Good case studies

  • UpdatedJul 25, 2021

  • Reading time3 min

I'm currently thinking about writing case studies for my work, I didn't know where to start, so I did what I do when starting any project, some research; I needed to define what I think makes a good case study.

Here are my thoughts so far.

Structure

I am a fan of detailed case-studies. It's important that the case study details the project step-by-step, not only the final output but the actions taken along the way.

Firstly, introduce the project, include: Who the client is. Why they approached you. What problem they were facing. This adds historical context to the work and why it was needed in the first place.

Next give an overview of the phases of the project for example: Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver. Include what they meant to you for this project.

The rest of the case study should document all the steps taken from the beginning to the end, each step should tell the reader: what you did, how you did it, why you did it, and the what you and others learned by doing it. Below is a non-exhaustive list of steps I like to see, seeing at least 5 of them is a good sign:

You may find it helpful to split the work into different features, meaning you produce several mini case-studies instead.

Images

Images are an important part of any case-study, in my opinion not as important as the story, but still a big part if created with care.

Polish and attention to detail is good, but not the most important thing, successful imagery needs to enhance the text it interrupts, as long as imagery is relevant and easy to understand the polish can come second.

Any imagery should aid the content itself it's a good idea to keep relevant images and text together. Try not to dominate the text with giant images that overtake everything else, especially if they are decorative 1.

I like to see photographs of things happening, especially if you can show the team working together on a problem.

When it comes to showing off the final product I prefer to see fewer images that are interesting or innovative, rather than lots of images of another run-of-the-mill login screen. Which interactions are you most proud of, and why?

Design

When designing how a case-study looks, less is more, any design decisions made should elevate the content, avoid distracting decoration. That doesn't mean the design should be boring, a well designed case-study should still engage the reader.

Try to avoid treating every image same, context is important, for example comparing images is easier when they are side-by-side. Loosening the grid can add character and a sense of creative 'chaos' to a collection of early stage sketches 2.

The typography should have a personality that does not shout over the top of the content, but is capable of singing to an audience when needed. The hierarchy should define sections, pauses and guide the reader effortlessly.

Colour should try not to distract from the content or draw the eye away from important images, a carefully chosen colour palette can be helpful in telling the story, but defaulting to neutral themes is sensible.

Wrapping up

Once you get to the end summarise what the most important learnings and failures were for you and the team. Remember that design work is never 'done', talk about what the next steps are going to be in the future.

Finally, please, please, link to the work in the wild, if it exists.

Things to remember

Don’t be afraid to show work-in-progress, failed ideas, and other work that you may not consider to be 100% successful or worthy of sharing publicly. I find that being honest can show me more about a designer than pixel-perfect imagery, after all nobody is perfect, and projects rarely go 100% to plan in the real world. Somebody who can open up is willing to demonstrate how they handle the twists and turns that projects can take.

It's OK to talk about the things you wish you did during the project, or might try next time, this tells me that you learn by mistakes, and constantly learning.

It's OK to take some credit for things that you did not create as a sole contributor, teamwork is important.

Don’t skip over 'invisible work', after all thinking is work.

Remember that this is my opinion of what a good case-study looks like. If you're using this post as guide to get a job please investigate what the company you're applying for prefers to see.


Resources

Here are examples of what I think are good case studies:


References

  1. The 'Double Diamond' framework — Design Council