Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Perceived Quality: Presentation vs Product

One of the most important lessons that I have learned as a designer is the very crucial emphasis on how you present your work to clients. At first, I was completely aghast at client feedback and reactions to what I gave them (which was exactly what they asked for), and how there were often huge gaps in communication that resulted in them trying to initiate a design by committee scenario.

If you don't create a firm base of trust and clear communication early in the design process, your client will have a difficult time accepting ideas and designs that you present, regardless of the logic and industry standards that back up those reasons for why you did a certain thing instead of something else.

Pitching them their own ideas:
If left to their own devices, clients can take your well-informed drafts and interpret them at absolute face value. Never just hand a client a draft mockup list and say, "Here's what I came up with, tell me what you think."

If you do, they have the opportunity to project upon each design their first impressions from that day, and can imply certain things that have no business being implied.

For example, if they just had a tuna sandwich for lunch, and walked past a particularly pungent seafood section at the super market during their lunch break, or were just looking through their photos from their fishing vacation, they will be predisposed to "seeing" fish in the next thing put in front of them, which could be your design for a bakery or preschool.

You have to set the tone, and wipe their mind-slate clean before presenting them with any new mental images in order for the ideas to be completely within the context of the specific project goals.

Set the stage with a recap of the main points from the last brainstorming meeting. Remind them what you last talked about, and how it brought you to what you are about to show them. If you're presenting in person, having samples of the notes available on a slideshow might be helpful, and if presenting over the phone, make sure your client has your full attention, and access to the internet in order to be ready at a moments notice for viewing the files.

Create the narrative for what the design implies and means to the client, the company, and the industry. Giving each draft design a back story helps to personify the design into something with more substance. It's not just a squiggle that will cost you X amount of dollars in the end. It's a well thought out, researched symbol of the mission and drive that this company stands for.

I know a few specific clients who, after viewing a draft file before I began a presentation via phone, flat out decided on a design from the comps sheet. I asked them to elaborate on their choice, and after listening to their reasons, I began the narrative for each design in order to give them the full perspective for each version of the specific logo. After this "story time," the client swayed their choice to finally land on the one that I had originally thought would best suit their business model, and they, "... saw what you meant about it being more us."

Use plenty of adjectives and descriptors to give each element of the design an emotion, a context, and a feeling that your client will look at and say, "Oh yeah, I can feel that in the way it 'swooshes' like that!" Getting them to see how it was meant to be seen shouldn't be tricky if it's a good design. This is the time for those "Ah Ha!" moments where they see that hidden arrow in the FedEx logo and immediately love it because it's something clever and makes them look smart for knowing about it's "hidden visual."

Remember how exciting it is to have a happy client, and present your ideas with that same level of enthusiasm every time. When they say smiles are contagious, it's not literal, but when they see how excited and eager you are to show them something that you just know they'll love, it tells them that you love working for them, and are doing your best to make sure they are happy too. A happy designer yields good designs.

Egos have no place in design and should be left at the door. The last thing any presentation or brainstorming meeting needs is a creative person who can't take constructive criticism. The project needs to be ALL about the clients needs, and none of your own. You are there to make sure they get what they want, anticipate their design related needs, and make them look as good as possible. If they start bashing your presented materials, now is not the time for heat to be applied. Approach it with curiosity, and a neutral tone. Ask them why they feel that way, and get their feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs communicated as clearly as possible in order for you to address their concerns. You may not be able to give any answers that moment, but be civil and patient, and ready to back up any claim against it with market data to make a valid argument. It's all for the good of the company, and facts are facts; you can't argue that.

One would think that after being given everything the client wants, and then handing them exactly what they asked for, it would be easy to proceed through a design process. You can have a perfect design that fits the every need and demographic of a company, and be so sure and positive about it's acceptance when presented, but without the proper flare and silver platter of context, your design can go completely overlooked and unappreciated for the craft that it is.

Without a good pitch, you'll never be able to knock them out of the park.

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