A case against case studies
When you look at a designer’s portfolio, odds are you’ll find at least one case study in there. These are pages that showcase a project they’ve worked on and the key steps in their process. Here’s one of mine if you need an example.
For as long as I’ve been working, case studies have been the standard for judging a designer’s hiring potential. Whether you’re new to the field or have been here since the beginning, you will have written a case study at some point in your career.
But lately I’ve been wondering if they’re worth the weight we give them. Who are they for? Are they worth our time and effort? Do they set good examples for others, and benefit the industry as a whole?
I’d argue that case studies — in the ways we currently use them — are pretty rubbish.
They aren’t true to life
During their time at work, designers don’t have the time to create full write-ups of their processes. And when they’re updating their portfolio months later, it’s hard to recreate everything they did in an essay format.
Designers will use templates or other examples as references to build their own case studies. The problem with this is that after a while, our outputs start to look the same. Everyone has the same squeaky-clean story which doesn’t reflect who they are or how they do things.
Our processes aren’t linear. Every person works differently, and differently again depending on the project and team they’re in. Trying to chop our work up into a linear story doesn’t always go well; we end up twisting the narrative or straight-up lying to make it fit.
They showcase all the wrong skills
In my experience, I can tell someone’s design sense from looking at their portfolio. Their choice of fonts and colours, the layout and navigation. If they are a capable designer, these skills will be obvious without them needing to tell me anything. This same logic applies to their CV.
When I’m looking at a design portfolio, I want to know what that person will be like to work with. Do they communicate well and often? Are they organised and do…