Design Process: Pitching Creative Ideas to Clients

w5970_500px_72dpiEditor’s Note: This article is excerpted from The Digital Creative Survival Guide by Paul Wyatt, to be published in May by HOW Books. Find more books on web and interactive design at

When they’re presenting creative work to a client, digital design agencies typically show three creative routes that fit the project brief. All these routes match the brief but push the work in different directions.

Generally, the three routes will be given to separate designers to develop and are something like this:

(photo from Shutterstock)

Big Idea photo illustrationCreative Idea 1: “Let’s play it safe”

This safe route, which ticks all the boxes of the brief but probably isn’t very progressive, will do the job quickly, efficiently and on budget. As a designer, this is probably the most boring route to have to work on.

Creative Idea 2: “Blue sky”

This route clings to the brief by the skin of its teeth but brings in new technologies, left-field thinking and radical ideas, which push, and in most cases improve, the brief beyond its current state. This is the cool route to work on. Provided you stick to the mandatory goals of the brief, you can push and shape the interactive design project as you see fit. Throw all the ideas in there from your creative box of tricks and make something that has a “wow” factor to it.

Creative Idea 3: “Safe but with a bit of an edge”

This route is usually a hybrid of options 1 and 2. You want to give the client a dollop of “safe” with a smattering of “slightly edgy” ( a term loved by clients, which essentially means “make it a little daring … but don’t go too far”). More useless buzzwords you might hear are “pop,” “standout” and “immersive.” Pretty much they all mean “Make it safe but not that safe; oh, and make people like it.”

“Why bother with three routes?” you might be asking. Well, when responding to a brief, it’s good to show that you understand its goals and the deliverables (Route 1) and that you also are an agency/freelancer who has big ideas and can make a client go “wow” with the breadth of knowledge of technology and creative (Route 2) but you also know how to ground those ideas and make them workable (Route 3).

Presenting Stratospheric Creative Ideas

Blue sky ideas never usually fully see the light of day, but you’ll find that clients enjoy the fact that you’re flexing your creative muscle, and this can act as a convincer for them to go with the slightly tamer third route. Knowing that you can have those big ideas will encourage the client to want to work with you again. Just make sure that however blue sky the idea, it covers what’s asked for in the current brief or rationalizes why it doesn’t just so that doesn’t become a sticking point when it comes to feedback. It can then leap off into diverse directions and become something much better than the original client brief.

Of course, once in a while, there is that rare, delightful client who will want to go with the blue-sky creative idea. More often than not, this will need to be pared down a little from the original pitch, as a lot of designers will subscribe to the notion that the big idea should push the technology rather than being held back by it. This is a marvelous ideal, but it can go fantastically wrong if you don’t at least run your idea past a developer to see if it’s do-able with current technology.

u7628It’s important to keep up generally with technology, apps, web trends and who is doing what in the industry, as you need to be fully versed and passionate about this. This business is becoming more and more multidisciplinary, so a 360-degree take on the business will be a lifeline should you find yourself having to redevelop your skill set and change your own personal “offering” to an employer. Keep your head over the parapet when it comes to watching the changes and turns that happen in the industry. Roll with the punches; don’t try to fight against them.

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