December 20, 2019
WORKING NOT WORKING
When you hire a product designer, you’re buying a unique set of skills that can be transformed into your company’s new product.
All product designers have some skills in common. But they quickly differentiate themselves via expertise in certain areas. Do you want web applications? Physical products? Someone who knows the demands of a fast-paced SaaS startup? What about a strong history of designing based on research?
While a design portfolio won’t answer all of those questions, it’s a good place to start identifying fit, whether you’re looking for freelancers or full-time help. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you look at potential candidates’ design projects and portfolio websites:
Do the designs align with company goals?
Can they identify pain points and use them to inform the design?
How did their work impact the company?
Is the candidate a good collaborator?
Do they incorporate user research?
In this post, we explore 12 product design case studies and discuss how to come away with meaningful answers these questions above.
Note: If you’re new to our site and don’t know what we do, check out our founding story. We talk about why we think hiring in creative industries is broken — and what we’re doing to fix it.
Do the Designs Align with Company Goals?
A good designer aligns their skill set and design process to solve the company’s problems. Does the candidate clearly articulate what the brand wanted? Do they show how they were able to follow those directions within their design(s)?
For example, a candidate that begins by explaining why the company needs their design skills shows an understanding of how the design work is a solution to a problem — not solely a creative project.
Specifically, consider analyzing how they pattern their explanation in a problem-to-solution format.
Calvin is a product designer as well as a User Experience/IA designer and front-end developer from Los Angeles, CA. Currently the designer at GirlBoss, Calvin has also worked with Super Deluxe and Fullscreen.
Years of Experience: 9
Featured Example: Rama
How this shows Calvin aligned design and company goals:
In this project, Calvin sets the stage by giving background information on the company. The problem at hand was that it “needed a stronger brand identity to attract funding.”
From identifying the necessity of a strong brand, Calvin mentions that each design incorporated the company’s mission of “quality skin and home care products at an affordable price.”
This simple layout highlights the affordability aspect of the company brand. The homepage copy identifies specifics (“organic,” “non-toxic,” and “affordable”) that highlight the brand’s mission and drives the message home.
Follow Calvin on WNW
Madelene is a UX/IA Designer, product designer, and creative director who has helped brands like Hooch, Mobileye, and Citywide Ferry tell their story.
Years of Experience: 4
Featured Example: Hooch
How this shows Madelene aligned design and company goals:
The company needed a practical app that would fit their brand as a “members-only cocktail app.” Madelene took the initiative to research their target audience and recognized that most users are nightlife industry veterans. The app Madelene created has a Map view that shows people new places they may have never visited before. It clearly resonated with the target audience; this is what one customer had to say about the app:
In addition, most people going to a bar are used to a simple ordering process. Therefore, Madelene made sure the design of it was simple enough and didn’t ask too many questions, exactly the same way you might order a drink in person.
FOLLOW MADELENE ON WNW
Can They Identify Pain Points and Use Them to Inform the Design?
Are they just creating pretty designs? Or do they communicate how each product design portfolio item provided a solution to the target audience’s pain point?
Sam helps design products you use everyday, as clients include household brands like Verizon Wireless, Mastercard, American Express, L'Oréal, and Banana Republic. Based in NY, Sam is the current Senior Product Designer at Verizon Wireless and Moment, but she also enjoys working across a variety of industries, including beauty, finance, lifestyle, retail, and fashion.
Years of Experience: 6
Featured Example: Effient Website Redesign for DDB
How this shows Sam identified pain points and solved them with design:
When beginning to describe the project, Sam’s first sentence identifies the target market immediately: people recovering from heart attacks. The following sentences clearly spell out the pain point that this very specific audience has: “Most pharma websites are intimidating because they contain an overwhelming amount of copy.”
Sam then explains how she created a plan to combat this. She chose to use “vivid illustrations, subtle animation, less traditional navigation, and use of the hamburger and less copy per page.” She also created a more storytelling flow.
Notice the simple copy, the storyteller feel, and the vivid illustrations. This all came about from understanding customer pain points and opportunities during product development.
FOLLOW SAM ON WNW
Brielle Wilson is one of the talents behind brands like Oats Overnight, Ambio Health, Rise Coldbrew, and more. Based in New York, Wilson specializes in product design and acts as a UX designer and creative director.
Years of Experience: 7
Featured Example: The Hub Mobile App
How this shows Brielle identified pain points and solved them through design:
Brielle opens the description of the project with the target market’s pain point: Most of the 30,000 users were on their mobile devices when interacting with the website. Therefore, the company had to create an app to meet their customer’s needs.
Brille explained that social media influencers wanted to spend less time finding who to work with and more time actually creating content with one another. That was their motivation for using The Hub.
She conducted thorough research (identifying that time and efficiency were important to users) and created a product that solved those problems. Specifically, the product included an easy sorting system (by location, followers, and engagement) and allowed messaging within the app.
FOLLOW BRIELLE ON WNW
Evan Travelstead is currently a product designer at one of the biggest companies in the world right now: Facebook. Travelstead has worked in a variety of industries with major brands such as The Weather Channel, Sonny’s BBQ, LinkedIn, and more.
Years of Experience: 9
Featured Example: X-Bionic Web Redesign
How this shows Evan identified pain points and solved them through design:
Evan started by reviewing the client’s pain point. The company was leading in their industry in the EU, but faltering in the American market. Evan realized the website needed to be restructured to own their authentic Swiss feel. To accomplish that goal, he minimized and restructured all content and interfaces. Evan also helped to mature the Swiss design aesthetic and visually honor the sophistication and intricacy of the technology living within their products.
FOLLOW EVAN ON WNW
How Did Their Work Impact the Company?
Do they understand how this project fits into the company’s vision and can they identify how they contributed to the success of the project?
Stacy Linn is a product designer, UI designer, and art director based in Washington state. As a freelance product design consultant, Stacy has worked with leading brands in a variety of industries, including beauty, tech, software, and more.
Years of Experience: 11
Featured Example: Tech Assist for Sears
How this shows Linn identified the design’s impact on the company:
Stacy starts by telling the story of why her design skills were needed. The first issue was that Sears technicians couldn’t view their route. To solve this problem, Stacy created a design that provided the map view.
In addition, Stacy says, “We also built a list view of all the jobs in a day, so the techs could quickly glance all their jobs in the morning, and get a rough idea which are the most difficult, and budget more time for them.” That design improvement would help technicians give better estimates, leading to more satisfied customers.
Stacy tackled another restrictive roadblock as well: technicians only had access to some of their required documents. If problems arose, they were forced to call and ask a different group of offsite technicians for additional information, which wasted time on both parties’ ends.
To solve this problem, Stacy created the Media Search tool. This let technicians search all the documents based on model numbers so they didn’t have to call anyone for info. Stacy broke down the numbers in her portfolio: 7,000 technicians no longer needed to make 8 calls per day. Not only did that save the company time and money, it also worked toward a much better customer experience.
FOLLOW STACY ON WNW
June is a product designer based out of Los Angeles, CA. In addition to her position as the Senior UI Designer at MeUndies, she has lent her talents to a wide variety of the highest fashion, finance, and food brands. A few of them include Marc Jacobs, Mastercard, Verizon, Nutella, and Michael Kors.
Years of Experience: 9
Featured Example: Marc Jacobs Site Design
How this shows June identified the design’s impact on the company:
June did a site redesign for Marc Jacobs and opened the project by explaining that the purpose of the project was to set the Marc Jacobs online experience as the elevated flagship of ecommerce shopping. She explains the exact steps taken over the course of the three months. She and her team:
Reimagined the home page
Redesigned the main navigation and taxonomy
Streamlined the checkout process
Surfaced meaningful content from the World of Marc Jacobs blog
Redesigned the category landing, product listing, and product detail pages.
After just one month of the new design being live, there were double-digit increases in transactions and revenue year over year. In addition, June said that the order value also increased thanks to better merchandising opportunities.
This clearly shows that June is able to connect revenue results with her work, which is a valuable asset to any company.
FOLLOW JUNE ON WNW
Is the Product Designer a Good Collaborator?
Product designers have to work with multiple teams to create a product that fits in line with the company’s goals. A profile that mentions other people they worked with or specific parts of the project they completed suggests that they might be good collaborators on your design team.
Travis is currently the partner and designer at Louder Than Ten and has helped a number of nonprofits achieve their goals, including Girl Scouts and Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault. In addition, he's worked with brands like Vox Media and Corbis.
Years of Experience: 9
Featured Example: Coax
How this shows Travis is a good collaborator:
Travis’ example with Coax is a picture-perfect example of a product designer that is a good collaborator. The project itself is a magazine that publishes original writing from people in and outside of the project management industry. He mentions who he worked with, which parts he did alone, and he gives credits to his fellow writers.
Specifically, he opens the project by saying, “Every writer works for hours, often with our editor, shaping their piece until it’s something we can all be proud to release.” The team-focused language of “we” versus “I” is also a good sign, and he clearly understands the importance of all the teams working together and takes pride in it.
Perhaps more important for a hiring manager is that he denotes which parts he completed solo versus which parts he completed with a team. Travis states, “I built the custom editorial system in Craft CMS, which allows us to easily give each article its own special design treatment.”
FOLLOW TRAVIS ON WNW
Shelly is a freelance product designer for Dekeo and is based in Los Angeles, CA. This architect-turned-product-designer has worked with brands across a wide spectrum of industries, including Philips, Suzuki, Notre Dame, Magento, and Rite Aid.
Years of Experience: 10
Featured Example: Carmine
How this shows Shelly is a good collaborator:
In this project, Shelly was tasked to create an App for the SaaS company Carmine, which aims to help fleet businesses manage their drivers efficiently, reduce costs, and reach new levels of productivity and profitability. In addition to conducting thorough research, Shelly talks about the extensive whiteboarding she did with various team members to understand how to solve the various user’s problems.
In addition, Shelly also explicitly mentions which parts of the project were completed individually and which parts were completed as a group. She mentioned that she wireframed out the iOS app and created some animations for various interactions. However, to create the design system, she talks about how she worked with various team members. From there, she created the entire app.
FOLLOW SHELLY ON WNW
Do They Incorporate User Research?
Does the designer demonstrate that they can perform user research and then create a design that is tailored to the wants, needs, and pains of your audience? Or do they just start creating based on the description you gave them?
Research can make the difference between great products and designs that fizzle when launched.
Andrew is based in New York and is a creative director, product designer, and UX/IA designer. Currently the Senior Design Consultant at Independent, Andrew specializes in user-centered digital product design and has helped brands like Google, Adidas, Sony, and American Express tell their stories.
Years of Experience: 12
Featured Example: Future TV
How this shows Andrew incorporates user research:
Andrew’s work with Turner involved conducting a design workshop to unearth the future features real people want from their digital streaming experience.
Andrew showed how he incorporated user research by setting up a design workshop with a large panel of users, which would surface the features people really wanted in a digital streaming experience. Rather than just guessing what people wanted, he asked people what they wanted so he could do the best work possible.
He also created a card-sort exercise to encourage user participation. From the information these workshops revealed, Andrew created prototypes that supported many of the feature sets and flows identified by the panels.
This process eliminated guesswork and created a much closer product-market fit.
FOLLOW ANDREW ON WNW
Melih is a UX/IA and product designer at The College Board and Democracy.com. With a background in service design, Melih has worked with brands like Turkesh Airlines, Nissan, Barneys New York, and Nasdaq.
Years of Experience: 4
Featured Example: MTA E-Tix
How this shows Melih incorporates user research:
Melih was tasked with creating a mobile app for MTA that lets people purchase and use Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad tickets directly on their mobile devices. Melih began working on the app out of his own frustrations of using it as a customer. It was not convenient for those who were in a rush. Therefore, he interviewed other customers in Grand Central to see if they suffered similar problems.
Melih also researched competing apps. From that research, Melih “refined user journeys within the MTA application and improved information architecture as well as visual design to better accommodate a primary user group of busy, everyday commuters,” he said.
FOLLOW MELIH ON WNW
Chris is a freelance product designer based out of Los Angeles, CA. With a strong background in advertising design, Chris understands how important user research is to the success of a product and has put those skills to work for brands like Happenstance, Tabulate, WinWin, and MRE.
Years of Experience: 13
Featured Example: Crowds On Demand Mobile App
How this shows Chris incorporates user research:
The project itself included a redesign for a venue booking app. Chris tackled the challenge by doing in-depth research and actually going to events before building wireframes. While attending these events, Chris asked customers what they struggled with when using the app.
“It was important to attend events and see how users experienced the end result outside of the app, and how they relied on the app throughout that process,” he says. At these events, users were asked about what they liked, what they wanted, and the issues they faced. After fixing these issues, Chris and the team performed extensive user testing.
FOLLOW CHRIS ON WNW
Like what you see? There are over 1,400 highly qualified product designers on the Working Not Working platform. You can sort by skills, location, availability, work history, and more. Or, if your style is more hands-off, you can also post an opening and see who applies!
To learn more about why Working Not Working came to be — and how we’re changing the way you hire high-quality creative talent — read our founding story. If you want to start hiring right away, see our current pricing.