What Makes a Successful UX Case Study?
June 29, 2021
by Maddy Beard

1. It should demonstrate design thinking and problem solving.

The number one mistake I see designers make is re-skinning popular apps or websites for their portfolios. This is a great way to practice your UI skills, but it doesn’t show that you’re capable of creating a good experience. Visuals are just one part of experience design, so don’t ignore the other part which is, according to Eric Reiss,

“the conscious act of coordinating interactions that are controllable, acknowledging interactions that are beyond our control and reducing negative interactions.”

In order to practice this and demonstrate it, make sure you’re choosing a design problem to solve and not just an app to re-skin. Think about a problem that you care about and imagine ways it could be solved. Unpopular opinion: It doesn’t even have to involve an iphone screen!!! Focus on choosing a problem and THEN decide the best medium for the solution.

Wireframes from Jan’s case study
Image from Jan Josef

For example, instead of re-imagining the visual design of Facebook Messenger, my friend Jan decided to design a new feature for Facebook Messenger specifically to help college students collaborate on group projects remotely. You can check out the case study here. Because this feature doesn’t yet exist, they were able to think about the problem and ideate solutions using the existing Facebook Messenger platform as a foundation. This made the project feasible yet open to a new perspective. In working with Jan, I brought up a few ways to improve the design of the case study itself, but there is no denying that it demonstrates that they knows how to think and problem solve like a designer. And that’s what matters the most!

2. It should show the problem, process, and outcome.

So what should your case study include? Well of course it depends on the project. But every successful case study includes these three things:

The problem

Define the problem and explain why it’s important to solve. Who would it benefit? What are the business opportunities?

The process

What kind of research did you do? What insights did you gain from the research? What did you do next? Show your data, information architecture, sketches, wireframes, and anything else you did along the way. Did you test and iterate? What did you learn during testing that drove your next iterations? Why did you make the key decisions you did?

The outcome

Now you can show the fun stuff! Show the important flows, screens, or moments. Animate them if that helps get the point across. Don’t forget to explain the outcome, deliverables, and results if you can point to any. If the project is hypothetical and you can’t point to real results, explain how you would evaluate the project if it were to get built. You could also outline key learnings, next steps or a future roadmap here.

loopit case study header showing ipad dashboard design
Image from Raw.Studio

3. It should have a balance of verbal and visual communication.

It’s important to show and tell about your problem, process, and outcome. Many designers coming from Graphic Design or another completely visual discipline think that their designs should speak for themselves. But that’s actually not the case! Show the UI, but also spend time crafting concise language about the why and the how behind them.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some case studies with entirely too much text. Remember that someone has to read this!! Make it digestible. Treat your case study like a design project in itself. One piece of advice I got from my mentor, Julia is to always assume the person looking at your case study won’t read the whole thing.

Build a TLDR version right into the case study so that skimmers can still gain an understanding of what you did and why.

You can do this by using large headings that speak to your process, visual representations of data, and bulleted lists of insights, to name a few examples. Of course you can go into more detail in the body text below, but deciding what to call out in bigger text and visuals is key.

4. It should examine a problem space you’re interested in.

When you’re trying to decide what problem to solve, I would highly recommend solving a problem you’re passionate about or at least interested in. You’ll always get more of the work you put out there, so think about what kinds of projects you’d love to get hired for and design something in a similar problem space.

essence case study thumbnail showing iphone screen design with smart diffuser app

Many of you know, my first case study as an Adobe Creative Resident was Essence, a smart diffuser app that promotes mindfulness through automation. And guess what! A few weeks after I put it out into the world, I was offered a job with a company creating that exact product.

Be intentional about the case studies you create and the projects you take on because you have so much power over what your career looks like! The power is in your decisions and discernment. Choose the subject matter that will help you create a career you’re passionate about.

5. It should NOT ignore reality and constraints.

Finally, it’s important to ground your hypothetical projects in the real world. It’s great to explore future technologies for your solutions, but make sure you use your case study to articulate how the project would be possible. What technologies would be necessary? What scenarios, time, and resources would be necessary?

When you’re putting together a case study for a hypothetical (or practice) project, you’re not going to have all the time and money you would have if you were being paid. And that’s okay! Outline the constraints so that the person reviewing the project knows you’ve considered everything. Wish you could have interviewed more people? Outline your plan for how much and what type of research would be realistic if this were a real project.

In summary, make sure you’re treating your case study like a design problem. Think about the goal: to get hired by XYZ company or client. How do you achieve that goal? These 5 tips are a great place to start to craft your case study to impress those dream clients.