Product Design

Recap: 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Presentations

I’ve spent countless hours researching and designing the project I’m about to present to our client. I sent out the meeting agenda listing specific items I’ll cover during the meeting, and reviewed project deliverables. I’m also ready to share sound reasons for every design decision made so far on the project.

Our client just dialed in. Even though we aren’t in the same physical location for today’s meeting, I’m walking around the conference room just like I would if I were presenting my designs in person to them. As I walk around, I create a narrative for the client using personas and scenarios to describe exactly how my designs meet the project’s needs. The developer I’m working with is taking detailed notes, allowing me to focus on what I’m saying without having to worry I’ll miss important client feedback I’ll need later.

As soon as the call is over I review the meeting notes, and send a recap email to our client summarizing what we discussed, as well as next steps for all parties. I’m confident I did everything I needed to do to ensure my presentation on the call was successful.

An obvious and necessary qualification of any UX designer is the ability to create exceptional user interfaces for clients, but as UX designers at WillowTree, even more is expected. We aren’t just responsible for helping our clients create and envision their products, we are also expected to communicate and present our design ideas to them clearly,  and to encourage client collaboration throughout the design process. These can be very difficult tasks for designers of all experience levels.

Mike Monteiro, Design Director at Mule Design Studio, wrote an article covering how designers should present work and talk to clients about design in a way that generates positive results. 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations does just what the title says, explains 13 mistakes designers tend to make when presenting work. But it also describes what we can do to run more productive meetings in the future.

After I read the article, I made a mental checklist of the downfalls Monteiro mentions, as well as their remedies…

  • Send an agenda to let participants know their role and get the meeting participation needed. Check.
  • Be willing to have unpleasant conversations with the client if it’s needed to help achieve goals. Check.
  • Get off your ass and lead the meeting. Check.
  • Don’t start the meeting with an apology. Check.
  • Don’t talk to the client using ‘design speak,’ talk to them using terms that relate to their business. Check.

As Monteiro explains, we are hired because we are experts at what we do. We are brought on board to help clients achieve their design goals, and reaching them is what a project should always revolve around. But UX designers usually work closely with clients on projects, and friendships naturally form. This can make it hard to ensure hitting project goals remains our top priority. It’s our first job as UX designers, however, no matter how much we enjoy our client friendships, to prioritize reaching project goals over any desire we might have to please a client as their friend. Don’t be afraid to have unpleasant, but respectful, conversations for the sake of the project. Your client will have a better result in the end, and hopefully thank you for it.

Another area of potential struggle for designers (myself included) is effectively guiding the client feedback loop. This means asking them the right questions to get the feedback you need to successfully create new iterations of existing designs. It’s very easy to ask clients questions like, what do you think of the designs? or do you like how they look? They never lead to productive conversations though. If anything, these questions only highlight a designer’s lack of confidence in their work, and can cause clients to lose trust in a designer’s abilities, regardless of their actual skill level. Successfully guiding the feedback loop means asking clients questions only they have the expertise to answer. Questions like, does the design capture your brand enough? and how will your users in segment A feel about this design feature? will resonate with clients, and simultaneously encourage the collaboration process.

Whenever I’m feeling uncertain about an upcoming client meeting, I grab my print copy of Monteiro’s article from my desk and skim through it. Just a quick glance is enough these days to skyrocket my confidence in my ability to effectively present my work to clients.    

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