The art of presenting a design case study

A strategy for designers and a handful of tips when they walkthrough design case study during the interview

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I started taking interviews in 2012 when I became design manager. Since then, I'm sure I would have taken a few hundreds of interviews until today. 

Lots of companies have started eliminating design test and started focusing on detailed portfolio walkthrough. Sometimes the expectation will be that the candidate should present at least 2 detailed case studies, which helps interviewers understand the candidate better before deciding.  

When it comes to walking through the case study, everyone has their way of communicating the project story—some come up with a beautiful narrative and some with broken descriptions. 

After 2020's slowdown recently, I started retaking interviews for product designers and, after a few rounds, I observed a pattern. The pattern is that designers are focusing more on what they did in the project. I understand that interviews are like selling yourself, but it shouldn't be at a superficial level. When you show your case study, focus on each stage and justify each step you took in your project.  

Let me give you a real-life example.

Recently, a designer with 10 years of experience was walking me and my colleague case study, and she/he showed us a slide with some post-its that said s/he did user research and explained why s/he did user interviews. Guess what the next slide was? It was Paper sketch concepts that s/he started explaining. 

So what happened? 

I was excited that s/he explained why s/he decided to do user research, but s/he didn't explain these, which I was expecting:

  1. How she identified user segmentsHow many users she interviewed and how she decided numbers

  2. What were the findings and insights

  3. How she translated findings and insights into the design strategy (something I expect from experienced designers) 

S/he missed crucial parts of the case study at the starting while walking us through. 

The focus was on what she did, not why, how, outcome, and how it translated into the next step. These are crucial parts of the case study which interviewers want to see. 

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Your first few minutes can set the mood for the rest of the interview. If you do not plan this thoughtfully, then the chances are that you might mislay your interviewer's focus until you show something disruptive" 

How you should plan - Divide your case study into crucial dots (parts).  

DOT 1 - Plot building
  • Talk about the business domain.
  • Explain what the project was about
  • Explain what you did to understand the business domain (if it was new)
  • Define your role and duration
    • Team size
    • Explain your roles and responsibilities
    • Project duration
  • Problem
    • Explain problem statement
    • Demonstrate how did you understand the problem and what was the root cause
    • Show data that backs the current issue/problem (can be from workshop/data etc.)
DOT 2 - Explain the research, design and your approach to the solution
  • Explain the primary research methodologies used (If any)
    • Describe what made you choose those
    • Demonstrate how did you plan and conducted the research phase
    • What were the outcomes (findings and insights)
  • Show secondary research (If you have skipped primary research in your project, emphasis on this)
    • Explain methodology and why 
    • What were the results (findings and insights)
    • Connect and explain primary and secondary research findings and insights

  • Focus on how did you translate findings and insights into the following steps

  • Explain the design process if you have followed any specific. 
    • Explain why did you decide to use a specific design process (e.g. double diamond) why not others. If you do not explain, expect this as a question from the interviewer, so be ready to answer. Use this as an opportunity to learn about other design processes.

  • Explain the design phase in detail and focus on rationalising.

  • While walking through designs, try to connect back to research findings or insights.

DOT 3 - Outcome

Show the final outcome (show important flows/features etc which will solve the problem you are trying to fix for business)

DOT 4 - Show data

If possible, show data (how numbers have increased if the solution is live, if it's not still try to explain how the adoption will be)

DOT 5 - Share

Share learnings/challenges/failures (don't be shy to share failures, showing that you have an open and growth mindset). You can keep this for later if you wish to. You might want to wait for a question around this and then answer. It's a call which you need to make.

DOT 6 - Be a STAR

When explaining challenges and how you solved them try to use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result)

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Connect all dots and craft a good narrative and add some personality. 

Think multidimensional and show that you can think and explain at multiple levels. 

Practice

Do a dry run before you present. 

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Finally, if you carefully craft your case study, you can predict questions that an interviewer might ask and prepare in advance.

Hope this helps. If you have any question/thought I’ll be happy to discuss \ (•◡•) /

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The goal of this presentation is to impress, rather than inform"

- William Rushton

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