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How to create great case studies

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

A strong portfolio is one of the best ways to help show your value to potential clients. Many companies decide to move away from just showing images of their work and instead opt to create case studies for a few of their best projects. Rather than showing the number of projects you have worked on, case studies are a way for creatives to really go in to depth and explain their process. We will look at what makes a case study successful, some great examples we can learn from and how to go encourage the website visitor to get in touch.

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  • What makes a case study successful?

  • Showing your creative process

  • Mockups and examples of your work

  • The call to action

What makes a case study successful?

The goal with a case study is to help the reader imagine their own business in the project. If we just show images of work, it quickly becomes a question of taste. "Do I like this" instead of "could this person/agency create something that works for my business".

This is why context and explanation is so important. You want to make sure you explain what problem you were trying to solve, how you tackled it and why this was the best solution. This shows the reader that whatever problem they are struggling with, you can help them find a way to solve it. Given, this requires a little bit of copywriting. If this is new to you, have a look at this guide on how to write in your own voice.

One example of a business who really embrace this is Ragged Edge. In the picture below, you can see the beginning of their case study for Trussle. The tone is very friendly and helps introduce the project. You can see the full case study on their website.

Showing your creative process

One of the key things you want to accomplish with your portfolio is to show that you have a tried and tested process that will create a great result every time. This builds trust and also helps you charge what you are worth since you show that you do more than create something nice looking.

We spoke earlier about explaining the brief and how you approached this. You can use your process as a way to tell the story. For example, if part of your service is to help your customer understand their website visitors before you build the website, you can begin your story here.

"Client A approached us looking for a new website. Our initial discovery showed that their clients wanted a custom experience so this became the central goal of the project. We created this experience by...".

This way you are guiding the reader through your process without it feeling overwhelming.

Mockups and examples of your work

On to the visual bit! What should you think about when you show examples of your work? In my experience, the three things to focus on are quality, making sure the images reflect the client's brand and showing a few different examples from the project.

Let's start with the quality. When I just started out, I refused to spend money on mockups and my photography skills were not good enough to create high quality images. Don't be like me. There are a ton of cheap but high quality mockups you can purchase, my favorite sites are Yellow images and Creative Market.

The reason you want to reflect the client's brand in your examples is authenticity. If your client has a bakery, use imagery that could be taken at their shop. Pastry boxes, an apron and menus all feel right while a giant billboard might not. By paying attention to these small details, you tell a better story and people can imagine the work in real life. Of course, if you have the opportunity and skill to photograph your work in action, this is also a great option.

One company that really tell their story through their images is Snask. They not only show finished work but show behind the scenes pictures of their art directors, photographers and models.

The call to action

Once someone has looked through your project, you want to help them get in touch. Depending on how ready your typical website visitor is to buy, you can offer a way to get in touch or something less committal like "download our brief template" or look at more of our work. I suggest you test a few different options and see what works best. You can use a service like Crazy egg to see how people behave on your site to find out which call to action is most effective for your business with A/B testing.

If you are remaking your portfolio and want feedback from fellow creatives, join our Facebook community! Everyone is welcome and we are a very supportive bunch.

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