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How To Write a UX Case Study in 5 Steps
When you’re starting out as a UX designer, you know that you need case studies for your portfolio. People have different expectations for UX case studies, but we’ll give you the 5 basic elements they should all include.
The first day I sat down to write a UX case study, I had no idea what I was doing. I remember that I wanted to write about an app that I was using constantly, called MyFitnessPal. I had done a bit of research, but when I sat down, my mind went blank and I ended up writing a 900-word diatribe about the social aspects of the app.
To this day, I can’t believe I had the audacity to show anyone this case study. When I showed my friend, he just laughed at it.
“This is a Medium article,” he said, “not a case study.”
When you’re starting out as a UX designer , you know that you need case studies for your portfolio. However, there’s not a lot of concrete information out there on exactly what should be in a case study. People have different expectations for UX case studies, but I’ll give you the 5 basic elements they should all include.
A quick note—case study styles are like Thanksgiving turkey recipes: everyone has one and they all come out a little different, but in the end it won’t ruin the holiday meal. As long as your case study is all meat and bone with no wasted space, it’ll be fine.
Step 1: Define the Scope
Ideally, the first paragraph should tell the reader what you’re planning to talk about. You may want to highlight a problem, show off a stunning design, or highlight a change.
Step 2: Define the problem
Readers of your case study want to see the problem clearly defined. An issue that new UX designers have often is identifying that there is a problem but not identifying the problem itself. A common bad statement might be something like “this app is frustrating for users and they have a high bounce / uninstall rate.” A better statement is something like “users have trouble accessing and understanding their account overview, and navigation to and away from this page is buried in menus.” This outlines the problem clearly and sets you up to solve it concisely over the next few paragraphs. If you’re designing an app from scratch, this section should talk about what problem you are hoping to solve, and why your solution is the cleanest and most effective one.
Step 3: Define the Audience
Not every app is for everyone. An easy example is something like Blind, which is a forum app designed for tech professionals, particularly engineers, to discuss work life at their jobs. Being designed for tech professionals means that it doesn’t have to necessarily be awe-inspiringly beautiful with jaw-dropping animations. It can be austere, and even a bit spartan since the people using it are working in a heavily analytical industry. Even the job posting section of their website is just an Airtable.
Understanding your target audience for a product will make analyzing the success of that product much simpler, as design, copy, and architecture should all work together cohesively.
Step 4: Solve the problem
There are several ways to do this in a single section, but generally, this should be a paragraph or two outlining A) what your solution for the problem is, and B) how you arrived at the solution to this problem. Both are vital to include. An easy way to start is to write something like “I decided to solve this problem by taking these actions,” before outlining the actions you recommend.
Step 5: Show your work
I’m an ignoramus, so algebra never came easy to me. I especially hated when I would arrive at the right answer and be asked to show my work. What does it matter how I got there? I got the correct answer, didn’t I? Let me be the Algebra II Top Gun of this school and leave me alone.
Unfortunately, in design case studies showing your work is necessary, and this is where you get a chance to show your UX design process . How did you arrive at this solution? What steps did you take to ensure that you were being circumspect in your reasoning? You can’t be the Diogenes of UX, hanging out in the middle of the agora shouting dichotomies and hoping someone listens. You have to walk the reader through each step of your thought process.
This is where you get to show off your screens, your prototyped animations, your Tableau repositories, your Typeform and Google Sheets research, your pivot tables, Miro flowcharts, Hotjar heat maps, and beautifully animated PyViz scatter charts. This is where you get to blow your reader’s mind.
Take a look at the case study example in Derrick's profile , one of the Verified Designers on Uxcel.
A quick tip: Head over to Coolors or Adobe Color and pick out a nice cohesive palette to put all your research in. This is an easy way to ensure that it doesn’t confuse the reader (wait, red is good now?) and looks clean and consistent.
Writing a UX case study is incredibly important to your career path, especially when first starting out. However, by ensuring that you have every necessary step in your case studies, you can create beautiful qualitative and quantitative research and design that blows your readers’ minds and lands you your dream job. Happy hunting!
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How to Write an Engaging UX Case Study
Would you believe that a good user experience case study has the potential to get your job application noticed in the eyes of recruiters in case you get that job interview? If you are all set to share your portfolio with the hiring managers, why not take the final plunge and include the element that can transform your overall impression as a candidate entirely?
Case studies lay out a quick roadmap in front of your recruiters that lets them get a sneak peek into your analytical and creative mind. Reading a UX case study is like your hiring manager taking a walk with you through the design problem at hand. You get to explain the process that you followed to curb the user pain points with your unique design thinking and thought process, which also captures the essence of what is a user-centered design.
Why Case Studies Are A Game-Changer for Your Portfolio?
Case studies should reflect a curious and creative thinker within you. They should also let you demonstrate your ability to turn research and relevant insights into something concrete for design. When you’re interviewing for an analytical position such as a UX role, you’re showing off your problem-solving skills because UX is problem-solving first and design second. Your case study should demonstrate not just your process but also your ability to tackle complex problems.
The Anatomy Of a Great UX Case Study
A memorable UX case study explains in graphic detail the design process you follow throughout every stage of the design project. It pens out not only your research but also the reasoning for your ultimate design decisions while accentuating your design skills. Let’s begin with the structure you should follow to capture everything chronologically:- Step-1: Start with “An Introduction” Step-2: Familiarise with the “Process Followed” Step-3: Lead with “The Research” Step-4: Engage with “Design Iterations” Step-5: Conclude with “Final Observations/Result” The key here is to keep the content of the case study short, crisp and to the point for hiring managers and recruiters. No one’s going to sit there and sift through your case study for an hour. Reviewing case studies by experienced professionals means scanning them in mere minutes and knowing whether you have what it takes or not. Also, make it a point to give each section an equal amount of attention when crafting your case study. You never know when recruiters and hiring managers might take notice of something you avoided.
The Process of Writing an Engaging UX Case Study – A Step by Step Process
If you don’t capture your reader’s attention in the introduction, they probably won’t continue reading. Make the introduction an engaging, concise way to set the stage for your article. Also, don’t forget to articulate the primary problem that you are aiming to solve. Here are a few elements to include in the introduction that will make your content crisp and self-explanatory:- i) Overview of the company: What is this company’s identity? What do they do, and what are their goals and mission statement? ii) Challenge the company was facing: What was the pain point you decided to tackle? What was the ultimate question you were trying to answer? What difficulties do you encounter while addressing the problem at hand? iii) How do you fit in the picture : What was your role in the project? What were the timelines? Were there any constraints that affected the project? iv) Your Take : A methodology is a specified, systematic approach to solving problems or performing tasks. What methods did you use to comprehensively analyze your user data? What methods did you use to test your idea? v) Conclusion : Elaborate on the conclusion for the end product and wrap up with a fully defined objective which you’ve completed and deliverables. Reminder- Don’t go overboard with details in this section, we will get to it later.
When highlighting your process, make sure to be explicit about which UX research methods you used and how they helped influence your design decisions . You should : i) identify the UX design problem s that you faced with a problem statement, ii) show how you approached the project in terms of information architecture, iii) show how you interacted with your users in order to gather relevant metrics and understand their needs through good ux iv) show what research methods did you implement etc. Explaining the methodology you used to accomplish a specific task is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to know.
Step-3: User Research
Now is the time to walk everyone through your UX design case study process. It works like a hypothesis that can get approved or rejected based on your findings. So there’s no right or wrong answer to it. This gives you an opportunity to elaborate on the methods you came up with the former stage and bring action-oriented improvements to the process. The way to go about it is to briefly explain the design research techniques you used (card sorting, user persona, usability testing, etc.), why you chose these specific techniques, and what outcome you hoped to achieve. Ultimately, your research ends with how effective your UX design solution proved for the users.
Step-4: UX Design Decisions
When you start the design phase, you look back at your research and start thinking about how you could design to accommodate your findings. Use the results of your research to inform your design decisions. This is an important part of user-centered design. Take the findings from your user research and apply them to your designs. If your project is to build a new site or landing page, make sure each iteration includes visual design mockups. You can include steps such as: i) Sitemaps ii) User Flows iii) User Journeys iv) Paper wireframes v) Medium/High fidelity wireframes v) Prototypes
Employers should be able to quickly and easily find the content that’s most relevant to what they want to know about. To show your final UX design, you can use any tool that suits your needs. It can be a wireframe, high-fidelity mockup , or even something more sophisticated like an interactive prototype. Don’t forget to link to the source and voila! You’re done! If you want to show off your skills and use an intuitive tool for that, try out UXPin . Take your interactive prototyping to a higher level.
By following these steps, you can turn a good case study into a relevant design portfolio piece that showcases your problem-solving skills while bringing your creative side to the table to achieve maximum harmony between functionality and aesthetically fine design work. At the end of the day, the whole point behind a case study is to establish expertise in the area of UX research and design and be perceived as a UX professional in the eyes of potential prospects. Use an intuitive design tool that will help you show your skills – sign up for a 14-day trial .
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How to write the middle or “process” part of your case study
UX case studies are all about the work you’ve done and how you progressed from an initial problem statement to the delivery of a finalized product. Describing a process instead of just a collection of visuals is the key difference between a UX portfolio case study and a Visual Design portfolio. You need to show the “road” you took to reach your destination, having decided on, and kept to, the best route. So, we want a story to flow that represents this journey. Now, we will explore the tips and tricks you can use to show your process, alongside your case study visuals, so recruiters can see how organized and resourceful, among other attributes, you are.
If you take a simple exercise in searching Google for “UX case study tips”, you will encounter many articles with quotes from UX professionals and recruiters about what your case studies should look like. It’s very easy to see that they all converge on the same advice: A UX case study is a story , one that describes the process of the discoveries that you made while tackling a UX challenge.
For the story to be told, your case study can’t just be a series of photos, design artifacts or screen grabs. These may mean a lot to you, but they don’t reveal very much to anyone who wasn’t part of your project. UX recruiters are primarily interested in your way of thinking : How did you decide that this was the right approach to solving a challenge? Why is this design detail like this and not like something else? How did you work to decide between the possible alternatives? How did you involve users in the process? How did you carry out your evaluations? Quite simply, a flat visual can’t answer these questions.
“Having a really strong portfolio where you can talk through your whole process , not just showing research, user flows , wireframes, etc, but turning it into a story for example why you moved onto each part of the process so a hiring manager can really get inside your thought process.” Tom Cotterill, UX Recruiter at Source LF
What content should I put in a UX case study’s process section?
The trick to storytelling in UX case studies is to use a combination of visuals and text. In fact, remember that text here is probably more important than visuals, in the sense that all the crucial information is something you should describe textually , with visuals adding support, impact and credibility to your textual descriptions of the process. This doesn’t mean that you should focus more on the text than on the visuals – both are equally important. However, if you are to build a good UX case study, you should understand the distinct role that text and visuals play in bringing the story to life.
Just like every story, UX case studies unfold along a timeline – a series of events that lead to the final product. Therefore, you can lay out your story sequentially, as if it were a number of steps, with each step taking you closer to the end deliverable. Laying out the story in steps doesn’t just help you put events in a logical order for the recruiter to follow; it also highlights that you have an understanding of a methodological process, such as Design Thinking . So, you might take the core elements of Design Thinking as the steps that you need to outline in the case study.
You might argue here that Design Thinking is not a linear process, and you would be right to say so. However, the case study can’t be structured effectively when the reader has to skip back and forth between phases of development. To solve the problem, you could state at the start that UX projects don’t follow a linear methodology, but for the purposes of the case study, you will describe the various work done during different phases in a linear structure (and outline what that structure will be).
Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Structure your case study sections linearly to show the work you did in each of the phases of the Design Thinking process. Start with Empathy , then Define, then Ideate, then Prototype, and then finally move on to the Test , or evaluation, phase. You can throw in bits of evaluation in every other step, too – for example, during the ideation phase, how did you evaluate alternatives to select which one to take forward?
When writing down the things you did during the process, remember the “why” question which will pop up in the recruiter’s head while reading your case study. Why did you do this? Your text has to be written with this question in mind: I did this (great, but why?) , because I needed to solve a problem (here is your answer) . Thus, you can write sentences like the following: “To build empathy at the start of the project, I carried out interviews with 20 users ”, or “ To decide between design alternatives, I conducted heuristic evaluations of all possible designs ”.
To strengthen the “I did this” part, you can now begin to use visuals. For example, if you carried out a co-design session with some users, a simple photo of your users sitting around a table, with Post-its, markers, sheets of paper, etc., adds veracity to your statement – hey, they really did do this . It also adds confidence in your skills – hey, it looks as if they truly know how to do this properly .
You can also use visuals to strengthen the “why” part. For example, if you had many alternative designs to choose from, showing a few of these alternatives adds veracity to the level of challenge that you addressed – hey, they really had to work hard on deciding which alternative is best – and also confidence in your skills – hey, they must be very imaginative and are not shy about exploring all the possibilities!
What types of visuals should you include in your UX case study?
It’s hard to give a definitive answer to this question. You should exercise judgment and show the design artifacts and UX deliverables that you think best represent your skills and work. However, you may want to consider the 11 most commonly created and shared UX deliverables, according to Page Laubheimer, a researcher at the Norman Nielsen Group (2015).
Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation . Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Alongside these, you may want to include photos of your work-in-progress, of your users and participants, and even yourself or your team at work. For this reason, remember to document everything and capture as much of the process as you are going through it, during an actual project.
Examples of good practice in combining text and visuals
Hopefully, you are beginning to see how text and visuals work hand in hand to deliver the story and give a convincing impression of you as a talented UX professional. Let’s now explore some creative ways in which you can put text and visuals side by side to build your case study. Remember that how you do this is, in terms of layout and visual presentation, entirely up to you. It’s only important that you not forget to answer the what, why and how-did-you-do-it questions.
Copyright holder: Paula J. Young, paulajyoung.com. Copyright terms and license: All rights reserved (fair use). Img Src
In this example, the UX designer discusses how they created empathy with the users by developing personas . In the text, a summary of the personas is given. An accompanying visual shows how one of the persona deliverables looks. There is no need to put in all three personas – the recruiter isn’t interested in the project specifics, but is in seeing you following process and employing your rationale (explained in the first sentence). One visual is enough to show that you are capable of producing good UX deliverables.
In this example, the UX designer briefly describes the user testing methodology and some of the key findings. The accompanying visual is very powerful: Here, the designer demonstrates that they are capable of thinking outside of the box (excuse the pun!) so as to develop imaginative ways to test a product’s usability .
Copyright holder: Robert Sens, Behance.net. Copyright terms and license: All rights reserved (fair use). Img Src
In this example, the designer describes their process during the ideation phase. Not many details are given, but that’s OK – the focus is always on showing that you employed a certain strategy for a valid reason. The accompanying graphic doesn’t provide any further information about the project, but its power is in demonstrating that the designer is methodical and skilled in working through the ideation process described in the text.
Copyright holder: Justin Edmund, jedmund.com. Copyright terms and license: All rights reserved (fair use). Img Src
In this example, the designer discusses the prototyping phase and demonstrates their skill in producing low-fidelity paper wireframes. Note how the wireframes are annotated: this helps the recruiter see that the designer is clearly thinking about the interface elements, their function and why they are laid out the way they are. Again, this demonstrates critical thinking, rather than just taking up space in the case study.
Writing tips for UX case studies
Now that we have seen how text and visuals can work hand in hand to help you explain your process and thinking, let’s look at some writing tips that will help you get the most out of your text.
Get to the point
Don’t waffle on with text. Be direct, keep your sentences short, and go straight to the point. Instead of getting carried away with long sentences like “ The empathy-building phase is important because it allows the generation of requirements. During that phase I started off with a set of casual interviews… ”—simply say this: “ To build empathy with users, I started off with a set of casual interviews. This resulted in a preliminary set of requirements. ”
Remember that even though you need to acknowledge team work, you must also highlight what you did, so get personal. Instead of saying, “ We worked together to produce a set of wireframes ”, say, “ As part of the team effort to produce wireframes, I created designs for functions XYZ ”.
Remember the what, why, how
Actually, the previous example was only partial advice. Remember to include the what, why and how! Better yet, write: “ Building on the requirements arising from customer journey maps , the team created wireframes to explore design alternatives. I created three alternative designs for functions XYZ ”.
Use plain language
Don’t overcomplicate your text with esoteric jargon related to the project. Focus on the process and explain it as simply as you can. Not everyone who reads your case study will be a UX person – sometimes, managers or developers might be part of the interviewing team. Keep it human and you will keep it real.
Use active voice instead of passive
You might have some text like “ wireframe mockups were created in the ideation phase ”. Passive voice does indeed have a purpose (to put the subject of a sentence in the spotlight when it can’t do anything as an entity), but it has a nasty habit of sometimes making things appear quite vague (in the previous example, just who were these mockups created by?) and is more difficult to read and process than active voice. Instead, you could improve the clarity by writing in the active voice, like so: “ I created wireframe mockups in the ideation phase. ”
Use UX keywords
Remember – your recruiters probably won’t spend more than a couple of minutes looking through your portfolio (especially if they have lots of applications to review). For this reason, make sure that UX keywords, especially deliverables appropriate to each phase of the process in your case study, are things you use and highlight clearly. Since recruiters will probably skim through rather than read your text, having the right keywords in place ensures that your case study will catch their eye, and hopefully convince them that it’s worth a second look.
The Take Away
While you are undertaking a UX project, remember to capture as much of the process as possible by taking photos, scanning documents and saving files. When the time comes to write the middle part of a UX case study about this project, all of this material will come in handy. Writing the middle part of your UX case study requires a significant investment of time and attention. You must carefully pick the elements of work which you believe you should highlight. You need to weave a story and show, using an appropriate combination of text and visuals, how you understand and are able to apply a methodological approach to your work, like Design Thinking. It’s important that every sentence you write and every visual you include have a direct impact in answering the perennial questions in the recruiters’ heads: What, why and how?
References & Where to Learn More
Copyright holder: janeb13, pixabay.com. Copyright terms and license: CC0
Drugay, A. (2017). How to create a UX writing portfolio .
Motivate Design (2016). How to craft a top-notch UX case study .
Mederos, B. (2015). The foundation of a great UX portfolio .
Daukaeva, K. (2016). How to write a good UX case study .
Laubheimer, P. (2015). Which UX deliverables are most commonly created and shared?
UX For the Masses (2017). How to bring your UX work to life with compelling case studies .
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