Designers have to be great communicators to be successful. It doesn’t matter how great the user experience is or how beautiful your designs are, if you can’t present them effectively they will have little chance of seeing the light of the day.
Forget about the myth that good design sells itself. Designers have to actively and strategically sell their work to both their teams and their clients. They have to understand the goals of the project, the needs of the users, work together with the stakeholders, and present their solution in the most compelling way they can.
In the never-ending quest to improve my design presentation skills I recently attended a workshop called “Presenting Design Like Your Life Depended on it - And It Does!”. The workshop was led by Erika Hall and Mike Monteiro. Erika is the co-Founder of Mule Design Studio, a speaker, and the author of Just Enough Research from A Book Apart. Mike is also the co-founder of Mule Design Studio, a speaker, and author of two books, Design is a Job and You’re My Favorite Client, a personal favorite of mine. Both Erika’s and Mike’s books should be required reading for designers.
Going in to the workshop I had a vague sense of what to expect but once the workshop started things got real. Being in the business for as long as Erika and Mike have they have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in design presentations. They shared a list of ways designers screw things up when presenting to clients (see below), it was reckoning time. First realizing our bad habits and then discussing ways to improve them. It was great to hear everyone’s stories because it seemed like we all live through the same struggles when presenting. I won’t tell you how many of those bad habits I personally was guilty of but let’s just say there were enough. Just having this realization made the workshop worth its weight in gold.
Here are the 13 ways designers screw up presentations:
1. Seeing the client as someone you have to please.*
2. Not getting off your ass during presentations.
3. Starting with an apology.
4. Not setting the stage properly.
5. Giving the real estate tour.*
6. Not assigning roles.
7. Reading a script.
8. Getting defensive.
9. Mentioning Typefaces.
10. Talking about how hard you worked.
11. Reacting to questions as change requests.*
12. Not guiding the feedback loop.
13. Asking the client “Do you like it?”
*I may or may not be guilty of doing these.
After lunch we were all tasked with presenting to a panel which included Erika and Mike. The presentation was first critiqued by the audience and then by the panel, talk about a high-pressure presentation and being in the line of fire. Erika and Mike told us exactly what we were doing right or wrong. This was the tough love part of the workshop. It is hard to stand in front of a group and hear our mistakes but that is the only way can improve. Being blind to our mistakes does not help us in any way.
Here is some more great advice Erika and Mike shared with us during the workshop:
- Don’t do comp work.
- Win clients by the questions you ask and the interest you show in their challenges.
- Frame emails and ask specific questions.
- Have a single point of contact for your projects. If the client introduces a new stakeholder in the middle of the project that is a change of scope. More time will need to be added to the project timeline. Everything has a cost associated with it.
- Ask yourself what problem is the design solving?
- Designers and clients are equals. The faster designers realize this the smoother the client interactions will be.
- Connect your solutions to the end goal.
- During a presentation repeat the goal over and over and over again. People will inevitably forget.
- Decide how much detail you need to go into. A CEO and a developer need different levels of details to be able to take action on your solutions.
- You are not your work and your work is not you.
- During presentations you should stop and think about the questions.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Guide the feedback
- Ask why.
- You can tell them to ignore things if it isn’t pertinent to the meeting or the phase of the project.
- Feedback is not marching orders.
- Communicate with the client. Find out why.
- Don’t let the client make your design/expertise decisions.
- Don’t ask do you like it.
- Ask useful questions.
You know those moments in your life when everything becomes clear and you feel like you are ready for any challenge that comes your way. This workshop was that moment for me and it can be for you too. Life is too short to not be in control. So get some tough lovin' and take charge of your design presentations. Your future self will thank you for it.
Big thanks to Erika and Mike for sharing their knowledge.
Need to up your presentation skills? Then sign up for the "Present Like workshop ASAP. Get the tough love you need to take your design presentation skills to the next level.