Ah, creative portfolios—the thing we never want to revise but begrudgingly have to. The truth is that online portfolios remain the easiest tool for showcasing improvement and impressing prospective employers. In the professional world, design trends evolve and dictate how each of us can put our best foot forward. Right now there’s a reason that building a portfolio around case studies is a positive and necessary trend. Like an informative blog post, they showcase your thought process and evolution as a professional in your particular field.
While older design portfolios acted as a simple showcase for your best final work, we can all agree that a prospective client won’t be able to fully understand the inner workings of your process or how you work within a team. That’s why case studies are your new best friend.
Who should add case studies to their portfolio?
Designing a UX portfolio almost always involves case studies, since a UX designer’s final products involve the complete interactive experience. Perhaps unknowingly, they set a precedent for all portfolios going forward because, when it comes down to it, the emails you write or homepage you design need to satisfy the customer’s experience just as well! So now the answer to this question is: everyone should add case studies to their portfolio.
Case studies show more than just work
The whole goal is to show how you arrived from point A to point B on a project. Whereas a forever-scrolling page of all your favorite work will be an overload of information, a handful of case studies offers up everything a reader needs to learn about you. To be clear, we’re not talking about creating a case study for every single final project—just two-to-three that will show the arc of how you solve for your clients’ needs.
Collaboration is another thing that’ll make you stand out. Your case studies show both your talent and your ability to work within a team, to listen to criticism and work together to make changes everyone can be proud of. While writing out your case studies, be honest about your thought process and be clear when ideas come from others.
Highlight your most important and loved projects
If you’re new to this whole case study thing, you might not know where to start. Don’t overthink it. The easiest thing to do when you’re sifting through so much content is to begin with three projects that bring you the most joy—Marie Kondo method, anyone?—and create case studies around those. You’ll be naturally enthusiastic about them and you might just learn more things about yourself as you dive deeper into uncovering the process. Amazingly, these case studies can also help you guide your career path and personal brand. By showcasing the work you loved doing, you attract projects or roles that are directly related.
Remember you might use this portfolio within interviews, too. So case studies can even act as a script for those times when you don’t know where to start or are feeling nervous. Then you open up your portfolio and—bam—your whole professional story will already be laid out for you!
How to write case studies for your portfolio
We take our lead from the designers on this one. The layout should be simple - 1 photo per 1 short paragraph of info. Caption your photos with the essentials, then use short paragraphs to fill in any other necessary bits of info.
Tobias van Schneider, a professional self-taught designer, advises that you outline your case study with pen and paper first. We cosign on that piece of advice—it helps you focus on the bare minimum of necessary information while getting you off your computer to minimize distractions.
There are many helpful outlines out there for writing case studies. Here’s our quick and dirty version:
- Problem - 2-3 sentences. 1 photo.
Introduce your client to the audience and explain the problem they want to solve. Tell us your role in this project and briefly mention any other team members that worked with you on this project.
- Solution - 2-3 sentences each. 1-3 photos of the process.
Next, show 1-3 stages of progress that led you to your final product. In this section, it’s good to point out details you specifically changed to get your team one step closer to the end goal. It’s okay to let your voice come through a bit, just don’t let it distract from your straightforward message.
- Impact - 3-4 sentences. 1 photo.
Finish with the final product, how it solved the client’s problem and what you learned from the project. Then let the audience know how it impacts the way you and/or the client work today. Examples might include whether you learned how to better incorporate peers’ feedback or streamline the workflow for yourself and the team—anything that would benefit a potential client who wants to work with you. Pro tip, if you have any stats about the project’s success (think “150% increase in web traffic” or “advertisement resulted in X$ of direct sales) this is the place to showcase it.
Once you’ve written out your case study, gather your digital images, and get to work. Don’t know which platform is best for your design portfolio? Here’s a list of our recommendations.
What should you NOT include in a case study?
These case studies should be kept simple. Don’t include any proprietary information on the client or your company. We’re talking about trade secrets, core strategy, etc. Keep your focus on the project’s original brief and how you ultimately delivered.
When it comes to team members, don’t provide any specific names or private information. Use coworkers’ titles or full team titles. Avoid mentioning any interpersonal arguments you had over solutions. If the detail you want to mention is not a part of the collective end goal, don’t include it.
Lastly, we mentioned these case studies should be kept short. But what if there’s a big concept you need to include for clarity? Use links for anything in-depth that’s either super scientific or company-specific public knowledge. You don’t need to provide complex definitions in your case study if the info already exists elsewhere.
Don’t forget to call on your squad
Writing case studies can feel tedious, so don’t go it alone. Ask your creative friends (especially writers) to review your work and give them plenty of time to provide thoughtful edits. You’ll want to be doing this all in advance of all those important interviews you’ll have scheduled.
Speaking of...here’s some motivation.
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