needs to find their first job. This means that such courses tend to skip what might be considered the foundational disciplines of digital design, such as anthropology, philosophy, art history, and graphic design.

 

Instead, these shorter programs are designed with one key output in mind: the UX/UI case study.

A well-oiled machine

 

A well-oiled machine

 

01

Short design courses and bootcamps promise to place students in the industry as quickly as possible — making time-to-job the most important KPI these programs are designed to meet.

 

01

Short design courses and bootcamps promise to place students in the industry as quickly as possible — making time-to-job the most important KPI these programs are designed to meet.

 

02

The myopic focus on shorter time-to-job metrics requires schools to standardize their design curricula — a trend which is reflected in the structure of case studies being produced.

 

02

The myopic focus on shorter time-to-job metrics requires schools to standardize their design curricula — a trend which is reflected in the structure of case studies being produced.

 

03

To find jobs more quickly, students tend to showcase the types of work most in demand in our industry, making website and app redesigns the overwhelming majority of case studies being published.

 

 

03

To find jobs more quickly, students tend to showcase the types of work most in demand in our industry, making website and app redesigns the overwhelming majority of case studies being published.

 

 

04

Students then publish their work on sites like Medium in order to increase their chances of being discovered by senior designers and hiring managers.

 

 

 

04

Students then publish their work on sites like Medium in order to increase their chances of being discovered by senior designers and hiring managers.

 

 

 

05

The UX bootcamp also benefits from its students’ projects being published on Medium: case studies become content marketing that helps attract new students — and therefore revenue.

05

The UX bootcamp also benefits from its students’ projects being published on Medium: case studies become content marketing that helps attract new students — and therefore revenue.

Investigating the why

 

Investigating the why

 

Noticing an abundance of articles on the theme of “what excites me about my new design school” as well as a deceptively familiar structure to a lot of the case studies published on the platform, we decided to investigate with students that had submitted case studies to the UX Collective.

 

Through email conversations with 15 recent UX bootcamp graduates, we learned that:

Noticing an abundance of articles on the theme of “what excites me about my new design school” as well as a deceptively familiar structure to a lot of the case studies published on the platform, we decided to investigate with students that had submitted case studies to the UX Collective.

 

Through email conversations with 15 recent UX bootcamp graduates, we learned that:

Most schools provide students with a template for their case studies

Most schools provide students with a template for their case studies

Some schools “strongly encourage students to share their case studies on Medium” at the end of each project

Some schools “strongly encourage students to share their case studies on Medium” at the end of each project

A few schools even advise students on which tags to use on Medium to maximize the visibility of their work

 

A few schools even advise students on which tags to use on Medium to maximize the visibility of their work

 

 

 

Publishing case studies on Medium was a requirement from [School 1]. We are encouraged to share our work on the platform and tag it in a certain way to increase our visibility and chances of getting hired.

— Student from School 1

Publishing case studies on Medium was a requirement from [School 1]. We are encouraged to share our work on the platform and tag it in a certain way to increase our visibility and chances of getting hired.

— Student from School 1

 

 

[School 2] introduced me to Medium and asked me, as a student, to write a case study of some of the projects I develop during the bootcamp.

— Student from School 2

 

[School 2] introduced me to Medium and asked me, as a student, to write a case study of some of the projects I develop during the bootcamp.

— Student from School 2

 

The similarities between case studies being produced by students coming out of different schools is also a bit scary. Many of these designers are using the same structures to create their work.

 

 

 

 

The similarities between case studies being produced by students coming out of different schools is also a bit scary. Many of these designers are using the same structures to create their work.

 

 

 

 

School 1

Challenge

Competitors

User research

Kano matrix

User journey

Sketches

Wireframes

Designs

 

School 1

Challenge

Competitors

User research

Kano matrix

User journey

Sketches

Wireframes

Designs

 

School 2

Problem

Competitors

Heuristics

Affinity map

User journey

Wireframes

Prototypes

Designs

 

 

School 2

Problem

Competitors

Heuristics

Affinity map

User journey

Wireframes

Prototypes

Designs

 

 

School 3

Challenge

User research

Personas

Solutions

Sketches

Wireframes

Prototypes

Designs

 

School 3

Challenge

User research

Personas

Solutions

Sketches

Wireframes

Prototypes

Designs

 

School 4

Problem

User research

Personas

User journey

Sketches

Designs

Prototypes

 

School 4

Problem

User research

Personas

User journey

Sketches

Designs

Prototypes

 

Even designers who have not studied in the same school end up using similar structures, since they research existing case studies before creating their own. They assume that if other designers are designing them in a particular way, then it must be for a reason.

 

The similarities across case studies make it really hard for designers to demonstrate their unique thinking, skills, and point of view. How can you differentiate yourself when applying to a position, if case studies from other candidates look exactly the same at first glance?

 

Even designers who have not studied in the same school end up using similar structures, since they research existing case studies before creating their own. They assume that if other designers are designing them in a particular way, then it must be for a reason.

 

The similarities across case studies make it really hard for designers to demonstrate their unique thinking, skills, and point of view. How can you differentiate yourself when applying to a position, if case studies from other candidates look exactly the same at first glance?

 

Is this formulaic approach to the design process endangering young professionals’ capacity for critical thinking?

 

 

Is this formulaic approach to the design process endangering young professionals’ capacity for critical thinking?

 

 

Giving students a predefined process to follow has its benefits. A solid template helps to guide students through an unfamiliar set of methods and tools while reinforcing the importance of user-centered design. Sending students into the workforce with a solid understanding of how to bring users into the design process is an important step towards a more mature design industry.

 

Giving students a predefined process to follow has its benefits. A solid template helps to guide students through an unfamiliar set of methods and tools while reinforcing the importance of user-centered design. Sending students into the workforce with a solid understanding of how to bring users into the design process is an important step towards a more mature design industry.

 

 

 

Some designers have a really wonderful ability to tell their story and to show it, too. [Other] designers are still new [to the industry], so some content out there isn't as great. But, for the most part, I'm really grateful people do put out their work because it does help me as a designer to think about my process and what I can draw inspiration from.

A student who has published three case studies on Medium

Some designers have a really wonderful ability to tell their story and to show it, too. [Other] designers are still new [to the industry], so some content out there isn't as great. But, for the most part, I'm really grateful people do put out their work because it does help me as a designer to think about my process and what I can draw inspiration from.

A student who has published three case studies on Medium

While a fixed methodology can be useful to give students a starting point, the excessive templatization of the design process can also do harm:

 

While a fixed methodology can be useful to give students a starting point, the excessive templatization of the design process can also do harm:

 

Less critical thinking

More important than following the same steps in the right order every time is the ability to understand when and how each method should be used, and why it will help the designer come up with a better solution to a problem. Designers who can think for themselves will make better decisions when their first real project arises.

Less critical thinking

More important than following the same steps in the right order every time is the ability to understand when and how each method should be used, and why it will help the designer come up with a better solution to a problem. Designers who can think for themselves will make better decisions when their first real project arises.

Students obsessed with process

When you teach someone to always follow the same steps, you are forming a habit that is hard to break, while at the same time fostering the misconception that if you forget any of the predefined steps, your process is wrong.

 

 

Students obsessed with process

When you teach someone to always follow the same steps, you are forming a habit that is hard to break, while at the same time fostering the misconception that if you forget any of the predefined steps, your process is wrong.

 

 

The illusion of a structured industry

Case study formulas create the illusion that real projects will always follow those same predetermined steps. In reality, working with both in-house and agency teams is too chaotic to apply a one-size-fits-all methodology.

 

 

The illusion of a structured industry

Case study formulas create the illusion that real projects will always follow those same predetermined steps. In reality, working with both in-house and agency teams is too chaotic to apply a one-size-fits-all methodology.

 

 

Inability to improvise

When joining a real design team and dealing with real-world briefs and projects, designers need the ability to improvise. Research budgets are not always available; user journeys are not always necessary. The ability to improvise is one of the skills that differentiates good designers from great ones.

 

 

Inability to improvise

When joining a real design team and dealing with real-world briefs and projects, designers need the ability to improvise. Research budgets are not always available; user journeys are not always necessary. The ability to improvise is one of the skills that differentiates good designers from great ones.

 

 

The "Dribbblization" of case studies

Dribbble is a powerful platform for community building, but many people post shots there with the sole intention of getting likes from other designers. Case studies on Medium have started to take a similar path (50 claps, anyone? 👏). Discussions tend to be shallow and focused only on positive reinforcement, to the exclusion of critical feedback.

 

The "Dribbblization" of case studies

Dribbble is a powerful platform for community building, but many people post shots there with the sole intention of getting likes from other designers. Case studies on Medium have started to take a similar path (50 claps, anyone? 👏). Discussions tend to be shallow and focused only on positive reinforcement, to the exclusion of critical feedback.

 

And the most frustrating part for hiring managers:

 

 

And the most frustrating part for hiring managers:

 

 

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Everything looks the same

Because students are ticking boxes on school-provided templates, case studies end up looking quite similar across the board. In addition, the fact that the work is being produced for course assignments can also make for disconnected stories that feel forced and arbitrary.

 

Because students are ticking boxes on school-provided templates, case studies end up looking quite similar across the board. In addition, the fact that the work is being produced for course assignments can also make for disconnected stories that feel forced and arbitrary.

 

The X-ray of a typical UX case study

 

 

The X-ray of a typical UX case study

 

 

Lack of context

Many case studies start with an unexplained “user need” that one infers is the student’s personal need (e.g. "an easier way to share music on Spotify"). User research is then utilized in an attempt to prove that other people experience the same problem.

 

Lack of context

Many case studies start with an unexplained “user need” that one infers is the student’s personal need (e.g. "an easier way to share music on Spotify"). User research is then utilized in an attempt to prove that other people experience the same problem.

 

Too much focus on process

Because students are used to ticking boxes on a standard design process template provided by their school, they forget to explain why they are utilizing a particular method. If everyone’s process is somewhat the same, what is your unique angle to the way you work?

 

 

Too much focus on process

Because students are used to ticking boxes on a standard design process template provided by their school, they forget to explain why they are utilizing a particular method. If everyone’s process is somewhat the same, what is your unique angle to the way you work?

 

 

Disconnected steps

Because of the rote nature of the case study format, often the different steps of the design process fail to connect to one another. Insights gathered from one step are rarely applied to the next one. As a result, most case studies feel complete, but few feel smart.

 

 

Disconnected steps

Because of the rote nature of the case study format, often the different steps of the design process fail to connect to one another. Insights gathered from one step are rarely applied to the next one. As a result, most case studies feel complete, but few feel smart.

 

 

Underwhelming solutions

Many case studies describe the project process in great detail, only to conclude with a solution which is predictable, unpolished, and/or lacking insight. While the case study can be a great platform to showcase innovation and creativity, many case studies end on an unimpressive note.

 

Underwhelming solutions

Many case studies describe the project process in great detail, only to conclude with a solution which is predictable, unpolished, and/or lacking insight. While the case study can be a great platform to showcase innovation and creativity, many case studies end on an unimpressive note.

 

Trying to be everything for everyone

Trying to be everything for everyone

Ironically enough, many case studies seem to lack a user-centered approach in terms of how they are written and distributed. Students often create one single version of a case study which is intended to speak to different audiences and achieve different goals:

Ironically enough, many case studies seem to lack a user-centered approach in terms of how they are written and distributed. Students often create one single version of a case study which is intended to speak to different audiences and achieve different goals:

For instructors

Proving that the student has learned the method.

 

For instructors

Proving that the student has learned the method.

 

For other designers

Getting claps on Medium and likes on Dribbble/Behance.

 

For other designers

Getting claps on Medium and likes on Dribbble/Behance.

 

For the students themselves

Building up a body of work.

 

For the students themselves

Building up a body of work.

 

For recruiters

Demonstrating the student is qualified and has sufficient practical experience in the field.

 

For recruiters

Demonstrating the student is qualified and has sufficient practical experience in the field.

 

For hiring managers

Differentiating the student from other candidates vying for the same position.

For hiring managers

Differentiating the student from other candidates vying for the same position.

There are only so many audiences a single case study can speak to. If the student’s main objective in creating a case study is to get a foot in the industry, it might be a good idea for them to prioritize recruiters and hiring managers when thinking about their public-facing output. Ultimately, recruiters are the ones who screen candidates and hiring managers are the ones who make the final decision.

 

 

There are only so many audiences a single case study can speak to. If the student’s main objective in creating a case study is to get a foot in the industry, it might be a good idea for them to prioritize recruiters and hiring managers when thinking about their public-facing output. Ultimately, recruiters are the ones who screen candidates and hiring managers are the ones who make the final decision.

 

 

Putting ourselves in the hiring manager’s shoes

Putting ourselves in the hiring manager’s shoes

How do hiring managers find a unique designer that stands out from the crowd?

 

To try to answer this question, we decided to interview more than 30 hiring managers from mid-to-large-sized companies located in key markets around the world.

 

What is a hiring manager’s typical day like? What is their process for selecting a candidate to fill a position? Realistically, how much time do they usually spend going over each case study, and how much do they actually read before inviting a candidate for an interview?

 

 

How do hiring managers find a unique designer that stands out from the crowd?

 

To try to answer this question, we decided to interview more than 30 hiring managers from mid-to-large-sized companies located in key markets around the world.

 

What is a hiring manager’s typical day like? What is their process for selecting a candidate to fill a position? Realistically, how much time do they usually spend going over each case study, and how much do they actually read before inviting a candidate for an interview?

 

 

40+

40+

Portfolios per position

Hiring managers in larger companies review dozens of portfolios for each position they have to fill.

Portfolios per position

Hiring managers in larger companies review dozens of portfolios for each position they have to fill.

1-2

1-2

Case studies per portfolio

Because their time is limited, most hiring managers do not go through a designer’s entire portfolio, but instead review a couple of case studies.

 

 

Case studies per portfolio

Because their time is limited, most hiring managers do not go through a designer’s entire portfolio, but instead review a couple of case studies.

 

 

30

30

Seconds per case study

Since they must review a high volume of case studies as part of the recruiting process, hiring managers rarely read thoroughly, but instead quickly scan students’ work in search of talent.

Seconds per case study

Since they must review a high volume of case studies as part of the recruiting process, hiring managers rarely read thoroughly, but instead quickly scan students’ work in search of talent.

 

 

First [I do] just a quick scan. If the work looks interesting then I proceed to a more thorough analysis. This can range from 30 seconds to 15 or 20 minutes, it all depends on the quality and quantity of the work. Weak portfolios get discarded in seconds. Really good portfolios are analyzed in-depth and I usually end up on the candidate’s website or Twitter account.

— Head of Design, 13 years of experience

First [I do] just a quick scan. If the work looks interesting then I proceed to a more thorough analysis. This can range from 30 seconds to 15 or 20 minutes, it all depends on the quality and quantity of the work. Weak portfolios get discarded in seconds. Really good portfolios are analyzed in-depth and I usually end up on the candidate’s website or Twitter account.

— Head of Design, 13 years of experience

 

 

In order to fill out a recent position it has taken us approximately 10 weeks and I’ve reviewed over 50 portfolios. When there are multiple case studies, I will take the time to read 1 or 2 of them.

— Director of Design, 14 years of experience

 

 

In order to fill out a recent position it has taken us approximately 10 weeks and I’ve reviewed over 50 portfolios. When there are multiple case studies, I will take the time to read 1 or 2 of them.

— Director of Design, 14 years of experience

 

 

 

 

In the initial stage of screening candidates I'm not reading things in detail, it's more of a scan.

— Design Lead, 13 years of experience

In the initial stage of screening candidates I'm not reading things in detail, it's more of a scan.

— Design Lead, 13 years of experience

Hiring managers with more experience tend to be able to evaluate whether a portfolio is worth exploring in greater depth within a matter of seconds. They are not reading case studies word by word since they have very limited time in their day to go through candidates.

 

Hiring managers with more experience tend to be able to evaluate whether a portfolio is worth exploring in greater depth within a matter of seconds. They are not reading case studies word by word since they have very limited time in their day to go through candidates.

 

Another common concern raised by the upper-level managers we spoke with was the extreme focus on the part of students on the design process, at the expense of the quality of the output. They reported that this was especially the case with UX and product-focused portfolios.

 

Another common concern raised by the upper-level managers we spoke with was the extreme focus on the part of students on the design process, at the expense of the quality of the output. They reported that this was especially the case with UX and product-focused portfolios.

 

 

 

I jump to the final designs, I want to see the outcome of the case study. Only then, if the final designs are solid I go back and try to understand the designer’s process. You see a lot of people building really deep use-cases, but the execution fails and right now I need designers who can think and deliver, not one or another.

— VP of Product Design, 17 years of experience

 

I jump to the final designs, I want to see the outcome of the case study. Only then, if the final designs are solid I go back and try to understand the designer’s process. You see a lot of people building really deep use-cases, but the execution fails and right now I need designers who can think and deliver, not one or another.

— VP of Product Design, 17 years of experience

 

right now I need designers who can think and deliver, not one or another.

 

right now I need designers who can think and deliver, not one or another.

 

Keeping in mind the hiring manager’s time and attention constraints, how can designers make their work stand out?

 

 

Keeping in mind the hiring manager’s time and attention constraints, how can designers make their work stand out?

 

 

WARNING: NOT A HOW-TO-BUILD-YOUR-PORTFOLIO MEDIUM ARTICLE

 

 

 

WARNING: NOT A HOW-TO-BUILD-YOUR-PORTFOLIO MEDIUM ARTICLE

 

 

 

Case studies are an essential piece of our industry — and we can’t stress enough how important they are for students who are trying to get a foot in the industry. Although here we are highlighting the problems we see with many of the case studies being published today, we don’t foresee any drop in their popularity or pervasiveness in the near future.

 

But as with every essay we write, we want to make sure we are not only diagnosing a problem, but also offering designers tangible recommendations as to how they can disrupt the status quo.

There are several articles circulating about best practices for building portfolios and case studies (we recommend these pieces by Semplice, Tony Aubé, Sarah Doody, and David Leøng, as well as Case Study Club as a repository of examples) — but that’s not our goal here.

 

 

Case studies are an essential piece of our industry — and we can’t stress enough how important they are for students who are trying to get a foot in the industry. Although here we are highlighting the problems we see with many of the case studies being published today, we don’t foresee any drop in their popularity or pervasiveness in the near future.

 

But as with every essay we write, we want to make sure we are not only diagnosing a problem, but also offering designers tangible recommendations as to how they can disrupt the status quo.

There are several articles circulating about best practices for building portfolios and case studies (we recommend these pieces by Semplice, Tony Aubé, Sarah Doody, and David Leøng, as well as Case Study Club as a repository of examples) — but that’s not our goal here.

 

 

Instead, we focus on a few broader themes grounded in the insights we gathered from talking to students and hiring managers. In the next section, we discuss how you can write about your project in a way that is relevant to your audience, emblematic of your unique talents, and —most importantly— will make your work stand out in the sea of UX/UI case studies being published every day.

 

 

 

 

Instead, we focus on a few broader themes grounded in the insights we gathered from talking to students and hiring managers. In the next section, we discuss how you can write about your project in a way that is relevant to your audience, emblematic of your unique talents, and —most importantly— will make your work stand out in the sea of UX/UI case studies being published every day.

 

 

 

 

0

1

Define your area of focus

 

Define your area of focus

 

Your case study structure should reflect the areas that most interest you as well as the ones that will help you reach your personal goals. What type of company do you want to work with, and what kind of story will make the design leadership of that organization excited about the possibility of working with you?

 

 

 

 

 

Your case study structure should reflect the areas that most interest you as well as the ones that will help you reach your personal goals. What type of company do you want to work with, and what kind of story will make the design leadership of that organization excited about the possibility of working with you?

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on the steps of the process which interest you the most — for example, User Research, Strategy, UI, Prototyping, etc.

 

 

Focus on the steps of the process which interest you the most — for example, User Research, Strategy, UI, Prototyping, etc.

 

 

Use language that will appeal to the company you want to attract. If you are applying for a UX Researcher position, terms like “ethnographic study” will get you extra points.

 

Use language that will appeal to the company you want to attract. If you are applying for a UX Researcher position, terms like “ethnographic study” will get you extra points.

 

Promote your strongest skills. If UI design is one of your strengths, showing personas that are shallow or unresearched can hurt more than they can help.

 

 

 

Promote your strongest skills. If UI design is one of your strengths, showing personas that are shallow or unresearched can hurt more than they can help.

 

 

 

A research-focused case study from a research-focused designer

 

Researcher Katie Curdy walks us through her process of gathering user insights, synthesizing learnings, and collaborating with her team. Because of her focus on UX Research and strategy, her case study highlights the backstages of her process, showing how she works, rather than the outcomes of the project.

A research-focused case study from a research-focused designer

 

Researcher Katie Curdy walks us through her process of gathering user insights, synthesizing learnings, and collaborating with her team. Because of her focus on UX Research and strategy, her case study highlights the backstages of her process, showing how she works, rather than the outcomes of the project.

2

Align the story with the medium

 

 

Align the story with the medium

 

 

Are you 100% sure your case study is a good fit for Medium — or would it be better suited for your portfolio website? Think about it this way: will you make other people’s days better if they stumble upon your case study as they browse on Medium.com? When was the last time you casually read someone else’s case study in your free time?

 

Shaping your story to fit the channel on which it will be shared is crucial to making your work feel relevant and engaging. Sometimes that means creating multiple versions of the same study, perhaps tweaking the focus slightly in order to customize it for the medium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you 100% sure your case study is a good fit for Medium — or would it be better suited for your portfolio website? Think about it this way: will you make other people’s days better if they stumble upon your case study as they browse on Medium.com? When was the last time you casually read someone else’s case study in your free time?

 

Shaping your story to fit the channel on which it will be shared is crucial to making your work feel relevant and engaging. Sometimes that means creating multiple versions of the same study, perhaps tweaking the focus slightly in order to customize it for the medium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On your portfolio, the case study should focus on your process and output, since you are trying to sell your skills as a designer.

 

 

 

On your portfolio, the case study should focus on your process and output, since you are trying to sell your skills as a designer.

 

 

 

On Medium, your case study should focus on insights that other designers can apply to their own work. Remember that Medium is a place designers go to learn new things — not to recruit other designers.

On Medium, your case study should focus on insights that other designers can apply to their own work. Remember that Medium is a place designers go to learn new things — not to recruit other designers.

On Dribbble/Behance, you should focus on your most exciting UI moments, since these platforms are not designed to tell longer stories.

On Dribbble/Behance, you should focus on your most exciting UI moments, since these platforms are not designed to tell longer stories.

On LinkedIn, you’re better off focusing on the business impact of your project, since this social network is a place to showcase your relevance and contributions to the industry.

 

 

 

On LinkedIn, you’re better off focusing on the business impact of your project, since this social network is a place to showcase your relevance and contributions to the industry.

 

 

 

A video case study on IGTV

Designer Claudio Guglieri walks us through his process in a very visual manner — a perfect fit for Instagram TV.

 

A video case study on IGTV

Designer Claudio Guglieri walks us through his process in a very visual manner — a perfect fit for Instagram TV.

 

A case study in 12 tweets

Key insights from a project combined with images and GIFs were enough for Dan Brown to tell the story of the project and show his work approach.

 

A case study in 12 tweets

Key insights from a project combined with images and GIFs were enough for Dan Brown to tell the story of the project and show his work approach.

 

3

Set up the context of the project

 

Set up the context of the project

 

If you are writing about a real project for a real client, it’s important to explain the constraints and limitations around which you were working. If there were no constraints involved —as in the case of a project completed as part of a UX course— hiring managers will expect the designs to be as as innovative as possible, and will be frustrated if they are not.

 

Make sure to address the following questions in your work, since the context you provide will inform hiring managers’ evaluation of your entire study:

 

 

If you are writing about a real project for a real client, it’s important to explain the constraints and limitations around which you were working. If there were no constraints involved —as in the case of a project completed as part of a UX course— hiring managers will expect the designs to be as as innovative as possible, and will be frustrated if they are not.

 

Make sure to address the following questions in your work, since the context you provide will inform hiring managers’ evaluation of your entire study:

 

 

Was this a school assignment or a real-world project?

 

 

Was this a school assignment or a real-world project?

 

 

What was the brief? Were you assigned to do a full redesign, or just to add a new feature to an existing product?

 

 

What was the brief? Were you assigned to do a full redesign, or just to add a new feature to an existing product?

 

 

What was the team like, and what was your role in the project?

What was the team like, and what was your role in the project?

Were there any technical constraints or business KPIs you had to keep in mind while you were executing the assignment?

 

 

 

 

 

Were there any technical constraints or business KPIs you had to keep in mind while you were executing the assignment?

 

 

 

 

 

A case study that sets the project context every step of the way

 

San Francisco-based designer Simon Pan does an outstanding job at starting his Uber case study introducing what he and his team were set up to achieve — and keeps contextualizing his design decisions throughout the whole study.

 

 

A case study that sets the project context every step of the way

 

San Francisco-based designer Simon Pan does an outstanding job at starting his Uber case study introducing what he and his team were set up to achieve — and keeps contextualizing his design decisions throughout the whole study.

 

 

4

Focus on insights rather than process

 

 

Focus on insights rather than process

 

 

Everyone’s process is somewhat the same. The steps in your process are just a framework to support your story — they are not the story itself. Reading an insightful case study is much more exciting than reading one that is complete but uninspired.

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone’s process is somewhat the same. The steps in your process are just a framework to support your story — they are not the story itself. Reading an insightful case study is much more exciting than reading one that is complete but uninspired.

 

 

 

 

 

Highlight what you learned working on each step, and how you brought those insights to each subsequent step of the process.

Highlight what you learned working on each step, and how you brought those insights to each subsequent step of the process.

Make sure your insights are interesting and easy to understand. Would someone feel compelled to retweet a random sentence from your case study?

 

Make sure your insights are interesting and easy to understand. Would someone feel compelled to retweet a random sentence from your case study?

 

Talk about the things that didn’t go well, and how the lessons learned from those experiences made you and your team smarter.

 

 

Talk about the things that didn’t go well, and how the lessons learned from those experiences made you and your team smarter.

 

 

Teach readers something they don’t already know. Everyone understands the importance of user research in the design process, but not everyone knows that Gen Z users prefer their phone camera to default to selfie mode.

 

 

 

Teach readers something they don’t already know. Everyone understands the importance of user research in the design process, but not everyone knows that Gen Z users prefer their phone camera to default to selfie mode.

 

 

 

Case studies where every heading gives readers a new insight as they scroll:

 

Cujo case study, by Karolis Kosas

 

Cookmate case study, by Oluwaseyi Amole

Case studies where every heading gives readers a new insight as they scroll:

 

Cujo case study, by Karolis Kosas

 

Cookmate case study, by Oluwaseyi Amole

5

Design your case study reading experience

 

 

 

Design your case study reading experience

 

 

 

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager who has limited time to read your case study, and make sure it is easy to digest and scroll through. The design of your case study page has an enormous impact on how it will be consumed and perceived. Ultimately, reading your case study should feel like flipping through a magazine feature.

 

 

 

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager who has limited time to read your case study, and make sure it is easy to digest and scroll through. The design of your case study page has an enormous impact on how it will be consumed and perceived. Ultimately, reading your case study should feel like flipping through a magazine feature.

 

 

 

Use scannable headings. Knowing that people will rarely read every word on the page, think about how you can convey a coherent story with your headings alone. Make people dance through the page as they scroll.

 

Use scannable headings. Knowing that people will rarely read every word on the page, think about how you can convey a coherent story with your headings alone. Make people dance through the page as they scroll.

 

Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Once you’ve written the first version of your case study, rewrite it to make it 20% shorter. Then rewrite it again. And again. Finally, cut your text in half, and you’ll be done.

 

 

Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Once you’ve written the first version of your case study, rewrite it to make it 20% shorter. Then rewrite it again. And again. Finally, cut your text in half, and you’ll be done.

 

 

Write your story to someone who is hearing about your project and company for the first time. You may have been immersed in that particular business vertical for weeks or even months, but your audience is going to need some context.

 

 

Write your story to someone who is hearing about your project and company for the first time. You may have been immersed in that particular business vertical for weeks or even months, but your audience is going to need some context.

 

 

Replace text with visuals. As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

 

 

 

 

Replace text with visuals. As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

 

 

 

 

Case studies that feel like reading a magazine feature:

 

Blitz, by Shawn Park

 

DeskView’s case study, by Rainfall

 

Designing Red Pen, by Matt and Katie

 

Case studies that feel like reading a magazine feature:

 

Blitz, by Shawn Park

 

DeskView’s case study, by Rainfall

 

Designing Red Pen, by Matt and Katie

 

6

Obsess over your case study visuals

 

 

 

Obsess over your case study visuals

 

 

 

Being a designer focused on UX rather than UI doesn’t give you permission to make your case study anything less than beautiful and pleasant to look at. A visually-impressive case study not only shows off your design skills, but, more importantly, communicates the fact that you care about your work.

 

Beautiful work will get you the interview. Strategic work will land you the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a designer focused on UX rather than UI doesn’t give you permission to make your case study anything less than beautiful and pleasant to look at. A visually-impressive case study not only shows off your design skills, but, more importantly, communicates the fact that you care about your work.

 

Beautiful work will get you the interview. Strategic work will land you the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only show the deliverables you are proud of. Believe us: you don’t have to publish every single file in your project folder.

 

Only show the deliverables you are proud of. Believe us: you don’t have to publish every single file in your project folder.

 

Re-create your deliverables. Now that the project is over, redesign your deliverables so that they look better, are all consistent throughout the case study, and effectively communicate the point you want to get across.

 

Re-create your deliverables. Now that the project is over, redesign your deliverables so that they look better, are all consistent throughout the case study, and effectively communicate the point you want to get across.

 

Use large images and visuals. Small thumbnails make it difficult for the reader to evaluate the details of your work, and by using undersized images you miss an opportunity to highlight your craft.

 

 

 

Use large images and visuals. Small thumbnails make it difficult for the reader to evaluate the details of your work, and by using undersized images you miss an opportunity to highlight your craft.

 

 

 

Include prototypes and motion. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand static artboards.

 

 

 

 

Include prototypes and motion. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand static artboards.

 

 

 

 

A case study that leverages large visuals and motion despite being UX-focused

 

Despite having a UX background, Seattle-based product designer Pratibha Joshi uses large images and short video prototypes to showcase the Design System she and her team have built for Sprinklr.

 

 

 

 

A case study that leverages large visuals and motion despite being UX-focused

 

Despite having a UX background, Seattle-based product designer Pratibha Joshi uses large images and short video prototypes to showcase the Design System she and her team have built for Sprinklr.

 

 

 

 

7

Make it personal

 

 

 

 

Make it personal

 

 

 

 

The case study should tell a story about how you think and how you design — it's never about the project itself. Ideally, your case study should reflect your personality so strongly that it would feel out of place in any other designer’s portfolio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The case study should tell a story about how you think and how you design — it's never about the project itself. Ideally, your case study should reflect your personality so strongly that it would feel out of place in any other designer’s portfolio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show why you care. What excited you the most about working on this project when you first received the brief? What aspects of the process gave you the chills as you were working?

 

 

Show why you care. What excited you the most about working on this project when you first received the brief? What aspects of the process gave you the chills as you were working?

 

 

Speak in your terms. Sometimes designers are so concerned about using corporate lingo and sounding strategic that they forget to allow their own voice to come through in their writing.

 

Speak in your terms. Sometimes designers are so concerned about using corporate lingo and sounding strategic that they forget to allow their own voice to come through in their writing.

 

State your opinions. Projects designed by someone with a clear vision tend to be more interesting to read. Don’t try to please every reader — hiring managers are looking for people who have a strong point of view on the challenge at hand.

 

 

 

 

State your opinions. Projects designed by someone with a clear vision tend to be more interesting to read. Don’t try to please every reader — hiring managers are looking for people who have a strong point of view on the challenge at hand.

 

 

 

 

A case study designed and written around the author’s personality

 

Joel Califa not only brings his voice to his writing, but also adds small visual touches: the use of color, the chat bubble call-outs, the team photo. We learn as much about him as we learn about the project. 

 

A case study designed and written around the author’s personality

 

Joel Califa not only brings his voice to his writing, but also adds small visual touches: the use of color, the chat bubble call-outs, the team photo. We learn as much about him as we learn about the project. 

 

Define your area of focus

Align the story with the medium

Set up the context of the project

Focus on insights rather than process

Design your case study reading experience

Obsess over your case study visuals

Make it personal

Define your area of focus

Align the story with the medium

Set up the context of the project

Focus on insights rather than process

Design your case study reading experience

Obsess over your case study visuals

Make it personal

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Recap

Recap

Case studies are a great way for designers to practice their craft and share the lessons they’ve learned with the larger community.

 

A case study should focus less on the project it portrays and more on the skills and personality of its designer. Writing a case study should never be reduced to ticking boxes from a checklist or following predefined templates. Instead, it should provide a platform for you to talk about the things you believe as a designer: your passion (reflected in how much time and attention you invested in the project), your thinking (demonstrated by how you connect the dots throughout your process), and your insights as you learn new things and evolve in your career.

 

 

Case studies are a great way for designers to practice their craft and share the lessons they’ve learned with the larger community.

 

A case study should focus less on the project it portrays and more on the skills and personality of its designer. Writing a case study should never be reduced to ticking boxes from a checklist or following predefined templates. Instead, it should provide a platform for you to talk about the things you believe as a designer: your passion (reflected in how much time and attention you invested in the project), your thinking (demonstrated by how you connect the dots throughout your process), and your insights as you learn new things and evolve in your career.

 

 

Does your work truly reflect who you are?

 

 

 

 

 

Does your work truly reflect who you are?

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by:

Fabricio Teixeira, Caio Braga

 

Edited by:

Emily Curtin 

 

Contributions from:

Tiago Machado, Al Lucca, Jaybe Allanson, Megan Dell, Micah Boswell, Brian Smith, Christina Ray, José Carlos Torre, Sam Roth, Matthew Cunningham, Aruna Mall, Lucas Coelho, Adrià Lleó, Luna Felo, Gurpreet Singh, Priyanka Gupta, Ariel Zorrilla, Aline Melo, Alexey Samkov, Joshua McClurg-Genevese, Christian Hagel-Sorensen, Gordon Baty, Anfisa Novikova, Eugena Jeon

 

Thanks to all students, hiring managers, recruiters, and designers who discussed this topic with us for the past few months.

 

Written by:

Fabricio Teixeira, Caio Braga

 

Edited by:

Emily Curtin 

 

Contributions from:

Tiago Machado, Al Lucca, Jaybe Allanson, Megan Dell, Micah Boswell, Brian Smith, Christina Ray, José Carlos Torre, Sam Roth, Matthew Cunningham, Aruna Mall, Lucas Coelho, Adrià Lleó, Luna Felo, Gurpreet Singh, Priyanka Gupta, Ariel Zorrilla, Aline Melo, Alexey Samkov, Joshua McClurg-Genevese, Christian Hagel-Sorensen, Gordon Baty, Anfisa Novikova, Eugena Jeon

 

Thanks to all students, hiring managers, recruiters, and designers who discussed this topic with us for the past few months.