How to write case studies for your design work?

almost 8 years ago from

Hey DN community,

I'm looking to get my portfolio re-done with case studies instead of showing static images to give clients an idea of my thought process on how I tackle problems I come across while designing.

This being my first time doing something like this, I've got a couple questions:

  1. What are some ways of displaying this? I was thinking of putting together a PDF, zipped and ready to be shared when asked for it, instead of my actual website (for now).

  2. Just wondering what are some key points I should bring up, while writing?

  3. Showing an entire app, how much is too much (or little) to be shown? Do people usually try to keep it to a minimal of 3-5 etc points?

Appreciate responses and any good links of examples or templates of case studies structure for design!


  • Matt Anderson, almost 8 years ago (edited almost 8 years ago )

    I've just recently gone through this process with my website.

    1. If you're comfortable with HTML and CSS i'd definitely recommend that over a PDf. If not maybe check out something like Semplice. Having your work showing on a website seems far more accessible than a PDF which people need to ask for.
    2. A good start is to treat it a little like a book i.e. with a beginning, middle and end.
      • Beginning - Introduce the project, problems, requirements etc
      • Middle - Describe the process you went through i.e. how you tackled said problems
      • End - Show the success of your work e.g. "Increased sales by x", show quotes + testimonials etc.
    3. Depends… Some projects may need to show a little more of the process while others may require less. Take it project by project and don't think you need to fill some arbitrary limit.
    11 points
    • Helen . , almost 8 years ago

      Thanks for the recommendation, I think I will jump right into having it on my website portfolio instead of a PDF then :)

      Valid points mentioned, thanks for your input!

      2 points
  • Celeste NorthCeleste North, almost 8 years ago

    Hi Helen! You could check Case Study Club for inspiration. They gather great case studies from designers and makers, after reviewing some you can get an idea of what you feel the most comfortable with I think.


    Hope it helps! :)

    7 points
  • Chad Thornton, almost 8 years ago

    I'm a hiring manager at Uber and see a lot of portfolios. Here's a few key considerations:

    • Make it self-presentable. At the risk of stating the obvious, you should be writing about your work. A PDF with minimal context and a lot of pretty final comps won't get you far unless you're just banking on your visual chops.

    • Make it scannable. Don't expect someone to read it from top-to-bottom right away. Put some good typographic hierarchy to use and let that initial scan draw them in to read more.

    • Front-load your most exceptional work, and call out why it's notable (ideally that's something that involves business impact).

    • Include "what we can talk about..." teasers. You don't have to be exhaustively comprehensive. Call out the things that are best talked about in person: key decisions, some canonical deliverable type you improved upon, etc.

    • Feel free to mix up how long each "case study" goes. A couple longer ones with the rest using an abbreviated style could be fine.

    Last tip: when you do get the portfolio review, don't just walk through your website or the PDF you sent over. The hiring manager has already seen that and the slightly upgraded formality of a Keynote deck really is more appropriate.

    2 points
    • Helen . , almost 8 years ago

      Hey Chad,

      Interesting points I actually never considered, such as having a slighted upgraded presentation for works the hiring manager hasn't seen yet. Thanks for sharing those!

      Totally dig that "what we can talk about..." teasers. First time that has been brought up and I'm definitely going to include that :D

      0 points
  • Dylan SmithDylan Smith, almost 8 years ago

    I bookmarked this a while back for inspiration when I next redo a portfolio:


    2 points
  • JD AllcapsJD Allcaps, almost 8 years ago

    Here are a few thoughts -

    Showcasing your work

    Definitely a 'hero image' plus a few supporting ones (possibly details/work-in-progress/sketches?). The idea here is to leave some room for viewers to dig deeper/ask more questions as opposed to showing them all...

    Writing part

    [1] a one line "tweetable" summary would be great [2] a short para on the brief/problem/opportunity [3] what you did/how you approached it/anything different or new? [4] and finally the impact - numbers would be great (# of downloads/sales/engagement metrics et al) [5] put in any quotes, user comments - thats the "hero" text!

    All the best!

    2 points
    • Helen . , almost 8 years ago

      Thanks JD!

      I didn't think about a hero image but that's a good idea. Unfortunately I can't get hands on the info on impact but I will dig around with old clients to see if I can nudge info out of them :)

      0 points
  • Richard Hawkes, almost 8 years ago

    Hey Helen, I'm doing the same thing right now and there was a recent post that showed a great example. As others have said, defining the context and showing work in progress are a great place to focus. Case studies are a great opportunity to show everything leading up the final product. Other ideas:

    • results because in the end, that is what matters
    • findings from user testing or research that surprised you
    • detailing iterations, even if it's how a simple element evolved over time

    Here's the link to the case study from a recent DN post:

    Pixelmatters – Vouch Case Study http://pixelmatters.com/vouch

    1 point
  • James Young, almost 8 years ago

    I'm rewriting it at the moment for our new site but here's two versions of the case study we have for one of our businesses Cutting Edge Knives: https://offroadcode.com/cutting-edge-knives & http://www.welcomebrand.co.uk/work/cutting-edge-knives/

    It's also supported by some blog posts we've written over time a the bottom and on my personal site, a slidedeck for conference talks I've given on building the business.

    As it's a little dated now and we've grown the company significantly since it was written so I'm reworking some of the content and will be including more figures and probably a little more about the process of building and maintaining the site.

    1 point
    • Helen . , almost 8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing James, I like the breakdown of the progress in the first case study. Will be sure to learn some points from your post on how how to write to attract the viewer's attention :)

      0 points