"How do I create a first design project?" is one of the most common questions among aspiring designers.
After mentoring dozens of people in person and hundreds in groups, I came up with a super-simple framework that will help you build the foundation of your project.
But let me tell you a story first.
When I started doing paid design work, if you happened to be a client of mine, here is what you would likely receive after the work was done:
- A few JPEGs, or
- A poorly formatted PDF presentations
I would be on the other side, hoping that you would review my work and draw a connection between the concepts I created and the project's original objectives.
In the best-case scenario, you may have been able to provide rudimentary feedback based on your personal preferences.
In the worst-case situation, you may have felt that the job I did was entirely unrelated to what you were seeking. I might have to start from scratch.
Suppose you've ever had an experience like this, as I have in previous years. In that case, there is a more professional approach to sharing your work with your clients.
With this approach, your work is beautifully articulated and presented. It's aligned with the client's original objectives, referring back to the creative brief, increasing the likelihood of client buy-in and support.
Think about this:
- Before presenting your work, you have most likely completed much of the critical thinking required to complete a successful project.
- During the discovery process, you learn about the client's needs and what they hope to gain from the project.
- By submitting a great creative brief, you have earned permission on creative direction and approach.
You started working and completed those deliverables, ensuring that the steps you followed were consistent with the research and strategy you developed with the client in the initial stages of the project.
You have evaluated, edited, and analyzed your work to ensure that it is as strong as it can be.
It is now time to present your work to the client.
The most noticeable mistake designers make when presenting a project is starting by showing the designs. Instead, follow a simple structure that will help you tell the story of the project.
But before we get into it, there's a vast gap most designers miss. And that is ... you need to treat your project as a design problem.
Approach your project like a design problem
Creating a successful project presentation isn't an easy job. This is why you should treat it as a design problem like you would do in a client project. But this time – you are your client. To start, let's…
Identify the stakeholders (users)
Before you start putting together your presentation, you should figure out who you will be presenting it to.
Your slides could be pixel-perfect, with the best high-resolution mockups available. Still, if you don't know who you're speaking to, your presentation could fall to pieces.
Knowing your audience allows you to adjust your presentation so that everyone feels heard and represented.
I wrote a piece on this in my previous article, "No followers? No problems", where I talked about the ideal client avatar.
Prepare yourself by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is the function of each individual?
- Who will make the final call?
- What was their previous working experience with designers?
- What are the sources of their suffering? What are their primary concerns?
- What kind of communication do they have?
Understand the goals
When you know who you will be presenting to, it's much easier to nail your presentation down to the fundamental goals that each stakeholder has on their mind.
Based on the role in the organization, the stakeholders' goals can vary:
- Increase overall revenue
- Decrease operational costs
- Increase revenues from new business
- Increase revenues from existing business
- Increase shareholder value
Build your presentation in a way that covers some or at least a few of their goals. Show how the solution you came up with covers the problem, benefits the organization, and helps move closer to the original plans.
Reference the creative brief
Before you start putting your deck together, review your previous work to make sure it meets the client's initial objectives. If you think it doesn't fulfill the original creative brief's goals, make improvements.
Prepare in advance
Practicing your pitch's speed and flow before the big day makes things run more smoothly. Remember to allocate plenty of time to describe the work you've done.
Allow yourself to take natural pauses so that your audience may easily observe and digest your work. Prepare for any questions or unfavorable feedback you could receive by practicing your presentation and making revisions as necessary.
Know where you will be presenting
How many people will be in attendance at your talk? What tools will you have at your disposal? What extra supplies, such as pens, or notepads, would your audience require from you?
Be aware of the setting you'll be presenting and arrive (over)prepared for it. Be sure to have a copy of your presentation with you. Be prepared to email a client-ready PDF for review after the presentation is over.
Build your deck
Show the context and the goal of the project
Describe the company, industry, and goal of the project. Give a viewer the context of the work.
Outline the project's phases and your role in each
What was the timeline of the project? What kind of work did you do in each stage?
Showcase your strategy – personas, competitors, user flows
Your case study shows that the work besides design – research, strategy, and planning is worth sharing.
Explain the constraints you've been working within
What technology was involved in the project? Describe the limitations that you've worked within.
Don't forget your notes
This is something I've learned the hard way. I used to include all the text right into my slides and simply read from it. That's not the way good presentations work.
The deck is for visuals. You need to catch the viewer's attention to stay focused and listen to what you are saying. I like to have notes to keep myself up to the context and not miss important parts, but I never read from slides. It's okay to look at your notes while taking a sip of water.
Do's and don'ts
- Don't use paragraphs in your slides
- Instead, use concise bullet-points
- Don't use long titles
- Instead, use short and clear headings
- Don't add too many details on a single slide
- Instead, make focus on a single point or visual cue
After the client has digested the thoughts you've provided, ask precise, straightforward questions that correspond with the customer's initial objectives from the creative brief. Keep everyone on track by showing one or two slides that address the questions you'd like them to ask.
To help you get started, here are some questions:
- In light of your earlier research from the creative brief, do these thoughts address your users?
- Is this in line with the tone you've established for your company? Is this in line with your present marketing or branding strategy?
- What would be the reaction of your intended audience to this?
Sit back and listen to the client's response after you've asked a few pointed questions. Despite your design expertise, the client will better understand their business and offer insight that can help lead the project even further.
As you listen to your client, be careful to jot down any important points. You can ask a team member to take notes or record the meeting, but ideally, you should do both. Hence, you have something to go to when going into the next round of ideation. It's critical to remember that you shouldn't look to your customer for creative direction. Instead, ask for their input and viewpoint on how well the work corresponds with their initial aims.
Similarly, if the customer says something about the design that you disagree with, don't be afraid to argue and share your knowledge with them. They chose you because of your experience and unique perspective, and they will value what you have to say.
It's critical to remember that the client's personal preferences aren't relevant throughout these presentations.
Customer input isn't always available right away. They are frequently a part of a broader group tasked with reviewing the project's progress.
Prepare a PDF version of the presentation that you can share with the customer before they leave to take a closer look and provide more insightful feedback.
Wrap-up and next steps
If there are any unanswered questions, summarize where you are in the process and the following stages and assign tasks after collecting initial input and responding to any remaining ones.
For example, there are three rounds of concepts for a logo identity. Your response is due in five business days from the end of Round 1. Include this as a closing slide to serve as a reminder of what's to come. After the meeting, send a follow-up email with a few high-level notes and action items, as well as a PDF of the presentation.
This is the best way I have found to present design projects most efficiently. It might not work for everyone ultimately, but hopefully, you can take some parts of it and apply it in your process to better present your projects.