Tips for Presenting Design Ideas and Concepts to Clients

Truly inspired design ideas are hard to come by. After all, not every design concept is a winner. But if you want to make an impact with your clients, it’s good to keep a few things in mind.

Shari Schwartz, one of our great HOW U instructor, is an expert at client presentations. Shari is the founder of 6712 Creative, a full-service, strategic graphic design shop that caters to the design needs of all businesses, large and small. Based in Baltimore, its mission is to combine the highest quality design with outstanding client services.

Shari crafted the HOW U course, Presenting Design Ideas and Concepts to Clients. This two-week course explains and exemplifies why the actual presentation of work to a client can impact and sway how well the designs are received. This course is intended for anyone who works in the industry and often finds themselves in the spotlight presenting designs to a client, hoping for a big win.

“I have found that excitement is contagious,” Shari says. “Stand up out of your chair. Run to a large monitor and point out a beautiful detail that may have otherwise been overlooked. Train your clients’ eyes to hone in on the beautiful details that separate your designs from everyone else’s.”

Shari has designed across all media platforms for clients in a broad range of industries, including financial services, education, technology, pharmaceuticals, professional sports—even porta potty rentals (true story).

Check out this adorable series of logos she designed for Piggyback Publishing:

pbp_logos1    pbp_logos2  pbp_logos3

Shari covers the topic comprehensively in her HOW U course, but to get you started, here are three recommendations for your next design presentation:

1. Be confident, even if you don’t know the answer.

We all know that having confidence can make or break pretty much any social interaction. From picking up that hottie at the bar to speaking at HOW Design Live, confidence is the key to convincing your audience you’re legit. So the next time you’re gearing up to present your epic design ideas, try not to get discouraged by someone’s bitchy resting face or thrown off by a question you hadn’t anticipated.

As Christopher Butler explains in “Experiment Like an Expert” (HOW May 2014): “The biggest secret in our industry is that designers are 50% unjustified confidence and 50% unjustified fear. But the ratio isn’t the issue, per se. The real issue is that we pretend this isn’t true … Why? Because we’re afraid of losing our place at the table. Executives, marketers, project managers, engineers and plenty of other intimidating people stare us down and wait for our answers. So we smile, and say ‘I got this,’ while inside we’re virtually paralyzed. Bluffing works every so often, but it’s a lousy way to live.”The solution? Butler suggests the idea of “experimentation that looks like expertise.” Although he’s primarily concerned with the interactive realm and digital projects, the same can be applied to your “I don’t knows” as well. The key is to ask the right questions during your client meetings and, rather than offer a solution, pay attention to your process as your begin figuring out the best way to give your client what she wants. In this case, the confidence comes from knowing you can find the perfect solution, so it takes the pressure off knowing the all the answers before you begin.

2. Know who’s in the room and forge a connection with the client.

What’s the best way to lose your design idea in the great abyss of discarded design concepts? Tailoring your presentation to the wrong person. HOW contributor, speaker and HOW Design University instructor Douglas Davis addresses this in his article “Sell Without Selling” (HOW November 2013): When you talk to the lackey who has influence over the final decision and will be presenting your concept to the decision-maker, you need to make your pitch easily repeatable (and preferably include handouts).

When you’re talking to the person actually writing the check, the goals of your presentation shift. In either circumstance, you should frame your design ideas in the context of business considerations.The second part, however, can be a bit trickier. When it comes to interviewing, most times the hiring manager is already aware of your experience and if you’re able to perform the job.

The goal of the in-person conversation is to determine something else: Will other people in the office want to spend 40+ hours per week interacting with someone like you? It seems obvious, but likeability goes a long way. Why choose Mary No-Personality over Joe Kind-To-Everyone? You can take a lot of heat off your design presentation (and avoid those glares when you utter the phrase “I don’t know”) if you connect with the people in the room. Do your research on the business executives in the same way you researched the company. Check LinkedIn, google their names, etc. Find out if they like a particular sports team or write novels in their spare time. Not everything will be relevant, but it can give you a good idea of who you’re talking to. Most importantly, take Davis’ advice and find out their goals. A combination of strategic small talk and a hard-hitting design idea will assure the client you’re speaking their language.

3. Structure your pitch.

You’re almost to the finish line. You’ve done the research, developed the design idea and tailored the pitch to the room. All you have left is to gift the world with your beautiful shiny idea. But wait! Do you have some sort of plan or are you going rogue (Hint: Please, please don’t go rogue)? With all the time and effort you’ve put into honing your design concept, it would be a waste to flub the delivery. Luckily, in “Sell Without Selling,” Davis offers a seven-step plan for nailing the presentation every time. It looks a little like this:

Insight: Share your most relevant observation from your research.

Therefore: Explain the conclusion you’ve come to based on the insight.

Concept: Articulate the design concept by revealing your actual idea in a few sentences.

Execution: Communicate how the concept will conveyed in the project/design you’re creating.

Benefit: Reveal the reason why you’re executing the project in this way and how it will relay the perks to the consumer.

Message: State the takeaway for the consumer based on the project you’ve described.

Objective: Reiterate the goal that was outlined in the initial client brief or project assignment.

In his article, Davis uses the example of how someone may have pitched the “Mac versus PC” ad campaign (you know, the one where the computers are people), but the process works for any design concept pitch.

For more information on how to present design ideas and concepts to potential clients, check out Shari Schwartz’s HOW U course.

Design presentation resources from MyDesignShop:

2 thoughts on “Tips for Presenting Design Ideas and Concepts to Clients

  1. Comm

    Do you have any suggestion for software wich i can use to make some sort of design pitch?
    I’m not a graphic designer but i do manage the projects for campaigns, websites etc. I’m looking for something that would make it easer to provide my clients with a concept of design. Oke, sorry i’m from Holland so my English is not perfect, but I would be happy with any suggestions!