When you’re putting together your online design portfolio, design case studies are a great way to showcase your experience and skills. They also give potential clients a window into how you work.
By showing off what you can do and your design process, case studies can help you land more clients and freelance design jobs—so it can be smart to dedicate an entire section of your online portfolio to case studies.
So—What Is A Design Case Study? And How Do They Fit In Your Portfolio?
Let’s get some definitions out of the way first, shall we? A design case study is an example of a successful project you’ve completed. The exact case study format can vary greatly depending on your style and preferences, but typically it should outline the problem or assignment, show off your solution, and explain your approach.
One of the best ways to do that is to use a case study design that’s similar to a magazine article or long-form web article with lots of images throughout. When building your case study portfolio, create a new page for each case study. Then create a listing of all your case studies with an image and link to each of them. Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of creating these case studies.
Choose Your Best Projects
To make your online portfolio the best it can be, it’s good to be picky when choosing projects for case studies. Since your portfolio will often act as your first impression with potential clients, you only want it to showcase your best work.
If you have a large collection of completed projects, you may have an urge to do a ton of case studies. There’s an argument to be made in favor of that, since it’s a way to show off your extensive experience. In addition, by including a wide variety of case studies, it’s more likely that potential clients will be able to find one that closely relates to their business or upcoming project.
But don’t let your desire to have many case studies on your portfolio lead you to include projects you’re not as proud of. Keep in mind that your potential clients are probably busy people, so you shouldn’t expect them to wade through a massive list of case studies. If you include too many, you can never be sure which ones potential clients will take a look at. As a result, they may miss out on seeing some of your best work.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how many case studies to include. It’ll depend on the amount of experience you have, and how many of your completed projects you consider to be among your best work.
Use Your Design Expertise
When creating the case study section of your portfolio, use your designer’s eye to make everything attractive and easily digestible. One important guideline is to choose a layout that will enable you to include copy and image captions throughout.
Don’t have your portfolio up and running yet and not sure which portfolio platform is best for you? Try one that offers a free trial and a variety of cool themes that you can play around with to best showcase your design case studies.
If you don’t provide context for every image you include, it can end up looking like just a (somewhat confusing) image gallery. Case studies are more than that—they should explain everything that went into what you see in the images.
Check Out Other Case Study Examples for Inspiration
Looking at case study examples from successful designers is a great way to get ideas for making your case study portfolio more effective. Pay special attention to the case study design elements, including the layout, the number of images, and amount of copy. This will give you a better idea of how the designer keeps visitors interested in the story behind their projects.
To see some great case study examples, check out these UX designer portfolios.
Try a Case Study Template
There are plenty of resources online that offer free case study templates. These templates can be helpful, as they include questions that’ll help you ensure you’ve included all the important information.
However, most of them are not tailored to designers. These general case study templates don’t have the formatting you’ll want (i.e. the ability to include lots of images). Even the ones that are aimed at designers aren’t as effective as creating your own design. That’s why case study templates are best used as a starting point to get you thinking, or as a checklist to ensure you’ve included everything.
How to Write Case Studies
Maintain Your Usual Tone
You should write your case studies in the same personal, authentic (yet still professional!) tone of voice as you would when creating the About Me section of your portfolio. Don’t get bogged down in too much technical detail and jargon—that will make your case studies harder to read.
Since your case studies are part of your online portfolio, changing your usual tone can be jarring to the reader.
Instead, everything on your portfolio should have a consistent style. This will help you with creating brand identity. The result will be potential clients will be more connected to your writing and get the feeling that they’re learning what makes you unique.
Provide Some Context
Case studies are more effective when you include some information at the beginning to set the stage. This can include things like the date of the project, name of the client, and what the client does. Providing some context will make the case study more relatable to potential clients.
Also, by including the date of the project, you can highlight how your work has progressed over time. However, you don’t want to bog down this part of the case study with too much information. So it only really needs to be a sentence or two.
Explain the Client’s Expectations
Another important piece of information to include near the beginning of your case study is what the client wanted to accomplish with the project. Consider the guidelines the client provided, and what they would consider a successful outcome.
Did this project involve unique requirements? Did you tailor the design to suit the client’s brand or target audience? Did you have to balance some conflicting requirements?
Establishing the client’s expectations early on in the case study will help you later when you want to explain how you made the project a success.
Document Your Design Process
As you write your case study, you should take a look at your process from an outsider’s point of view. You already know why you made the decisions you did, so it may feel like you’re explaining the obvious. But by explaining your thought process, the case study will highlight all the consideration you put into the design project.
This can include everything from your initial plan to your inspiration, and the changes you made along the way. Basically, you should think about why you took the approach you did, and then explain it.
At this point, consider mentioning any tricks you use to make your design process more efficient. That can include how you managed your time, how you communicated with clients, and how you kept things on track.
Don’t Be Afraid to Mention Challenges
When writing a case study, it can be tempting to only explain the parts that went flawlessly. But you should consider mentioning any challenges that popped up along the way.
Was this project assigned with an extremely tight deadline? Did you have to ask the client to clarify their desired outcome? Were there revisions requested?
If you have any early drafts or drawings from the project saved, it can be a good idea to include them in the case study as well—even if they show that you initially had a very different design in mind than you ended up with. This can show your flexibility and willingness to go in new directions in order to achieve the best results.
Mentioning these challenges is another opportunity to highlight your value as a designer to potential clients. It will give you a chance to explain how you overcame those challenges and made the project a success.
Show How the Project’s Success Was Measured
Case studies are most engaging when they’re written like stories. If you followed the guidelines in this article, you started by explaining the assignment. Next, you described the process you went through when working on it. Now, conclude by going over how you know the project was a success.
This can include mentioning that all of the client’s guidelines were met, and explaining how the design ended up being used.
Check if you still have any emails or communications with the client about their satisfaction with the completed project. This can help put you in the right mindset for hyping up the results. You may even want to include a quote from the client praising your work.
Start Writing Your Case Studies ASAP
Since case studies involve explaining your process, it’s best to do them while the project is still fresh in your mind. That may sound like a pain; once you put a project to bed, you’re probably not looking forward to doing more work on it. But if you get started on your case study right away, it’s easier to remember everything that went into the design project, and why you made the choices you did.
If you’re just starting writing your case studies for projects you’ve completed in the past, don’t worry. It will just require a couple more steps, as you may need to refresh your memory a bit.
Start by taking a look at any emails or assignment documents that show what the client requested. Reviewing those guidelines will make it easier to know what to include in your case study about how you met all of the client’s expectations.
Another helpful resource is preliminary drafts, drawings, or notes you may have saved. Next, go through the completed project and remind yourself of all the work that went into achieving that final design.
Draw Potential Clients to See Your Case Studies
Having a great portfolio is the key to getting hired. By adding some case studies to your design portfolio, you’ll give potential clients insight into how you work, and the value you can offer them.
But it won’t do you any good if they don’t visit your portfolio in the first place! Luckily, there are many ways you can increase your chances. One way is to add a blog to your portfolio, as that will improve your site’s SEO and draw in visitors from search results. Another is to promote your design business using social media. If you’re looking to extend your reach further, consider investing in a Facebook ad campaign, as its likely easier and less expensive than you think.
Once clients lay eyes on all your well-written, beautifully designed case studies, the work will come roaring in!
Want to learn more about creating the perfect design portfolio?
5 Designers Reveal How to Get Clients With Your Portfolio
20 Design Portfolios You Need to See for Inspiration
Study: How Does the Quality of Your Portfolio Site Influence Getting Hired?