The time has come to share your designs. Are your palms sweating yet?
My twenty-something self thought that my designs would speak for themselves. Good design is recognized from a half mile away. The parade starts at 3 p.m. Be there.
The truth is a good distance from that. Having the skills to speak to the design problem at hand and to explain your work is a must. When you first start out, words often fall short, and you’re not sure where to start and when to shut up. But don’t worry: you’re in good company.
The purest form of design is about typefaces, color, and imagery. But the best form of design is about solving a problem with real-world constraints. Everyone attending a design presentation comes with their own opinions, objectives, and priorities. An experienced designer knows how to align those values and get everyone in the room on the same page. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but let’s navigate this together.
A Little Bit of Preparation Goes a Long Way
Spend the time to make a plan of attack. Make an outline, not a script. Sure, you have to organize what you’d like to say, but sounding too scripted and rigid makes people stop paying attention and lose confidence in what you have to say. Walk through your thoughts on paper, in your head, and/or aloud. You’ll gain confidence and better organize your talking points. Have a friend or coworker you can bribe as a stand-in audience? Even better.
That said, this meeting isn’t just about you. Preparing your thoughts will only get you part way. Learn about your client and bring some questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as part of your presentation. For example, as a design solution, smaller sized dates for a blog may make sense if your client only posts periodically. Engage your clients during this part of the presentation by saying “Did you mention you update your blog monthly?” (Client answers.) “With that in mind, you’ll notice that I highlighted the headline and de-emphasized the date.” This shows that not only were you listening, but also that you incorporated their input into the web design—making the design not only yours but theirs, too.
Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Details
Take a step back and think big picture. You made hundreds of decisions to create this design, but it’s important to distill those down to the critical ones and leave the obvious things be. If the client wants to speak to the logo’s being in the top left, they will.
Think of this meeting like one of those home makeover shows. Do you think Ty Pennington talks about that killer HVAC installation? Not likely. Give the tour without overwhelming the clients with every single item. Call out the meaningful areas that matter the most to your client, and let those shine.
Have a design feature that’ll make your former cantankerous design professor proud? Go beyond the isn’t this pretty and dive straight into why it’s the perfect fit for this client at this time.
Like Your Mom Said Be Polite, and Honest
Find a balance between respecting your clients’ ideas and earning their respect. Yes, this one takes practice and perhaps a few flops to get right. Clients pay for your opinion, so get comfortable articulating it.
If there’s something you immediately know is a bad idea, for the audience or technological/budget limitations, get ready to tell the client why. News flash: saying “that’s a terrible idea” isn’t going to be received well. Talk your audience through the reason. Having a possible alternate solution wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not necessary; use open-ended language that leaves you room to explore a solution in the next round of revisions.
The sooner you can teach your client why the issue might be problematic, the sooner you can both start thinking of other possibilities. It’s impossible to be ready with all the answers, but if your client leaves this meeting with even a seed of a bad idea, it could grow a root system with other decision-makers and be much harder to eliminate tomorrow or next week.
When clients give you their feedback, pay attention. You know design, but I guarantee they know their industry, audience, and company better than you. You will learn something and deliver a better design if you can see things from their perspective. Take quick notes as they speak: these will lay a solid foundation for later meetings and conversations.
Pick Your Battles
You may be thinking, ”Do you really need military strategy in a design presentation?” The answer is a resounding yes.
This expression references a well-known fact that when troops are thinly stretched, they are often unsuccessful. If you divide your focus and become inflexible in all aspects of your design, you’re considerably less likely to succeed.
Is there an aspect of your design you’re passionate about? Is it worth it? If so, fight for it. Start with a thoughtful explanation and back that up with research, numbers, and articles to share. Got another unmemorable part you don’t have strong feelings about? Let it go and move on. The client will think of you more highly for the compromise.
Think about it this way: Peter Jarvis says,
“Amateurs get frustrated with clients. Professionals educate them.”
Best of luck. I’m rooting for you.