EX03 - Case Study Writing

Building the backbone

Regardless of how much polish you eventually layer onto your portfolio, it won’t mean much without case studies with substance.

Updated July 03, 2020

Design is a form of communication, but we often pigeonhole it as something that is strictly visual.

This misconception takes a toll on anyone in the profession as it impacts how we look at our work and what the world anticipates that we’ll deliver for them.

The status of the case study falls directly into the crosshairs of the issue. If design is purely visual, why should you explain your process to anyone? Shouldn’t we trust that your creative genius will save the day again?

Those statements are dismissive of the idea that case studies represent. Rather than being pulled in by eye candy, case studies are deliberately more cerebral and focused on making. Some of those items are fantastic, and others are forgettable, but they are all important in the arc of your career as a designer.

The case study is the meat of your portfolio, replacing the collection of visual artifacts that would have once masqueraded as a body of work. Now, designers explain their process and the struggles they encountered along the way. This isn’t to say that you won’t use project artifacts to display your visual skills, because you’ll do both. There is an extremely critical step needed to control the volume of information building in size.

Editing your darlings

When you see insanely long case studies or encounter every possible screenshot from a product demo, you’ve become ensnared in the trap of poor editing. Regardless of how good your work is, a poor edit of the content in your case study is the easiest way to camouflage your best work from potential employers.

Editing isn’t just for the written content, as many artifacts from your projects don’t logically work for inclusion in a portfolio case study. Yet, I see a bloated case study after bloated case study in portfolios that I review.

Some forms of editing are simple. Misspelled words should be impossible in the era of tools like Grammarly, yet they still appear. Images that are too small or won’t show up on mobile devices are the first things you should edit out.

Resources for review

Please use the following items to guide your exercise attempt:

Article/Video Source/Author
Beyond decoration New Pragmatic
Building Better Case Studies New Pragmatic


Length: Three-to-four hours to complete.

In this exercise, you’re tasked with working through three drafts for one of your projects. If you have multiple projects, you’re encouraged to loop through this portion of the curriculum as often as needed.

It would be best to write your case study in a collaborative writing tool like Google Docs. The goal is to see the full scope of what you are crafting before you begin editing.

First draft: This should be an outline of your case study. Think of this much like a table of contents that you’ll add detail to later.

Second draft: Instead of trying to write the entire case study from beginning to end, simply add a paragraph about each item or method listed in the first draft.

Third draft: With a better base of content to work with, you can now expand on sections as desired. Begin importing or linking images for use in the final draft. Where you add detail will likely dictate what the case study will ultimately focus on.

Case studies are big projects, so you should seek feedback on your second draft before expanding on the case study.


Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to the assets produced for this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.


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