“This Is How We Built It” Case Studies

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Unlike many other industries, the Web design community is all about sharing knowledge and experience. Each of us is very lucky to be part of such a great and useful learning environment, and it is up to us to embrace it — to embrace our learning experiences, and also to embrace our ability to share.

Not only are case studies a great way to explain the design process of an agency, but they also help designers and developers to learn from each other. Seeing how designers work, create, build and play is great, and furthermore, you can learn how to write a great case study yourself and how to use one to spice up your portfolio.

In today’s overview of useful case studies, we’ve featured studies that have recounted decisions made about particular design elements, as well as studies of full overhauls and their accompanying technical challenges. Most of them provide interesting insights into failures and successes, stories, workflows and design decisions made and rejected.

We must admit that this post is quite a long one, so we’ve decided to divide it into two parts to make it easier for you to navigate. Now you should be well prepared for a couple of late reading sessions over the next weekends!

Here is a quick list of the categories covered:

  1. Illustration, Graphics and Logo Design
  2. Typography
  3. Usability
  4. Advertising, Promotion and E-Commerce
  5. Redesigning Elements and Features
  6. Complete (Re)branding and (Re)design
  7. Content and Storytelling
  8. Technical Challenges and Solutions
  9. Workflow and Optimization
  10. Last Click

Illustration, Graphics And Logo Design

Illustrator Full Spectrum Spirograph,” Veerle Pieters
Pieters talks about her experimentation process with spirographs, inspired by the work of Andy Gilmore.

Illustrator full spectrum spirograph

The Design Process of my Infographic About Women Cycling for Grinta!,” Veerle Pieters
Pieters shares her experience of the design process behind the infographic on women’s cycling that she produced for Grinta magazine.

Grinta!: Design process of my infographic

A Systematic Approach to Logo Design,” Adham Dannaway
Icon design can be time-consuming. Dannaway shows how to systematically approach a new logo design.

Petra Capital: A systematic approach to logo design

(Re)building a Simplified Firefox Logo,” Sean Martell
Learn how Firefox’s logo was simplified to better fit its extended usage beyond a desktop Web browser.

Firefox: (Re)building a simplified logo

Five Details,” Jon Hicks
Jon Hicks shares the design process behind the Five Details Logo, including the design and choice of typography.

Five Details: Logo design study

Iconfinder Logo,” SoftFacade
SoftFacade completely reimagined Iconfinder’s existing identity and came up with a shiny and modern robot character. View the detailed design process.

Iconfinder: Logo Case Study

The Great Gatsby
Like Minded Studio collaborated on the branding of “The Great Gatsby“. The aim was to develop a bespoke Deco styled logo reflective of the roaring 20s and Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. They also created a display typeface to acompany the main branding. Additionally read more about it following this link.

gatsby

Whitney Graphic Identity,” Experimental Jetset
In this case study of the Whitney Museum of Art’s logo, Experimental Jetset discusses the impact that a responsive logo can have on branding.

Whitney Graphic Identity

My ‘Tour de France’ posters,” Veerle Pieters
Pieters created posters for the 100th edition of the Tour of France. She mainly used the French landscape which she had used for the ‘Tour de France Infographic’ as a starting point.

Tour de France posters

Typography

Type study: Sizing the legible letter

Designing Type Systems,” Peter Bil’ak
To create truly useful designs, typographers need to examine not only how characters relate to each other within a style, but also how different styles relate to each other within a family. Peter Bil’ak discusses how to achieve this.

Designing type systems

Novel Constructions: The Making of a Typeface,” Christopher Dunst
Dunst shares the process behind the creation of the “Novel” typeface.

Novel Constructions | I love typography, the typography and fonts blog

The Development of the Signage Typeface Wayfinding Sans Pro,” Ralf Herrmann
Herrmann describes the development of the Wayfinding Sans Pro, a signage typeface that can be read from a long distance.

The design of a signage typeface | I love typography, the typography and fonts blog

The Making of FF Tundra,” Ludwig Übele
Übele shares the process behing making the FF Tundra typeface, which was highly inspired by nature.

The making of FF Tundra

The Making of Magasin,” Laura Meseguer
Meseguer writes how she created Magasin, a typefaces inspired by fluid handwriting.

Magasin: The making of

Type Study” series, Adobe Typekit
Typekit features a whole series of case studies of typography:

Usability

Social Login Buttons Aren’t Worth It,” MailChimp
Social login buttons are used by many apps today. MailChimp shares its own experience and considerations in using social login buttons.

MailChimp: Social Login Buttons Aren’t Worth It

Usability in Icons,” Peter Steen Høgenhaug
Icons are used to illustrate a particular function, anything from information to actions. This article explains what needs to be considered when designing them.

Usability in Icons | Stiern

iOS Icon Design: A Designer’s Exploration,”
iOS icon design is not only difficult, but requires a lot of experimentation. David Killoy shares his experience of designing the icon for his note-taking app Notorious.

Notorious: iOS icon design - A designers exploration

The Making of Octicons,” GitHub
Octicons is a icon font made by GitHub. Five designers collaborated on the project, and they share how they built Octicons and what they learned along the way.

GitHub: The Making of Octicons

Designing Facebook Home,” Julie Zhuo
On May 8th, the designers behind Facebook Home (Justin Stahl, Francis Luu, Joey Flynn and Mac Tyler) presented a behind-the-scenes look at their work at the Bluxome Street Winery for a small crowd.

Designing Facebook Home

Advertising, Promotion And E-Commerce

How to Make Your Own App Promo Cards,” Mike Swanson
Swanson was inspired by Starbuck’s promo cards for giving away free apps and decided to make his own for an upcoming event. Learn how you can do one, too!

How to Make Your Own App Promo Cards

The Art of Launching an App,” John Casey
You’ve made your first app! Now what? This study covers some tactics and lessons learned during one process of launching an app.

The Art Of Launching An App: A Case Study | Smashing UX Design

How to Launch Anything,” Nathan Barry
Barry has launched five products in fewer than nine months. Read about the strategy that helped him generate over $200,000 in revenue from online products, starting from scratch.

launch-anything

Selling My E-Book on Amazon,” Jonathan Snook
Several people predicted that 2013 would be the year of self-publishing. Snook shares insight into his eBook sales on Amazon.

Increase Online Sales on Your Ecommerce Website,”
Headscape increased sales on Wiltshire Farmfoods’ e-commerce website by over 10,000% in only five years. What makes it even more special, the target audience is over 50 years old. Paul Boag shares his experience.

Twitter Promoted Tweets,” MailChimp
MailChimp has made use of Twitter’s promoted tweets and shares insight into this experience.

Redesigning Elements And Features

Visual Exploration Behind Signal vs. Noise,” Mig Reyes
37signals share the process behind making its blog special. This study is about how the company visualized noise and styled its blog categories in a unique way.

37signals: Visual Exploration behind Signal vs. Noise

Reinventing Our Default Profile Pictures ,” Jamie
Jamie talks about the process of finding the right default profile pictures for the 37signals website. It’s a great new approach to a very basic element.

37signals: Reinventing our Default Profile Pictures

Login Screen Design: Behind the Scenes,” Simon Tabor
Good UX is not just about the main content, but also about little details such as log-in (and error) pages. GoSquared shares how it made its log-in experience exceptional.

GoSquared Blog: Login Screen Design and UX

Save for Later,” Brian Groudan
All browsers support two functions: searching and revisiting. Groudan worked closely with Mozilla’s user experience researchers and designers to rethink how Firefox could better offer “saving for later” functionality in the browser.

Mozilla UX: Save For Later

A Closer Look at Zoom,” FiftyThree
FiftyThree shares the design process behind the new zoom feature in its Paper app.

Paper: A closer look at zoom

Reinventing the Investment Calculator,” Alex Bendiken
Drawing from the book Money for Something, Alex Bendiken built a tool that lets users experiment and create a unique investment plan. It’s a UX study in turning a boring financial calculator into something you’d actually want to use.

Reinventing the investment calculator

Getting Down to Business,” Teenhan+Lax
The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper of record. It serves millions of readers everyday with in-depth journalism and informed comment. Learn how Teenhan+Lax helped refresh and enrich the way users experience and engage with the news today.

The Globe And Mail

Olympics: User Experience and Design,” Nick Haley
Nick Haley shares the BBC’s design process of delivering the Olympics across desktop, tablet, mobile and connected TV.

BBC Olympics: User Experience and Design

How We Built the Responsive Olympics Site,” Matt Clark
Matt Clark writes about MSN UK’s approach to delivering the Olympics digitally, from the brief to the finished design.

How we built MSN UK's responsive Olympics site

The Anatomy Of A Successful Logo Redesign,” Belinda Lanks
Lanks summarizes how Jessica Hische had freshened up the new logo for MailChimp with a slight facelift. The new logo now looks new and fresh — more refined but just as playful.

The Anatomy Of A Successful Logo Redesign

What I Want Out of Facebook,” Keenan Cummings
Cummings explains why Facebook fails him and what he wants to get out of it that would make it useful for his personal life.

Field Study: What I Want Out of Facebook

In Praise of Lost Time,” Dan Hill
Dan Hill talks about Facebook’s Timeline as an exemplary bit of interaction design that does little to advance the timeline formally. Yet it might alter the nature of human memory itself.

Facebook Timeline: In praise of lost time

Designing the new, fully responsive Wired.co.uk article pages,” Javier Ghaemi
This article is about redesigning the Wired.co.uk article website to provide a more content-first and immersive experience.

wired

Complete (Re)branding And (Re)design

How to Approach a Responsive Design,” Tito Bottitta
This article shows the design process behind The Boston Globe’s website, one of the most famous examples of responsive designs. Read about how Upstatement approached its first responsive design.

How to Approach a Responsive Design

Responsive Design Case Study,” Matt Berridge
This case study outlines the entire process of constructing the South Tees Hospitals’ website, a large responsive design containing over a thousand pages.

South Tees Hospital:  Responsive Design case study

Rebuilding a University Homepage to Be Responsive. Twice. In Less Than a Year,” Erik Runyon
This slideshow discusses how and why Notre Dame University’s home page was rebuilt twice in less than a year. You will find a recording of the talk below the slides.

Rebuilding a university homepage to be

Yes, You Really Can Make Complex Web Apps Responsive,” Daniel Wearne
Wearne shares his experience in creating Adioso’s Web app, a complex yet accessible project. He covers the framework, responsive mixins, tables and future challenges.

Adioso: Yes, you really can make complex webapps responsive

Designing a New Playground Brand,” Ryan Bannon
This case study shows the design process of Playground’s new brand. It covers the logo, overall website and vector animation process, as well as the core values and personality of the company. The extensive study comes in three parts.

Playground: Designing a New Playground Brand

How House Parties Helped Us Design Potluck,” Cemre Güngör
The team at Potluck describes how it took inspiration from reality to design a “house party on the Internet.”

How house parties helped us design Potluck

Colorado Identity,” Berger & Föhr
Imagine someone hiring you to define your own identity. Berger & Föhr was hired to help create the new identity and visual brand of Colorado, the place they call home. Have a look at the work and logo they came up with.

Making Colorado

Building the New Financial Times Web App,” Wilson Page
Page talks about building the Financial Times’ new app, a challenge that many on his team believed to be impossible. He covers device support, fixed-height layouts, truncation, modularization, reusable components, Retina support, native-like scrolling, offline support and the topic of ever-evolving apps.

Building The New Financial Times Web App

Google Treasure Maps,” Alex Griendling
Griendling writes about the design process behind Google Maps’ treasure mode.

Google Treasure Maps: About the design process

Find Your Way to Oz,” HTML5 Rocks
This very detailed case study looks at the “Find Your Way to Oz” demo, a Google Chrome experiment by Disney. It covers sprite sheets, Retina support, 3-D content and more.

Case Study: Find Your Way to Oz - HTML5 Rocks

The Making of the Moscow Metro Map 2.0,” Art Lebedev Studio
This study is about the design process behind the Moscow Metro map, a complex project that needed to meet the requirements of both Web and print.

The making of the Moscow Metro Map 2.0

Skinny Ties and Responsive eCommerce,” Brendan Falkowski
Read and learn how GravDept redesigned Skinny Ties’ creative and technical direction to propel shopping on every device.

Skinny Ties: Responsive eCommerce

The Design Thinking Behind the New Disney.com,” Bobby Solomon
Solomon shares the process of creating a Disney website that is flexible enough to showcase the widest range of offerings imaginable — in other words, a website that can do everything.

Disney: The design thinking behind the new online presence

Say Hello to the New ISO,” Andy Clarke
Clarke and David Roessli redesigned the website of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and share their experience.

Say hello to the new ISO

A Responsive Design Case Study,” David Bushell
The redesign of Passenger Focus takes advantage of the Web as an unique medium.

PassengerfocusA Responsive Design Case Study – David Bushell

BBC News: Responsive Web Design and Mustard,” Kaelig Deloumeau-Prigent
These slides address the core principles and the “cutting the mustard” technique behind the BBC News’ responsive website.

BBC News: Responsive Web Design and Mustard

The Trello Tech Stack,” Brett Kiefer
Read the process behind the Trello app, from initial mockup to a solid server and maintainable client.

Trello: The Trello Tech Stack

Responsibly Responsive: Developing the Greenbelt Website,” Rachel Andrew
Andrew writes about her front-end design decisions in rebuilding the Greenbelt Festival’s website.

Greenbelt: Responsibly Responsive website development

The Digital-Physical: On Building Flipboard for iPhone and Finding the Edges of Our Digital Narratives,” Craig Mod
Mod walks through the process of building the Flipboard app for iPhone and of finding the edges of its digital narratives.

The Digital?Physical: On building Flipboard for iPhone and Finding Edges for Our Digital Narratives

Page-Flip Effect From 20 Things I Learned,” Hakim El Hattab
This study shows how this team found the best way to achieve the feeling of a real-world book, while leveraging the benefits of the digital realm in areas such as navigation.

20 thiCase Study: Page Flip Effect from 20thingsilearned.com

Six Key Lessons From a Design Legend,” Kapil Kale
The GiftRocket team eventually recruited Mike Kus as a designer. This article shows why that decision took their website to the next level.

Six Key Lessons from a Design Legend (a before-and-after) | GiftRocket Blog

Breaking The Rules: A UX Case Study,” Laura Klein
Klein shows how she broke all rules to create the great UX for Outright.

Outright: Breaking The Rules - A UX Case Study

7 UX Considerations When Designing Lens Hawk,” Christian Holst
Lens Hawk is a massive DSLR lens database. This article shares seven UX considerations that were made in its design process.

Lens Hawk: 7 UX Considerations

The Story of the New Microsoft.com,” Nishant Kothary
Kothary shares his insight into making Microsoft’s new website. Also, check out Trent Walton’s perspective on the redesign.

The Story of the New Microsoft.com

Behind the Scenes of the New Kippt,” Gannon Burgett
This interview about the work behind the new Kippt app covers the redesign process, the design principles and problems that the team faced, insights into the new era of Web app design, and where Kippt will head in the future.

New Kippt: Behind The Scenes

Crayola: Free the ‘What If’,” Daniel Mall
Dan Mall has put together a case study of the creation of the new Crayola application for kids.

Crayola: Free the

Campus Quad iPhone App,” Soft Facade
Soft Facade covers every aspects of the design process behind its Campus Quad app.

Campus Quad: iPhone App Case Study

How to Make a Vesper: Design,” Vesper
Learn how the Vesper app was designed and made.

Vesper: How to Make a Vesper: Design

Betting on a Fully Responsive Web Application,” 14islands
Read about how 14islands took the Web app for Kambi, a sports-betting service, to the next level.

Kambi: Betting on a fully responsive web application

AMMO Rack App Design Critique,” Alexander Komarov
An interesting study of the feedback process that improved the AMMO Rack app.

AMMO Rack:  App Design Critique

Walking Through the Design Process,” Ian Storm Taylor
Taylor walks you through the design process of Segment.io, including the progression of mockups in Photoshop.

Segment.io: Walking Through the Design Process

Music Video ‘Lights’: The Latest WebGL Sensation,” Carlos Ulloa
Interactive studio HelloEnjoy built a mind-blowing 3-D music video for Ellie Goulding’s song “Lights.” Creative director Carlos Ulloa explains why the team chose WebGL and how it created various immersive graphic effects.

Music video 'Lights': the latest WebGL sensation!

Designing for Designers,” Kyle Meyer
Designing for other designers is different than working for regular clients. Kyle Meyer shares his experience.

Adapting to a Responsive Design,” Matt Gibson
Cyber-Duck abandoned its separate mobile website and created a new responsive design.

Cyber-Duck: Adapting To A Responsive Design

Grids, Flexibility and Responsiveness,” Laura Kalbag
Kalbag shares her thoughts on the redesign of her own website, including her choice of typefaces.

Laura Kalbag: Grids, flexibility and responsiveness

Making of Typespiration,” Rafal Tomal
Rafal Tomal built Typespiration as a side project. Learn about the process from initial idea to finished WordPress website.

Typespiration: Making of

Case Studies,” Fi
Design firm Fi has integrated case studies into its portfolio. The studies are very interactive and beautifully designed. Here are four of them:

Fi Case studies

More Case Studies!

Perhaps you are more interested in case-studies on copywriting, content and storytelling, technical challenges, or just workflow and optimization tips? Well, off we go to the second part of the overview. Now you should be well prepared for a couple of late reading sessions over the next weekends!

(al) (il) (ea)

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Former trainee Melanie, completed her degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Otago University, and is now back working in the Smashing Editorial Team while freelancing as web designer on the side. She's interested in many things like writing, web design, politics, travelling and underwater rugby, and tweets as @mel_in_media.

  1. 1

    I must say that Typography is certainly a key aspect of modern design. Thanks for the share!

    2
  2. 2

    Great set of references, thank you!

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  3. 3

    Another great example of this is Splinters ( http://www.splinter.co.uk ) insight into creating a series of Bitesize games for the BBC — http://www.splinter.co.uk/inside-the-world-of-bitesize/

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  4. 4

    Christopher Butler

    July 19, 2013 4:28 pm

    Hey, great piece! And thanks for linking to my “Rethinking the Case Study” article :)

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  5. 5

    Fantastic! Thanks so much! This is why I love this industry. You’ve inspired me to share some work of my own, thank you!

    0
  6. 6

    Great stuff, thanks for all these nice articles to read.

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  7. 7

    Well, this article could’ve been cut by half to be honest as some of the things are quite obvious for the average designer…

    However the ‘logo/icon’ approach was pretty cool, thanks for the post.

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  8. 8
  9. 9

    Greatest.
    Post.
    Ever.

    1
  10. 10

    Wow, thanks for this post – this is super interesting and helpful!

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  11. 11

    Invaluable post – thanks so much – this will keep me busy for awhile!

    1
  12. 12

    I like MailChimp a lot. It’s a killer app…file under nitpick:

    I use MC about twice a month personally and usually set it up for clients…but, it still takes me 10 clicks to locate my API when I need it. A search within MC dashboard takes you to explanation of what an API is rather than the APIs themselves.

    If usability was their goal, this key functionality needs to be made more prominent.

    1
  13. 13

    Impressive article!

    1
  14. 14

    So much information in here! really reminds me of why I got into this sort of work in the first place. Collaboration and Imagination

    1
  15. 15

    Nikhil Malhotra

    July 31, 2013 9:38 pm

    Great article!! Reading others case study always helps in improving ones own process. It gives insight in what we are doing correct and what are we doing wrong.

    0

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