Fifty-six percent of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool. However, only 7% of job seekers actually have a personal website.
Of this minority, very few present case studies that include more than a boring screenshot of their most recent work. Yet case studies are a vital tool that help designers build trust and credibility with prospective clients.
Most clients aren’t looking to hire a designer just because they want their site or app to look pretty. They’re hiring a designer to help them meet a business objective. Good case studies prove that you understand the big picture and the details.
“Case studies help designers build trust and credibility with prospective clients.”
In this post, you’ll learn the 5 key elements of the best design case studies—and you’ll get inspired by a few prime examples.
5 key elements of good design case studies
1. Executive summary
This is a general overview of the project. It should be short and sweet for the skimmers because only a few conscientious prospects will actually read each project’s case study.
The content in this section should detail a high-level overview of the other sections, including:
- Main problem: The reason they hired you
- Solution: How you solved the problem
- Key results: What were the deliverables or KPIs?
Productivity tip: Write this section last, after you’ve written all the content for the other sections.
Related: How to design case studies
2. Context and challenge
Next, you should give prospects context into the problem you were hired to solve. You can do this by answering the following questions.
a) Project background description: What context information do you have for this job?
Again, Hanno does a simple yet effective job providing a quick contextual overview for site visitors.
b) The problem: Why did they hire you?
c) Goals and objectives: What were the agreed-upon goals of the projects? While difficult sometimes to get, the key here is quantifiable metrics. Think about the tangible goals of the project. Maybe you reduced the number of cart abandonments or your design increased conversions by X%.
Helpful tip: At the beginning of new projects, make sure these points are clearly articulated to you by the client to save you a headache trying to figure out this section after the project is done and shipped. If you’re working on a case study for a completed project, look back to your creative brief, project description, or request for proposal (RFP) to find this information.
How did you get from the problem to your solution?
The process section should describe how you approached solving the client’s problem and why you made the decision(s) to approach the project this way. It’s helpful for prospects because it gives them a glimpse into the experience of working with you.
You’ll want to present clients with a walkthrough of your research and workflow as well as with iterations at various stages of the process. From the research you present—anything from A/B tests to user interviews—prospects should be able to extract key insights into how you arrived at your findings.
Efficiency tip: Try to accumulate as much information about a client’s audience as possible. Ask for buyer personas. Talk to support and see what people are asking most frequently. This can save you time, when it comes to developing a key insight to guide your design decisions.
Most processes I found are detailed stories, making it harder to take a screenshot of. The simplest process I’ve found is by Nunrun.
Take screenshots. Include links. Record a video. Do anything to showcase your solution in this section.
While this is the place to showcase all your hard and beautiful work, it is not the place to skimp on the textual details. Spend time refining clear copy that provides more insights into everything you present — from navigation structure to mobile-only attributes.
Above-and-beyond tip: This is the place to truly impress your prospects. Take the extra effort to consider adding a video or interactive features.
Show them the numbers.
This section should showcase your success metrics from the project. Success metrics could be qualitative (a testimonial or press quote), quantitative (KPIs), or better yet, both.
It’s vital that the metrics/results you showcase directly address the objectives you detailed in Section 2 (Context and challenge). This proves you directly contributed to the client meeting their big picture goals. This will increase their trust in you and differentiate you as more than just a designer who makes things pretty.
“Good case studies prove that you understand the big picture and the details.”
In order to be effective, testimonials must be compelling and show that you made a measurable impact on a client’s business. Paul Jarvis details 3 types of effective testimonials in the Creative Class.
- The before-and-after changes a client experienced from working with you
- The excellent results they achieved
- They unexpected value they received from your work
Jarvis also recommends following up a few months after completing the project.
“Following up a month or 2 after the end of a project is another way to collect more powerful, results-driven testimonials. Ask how your work has affected the business, created quantifiable sales spikes, or if there have been other positive changes that speak to the value of your knowledge and services.” (source)
Think-ahead tip: Plan the experience of working with you, and build securing client testimonials into your design process so you don’t have to ask for them 5 months later. Also, each time you begin a new project, make sure to connect your work to quantifiable business metrics and objectives. This will make your life way easier when it comes time to build your case study later.
Tell a compelling story, and the clients will follow
While a good case study presents all of the above, there is no hard and fast rule that you have to include every section and/or present your case study in this exact order. I’ve seen loads of gorgeous and compelling case studies, yet no 2 tend to look the same because each designer has a unique style and personality.
In order to hit my point home, I’ve included a list of a few of my favorite case studies below. So what are you waiting for? Get inspired now.
- Evolving the Google Identity
- Building SoundCloud
- University of Oregon
- EA Origin
- Virgin America
- Amazon Prime
- Pet Drugs Online
- Getting 15,000 Uber drivers on the road
This was originally posted on Medium.
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Lauren Holliday is the managing editor at Toptal and the founder of Freelanship. She also teaches a course on full-stack marketing. Want to read more? Follow her on Medium.