How do you put together a case study for a design project?

There are a lot of reasons for writing a case study, so figuring out WHY you want to do it will completely change how you write it. This is how I've approached mine in the past, and what I like about my favorite case studies over the past few years.

6 action items

  • 1. Figure out what your core message is and who your audience is.

    Why are you writing this case study? To get a new job? To build your social profile? To educate others? If your goal is to get a job, write specifically to hiring managers. If you don't know what they want, find some hiring managers and ask them what they look for. If you are just trying to educate others, talk to people about what you did to see what resonates with them—focus on the work more than your personal contribution.

  • 2. Don't be afraid to write the whole story.

    You're a designer. Tell your story. Don't just show photos. Just know that a LOT of people won't read the details. But having a good story is important. But write it in a way that you yourself would want to read.

  • 3. Answer the main questions

    Who did you work with? What was your particular contribution? What were the guidelines you were given (or not given)? Why did this project matter? Who did it matter to? What impact did it have? How long did it take? All of these could probably be answered in a few words per question. These are just facts that add context to the project. What did you do that was so great? This is the hardest question for you to answer. Spend all your time here. If you need to, go talk to other people you worked with and ask them what they think was so successful. You could maybe talk about your process, but remember your audience and what you want them to take away. Unless you are trying to teach a prospective employer about design process, or you did something particularly unique, maybe leave out the process bit.

  • 4. Summarize

    I add a summary or tl;dr section to every one of my projects. This allows people to get a sense for the project in 2-3 sentences and decide if they want to read more. If you do this well, they can read the summaries of all your projects in about 5 minutes and have a great understanding of who you are as a designer.

  • 5. Add structure and make it skimmable

    If you've done all that writing, add some structure to make it easy to scan. And provide headers that people can skim so they know where they want to dig in.

  • 6. Finally, add images

    AFTER you've come up with your story, and the main things you want to call out, then and only then you can find imagery from your project that augment the story and helps keep things moving. Images are super important and many people will come in just to skim through the images. That's ok. If they support the main story and tie in with the structure, you're off to a great story. The truth is that the fancier your images, the better. Lots of people judge a book by its cover. Use that to your advantage. Last note: your story is almost never made better by adding pictures of all your sticky notes and you in front of a whiteboard. Seriously, it's not unique or compelling and probably doesn't make your story better.

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