Pitching ideas to the sharks — SNL

Good design needs to be sold

The solutions we create are no good if we don’t get to implement them.

For us Designers, is not unusual to always be thinking about how to make things better, more efficient. At least in my case that goes for pretty much everything I get to experience through my everyday life.

Most of this thinking happens at a personal level, its informal and spontaneous, often resulting into pictures of napkin sketches or reminder emails I send to myself. These ideas are mainly saved for later use as a source of inspiration that one day can be transformed into something tangible, or like in this case, writing an article. In the end I may or may not do anything with these ideas, they’re just mine and I’m ought to do with them as I please.

Now, there’s totally a different scenario were I actually have an obligation to think and create solutions for problems that are presented to me, and I have to solve them. That’s my job, to design solutions for clients, and most importantly for people.

So in the context of work, let’s imaging the following scenario:

At work and you’ve been tasked to come up with a solution to solve a problem people have, where there’s also opportunity for a business to grow.

You get on it, do your research, talk to your team, brainstorm, post-it notes start to cover walls, sketching ideas, then comes the prototype, you test it, tweak it, test it again… Until you reach a point where you and your team feel very confident about the solution you have come up with, and now you are ready to make it happen.

Nice! I can see everyone high five-ing each other, you & team feel confident, everything feels right, great!.. Then reality kicks in and although your solution might feel its the greatest, you still haven’t presented your solution to the stakeholders, those who are actually in charge of approving and funding your idea.

See, up to this point the solution you’ve created hasn’t made it out of the door yet, and for that to happen you are depending on what should be perhaps one of your strongest skills, and that my friend is selling.

Presenting your work = Selling your work

Let me repeat that again, you as a Designer will have to sell your work to those decision makers, and if you are not able to do so, the solution you’ve created won’t see the light of day. But that’s not all, there’s an even more challenging aspect of selling your solution, and that is that failing to do so will reflect on you as a professional because some people will question the value of your work, based on your performance.

I know this sounds scary. This is often the last thing designers think of while designing but keeping this in mind, will help you to prepare and sharpen your presentation skills. That’s why selling is a crucial skill designers must have.

“A designer who does not present his/her own work is not a designer” — Mike Monteiro

Believe me, I know from experience how it feels to fail at selling design, I’ve suffered the consequences and the scrutiny that comes with that. A big part of that failing was that I was presenting my work mainly as a way of sharing but not really selling it at all.

Now, on the the bright side, I’ve learned to embrace the challenge of selling my ideas to others, I feel this had helped to stay focused, passionate for what I do, and that has helped me to fuel my presenting/selling powers.

Things to keep in mind while selling your work

Knowing that the idea of selling could be somewhat intimidating to many of you reading this. So, I felt compelled to share with you some aspects of selling design that had helped me, and I hope they will help you to sell your work as well.

  • Be yourself: You did your homework, worked long days/nights, you guided your team, you tested your concepts. Now you should get yourself ready to present. Be confident, focus on the goal, don’t be afraid of failure or rejection.
  • You designed it, you present it! Don’t let someone else present your work, as they won’t be able to convey it’s value as passionately as you would.
  • Choreograph it: If you worked as part of a team, find the best way for each person to talk about something they were actively involved with. Of course, this will have to be voluntary. Don’t forget to rehearse, the more in tune team members are the better the chances for success.
  • Be clear on what’s the objective: This what I call “doing prep work”. Target what’s the most important aspect you should focus your presentation on, and how best to communicate that to your audience.
  • Know your sh*t: You must be ready to answer questions because even if the feedback you receive is great, there will be questions.
  • Know your audience: This will help you tailor your presentation accordingly. Things like tone, dress code, level of detail, timeliness, etc.
  • Inspire confidence: Some people are more “natural” at presenting than others but regardless of that, you should be able to infuse confidence in your team and your audience.
  • Don’t read from your slides: I see this one all the time. Use your slides only as a visual queue, and that’s it. If possible, stay away from PowerPoint by all means.
  • Present short, present often: I know this one is not always possible, but as we do things in our iterative world, constantly communicating with stakeholders throughout the creative process will help to get them on board with the idea. You can do short weekly update presentations to help them understand the direction things are going, so that you avoid surprises later.
  • Present to your peers first: This is a great way to collect feedback in preparation for the big day. Remember, practice makes perfect.
  • Don’t eat o drink before presenting: As is reasonably expected, when you are about to present, you might start to feel a bit anxious, when you feel anxious, your body might tell you is time to go. Nothing will be worst than interrupting or cutting your presentation short because you had to rush to the restrooms.
  • Don’t take it personal: I’ve found that being open to criticism can be very helpful. As Designers we tend to be very protective of the solutions we create. Processed correctly, even the hardest criticism could provide valuable insight to make improvements.
  • Don’t say more than what needs to be said: Oh boy! I’ve made this mistake many, many times. I remember a few where I was basically done presenting and then I said something else and that opened the “doors of hell” with questions that wouldn’t have been asked otherwise.
  • Be ready to share: Its very likely that at some point you will have to turn in your design files, research documents, code, slides, etc. Make sure all of those are clean and professional.
  • Write a case study: This is great as a way to reflect about the work you’ve done, and it will also come handy as something to share with people that want to learn about your work. This is a great thing to show in your portfolio as well.

I really hope these tips help you. Having failed at this before has taught me to embrace the opportunity to sell design. It actually has become some kind of adrenaline rush that helps me keep things interesting.

Selling design is a critical skill to have, the better you get at it, the more opportunities you will create for yourself, your team, to get recognized, and to elevate your professional career.

Thanks for reading!

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