I have been in a lot of meetings to present designs to clients and I have realised how important it is to present designs effectively.
It doesn’t matter how good or bad your designs are, if you don’t engage with the people in the room and you do not talk about the things that your audience wants to hear, your designs won’t be approved and you might need to go back to your desk and move pixels around.
A lot of the designers I come across, don’t think that presenting is a skill that belongs to the design world. But I always remember the quote from Mike Monteiro – founder of Mule – who states that ’A designer who doesn’t present their work is not a designer’ and I couldn’t agree more.
Presenting to clients is not the most creative task and it requires a more systematic approach. It’s about organising your ideas and understanding the people in the room.
Thinking about people, we are all busy working across a lot of different projects and it’s important to be mindful of that. Juggling different things, we try our best to achieve goals that the business has set for us. At the same time, we are people and we have personal goals. When we walk in a meeting room with a lot of people around the table, we walk in a room with many personalities, problems, ambitions, thoughts.
As UX designers, meetings are the best way to practice empathising with people. Think about the user as well as the business and the individuals sitting there. Ask yourself, what does the user want/need? What does the business want/need? And how is my design helping them?
Nobody wants to hear you listing all the features and items you put in your designs.
I realise this is direct but as designers, we can spend hours talking about fonts, page style or imagery. I could spend hours investigating the journey a user can take on a website and I love it! However, we are not all designers and we are not all interested in the same things.
When you present your work to a client, most of the time you find yourself in a room with stakeholders who don’t know a lot about design and they are interested about fixing a problem, money and timelines. This can’t be further away from the creative world where we are in most of the time.
During presentations, I have seen designers explaining everything they have added on the screen. They start from the top navigation and they read attentively all the items. They go to the next item on the page telling everyone in the room about colours and fonts. This is a waste of time and a lost opportunity for designers to engage with stakeholders who hire us to do the work and require our help to reach their users.
Everyone in the room can see what you have done on the screen. What they do not know is why you have designed it that way.
Talk the talk
How do you make sure to engage stakeholders in a presentation? Think like a salesperson!
I understand that what I am saying might seem controversial. I want to state right now that I do not mean that designers should become salespeople. But (and here is the but) we deal with clients on a daily basis and we help them to identify problems and create solutions. We put ourselves in the clients’ shoes as much as in the users’ shoes.
The problem is that presenting your work to a client is probably one of the only times where you have the chance to get them on board with what you have done. You need to make sure that you use your time efficiently. If nobody in the room understands the problem or the solutions, you might get feedback that doesn’t actually help the business or the users. You end up being frustrated and the business misses an opportunity.
Four steps rule
The way I deal with presentations is very similar to what I do when I prepare a workshop, a user interview or usability testing.
Start with business aims and objectives
This is what the people in the room are most bothered about. Your work is based on a brief that is connected to business’ goals so make sure you state them clearly. Reassure your audience that you haven’t just put pretty images on a screen but you have analysed their goals, identified a problem and provided them with a solution. It’s so valuable to connect to your stakeholders and give them a clear message that you know what they want and that your work reflects that.
Tip: sometimes this is as simple as reiterating what has been written in the brief. I understand that business talk is not everyone’s favourite, but it’s pivotal to engage your audience and have a conversation that is based on the same level of understanding.
Talk about the users
Set the tone correctly and introduce who you are designing for. It’s not about what you or the business likes. It’s about the user and it’s your job to make this clear. I understand that sometimes projects don’t have the budget for user research but you will have some data or idea of who you are designing for, so state this.
Tips: The first place to start is usually analytics to get a high-level understanding of your users and their journeys. Ask yourself where are users coming from? What are they trying to do? Is there any specific goal or need? My first call is usually Google Analytics. This is free and most companies have it set up on their website. Look for what devices are most used by your users, landing pages, navigations patterns and keyword searches. Data is what makes your work subjective rather than objective. Even if this is a very shallow view of your users, it sets the conversation to a different level.
Talk about the why (and not the what)
Explain the rationale behind your design. This is the time to show stakeholders that what you have done solves the problem and achieves their goals. Why have you chosen a colour more than another? Why is the photograph a certain way? What is the design trying to communicate?
Tips: Take your audience through your creative process and the steps you have followed to get to the design presented. You can also talk about competitor analysis, web standards and any other research you have conducted or things you have considered as part of your designs.
The people in the room need to buy into what you are saying. Choose your main message and keep reiterating it during your presentation. It’s all about making your point memorable so that the message can travel through the company easily.
Tip: think about Steve Jobs and how he used to talk about a new iPhone, repeating the same words.
Presenting your designs and ideas is not an easy task, but it’s an integral part of every designer’s job. What helps me to get better at presenting is the fear of going back to my desk and move pixels around, spend more time and effort on the same project and more than likely achieve nothing more than I have already done. This really helps me to sell my work!