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Design is half of my craft; selling it is the other.

Dec 24, 2017

As a designer, I've been trained to create high quality works. To kern appropriately, use colour responsibly, and layout masterfully. Yet, my experience of working in the world of clients and digital design has taught me that these skills count for little if I can't sell the final product.

Mike Monteiro, co-founder and design director of Mule Design put it bluntly: "Work that can't be sold is as useless as the designer who can't sell it".

We work in businesses that rely on output being cost-effective. No savvy business owner would employ someone to sit around and twiddle their thumbs all day. So why should that same decision-maker stand for a designer who doesn't place emphasis on turning design into profit?

I often hear about the need to 'streamline' processes. It's hard to disagree, but what does it actually mean? The act of streamlining is to reduce drag and find the path of least resistance.

In my honest opinion, the biggest blocker that agencies face can be themselves and the people within. I'm sure we all know how frustrating Chinese whispers can get. Details lost in translation and missed communication pisses everybody off.

Personally, I'm blessed to work in a place where I don't have to bang doors down to communicate with my clients. If you want a streamlined, efficient and fast-paced agency, don't put four people in a conversation with a client when one will do - put your trust in the person who knows best.

As designers, we put a lot of time and effort into staying on top of trends, and exert plenty of brainpower into our work. We know every intricate detail of, and each decision made during our creations. Nobody is going to understand it better, and nobody is going to be able to justify it more than us. By default, no one should be capable of selling it like we can.

Of course, not everyone is confident. Some may not feel as though they can go and sell their own work, but I implore you to push yourself to keep trying. You really are the best at explaining your own decisions.

Some companies might draft people in who are paid to talk to clients. Great - but unless they sat with you throughout every moment of the design, and you explained to them each and every decision you made to create the perfect experience, can they really do your work justice?

Even where they do have a good grip - they don't have the same priorities that you do. Frequently, they'll be there to please the client. That doesn't necessarily translate to looking out for the user experience, to keeping a close eye on branding or ensuring the product is as effective as it could be. 

Design doesn't need any more complacency. To thrive, it needs challenge, confrontation and clashing opinions. If you truly feel you can't voice yourself well enough, then take a meeting with your sales rep or another designer. Explain complex details and describe why your design perfectly meets user needs, client desires and will ultimately play a key role in the platform's success.

 

The Hustle

To help you feel more comfortable in selling your designs, I've listed some of the practices that have helped me to voice my opinion, and to sell my work in client meetings, workshops and pitches.

Set the stage. Stand up when you meet them.

  • Firm handshakes only. No limp, dainty efforts.
  • Start with a conversation. They're human too.
  • List what you're going to talk through and work out in this meeting.
  • Sense the tone. Don't joke if they're serious, don't be fierce if they're smiling.
  • Be stentorian in your pitch. Cut the 'erms'. You look forgetful, unprepared or bored.
  • Demonstrate your passion.
  • Show your reasoning, but don't show how you made an icon set to match beautifully using grids and rules - they don't give a shit.
  • Talk in scenarios. Show how your design is going to make them money whilst making their users happy. If they understand this, they'll be much happier to pay for more of your time and buy into your vision for their project.
  • Don't show your fears of the client. They can smell it, and they will claw you.

 

Client Feedback

Something I've come to notice is that client feedback seems to strike harder than natural disasters in agencies, causing mass panic, anxiety, stress, disheartenment, blame games, countless internal discussions and more.

Wake up call. The client are paying for this, and they have every right to give feedback. It's simply part of the game. It doesn't mean the work is bad, it doesn't mean go away and change everything and it doesn't mean do work for free. The client is paying for you, as a designer, not you as someone who'll agree to everything they say.

As the expert in the field, you're the one person on the project that has the knowledge of how to design for users, applies best practices and understands whether a certain decision will translate to a client cost or an investment.

Wherever the client wants a change, it's okay to challenge them on it. Some simply want to know that you know what you're talking about. The moment you begin making changes because the client has said: "Make this green more blue", you're conceding on the notion that you know better.

Challenge, conversation and collaboration are the pillars of good design. When you get feedback from your client, whether that be over the phone or in a crap PowerPoint document, only say yes when you know it is the correct decision.

 

'The client is always right'.

It's a phrase tossed around almost every office, but in our craft, not so much. Instead, the client is always right when they get consultation from people who are right. 

If the client truly knew the craic about design, they'd be doing it themselves. They certainly wouldn't be paying multiple years-worth of salaries and savings for an app if they knew design-DIY. They're paying for your designs, but also your advice. It's your responsibility to prove to them you know what you're doing. In the end, it's all a trust exercise.

 

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