How to pitch your design

How to pitch your design

Ashley McFeely's Layout avatar

In TV shows and films depicting the world of advertising, we often see the perfect idea suddenly come to the creator in a moment of greatness — that ‘aha’ moment we long to experience at 3 a.m. before a morning deadline. There’s pressure to believe this is the way all great creators work, but there’s often much more to the story.

Creating by means of writing code, developing websites or layouts, and telling stories through film or photography uses very little magic and a lot of hard work. To project to your client that you’re some kind of magical idea generator robs you and the client of the chance to really understand everything that makes your idea the best idea for them.

So when you pitch a design concept to a client, how much of the process do you share and how much is too much?

1. Make it about the idea

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Photo courtesy of Vlad

I don’t want my client to fall in love with me, I want them to love the idea I’m presenting. The client should love the idea because it’s the right one for them.

Instead of talking about how creative you are for coming up with the solution, talk about why the solution benefits the client. Challenge yourself to eliminate “I” statements from your presentation altogether. This will force you to speak more intentionally about your concept.

2. Every beginning should end with the solution

When you’re pitching, don’t simply say things about your work without a clear destination. Leave out stories about staying up all night. Don’t include images of the concepts that didn’t work out. Funny conversations that sparked ideas are not relevant no matter how much you laughed about it while it happened. Every statement must reinforce your solution.

Present research that led you to the idea. Inspire the clients with discoveries made along the way that support your proposed solution. Enforce design rationale with every narrative you share.

3. Be honest, open, and positive.

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Photo courtesy of Mary Crandall

Occasionally a client will ask a question which you simply are not prepared to answer. Be honest. Resist the temptation to make up an answer on the spot. Don’t just agree with whatever they’re suggesting. Be honest and say you don’t have an answer.

Be open to feedback but be cautious about committing to anything until you’ve done further research. Above all, remain positive!

4. Present the problem

The biggest failure when pitching an idea is to assume the problem you discovered is seen as a problem to everyone else.

Whether it’s poor website navigation or an ineffective marketing campaign, be sure to guide the client through the problem and toward your solution. If you simply jump to an idea without stating the problem you set out to solve, you can leave clients wondering why other solutions were not attempted.

Clearly state the problem. The solution will become more valuable as a result.

If possible, quote others who recognize the problem in articles or interviews. Cite sources or statistics that shed light on why this needs to be solved. A problem worthy of a solution must be backed up by research and not simply by your own beliefs.

5. Present the solution

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Malone

This is what the clients came to see. You are the expert in your field, and everyone in the room is under the impression that this is the best idea for them. It should be. You’ve done the research. Now share it. Why did you choose that typeface? Why that color? Why that animation? Why that tagline? Be your idea’s biggest fan and invite others to the celebration.

Very little time should be spent telling how a concept was created. Instead, tell your clients why you came up with it. If your solution is worthy of presentation, you should back it up with research and prove that it’s valuable to the client’s purpose.

6. End with future thinking

What happens next is important, but it’s up to you to make it happen. Ideally, creators form relationships with clients that go beyond a paycheck. If you intend to remain a resource as they implement your idea, let them know that. It’s exciting to imagine where one conversation about a project can take you and your client.

When presenting and dreaming, make it about the solution best suited for your client. Always. Do your research. Know your clients. Present the problem. Back it up by research. Present your solution. Reinforce your rationale. Do all this honestly, openly, and positively, and you’re that much closer to ending your pitch with a conversation that will inspire a long-lasting client relationship.


Download a free client interview PDF

It’s customizable, editable, and great inspiration whether you’re creating your own or taking on a new project. You can print it out or digitally send it to your clients to fill out online. Happy onboarding!

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