How to present conceptual case studies in a UX interview
Portfolio presentations are scary enough, but it’s especially terrifying when you have no work experience. Here is my advice on how to prepare and present your conceptual case studies.
I recently had an interview where I had to present two case studies in front of a panel of designers…
…and I was terrified.
Public speaking anxiety aside, I was so nervous because I didn’t have any commercial projects worth showing. Would they even care about my conceptual projects?
Well, I didn’t have a choice. If you’re in my boat, you don’t have a choice either. At least I can share my experience with you of how I made it work!
Preparing your case studies
If you are like me, you’re always working on a new project to help beef up your UX portfolio. When I was told about the presentation, I was close to finishing my most recent one. I chose to include this in my presentation because I feel it represents my current skills and values.
While preparing this case study for presentation, I documented as many visuals as I could. Presentations are ultimately used as a visual aid for a story that you should be able to tell well.
That brings me to my next point, which is
designing with purpose.
When going through your design process, have there be a reason behind everything you do. The design process is rarely linear, and is almost never the same depending on the project. Why did you conduct a user survey? Why did you create 3 user personas? Was there a reason behind your preference tests?
Don’t just force things into your process to seem more professional.
Why? Not only can interviewers see right through it, but it leaves you extremely vulnerable when it comes to questions. If someone asks you why you included a certain feature in your product, you should be able to answer honestly because you designed with intent.
If you start to lie about why you made certain decisions, it ruins your credibility, the credibility of your design, makes you nervous, and makes everyone uncomfortable.
(Sometimes we really don’t know the answers to our decisions, sometimes things are just autopilot, but still be honest about that. If you don’t know an answer, just be truthful about your mindset i.e. ‘I honestly don’t have a reason for having conducted my card sorting exercise, I like to include it in my process because it reassures my decisions on my site map’. When you start to talk it out, you may actually come to the reason why you made certain decisions.)
Communicate with your recruiter/interviewer
This is essential. Once you hear that you’re invited to present, immediately ask your point of contact details about what is expected of you.
How many case studies?
Is there allotted time for questions, or do you have to fit that in?
and most importantly, what are the interviewers looking for?
I learned that my interviewers were looking for how I collaborate in a team, as well as the outcomes and results of my projects.
I had only worked on one project with a partner, but the documentation wasn’t very good because it was for a quick-paced design jam. I decided to focus on the story of how I learned to work in a cross-functional team with a high-pressure deadline.
What about the outcomes and results? Well, that was the focus of my second project.
I told the story of my in-depth design process and what I would realistically look for in quantitative and qualitative impact if my product launched. It was hypothetical, but realistic.
Practice your storytelling skills
You may have an insightful case study, but if you are unable to tell the story of your design in an engaging way, it’s futile.
When constructing my presentation, I took a lot of inspiration from this video regarding telling a story in presentation format:
His presentation is incredibly engaging, I wanted to know how he solved his problem and how things ended. That’s what you should be striving for.
Storytelling is a skill that I am working on, myself. But that’s exactly what it is — a skill. You need to practice.
How I got effective practice in was by taking a long car ride and explaining my case studies by myself with no visual aid. It was a casual environment where I felt comfortable, and I gave my presentation as if I was telling the story to a friend who doesn’t understand UX design.
You may find interesting ways to present your portfolio by taking this car ride approach, because you’re forced to paint a picture with your words.
Presenting is always scary, but it’s an essential part of being a UX designer. You need to be able to clearly explain and defend your designs, so think of it as great practice for your future career!
Stay calm. Breathe. Tell yourself that you don’t need this job.
Good luck, you’ve got this!