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How to create effective UX case studies using Aristotle's 7 elements of storytelling

Want to create case studies for your UX design portfolio? But what types of UX case studies should you use? And how can you make them purposeful and meaningful? According to prototyping tool UXPin, irrelevant and weak case studies are one of the most common mistakes in UX design portfolios.

Fortunately, you can use Greek philosopher Aristotle's 7 Elements of Storytelling to create relevant and compelling UX case studies.

Before we get started, however, it should be said that there is no "one" best form for a case study. It is always very individual and personal. In the following, we will provide you with a method that can help you to make your case study even more interesting. So it's not about what all belongs in a good case study, such as wireframes or user researches, but purely about the storytelling in your case studies.

Here's how it goes:

In 335 BC, Aristotle wrote the Poetics, the oldest extant work of dramaturgy. In it, he laid out 7 elements of storytelling, which he ranked in order of importance:

1. The plot,

2. the hero or heroine,

3. the theme,

4. the dialogue,

5. the melody,

6. the decoration and

7. the spectacle.

You should go through these 7 elements before creating your UX case study. This way, you can define exactly what you want to say. Additionally, it will allow you to sharpen the focus of your UX case studies and make your message absolutely clear to the recruiters who read them.

Now let's walk through how each of Aristotle's 7 elements relates to your UX case studies. For each element, we'll give you questions to answer before you write your case study.

1. The plot: The story your UX case studies and portfolio tell.

Aristotle considered plot to be the most important element, and for good reason. Plot is what happens in a drama - a tragic plot, for example, tells the story of a hero's downfall. A bad plot can spoil an otherwise good drama - and the same is true for UX case studies.

Your UX case studies, and by extension your portfolio, should tell a relevant and compelling story about yourself. For example, you can tell the story of a "self-made UX designer who is passionate about accessibility." Think about what story you want to tell with your UX case studies.

Also, you should tell the same storyline in all your UX case studies. This way, your portfolio conveys a coherent message. For example, if you want to be a UX researcher, all your case studies should include UX research. Otherwise, you're sending mixed signals to a recruiter who can't assess whether you're a good fit for the position you're applying for.

Telling the right plot: A checklist of questions you should ask yourself

  • What story do you want to tell? What is your story - from a career perspective?

  • Do your UX case studies tell the same story about you, or do they contradict each other? If they contradict each other, align them so they don't, or discard the case studies that send mixed signals.

  • What past projects should you choose to tell the story you want your recruiters to see?

Fig. 1: Consistent projects
Fig. 1: Consistent projects

2. The hero: your role and how you work with others

In a drama, the main character serves the plot with the help of secondary characters. According to Aristotle, the main character should be good, appropriate, and consistent.

In your case study, you are the main character. Like Aristotle's main character, you should also appear in your UX case studies:
Good: That is, you should demonstrate your design skills.
Appropriate: You should demonstrate a meaningful level of expertise. For example, you can't claim to have led a team of designers if you're a junior UX designer.

Consistent: You should have a consistent design role across all UX case studies.
Character: It's also about how you work with your teammates. Because you're not the only character in your story. You work with colleagues, managers, and other stakeholders. Show how well you can work with others.

Write the right characters: a checklist of questions to ask yourself.

  • What is your role in the design process? In other words, are you a UX generalist who covers the entire design process, or a specialist like a UI designer?

  • Do you play the same role in all your UX case studies? If not, which case studies can you tweak or remove so you play a consistent role?

  • How does your "character" interact and work with other "characters"? Are there conflicts or harmonies?

  • Who else should you include in your case study? Who are the important contributors (or even leaders) you should mention?

Abb. 2: Eigenschaften die du mitbringen solltest
Fig. 2: Qualities you should have

3. The theme: the context of your project.

The theme refers to the setting or context in a Greek drama. Just like in a drama, you need to set the scene in your UX case studies.

Introduce the context of your project to the readers: Your main goals, the obstacles you faced, and your motivations that explain why you embarked on the project. This will help your readers better understand your project and create a compelling purpose for your case study.

Determine the right topic: a checklist of questions to ask yourself.

  • What is your main goal in this project?

  • What are the biggest obstacles you've had to overcome

  • Why did you take on the project? Why are you proud of it?

  • Remember to set the course early - determine your topic at the beginning of your UX case studies.

Abb. 3: Beispiel Themen
Fig. 3: Example of topics

4. The dialogue

For Aristotle, diction (or dialogue) was the way characters spoke to each other. A character's tone of voice says a lot about his audience. Good communicators are characters who get their points across with the right words - and don't hide behind them or try to deceive their audience because they love the sound of their own voice.
In the same way, your tone of voice or writing style affects the reading experience of your UX case studies. Also, learn how to write effectively. Use plain German or English, avoid technical terms, and choose a friendly but professional tone so that recruiters appreciate your UX case studies.

Use proper language (diction): Checklist of questions you should ask yourself

  • What is your tone of voice, and is it appropriate for a case study?

  • Can you avoid technical terms? If you must use them in your case study, can you explain them?

  • Can you write in simple sentences?

Abb. 4: Dialog
Fig. 4: Dialogue

5. The melody: arouse emotions in your readers

In your UX case studies, melody refers to how you can arouse the emotions of your readers. Your case study is not a factual report, but a story that should spark a person's interest in getting to know you.
Don't be afraid to let your emotions shine through in your UX case study. Show your passion. A melody can reinforce the theme of your case studies - your project goals and obstacles should be charged with emotion, just like in real life. However, make sure the emotions are appropriate and professional. There's a fine line between maximizing the dramatic potential in your story and making someone sound too over-the-top to work with.

"Singing" the right tune: a checklist of questions to ask yourself.

  • How do you show not only your technical expertise, but also your passion for design?

  • Can you include a hook in your UX case studies to engage the reader?

→ Remember to also show your emotional journey through your projects.

Abb. 5: Emotionen
Fig. 5: Emotions

6. The decor: the look and feel of your UX case studies.

In plays, the décor refers to the stage design. In your UX case studies, it refers to the visual design.

Your portfolio is a designed product, so it should look and feel good. Use images of your work in progress to tell your story.
Make sure your portfolio has readable text. Your portfolio should be usable, effective and appealing.

Use the right decorations: Checklist of questions you should ask yourself.

  • Have you remembered to take lots of photos and screenshots of your work in progress so you can use them in your UX case studies? If not, you may be able to easily reconstruct some of the processes. In the future, remember to take photos and screenshots of your work processes.

  • Do your projects contain sensitive information? If so, you should get permission to use it in your UX case studies. You can also just show non-sensitive parts of your project.

  • How can you design your UX case studies and portfolio to match your own visual style?

Abb. 6: Wireframe
Fig. 6: Wireframe

7. The spectacle: The Wow Factor

For Aristotle, the spectacle of a drama was least important. A story's cliffhanger, the wow factor, or a plot twist will make the audience remember the story, but they alone don't make a good play.

Build spectacle into your UX case studies whenever possible, but never do so at the expense of the six other elements of your story. You can create spectacle through an unexpected user insight, a highly successful outcome, or a thoughtful realization.

Create the right spectacle: checklist of questions to ask yourself.

  • Does your project contain unexpected "twists" that forced you to change direction? You can use this to create a wow effect.

  • Did you achieve an impressive result? If you won an award, achieved commercial success, or received good reviews, you should highlight this in your case study.

  • Did your project end in relative failure or a lukewarm response? If so, draw a lesson from it. Serious thinking can also be spectacular.

  • Do the elements of spectacle affect your story? For example, are you withholding important information just to deliver a "plot twist"? If so, remove the spectacle just to tell your story well.

→ Plan your case study well to maximize its impact.

Abb. 7: Spektakel
Fig. 7: Spectacle


Now it's your turn to answer the questions we asked for each element. If you don't plan, you plan to fail! Take the time to plan your UX case studies to save time (and career opportunities!) in the future. And remember, your UX case study should be short and sweet, as prospects typically don't spend more than 5 minutes reading it.

Key message:

Your UX case studies need to tell stories that are purposeful and convey the right message. To achieve this, you should cover all 7 elements of Aristotle's storytelling.