Bringing life to the case study

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“Case studies are an invaluable record of the clinical practices of a profession. While case studies cannot provide specific guidance for the management of successive patients, they are a record of clinical interactions, which help us to frame questions for more rigorously designed clinical studies. Case studies also provide valuable teaching material, demonstrating both classical and unusual presentations which may confront the practitioner.”
Dr. Brian Budgell, DC, Phd, JCCA

They’re also great fun to work on. Here at IC, my team work closely with the UoE’s School of Medicine and NHS Scotland to create online training modules for students, health care professionals, social care staff and carers. We also produce outward facing websites that provide help, advice and support for patients and families. For this blog post I thought I’d focus on a small but crucial component of the learning platforms we help create.

Case studies are developed with particular learning objectives in mind. They’re based on fictional individuals but depict real events that the user may experience in their career. One of our current projects, HEARTe provides health and social care staff with CPD training in the form of case studies. Each module is constructed and validated by a team of specialists, nurses, psychologists, GP’s and pharmacists with IC’s developers attending each meeting, documenting and converting the results into educational content. Case studies are intended to portray the type of every-day people we encounter in our lives, from taxi drivers and policemen to retirees and teachers. They have to both be layered in detail but not detract from the training materials we develop.


Once each case study has been thoroughly researched and constructed by the authors and project lead, the process of applying personality and layering detail can start. As case studies are fictional characters with real-life conditions affecting their lives and decisions, we use illustrations rather than photographs of real people. However, finding a subject to draw from multiple perspectives can be tricky. This is when we turn to Google Images and in particular, the image search results of celebrities.

From an Interactive Content Developer’s perspective,  the ‘celeb’ is a perfect source from which to base our case studies on. The variety of images on Google provide us with the ability to draw them from different angles whilst maintaining proportion and consistency throughout the entire module. If the case study has a relative in the module… let’s say for example, the Baldwins (who have an seemingly endless production-line of brothers!), we can use each brother for visual reference and create content suitable for hereditary conditions. Of course, we alter the features, hair colour, skin tone and clothing but underneath all the layers of case study-related-character, DVT sufferer Frank (the plumber) is actually Elliott Gould (the Hollywood actor). Once we have enough character detail in place, the case study comes to life, providing the user with all the crucial elements: age, gender, diet, fitness level, environment, personality and occupation.


All of our illustrations are created in vector-based software, providing us with the flexibility of scaling them to any size required. We also try to work within the software chosen for each project. For example, if we’re developing Flash-based content, we’ll create the images from within Flash’s toolset. If the platform requires responsive content, we’ll work with either Adobe Edge or Tumult Hype. I typically work with InDesign to create wireframes or illustrations. From there, I would import my visuals into Photoshop, resize, compress and export as a transparent background PNG, ready to be used for Hype.


When approaching the build of a character, skin tones and hair are applied first, followed by facial detail, eyes, teeth and finally clothing. Once we have a fully fleshed-out character, we can create their environments (animated vehicles, buildings or weather) and decide which scenes require character animation (breathing, walking, speaking or blinking). If the case study involves a hospital environment, we have to accurately depict medical equipment and instruments, some of which may function like their real-life counterparts.

All of these small components add to a rich and detailed case study, which in turn help the user quickly familiarise themselves with their virtual patient, ensuring every facet of their life and medical condition are not overlooked, whilst making the learning experience a more engaging and memorable experience.