Stop Writing Fictional Case Studies

Dear product designers, stop writing "fictional" case studies and start collaborating with developers on side projects to build credible proof-of-work.

I have been noticing a growing trend in designers spending a lot of time working on fictional case studies. Where they come up with an imaginary solution, for some imaginary problem. It's useless, mostly!

If you want to be a UI designer, go ahead and do that. No issues. But if you're training yourself to be a product designer—continue reading.

We all know how difficult the job market is right now. Layoff news coming in from all sides. Early stage companies are hiring, but very conservatively. And if it's a designer role, you need to be more than extraordinary to make a cut because of the cut-throat competition. Especially for the entry level roles.

I am writing this piece of advice for the newcomers. The ones who are looking for their first design job. Folks, you are competing with designers with 2-4 years of experience. And your fictional case studies won't help to "stand out".

This essay is not about how to design your portfolio, it's very specific about your proof-of-work as a product designer.

So, what will help you to be exceptional?

Work on real problems, build real solutions for real users!

Now you will ask how?

Many developers launch their side projects on Peerlist. Many of them need help with design. (Sorry devs, but you really do!)

Connect with them. Convince them. Show them how your designs make their project super useful. Collaborate with them. This is important. Collaborate.

Now the most important question — WHY?

Well, they are building something which will be used by real people. Not millions, but hundreds for sure. Help them validate the problem. Help them design the solution. Help them improve the aesthetics. Collaborate with them!

Trust me, these developers will help you become a better designer. They will teach you what "technical constraints" are and tell you the real meaning of "edge cases".

Now document your learnings after collaborating on this side project. Present it as a case study. It's your proof-of-work which is highly credible! Your design is functional in an actual browser or an app. Not just a screenshot in a fancy free mockup.

Imagine you're sitting in an interview and discussing all your learnings while building this project. Telling stories about how a simple copy change improved the conversion from a landing page. Talking about user research, unexpected insights and how you convinced the developer to implement that fancy animation.

As a hiring manager, I will "hard relate" to these stories. Because you are not only talking only about the outcome but the actual impact of your design.

Just find a developer who is working on a side project or share that you're open to collaboration. You just need one or two such projects on your portfolio. I am sure a design manager will be interested in chatting with you.

Because you will stand out!

All the best!

If you have read till here, I have 2 asks from you —

  1. Share this with your designer peers.
  2. Also read portfolio advice by Hardik Pandya. It's a good one.

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