Stories are design: How to really write a graphic design case study, part 2 of 4

by / Tuesday, 27 January 2015 / Published in Process and Procedures, Writing

In part 1, we learned how to set up the beginning of a good case study, and we learned that’s based on good story structure.

So, what happens in the middle? In Act 2? And how does it all end?


In the last post, we discussed how the creative brief is like the “dragon” you have to fight.

Well, at this point in your case study, you fight the dragon.

Oddly enough, most graphic design case studies skip this section entirely. That’s unfortunate, because it’s arguably the most important. Sticking to the principles of good story, a good case study needs drama – even if on a short, microscopic scale. This is accomplished by injecting a level of uncertainty, a sense of, “How will they pull this off?”

The reader should feel a tinge of doubt. To that end, try to give the impression that, at some point during the process, the problem seemed insoluble.

Include pictures.

There’s nothing wrong with showing the reader your mistakes. Describe the “bad” ideas you had that didn’t work, your reasons for trying them, and then your reasons for rejecting them. That helps teach the reader.

INSERT FROM SHAWN: The points above are also excellent tips for presenting creative to a client.


Finally, describe your solution. Take a good, analytical look at the final product. Go over the details, and showcase the solution with pictures.


This section is crucial. This is where the sell happens. It explains your mastery of graphic design, and gives the reader a peek into your expertise. If anything, this section convinces the reader you’re the one to hire.

In a sense, you want to pretend you’re speaking to a class of first-year design students. Explain what principles of graphic design you utilized with your solution that makes it so effective. Don’t write a whole separate essay on it, but sneak in a factoid or two about good design that lends the reader some understanding.

“Hierarchy and contrast help the viewer determine the most important information.”

“Black is often seen as a symbol for authority. Purple is very sophisticated.”

Simple little bits like this help the reader “get it.” Remember, folks in need of graphic design don’t know these things, as commonplace as they are to you. They’ll “get” how graphic design works, why it works, and they’ll see that you obviously know what you’re doing with it.

And, again, if you’ve chosen the right client to focus on, one that strongly relates to the client you’re after, the reader will know more about what’s important for solving their own problem.

And because they learned from you, you’re the expert they’ll attach this new understanding to. They’ll know you’re the expert with the relevant knowledge.


Numbers sell.

Now, give them data.

What positive results did your client receive because of your work?

If there is any information you can give the reader in the way of percentages, sales numbers, increased profits, or anything similar, mention it. Readers want to know precisely what you can do for them, and that comes down to cold, hard figures. These are business-people after all, so the bottom line matters most.

This is the happy ending of your story – riding off into the sunset. Readers will want to ride along.


That’s how you tell a story with a case study. Follow that pattern, and you’re automatically guaranteed to have something far stronger than the straightforward bullet-point lists you see out there. Here, we’ve gotten their emotions involved, too.

But, there’s still more to it. We’re marketing here, remember, not writing a novel.

Next, we’ll look at how to really market with a case study.

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