If you’re trying to make your UX case study a certain number of words or make it fit on a single page, then you’re doing it wrong.
Every case study is different. This is why you must stop focusing on length. Instead, you must think like a designer and determine whether or not the case study feels too long.
Subjective? Yes. But design is subjective and though we have best practices, trying to apply rules such as number of words a case study should be simply doesn’t make sense.
In this article, we’ll explore practical things you can do to make sure your UX case studies don’t feel overwhelming or too long. By applying these tips, you’ll ensure that hiring managers and recruiters aren’t overwhelmed and instead, are engaged with your case study and want to learn more about you as a candidate.
“I heard that a UX case study should be no longer than 300 words.”
It could be … however it probably won’t be detailed enough to catch the attention of UX hiring managers. And more than likely, it will not adequately articulate your skills and experience.
Before we go into more detail let’s get one thing clear, UX case studies have different purposes. It might be for your UX portfolio, or an article, or for your website, or to help you prepare for a performance review.
The point of a UX case study is to explain the details of a project you worked on. Ideally the UX case study goes beyond what you did and screenshots of deliverables. Instead, an effective UX case study should explain the problem, process, and outcome.
This article will focus on UX case studies as they relate to UX portfolios and how they are used by UX recruiters and hiring managers in the candidate screening, interviewing, and hiring process.
There is no “right” word count for a UX case study
Imagine there was a UX rule that said, “a website’s homepage can be no longer than 1,500 pixels tall.”
A rule such as this would be completely absurd. Why?
Every homepage is different. The purpose, audience, tone, goal, and vibe of each homepage is different. Trying to make every single homepage be the same length fails to consider an important element of design, the element of context. The context of the people and situation we’re designing for will impact the length of the homepage because the message and way we communicate that message will vary.
Design is subjective. Of course we have best practices, but the best designers I know do not operate on a set of rules – a paint by number process for designing. Instead, the best designers I know consider the context of what they are creating and who they are creating it for. The best designers I know always ask “why” and seek to justify their design decisions.
As a UX professional, you must train yourself to always consider the context. If you don’t know the context, then you need to put on your research hat and figure it out. When it comes to UX case studies, you must consider the 3 users of your UX portfolio.
In the UX job search and interview process, we know that recruiters and hiring managers are busy. Every single person involved in interviewing and possibly hiring you will not read every word of your UX case study. However, you can increase the chances that your UX portfolio stands out when you consider not the literal word count of your case studies and portfolio but instead, how long does it feel?
Consider the UX of your UX portfolio and case studies
Stop focusing on the literal word count of your UX case studies. Instead, start focusing on how long the case study feels.
In my UX Portfolio Formula program, I teach UX professionals how to write effective UX case studies and then translate those into something more visual. To write a successful case study, I recommend that you literally write it out in a Google Doc first. Why? Because this forces you to focus on the content first. I even do this when I’m creating a workshop or conference talk. By focusing on the content first, I ensure that the message is clear and I don’t forget any important details.
It’s a bit ironic that we don’t follow the UX process when it comes our UX case studies and portfolio. When working on a UX project there’s a reason it’s not advised that you don’t jump right to high fidelity designs. The point of working through ideas in lower fidelity wireframes first is that this gives you a chance to work through ideas quickly. Then, once you feel like you have key functionality and flows identified, you can start to think about what those look like in terms of the details of the interface – colors, fonts, icon styles, round or square buttons, etc.
Two designers could be given the exact same wireframes for an e-commerce product detail page and they could design very different versions. One could feel light and airy and very intuitive while the other could feel overwhelming, disjointed, and confusing.
When it comes to your UX portfolio, consider the written case study that you have in a Google Doc as the wireframe. Then, after you have the story of what you did and why you did it, you have to consider how you will lay that out in a way that is easy for the user of your UX portfolio to skim and scan as they evaluate your skills and experience.
It’s important to note that not every single word in your Google Doc will be in your final UX portfolio. As you are laying it out, you may realize some detail is too deep or that it’s better to hold that in your back pocket as additional information you can share in the interviews.
Don’t worry, even if you are not a visual designer, there are basic visual design principles that impact how long your UX case study feels.
How to make your UX case studies and portfolio feel easy to read and understand
Let’s imagine a UX portfolio that’s been done as a PDF. In that portfolio there are 3 projects.
This particular project has 18 slides. The details don’t matter, the point is to focus on the layout, amount of text, and images.
Imagine we are looking at Keynote and these are miniature versions of the slides:
Looking at this example above, it feels like a lot of information to consume because:
- There is a lot of text
- All of the text is the same size
- The slides feel crowded with text and images
If a busy recruiter or hiring manager was skimming through this, they wouldn’t get a good idea of what this project was about because it’s unlikely they would read enough of this text.
So what can you do? How can you lay out a project in your UX portfolio so that it’s more readable and scannable for the UX recruiter?
Let’s look at the same project, with slightly different layouts, so you can see how small changes can make a project feel less overwhelming.
In this example, the project is still 18 slides. However key layout details make it more skim-able, scannable, and easier for the user of your UX portfolio to get the gist of each project without reading every word of text.
This version in the example above feels less overwhelming and is more readable because:
- Large headlines on each slide make it more readable. If someone only read the headline, they would get the gist of what that slide is about.
- Text is broken up into smaller chunks rather than a giant continuous column or paragraph.
- Text makes use of bulleted and numbered lists which helps to make the text easier to skim and scan.
- Images replaced some of the text. Though not visualized in this graphic, some of the text could have been replaced with visuals. For example, instead of having two paragraphs of text explaining the process and timeline, you could create a visual to communicate timeline, steps, and even team member involvement.
Creating an effective UX case study is not about word count, it’s about how long it feels
Answering the question “is my UX case study and portfolio long enough” is the wrong question to ask. As you’ve now learned, simple layout changes can make your portfolio feel easier to understand and less overwhelming. For the user of your UX portfolio, how long it feels is a key factor in whether or not they will get through the whole thing.
If your UX portfolio or case study feels complicated, too long, and hard to read it’s likely the user of your UX portfolio will miss key details about your skills and experience or worse, move on to the next candidate.
Instead of focusing on the length and word count of your UX case studies and portfolio, ask yourself questions such as:
- Does my UX portfolio convey the range of skills that the job description outlines?
- Does this case study go beyond deliverables?
- Does this case study explain not just what I did but why I did it?
- Is there a good balance of text and images?
- Could I replace any of the text with images or visuals?
- Is the text readable and skim-able?
- Could I further break up text with smaller paragraphs, bulleted lists, and headlines?
- Do I make use of varying text sizes to help create hierarchy of information on each page?
- Are some details better suited to discuss in an interview versus be included in the case study or portfolio document?
- Does it feel overwhelming or too long?
Design is subjective, so is your UX portfolio
Of course there are best practices when it comes to your portfolio. But you are the person who knows your skills and experience the best. You are the one who knows the projects you worked on. You must take that knowledge and use it as the context necessary to tell the story of each project and create a portfolio that stands out.
Throughout your career, people will tell you rules and best practices all the time. Don’t forget to ask yourself “why” … evaluate whether or not that rule or best practice makes sense. Justify your design decisions.
Learn to think like a designer, not just when you’re working on projects at work, but also when you’re writing UX case studies and working on your portfolio
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