Presenting design

Being able to lead a good design review is equally important as the creation of the designs themselves

At buUuk, each designer presents their own work to their clients — no one else does it for you. This is done on a very regular basis (even 2–3 times a week per client during the initial design phase).

Over the last 2 months, I’ve been taking notes, during my own presentations and when others are presenting, to see what works and what doesn’t.

This is important stuff, because every decision made is crucial and every decision not made is time wasted (and you as a designer should take responsibility for it). Hope these notes help you as well:

1. Start with an overview

Explain what the client is going to see on the screen during the presentation — give a general but brief overview. Is it a set of wireframes? Then remind them it is. What is it a wireframe of? It might even be helpful to remind everyone what a wireframe is supposed to be.

Also, make it clear that it’s ok to ask for more information at any point during the presentation.

2. State the goals, clearly

Explain what you expect at the end of the presentation. Remind everyone why you’ve called for this meeting — probably because you need decisions or feedback, or you might be looking for some information.

We need your help to note down things we might have missed. If everything seems to be in order, we’ll move on to the next feature/iteration/mockups” is better than “Let’s review a new set of wireframes we worked on”.

3. Repeat the above two for every slide

On every screen, repeat the above two steps. Start with an overview of what is on the screen. Starting with “These are two options to select your budget for filtering wines” is better than jumping straight into “Here we have a slider to select the upper price limit and on this one we have a drop down”.

Even better — explain why you need to discuss this screen in the first place. “We are not sure how much control your customers would like for selecting budgets. So we’ve come up with two options — hope to be able to decide which one works better with your feedback”.

Caveat: do not confuse giving an intro to a slide with “I need to explain the entire flowchart on this website, and read out every label, and read out every piece of text”. Do not go into a monologue, your intro should be short and precise — just to get everyone on the same page.

4. Explain your solutions, in simple words

While going through the details, don’t just point at your the designs you’ve come up with, but also explain why you’ve chosen to present these designs. Also, do this in simple words.

Explaining things in simple language will make your clients trust you. They will trust you to know what you are talking about. Using “design jargon” will make your client feel stupid, and no one likes someone who makes them feel stupid. If at anytime you sense the client is feeling lost, or has that glazed look in their eyes — explain again. Never shy away from asking whether you failed at explaining things properly.

“Try to make your clients feel smarter for having talked to you”
(Something very smart said by Mike Monteiro)

More: You’ll need to pay attention to this stuff. I’ll point you to Mike Monteiro’s recent talk What Clients Don’t Know (and Why It’s Your Fault) and his excellent book “Design is a Job”.

5. Ask for decisions

When you need the client to make a decision, make it clear. Don’t leave anything ambiguous. You should have a conclusion to every slide — “approved”, “optionA selected”, “revise optionB based on …”, “need input from …”

Tip: Every pending decision should have someone assigned to it. You might want to review notes and assign things later though.

6. Maintain a flow

Try not to jump forward in the slides. If one person brings up something you will cover later, don’t let it sabotage the conversation (for the sake of everyone else). If you jump between slides, you might lose your flow and the rest of the group will not be able to follow either.

Be polite though, “We’ve made some new designs for that part as well. I’ll explain it to everyone in a few slides — let’s discuss it then. Thanks.

7. Have someone else take notes

Taking notes between slides is annoying — for everyone. It results in awkward pauses or unrelated conversations when you are hunched over your computer taking notes on every slide. Whenever possible, try to have someone else take notes for you. It saves time, allows you to maintain a steady chain of thought and carry a steady flow.

If possible, it’s best if you can get someone from the design team to take these notes. And, if there’s anything you need noted down for your reference, point it out to the person taking notes.

Tip: If everyone in the team does it, everyone wins.

8. Keep reviews short — 90 mins max

Every now and then, you will end up having 2–3 hour long design reviews. These are never as productive as you hope them to be. Everyone, including you, will get tired. In my experience, attendees struggle to pay attention, let alone participate, when sitting for longer than 90mins.

If possible, break up these reviews into multiple sessions.

Caveat: This is not an excuse to avoid introducing your slides. A misinformed decision is as bad as (or worse than) no decision at all.

Sometimes long reviews are unavoidable — if you have any suggestions on how you manage these, let me know.

9. Try not to send your slides/designs before the meeting

When your client looks at the slides without you explaining things, they form opinions with only half the knowledge. Unless your designs are well annotated and your clients are patient enough to read through long pieces of supporting text (and you have the time to write these) — don’t do this.

Let your client know that you want to “move through the iterations quickly and not waste time annotating designs which won’t be used”. Also, most of the time your designs won’t be ready long before your meetings anyways.

10. Be prepared

A quick review of your slides before the meeting always helps.

Choose an app/software that provides a distraction-free presentation mode. I export my designs to pdf and then use GoodNotes on my iPad — it allows me to draw on top of the PDF. Also I don’t have to worry about layers moving around like in Sketch/Illustrator etc.

As always, keep in mind the client is not supposed to know about “design”. You are the expert and it’s your job to explain things clearly and make sure the client understands.