Bill Kenney

How to Pitch Your Design Work

Pitching design work doesn’t always come easy. We designers always have the “What if they don’t like it?” thought buzzing around in our brains. It’s natural for us to question our work, but if we take the right steps before presenting it, we start to modify that thought to “How could they not like this?”

Presenting your design work blog

In this post I am going to walk through what I believe to be the six most important things to consider as you prepare to pitch your design work. Understand that it’s not always a perfect process and, because of the complexity of individual personalities, certain aspects can and will change.

1. Build With Purpose

How can you pitch anything to anyone without reasoning behind it? Any design project, whether simple UI or a hefty branding project, should be built around a main goal, purpose, and driving concept. Use what you know from your strategy sessions, concept exploration, and design execution to frame your conversation. It’s not always about how visually stunning something is, it’s also about why. Clients will gain a much clearer understanding for your direction, and therefore have better buy-in, if you explain that reasoning.

2. Be Confident

Confidence is king, if you can express it appropriately. You can have something exceptional on your hands, but if you pitch it with zero confidence, guess how the client perceives that? You had better be enthusiastic about it if you think it has any legs. Or you should be telling them why it doesn’t work and move on to the good stuff. There is good stuff, right? The tricky part about confidence is that there is a fine line you need to be careful not to cross: Don’t be the “I know everything” designer. Yuck. You could easily come across all-knowing, overbearing, and as not listening to the emotions and thoughts of the client during your pitch. Part of the confidence equation is having the confidence to listen to all feedback, show you understand any concern, and then navigate that into a solid, comforting stance. Sometimes that stance is going back to the drawing board; that doesn’t mean you are a pushover. There are many times in our own experience when a client didn’t bite on our direction, pushed us to try again, and we came out with an even better solution in the end. Be real and be confident; don’t be stubborn.

3. Build a Stellar Presentation

Second to confidence in presentation is the visual storytelling. Talking confidently about your work is great, but a stellar presentation will really push it over the edge. We typically get our client buy-in when the design rounds transition from early concepts to well-presented systems. You can’t expect a client to understand all the nuances and future implications of a design as we do. As designers, we can spin out a simple black and white logo, have an “aha!” moment, and get swept-up daydreaming of all the creative things it can do, mediums it will touch, and how it will look. Clients can’t do that and you shouldn’t expect them to. You have to do it for them, and that’s done with the presentation. Putting a design in context is really impactful and will take a rough direction into the “amazeballs” zone. We actually polished and released a couple of our presentation layouts specifically for this use. Check them out if you want a good head start and time saver.

4. Find Your Client-Side Advocate

One of the first questions we ask when we start any design project is, “Who is our point person?” We want to identify that person on the client side as soon as possible and start building a relationship with them. I’m talking about a real relationship, not just taking them out to dinner to schmooze them. We want to understand their thinking, personality style, and what the communication might feel like. The more you can identify these things and start building general understanding and trust with them the better. Not every project goes smoothly, but with the right people and communication, a bumpy project doesn’t mean a bad project. We are tackling a large project as we speak that has tested both sides, and it’s been great! Each small hill has a victory flag on the other side. Another aspect to think about is dealing with a group or board. That adds a much higher level of risk and complexity. Having a key player on the client side that will sit between you and the board is extremely helpful. I can’t stress that enough. It’s a must for us. In either situation, your client-side point person makes pitching your work a more successful and clean process.

5. Be Prepared

Well, duh, right? You would think so. In being prepared, you should take it a step further. Assess the possible pain points for the client in each delivery. What will they love? What will make them uncomfortable? Start to frame those conversations beforehand. I am a huge fan of beating people to the punch. If you think they are going to hate the color, express your thoughts on the color, how you know they may be scared of it, and why you still feel good about that direction. Don’t just wait for them to try to poke holes in stuff. Come prepared with notes and take notes during the pitch. Don’t mistake this for reading from the table the entire time though. People want to work with people, not robots. Be human and have emotion. Towards the end of your discussion you should be thinking about next steps. You should have a clear list of items, key takeaways, from the meeting. Those become your action items and you should recite those back to the client to end the meeting. It will show you listened and documented what needs to be tweaked. And you have a clear path for the next cycle of work.

6. Frame Your Story

So, taking the first five steps into consideration, now you can frame your story. A pitch should be a nice journey for the client, an impactful, digestible ride through how you got to certain decisions–the thinking behind it all, how you felt as you pushed through certain directions, and how excited you are with where it’s headed. The visuals should follow that same cadence. You start with the small unpolished bits and build with momentum to the refined direction. You want to create a sense of, “We have arrived and it feels so good.”

So there is the short and sweet list about pitching design work. Make sure to check out the “Crafting a great branding delivery” post if you want a more granular look at things, like how many designs to show, etc.

Also, check out the presentation templates we’ve created to help you in this process.

Give this a share if you enjoyed it :)