A designer’s guide to giving great client presentations

A short guide to effectively presenting your work to clients, bosses and other designers — and how even your best work needs to be carefully communicated.

Clients want good design, that’s why they hire you. So why do they come back with design-destroying feedback like “make the logo bigger” or “I think we should use more purple”? I’m a firm believer that the key is in how you present and communicate your work.

Great designs are the result of hundreds of iterations and small decisions. Chances are that at some point in the process, the logo was a little bigger, and you did play with purple. But by the time it comes to present the design, the end result has moved a long way on from those explorations. So how do you talk through your decisions effectively and steer clear those awkward feedback cliches?

Simple, you just need to present your work in a clear and effective way.

Effective presentations, even casual design reviews, should be a story. They should take your audience through your design journey, and touch upon some of the highs and lows of what made your work what it is today. So whether it’s a casual pitch to your boss, or a big presentation to your client — here are some tips to making a great presentation:

Introduce your presentation

When I present, I find that setting the scene is the best way to set expectations — which means explaining what your audience is about to see, what they’ve seen before, and what you hope to get out of the presentation. The best way to do this is to start every presentation with a 30-second recap — which could be a quick reminder of the brief, how you decided to approach the problem, or a summary of the last round of feedback.

Even better, start your presentation with the last design they saw, the existing product, or item you’re re-designing. This, accompanied with a brief recap of the brief will serve as an excellent build-up to your design.

Have confidence

A lot of creatives aren’t great public speakers, myself included, so the idea of presenting to clients can seem like a nightmare gig. Luckily, when I refer to confidence, I’m not actually talking about you as a speaker — I’m instead referring to having confidence in the work your presenting.

You can be as awkward as you need, but if you have confidence that your designs are answering the brief, your clients will have confidence too. Chances are that no-one understands the brief and the creative work better than you, so it’s important that you communicate that with your audience. Your confidence will reassure your client that what they’re seeing isn’t guesswork, instead it’s the product of a considered, professional approach.

Expect feedback

A good presentation is a two-way conversation between designer and client — which means that you should expect immediate feedback. The best presentations are the ones where everyone is involved, throwing their opinions into the mix, and discussing your work in real-time.

But the real key to handling feedback is to be proactive— which means expecting the awkward feedback. You know, that not-so-secret agenda your client has, or the thing that keeps coming up in reviews — like “why is the logo so small?”.

So instead of waiting for your audience to ask the inevitable, address their potential feedback head-on, before they ask it. For example:

“We started out by making the logo nice and big. Admittedly it looked cool — but after a bit of back and forth, it became apparent that a big logo made the navigation almost impossible to read. So we kept it as big as possible without compromising accessibility…”

If you’re honest, confident, and assure your client that they’re opinion has been deeply considered — you’re far less likely to be immediately shot down.

Of course, the feedback loop is only complete if you actually discuss or action the unresolved items discussed in your presentations. So be assertive, take notes, and ensure you fully understand what’s being asked of you.

Use real words

It seems so obvious, but it’s important to talk to your audience as you would a colleague. Instead of aiming to confuse…

“We wanted to encourage advocacy and activate the audience by giving them a compelling social experience [source]…”

…try using real words:

“We wanted a way to give visitors an easy way to share your content, so we made the social sharing tools, like Twitter and Facebook really prominent…”

Whilst it might be tempting to use fancy buzzwords (“synergy”) and industry-specific terms (“active whitespace”) to further justify your point—they can turn a solid design rationale into a confusing monologue. More often than not, they’re confusion tactics used by people who don’t fully understand what they’re presenting.

Instead, keep it simple, keep it understandable — use only as many words as you need to adequately convey your message.

Know “why”

You should have an answer for why your designs look they way they do — from choice of typeface to the colour of a button — these shouldn’t be random choices. So when you discuss your designs with clients, always explain the motivations for why things look the way they do — and have confidence in your decisions.

Similarly, it’s important to admit what you don’t (yet) know — in fact, I’ll often present an early-stage designs before I have all the answers. If your client is asking why a colour has been chosen, you should absolutely have an answer — but if they ask what the next screen is, or the result of a specific scenario — be honest. If you don’t have an answer, discuss a solution together.

Conclude your presentation

The end of your presentation is the often-overlooked introduction to the next part of the project. Ideally when you return to your desk, you should have a crystal clear picture of what was discussed, what the next steps are, and what your client expects to see next.

So when your last design has been discussed — it’s important to summarise the feedback received and explain exactly what you’re going to do next, in the order you aim to do it in. More than anything it’ll reassure your client that you’ve been listening, and that you’ll keep momentum.

By re-capping what’s been discussed and by explaining what your client may see next, you’ll set a much better expectation for your next presentation. You’ll also ensure that all relevant parties understand the brief and project as well as each other .

In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is allow your audience see your designs on their own. Out of context, and without your guidance, feedback is largely going to be aesthetic and based on your audience’s own personal preference. Clients aren’t idiots, but they’re probably not designers either — they won’t immediately understand that a bigger logo is likely to affect the hierarchy of a page structure, and that purple is difficult to read and off-brand. They need a good guide, and a clear explanation to understand that.

Your clients, and your designs need a great presentation.

I’ve been making presentations to clients, bosses and other designers following these rules for over 10 years — they’re also the guidelines I give to my design teams to follow when making presentations to me. So whether you’re freelance, at an agency, or in a product team — my advice to becoming a better designer, is to work on becoming a better communicator.

Further reading

How Communication Determines A Project’s Success — HelpScout
The art of client presentations — Loris Grillet