Harry Bennett
0 min read

Presented by Brandpad: how to create a compelling case study, with Studio Dumbar and Studio Nari

Welcome back to The Finishing Line, presented in collaboration with the digital brand guidelines platform Brandpad. Over the course of six articles, we’ll be talking to creative industry leaders about what is often seen as one of the most challenging, fiddly, frustrating and complicated elements of brand design: getting it over the line. In this third entry, we’ve spoken to design heavyweights Studio Dumbar/DEPT® and Studio Nari about making case studies – the (often dreaded) finale of seeing a project over the finishing line. Together, we investigate the features to focus on, how to navigate what to include – and avoid – and what the point of case studies even is.

“Lately, there has been a noticeable shift in the way studios approach the crafting of case studies,” Studio Nari’s Caterina Bianchini tells us, contextualising the graphic design industry’s potential new-found drive for documenting their projects. “It has resulted in an increased recognition of their significance,” she continues, “I think case studies provide studios with a valuable opportunity to demonstrate their team’s capabilities.” They can champion the “standout design moments” of a project, whilst shaping their desired creative narrative. “The major shift I have noticed, however, is the element of playfulness within them,” the London-based founder notes, from more abstract expressions of merchandise to the “secondary elements” of brand deliverables. “For instance, a project’s bespoke glyphs or textural elements within the brand system,” Bianchini suggests. “At Nari, we see our case studies as an important part of the project deliverables, almost like an internal deliverable,” as such, becoming an integral, concluding element to a project’s production. 

Studio Nari

We are always looking for a way to tell a story.

Taking a step back, Creative Director & Partner Liza Enebeis and Lead Designer Christopher Noort of Rotterdam’s Studio Dumbar/DEPT® remark that “documentation and archiving are crucial aspects of any design project,” noting, however, that “the emphasis on these activities can vary among studios,” acting in some way as a marker of a studio’s synthesis of process and practice. “At Studio Dumbar/DEPT®, we always have a consistent way of naming and filing projects,” the duo detail, revising how they archive projects every two years to keep up with developing software and working methods. “At the end of a project, we allocate time to make sure a project is archived correctly,” Enebeis and Noort suggest, “in the end, this saves a lot of time in the long run, especially for recurring clients,” integrating the process immediately into the project’s development, similar to Nari, ensuring each project gets the resources and time it needs.

Studio Dumbar

“We are always looking for a way to tell a story,” Enebeis and Noort explain, revealing the thinking behind their strategy, “rather than just a collection of images,” noting the disparity in studio profiling processes. “What is right for one studio might not be right for the next studio,” the pair remark, raising some common mistakes creatives may make during case study creation. “Do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to build a good case study,” they forewarn, “almost approach it as an additional design project,” Enebeis and Noort suggest, “where you think about presenting the work in the best way possible” for the project in hand. “Context!” they add, “it’s important to understand what you are looking at,” prioritising the narrative behind the visual the case study champions.

Studio Dumbar

It’s important to focus on the relevant aspects of the project.

“The original concept can sometimes lose some of its essence during the delivery process,” Bianchini agrees, explaining, “some studios may still focus solely on showcasing the final work delivered to the client,” particularly in the world of big-name brands such as Nike, Apple Music and Youtube. “Therefore, we make a conscious effort to emphasise our creative process,” she remarks, “and capture the vibrant energy that may have been sidelined,” as it wasn’t “necessary” for the project’s end result. “By showcasing these expressions,” Bianchini recalls, “we aim to provide a more comprehensive view of our work and highlight the artistic journey behind it,” offering an enlightening, insightful and engaging breakdown of their creative journey and, in doing so, giving its hard work and forethought the deserved attention. 

That being said, Bianchini praises the practice of curation in case study creation, acting with restraint in what is – and importantly, isn’t – put into the final thing. “It may not be necessary to include ideation or extremely initial sketches,” she details, as the final concept and output could be diluted, “however, it is still valuable to highlight these elements on other platforms,” Bianchini suggests, such as TikTok or Instagram. “These platforms provide an opportunity to showcase the creative process,” she remarks, “capturing the attention of a wider audience,” whilst championing the artistry and insight behind the project. “By utilising these platforms, we can effectively emphasise the importance of ideation and initial sketches,” Bianchini concludes, “without overwhelming the case study itself,” a sentiment shared by Studio Dumbar/DEPT®’s dynamic duo. “In a case study, it’s important to focus on the relevant aspects of the project,” Enebeis and Noort tell us, “avoiding clutter and irrelevant details” that may otherwise confuse the project’s narrative. “Oh,” they conclude, “and maybe skip the afterthought grid lines that make no sense at all.”

Continuing our conversation with Bianchini, Enebeis and Noort, we discuss studio style, storytelling and what actually makes a case study successful.

HB Besides the brand itself, what do you think marks a successful case study, and what do you find most interesting?

SN A successful case study should document the full project scope, whatever that may be. I think a lot of case studies feel repetitive in that sense, where it feels like when you remove the mockup or photography the system becomes quite sparse. We try to highlight the full scope of work, even down to button details. I find those details the most interesting in case studies, the small subliminal elements that are secondary but showcased in a highlighted setting. Another key element for me is the concept, why was this created in that way and how does that concept run through all of the assets? How is it all connected, I love reading about that! That ‘bingo’ idea, it makes me realise how good creatives can be, we are visual problem solvers and that takes great skill, distillation and attention to detail. 

SD Building up a case study with all the different aspects of the identity/work, whilst being surprising and not repetitive. It is important that a case study can communicate to different kinds of audiences, not only to designers.

Studio Dumbar

HB Would you say that a studio needs its own ‘style’ of documentation or photography?

SN I would say where possible, if you are able to photograph and create your own mockups that are art directed alongside the brand identity it makes a huge difference to the overall case study cohesion. However, if this is not always possible I would encourage the use of mockups that feel aesthetically connected. I think it is interesting for a studio to put their own spin on a case study as the work showcased has come from their imaginations, so the ability to showcase it in a way that truly represents your concept and your aesthetic as a studio allows for it to be more unique.

SD While it’s not necessary for every studio to have a specific style of documentation or photography, it can help establish a consistent visual identity and create a recognisable brand. Developing a consistent style can enhance the overall presentation of case studies and create a cohesive portfolio. The studio identity should not overwhelm the case study. It’s good to be recognisable, but the work should speak for itself in the end.

Studio Nari

Storytelling is crucial, it allows for the viewer to understand the process on an emotional level.

HB What role does storytelling play in creating an effective case study?

SN Storytelling is crucial, it allows for the viewer to understand the process on an emotional level. People connect to narrative as a way of understanding something in their mind, so it allows for communicating on a more emotional level, that captures the viewers’ attention and allows the project to become memorable. Secondly, creativity and creating is a very imaginative process, so through capturing that narrative within a case study format we bring the project to life.

Studio Dumbar

HB Lastly, who do you think a case study is for? And, how do you tailor a case study to that audience?

SN I think a case study is for potential new clients, the client you are delivering to and your team. For new clients, it is an opportunity for them to visually window shop, see what your capabilities are and understand your design flare and aesthetic as a studio. For the client whose work is being showcased, it gives them designed assets that can be used in their own rebrand showcase and allows them to establish their new brand with their client. Finally, for the design team, it’s a great opportunity to archive a project as something that can be referenced in the future as well as feel like they gain closure from the project.

SD Reach new potential clients, celebrate the work, and attract new colleagues.




Studio Dumbar

Studio Nari