I’ve had the opportunity to give several portfolio reviews, and I want to share some common themes I see and how you can improve them to put your best foot forward as you search for that new product design gig.
1. Tie in the business objective
Ideas are great, and it is a common practice to state the problem you are trying to solve, but rarely designers indicate how the design or solution is helping business goals.
What is the ideal outcome you’re trying to achieve, and how do business goals align with this? Success metrics are key to any organization that you get involved with, and it’s an excellent opportunity to bring in how design plays a role in the business.
Let’s say your case study subject is an e-commerce website. Your goal is to enable people to check out and make purchases with as little friction as possible, but most importantly, this allows the company to drive revenue. Are there areas in the checkout experience you prioritize to support this?
I prioritized one-click purchase for an easier checkout experience for our users resulting in a lift for our business.
2. Prioritize one or two flows.
A common trend in case studies is the prevalence of showing every single flow in an application. If you try to put a story on top of it, it’s quite hard to track what task a user would be trying to achieve.
Narrow your scope of work. Maybe you’ll see there are one or two tasks that align closest to that business goal, and you’ll have a more straightforward story to tell.
I had an opportunity to redesign the shopping experience, but for this case study, I’ll be focusing on the search experience since 80% of our traffic reaches this page but doesn’t move on. We saw this as an opportunity for our users to convert and drive revenue for the business.
3. The Sandwich Technique
The Interaction Design Foundation divides the design process into five stages; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. We’ve also seen additional frameworks around the double diamond. My point is that there are clear beginning and endpoints to each step of the design process.
Most case studies go through these stages and have a beginning and an end as it passes through each phase.
At the beginning of each section, consider describing which methodologies you’ll be approaching the problem space with and why. In the same manner, at the end of each stage, summarize those sections with a synthesis of your learnings. It’s an opportunity to bring in your perspective and expertise.
In the research phase, you may send out a survey because you had a limited amount of time to gather research participants, and this method allowed you to get some signal at scale.
There are many different methods of gathering research, but articulating constraints and the best course of action given your circumstances provides the reader with the necessary context of what influenced your decision making.
4. Use data visualization to communicate key points
It’s important to note that not every chart or matrix is going to add value to your case study. Adding pieces of data visualization throughout can break up walls of text and tables for opportunities to highlight or summarize key metrics you’re trying to convey.
Performance comparison (1) I.e. We reduced the number of steps to complete a purchase compared to the previous design.
Percentages (2) i.e. 60% of participants surveyed preferred one-click checkout over the current checkout experience
An increase in decrease over time (3) i.e. Adoption rates, clicks, revenue, are great places to start.
5. Refine to shine
Over time you may have started using a new design tool, or picked up new design tips and tricks. Go back and revise your prototypes to reflect this. The hiring manager and recruiter haven’t been keeping tabs on your older work to tell the difference.
The benefits are two-fold; it’ll become more apparent what areas of your design process have improved (growth!), and you’ll have more polish on your work.
Small tweaks can make a big difference. Take another pass at your case study and see if any of these methods can be applied. What are some other tips you have for refining case studies? Leave them in the comments.