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Stories are design: How to really write a graphic design case study, part 1 of 4

by / Thursday, 18 December 2014 / Published in Writing

Case studies are a unique bit of marketing. I’d even argue they’re the most literary. They’re the short stories of advertising.

And they work. They’re used more and more these days in marketing campaigns, portfolios, and websites.

Long commercials are the closest thing I can think of. Like them, case studies tell stories – “success stories,” of course. That’s significant, because stories are shaped the way they are because they’re good at stirring people’s emotions. And it’s emotion that buys, not logic.

You know well enough by now why we’ve been telling stories for thousands and thousands of years.

That’s something to take advantage of.

It’s important they’re done right.

Here’s how you set up a case study that’s sure to do it:

1. THE CLIENT

Think of why we call them, “success stories.”

For starters, it tells us we need to know the story’s main character – your client, in this case. In a novel, we care what happens to the protagonist because we relate to them. And we can only do that by knowing them. So, we need to know your client.

Begin your case study by briefly telling the reader a thing or two about your client – their type of business, their years in business, their demographic, etc. Ideally, you’ve chosen a client to focus on that’s similar to the client you’re pursuing with your marketing campaign. If so, readers will see themselves in the client, and they’ll relate.

They then invest themselves in what happens. In a sense, they feel like the case study is about them. Because of this, when the happy ending rolls around, they feel successful themselves.

And here’s a good tip: it doesn’t hurt to get a little personal. Use first names, and let us get to know the person behind the business – be sure to mention that Uncle Joe started his restaurant so he could afford to take care of his dog, Muffy, for instance, is what I mean.

That kind of thing makes us care for people, and then feel good for them when things go well.

That’s a feeling you want them to attach to your work.

2. THE CIRCUMSTANCE

What brought the client to you? Why did they need a graphic designer? Perhaps they were expanding their market, and needed to rebrand themselves, for instance.

Let the reader know.

This point goes along with the first one, as it’s just another way for your reader to relate to the client. Ideally, the reader has something similar going on. If that’s the case, you’re already halfway there to winning them over.

3. THE CHALLENGE

If a case study is a story – and it is – then it needs a villain. In the case of graphic design, that villain is the creative brief.

Think about it. The brief is what you’re up against, the challenge to overcome. It’s the dragon to slay, so to speak.

Describe the brief. Highlight its main points. Make it sound as daunting as possible, and explain it in a way the reader can understand. The more the reader appreciates what you’re up against, the more exciting the “fight,” and the more impressed they’ll be when you win.

Plus, they need to know the brief’s details so they can follow along with your decisions later on how to solve the problem.

JUST GETTING STARTED

Don’t just jump into the details of your final solution with a case study is the main point here. You’d be missing half the the point. These first three steps here are how we grab the reader’s emotions in order for them to later associate a successful feeling to your work.

You’ll describe your solution later in all its glory, but the reader will be in a much better spot to really listen, and care.

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