This is the second in a series on dos and don’ts when presenting designs during a meeting to a client, your team, or any stakeholder.
2018 came to an end, and so has my first year and a half working as a product designer at Goodpatch, Tokyo. Of course, a goal upon joining was to improve the quality of my design output. However, the biggest reality I experienced in a client facing job was that design doesn’t speak for itself; how you present a design is just as important as how good the design is.
This is a reflection on fundamental lessons I’ve learned from weekly client meetings throughout my first year and a half here. These foundations helped our team make the most out our clients’ time and our own, and therefore respect our clients as important partners and ourselves as professionals.
Our work is primarily in a Japanese context, but I believe these basics apply to anyone who presents designs to clients, stakeholders, or teammates.
1. Don’t: Propose throwaways for the sake of quantity
Especially not designs that fail to solve the actual problem. Or designs that are the same things just in different colors.
While there are debates over whether the ideal number of options offered, it’s safe to say that it’s the best use of everyone’s time to consider options that are real solutions, not fluff. Showing throwaway designs in a proposal often distracts stakeholders from the ones that can actually solve their problems.
Letting people choose A or B isn’t the same as getting them involved
There were times we felt like we needed to present multiple options for every design decision to give the stakeholder options to choose from, and to get them involved.
However, handing a client a few options once in a while isn’t the same as getting them truly involved in the design process. Also, if those extra options don’t help achieve the project’s goal, it’s not right for us as professionals to even recommend it in the first place, of course.
The best way to involve stakeholders is from the beginning. They are experts in their field, and you as a designer needs their expertise to create the best solution. So involve them from the start; you’ll need them along the way to discover insights, needs, problems, and goals.
To involve clients only when choosing between designs is to diminish your team’s expertise as user experience design professionals, and to diminish their expertise as professionals in their fields.
Do: Propose real solutions, and get stakeholders involved in them from the beginning
2. Don’t: Present your rough draft like a proposal
There’s a difference between showing a design to propose a real solution, and showing a design to illustrate your process. If your presentation doesn’t emphasize the difference, your audience might interpret explorations as real proposals.
Showing your process vs. showing a proposal
To convey the design process to the audience, you can show a collection of the divergent designs your team explored before converging on select ones. However, there’s no need to explain these at depth; they are there to illustrate the process, and perhaps to articulate challenges you faced along the way.
After that, you can propose select designs. Create them with intentionality, and present at the fidelity they need. Take your time to explain in depth how they meet the project goals. These proposals should be presented with more significance and impact than the exploratory designs, because these are the ones you want your audience to seriously consider.
You reduce the significance of your real proposal if you present explorations with the same impact. This also opens the door for miscommunications and extra time spent explaining how those explorations don’t actually solve the design problem.
Do: Propose designs that are actually viable. You’re intentional with what you make, so be intentional with what you show
3. Don’t: Mockup an idea at the wrong fidelity
The level of fidelity of a design highly affects how it is received, especially with non-designers. This can go in both ways.
A well polished graphic of a concept app shown too early on can convince an audience to narrow on a direction when there were still plenty of other directions to explore. Creating perfectly aligned screens can convince the designer themselves to stick to them because of the amount of time sunk already. A pixel perfect prototype might be the complete opposite of what the client was asking for, and needs to be remade from scratch. A design polished too early on can redirect the conversation to topics such as color, instead of the information architecture questions you asked.
On the other hand, a low fidelity mock up of a flow might not be understood by the client who isn’t familiar with digital design. An idea proposed as a rough pen and paper sketch might not be taken as seriously as a worse idea in the form of a polished digital mockup.
We learned to purposefully decide the level of fidelity we create our ideas. We learned to decide what feedback we were looking for at the moment, and design a mockup at the fidelity that encourages that kind.