As designers, we’re extremely creative and passionate people who pour our hearts and souls into design solutions.
But we often lose this passion when we present our concepts to clients. Presenting design work incorrectly can create a vacuum for clients to provide misdirected or overly prescriptive feedback, which in turn leads to subpar final work. Proper presenting skills help clients see our point of view and ultimately allow us to put designs out into the world that we’re proud to put our names on. Here are some thoughts for your next presentation.
Polish your presentation
Present your work in the best possible light. If it’s a still image of a website design, mock it up in an image of an actual computer. If you’re sharing your screen, close unneeded windows and present in full-screen mode to eliminate distractions and visual noise.
Use a well-designed presentation template. Don’t put too much text in your presentation or your client will spend more time reading your slides instead of listening to what you’re saying. When you do use text in your presentation, keep it big and bold for readability.
Have one focal point per slide, even if it makes your slide deck longer—too much content per slide will only end up overwhelming your audience.
Practice going through your presentation once or twice to become familiar with you’re going to present each slide—it’ll help you move seamlessly from slide to slide when you present.
“Have one focal point per slide, even if it makes your slide deck longer.”
Nothing’s worse than an unfocused design review. Setting the appropriate context at the beginning of the meeting will save you a lot of agony down the road.
At the beginning of each client meeting, reiterate the project goals, recap their feedback from last time, and set clear objectives for the meeting. This reminds them why they’re in the room and what kind of participation is needed, while keeping the discussion focused.
“Nothing’s worse than an unfocused design review.”
Include a slide in your presentation that clearly communicates what type of feedback you are and are not looking for in the meeting. Using a presentation template that includes an outline slide lets everyone know what will be covered and in what order. This adds structure to the meeting and ensures you don’t forget to review the items above during the meeting.
Tell a story
When you’re presenting, tell the story about how your design came to be. Walk through each section of the design and explain your rationale. Talk about the design, its benefits, and how it solves the project goals (but avoid explaining what they can obviously see right in front of them).
For example, if the color palette you chose was inspired by a mural you saw on a walk last weekend, and you felt it perfectly addressed the mood and tone the client requested, mention it—many clients who aren’t familiar with the design process find this insight fascinating, and it gives them confidence that they’ve hired a creative and thoughtful designer. It’s also helpful to show a few slides describing some of your rationale (such as mood boards, user test results, etc.) before showing the actual design.
“Include a slide in your presentation that communicates what type of feedback you’re looking for.”
If you’re presenting multiple options, name each concept and show a recap slide with all of the options on one page. This makes it easier for discussion at the end of the review.
Present your most straightforward ‘on-message’ design first. This gives reviewers confidence that you understand the project and its objectives. Once this is established, they’ll be more receptive to ideas you present later that may be more conceptual.
Control the pace
Ask the client to hold feedback until the end of your presentation, once you’ve walked them through the design. Take your time to present, and don’t rush. Be mindful and read the room—if you see someone checking the time or reading emails on their phone, it’s time to speed things up. If the client has seen something before or agrees with your design recommendation, it’s probably safe to go quickly through those sections.
Always keep an eye on the time—if the discussion gets off track or the meeting is scheduled to end soon, look for an opportunity to politely remind meeting attendees of the goals for the meeting, and offer to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss the remaining topics if needed.
At the beginning of the meeting, explain to the client the type of feedback you are and are not looking for. As an example, if you’re showing wireframes, the client may not understand that you aren’t looking for feedback on visual design details at this stage, so clarify that for them up front.
Push back on client feedback you disagree with. You’ve been hired because you’re an expert at what you do, so it’s your job to give honest recommendations as a designer. It’s natural that the client may disagree with some of your suggestions, but never get defensive. Hear the client out and be thoughtful of their feelings and feedback. They often bring valuable insights and ideas that can make the final design stronger.
If the client chooses to continually ignore your advice, it’s a business gamble on their part. To protect your integrity and sanity, your best option might be to do all you can within their constraints, leave the project out of your portfolio, and move on.
Most importantly, be confident
The absolute most important thing to remember when presenting design work: show enthusiasm and confidence. If you’re confident in your work, your client will be too.
Jonathan devotes his career to helping brands build meaningful experiences. As Creative Director of Upwork, the platform that quickly connects businesses to the world’s top independent talent, he leads a team of designers and copywriters on multiple print, interactive, and UX projects, including overseeing creative strategy, concept development, design, and implementation.