How to write the perfect case study to win more design clients

How should a website designer exhibit their prowess? The answer: Produce an immersive digital portfolio. One that delivers a powerful narrative alongside engaging visuals.

Jonathan Cook
March 29, 2021
Tutorials

Every web designer should have a few impressive case studies in their back pocket. But crafting them to win clients isn’t simple (trust us, we’ve been around the block many times).

It’s only after years of trial and error at Neon Hive that we’ve found a working format: A sleek composition of showcase images that flow together as the written story unfolds.

For you designers out there, the design will be the easy part. Visuals are your forte. But how does a web designer not only structure, but write the perfect case study? 

Sadly, screenshots paired with brief detailings of your favorite projects are not enough to breed success. Your case studies need smart structure, compelling copy, and engaging design if they’re ever going to win a potential client’s trust.

A meme image of a woman saying I want more!

What makes the perfect case study?

All great case studies feature notable client projects, a definitive narrative structure, and an engaging visual design. That, and decent writing — something all web designers should learn, for several reasons.

The above case study characteristics are essential. Use them together, and you’re guaranteed to breed case studies that win more design clients. 

To kickstart your process, note down this main goal: Case studies must describe the process you took to solve a challenge or close the gap from the observed to the desired state for the client.

To achieve this goal, in a case study, you need to pave an enticing pathway for prospective clients to scroll down and explore your services. Consider it your “yellow brick road.”

Along the path, show them your approach to successful website design. Prove that, with your services, they can sit back while you take care of business. And please, don’t be afraid to flaunt the final results you delivered for your client.

Below is your sequential guide to crafting effective case studies.  

Curation and criteria for case studies

You might’ve bonded (maybe to the bottom of a glass) with your favorite clients. But those projects aren’t always worthy of a case study.

Yes, this means killing some of your darlings. You can still take a walk down memory lane, but as you do, only show off the projects that best serve as excellent examples of your capabilities.

To ease the selection process, use the below criteria. It’s sure to ease the pain of saying goodbye to that really fun client who sends you gifts. (Bless them.)

Criteria for projects worthy of a case study:

  • It’s relevant to future projects and services you want to continue exploring.
  • It has a defined initial problem.
  • The outcome delivered measurable success.
  • The website is visually suitable for static presentation.

Design for display

Don’t take presenting your work as an opportunity to channel creative radicalism. It will distract from the website you’re displaying and the story you’re trying to tell. 

Instead, go minimalist when planning the design. Think of the space as a gallery wall to showcase your work. But you can (and should) get clever with presentation. Simple screenshots of your websites won’t engage the reader. Instead, consider exhibiting your work in modern frames, with immersive features, or visualized inside their natural habitat: digital screens. 

An example of minimal case study design

And remember: design for the types of clients you want to win. This presentation is for them, after all.

Build a gripping structure

We present to you: the golden structure for writing a perfect case study. Follow it in order, use the titles (or adjust as needed), and use our steps to guide you through the process:

1. The challenge

At the top of your case study, in no more than 100 words, introduce your client and their initial problem — which you eventually solved.

In this section, warmly describe your client, respectfully address their website’s previous issues, and get readers invested in their story. This is your chance to communicate the project’s purpose and set your case study’s emotional tone, allowing readers to relate to your client and their needs.

Having trouble etching out the challenge? Rest assured, there are always significant amounts of information at the core of every website problem.

For example: Even if the client’s purpose for hiring you was to create a fresh face for their brand, this ambition unveils their desire to benefit from a modern website. (See what we’re getting at?) Think critically about the ways their old website disadvantaged their business, and you’re guaranteed to uncover challenges that are worth a story. 

An example of "The challenge" portion of a case study

2. The solution

In roughly 300 words, explain how you crafted your client’s solution.

This section is about your skills, and should not resemble a diagnostics run. This section is where readers will hear about your intelligent approach and innovative ideas which, ultimately, resolved the challenge. 

When writing, keep it short and sweet. Make it digestible for the reader by breaking each key resolution into separate paragraphs.

Note: This section should focus mostly on images in chronological order. Bring in screenshots of wireframes and your strategy phases to paint a vivid picture of the whole project’s journey. After that, ensure the final product is pictured more than once and always provide a direct link to the website itself. 

An example of the solution portion of the case study.

3. The results

In no more than 100 words, describe the results of your handiwork.
This section is for flaunting the results of your client’s new website after the launch. Results can include increased traffic, improved brand presence, or higher conversion rates. Whatever data points you use, the most important thing is that you illustrate what the website has best achieved.

As for copy, all you need here is an introduction of your final results and the statistics to back it up. This is an excellent opportunity to comment on the new website’s success and summarize the beautiful digital platform you’ve crafted.

An example of the impact portion of the case study.

4. Testimonial

All you need is one glowing quote.

Many people think it’s necessary to stuff a case study with handfuls of client quotes. But let me be the one to tell you — this is a big mistake.

Readers certainly care about your client’s feelings, but sharing too many will water down each one’s impact. Want to make an impression? Use a single one to three-sentence quote and make sure it’s the cream of the crop.

Client quotes aside, don't be shy to bring in quotes from your team. It can be a breath of fresh air to learn what the experts behind the project thought about the build. What was their favorite part? Where was the challenge? Get creative and use these quotes sparingly throughout the case study to support the image or project stage you’re presenting.

An example of how to highlight a customer testimonial in your case study.

5. Scope of work

In as many words as it takes, list the services you provided throughout the project.

You’ve presented the experience and taken the reader on a journey — now it’s time to close. And what better way to do that than by listing the scope of your services which made it all happen? Consider this section the rolling credits of your project. 

Is it really necessary? Yes. Because sometimes (all the time) people don’t understand just how much work goes into one website. The scope is a subtle way to let them know. 

An example of the scope of work portion of the case study.

Come on (let the good times roll)

One final tip: Take a page out of a recipe book and frame that as your guide.

What you’ll find is a list of directions, each with a precious description, and no more than that. This methodical but engaging approach is best for writing a case study. Frame each stage with a heading, keep it in a logical order, and always provide something fascinating to read or see.

A gif of a man saying "That makes perfect sense"

Now’s the time to scan your portfolio in search of a story. So go ahead! Look back over your best projects, revel in your talent, and keep these tips in mind as you make your selections.

But don’t just browse through the pretty ones. Scour those most praised, the ones that filled your client’s pockets, and the innovative beasts that rattled your brain like no other.

Now you’re ready to build a perfect case study.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook is the founder of Neon Hive, a New Zealand-based digital studio partnering with passionate brands and ambitious startups around the world

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