How to write a great UX case study

It’s Monday morning in Toronto and I‘ve got my triple shot cappuccino to help me get through one of the toughest parts of my job — evaluation of projects. On average, I have to read and provide feedback on 45 case studies every 3 months or so and I’ve built quite a collection of tips & tricks on how to write a great one. Here are my insights for anybody who is starting out in the UX design field and is looking to get a job.

1. What’s the story? Break it down.

UX design isn’t about the final solution, it’s about a process of getting there. Here are some of the questions that can guide you through it. Make sure to:

1. Provide context to the project; what was the original problem? why did the client come to you? what were the business goals?

2. Provide steps you took to find a solution to the original problem. Everything you do as a designer should be intentional and the tools are only there to help you find the answers. So make sure to provide rationale for why you decided to [insert deliverable here] and how this helped you progress further.

At RED Academy, we break it down into five phases: research, planning, design, testing, building.

Research

How did you conduct the research? How did you develop interview/survey questions (providing topic map can help)? What are the key findings you derived from the interview/survey? Who is the user? Include persona image, describe their goals and limitations.

This is also a good opportunity to talk about any relevant domain/competitor research. What other products solve a similar problem? How do they compare/contrast? What other products exist in this domain/industry?

Example of showing research results in a more visual format. Case study by Katherine Wearing on her project with Me to We

Planning

It’s important to show how research drives some of the design decisions we make. This is where you can include your feature list and user flow, generously peppered by affinity diagrams, sketches, whiteboard sketches. This is where you can include storyboard, use cases, user stories.

What features are required based on what you know about your user? How did you prioritize those features? Add images that illustrate your thinking.

Example of using a storyboard to determine features of the app. Case study by Tiffany Kwong

Design & testing

When it comes to UX design it’s important to see iterative process, so make sure to include your low-fi and mid-fi sketches & wireframes. Show how designs changed overtime based on testing sessions.

Amazing example of iterative process and how design evolved from low-fi paper prototypes to high-fidelity. Case study by Tiffany Kwong

Prototype

Personally, I really love Invision’s embed function that allows to add a prototype right into the web page, but there are multiple ways of doing it, including the one above.

Great example of showing a prototype in an alternative way. From case study by Gregory Ma

Summary

This section can include anything from a reflection of the UX process you went through to important KPI/business results and user satisfaction.

Example of a great summary by Simon Pan that includes both increase in both business goals and user experience improvements. Case study here

Step 2. Follow the format

Personally I love Medium, but it doesn’t matter where you host your case study. Medium makes it easy to reach the right audiences, seek and provide feedback, but at the end of the day it depends on your goal. There are 3 factors I wouldn’t compromise on:

  • Readability. There is nothing worse than reading paragraphs and paragraphs of text — so make sure to break it up using images, banners, and infographics. This will allow the user to skim through your article faster and get the gist of you process, key findings and the project as a whole.
  • Grammar and typos. Proof read your case study before publishing it. If you have a chance, send it to your classmates or colleagues and get them to provide feedback to you. Attention to details is crucial for designers and shows that you care about your work.
  • Use plain English. This isn’t an academic research paper and the goal is to communicate quickly and efficiently. Also, we know that writing for middle-schoolers will help you reach wider audience.

Step 3. Get visual

According to some recent studies, human attention span is shorter than one of a gold fish, about 3 second. It’s important to break up chunks of text and present key information in different formats, be it infographics, images or banners.

Below are some of my favourite examples that follow all 3 steps.


Have any comments or suggestions on creating better case studies? Share your thoughts in the comments or contact me directly via Twitter. Also, if you are in North America, check out our UX Design programs on RED Academy.

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