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Presenting to a Client

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For every design problem there are multiple factors that will determine the success of the project. One aspect that is often overlooked is the presentation of the initial design solution. While we have focused on the importance of the client, their needs and how they interact with a designer, it is equally important to address the designer directly. For this month’s post, the focus will be on presentation to a client to ensure that a client is neither underwhelmed or overwhelmed.

As designers, we are in tune with the intricacies of a project. Our minds are trained to both pick out details and contemplate the bigger picture. It is often with ease that we can switch gears between choosing something as small as cabinet hardware and deciding on the best construction method for a large building. We can juggle the requirements of an individual client or please a boardroom full of differing opinions. It is good to take a few steps back on occasion and remember that designers have been educated and trained in the practices, jargon and mindset of creativity. The difficulty can be when designers forget that their audience may not be equipped with these same tools.

Part of being a good designer is having the capability to sell your concept effectively to your client. A good idea is only effective when it is implemented, and the presentation becomes crucial to the success of the idea. There are four components that establish a successful foundation for a project: salesmanship, clarity of concept, quantity, and communication.

Salesmanship is something that comes naturally and easily to some. Others have to work at it and may still feel their ‘pitch’ is inadequate at times. The key to remember is that the best salesmen – the naturals – focus on making their clients comfortable. Comfort is found in a personality that is calming, confident and convincing. The best way to ensure comfort is to be prepared. Preparedness entails a thorough knowledge of the topic at hand, an understanding of where your client is coming from, and an anticipation of their needs and desires. Finding a common ground with your client is often the starting point to developing a comfortable working relationship. This common ground could be found through drawing upon past experience that relates to the current problem, or perhaps through sharing the same values as your client. Mutual understanding of needs and goals can then lead to a confidence that the solutions presented to the client are the best available to meet their needs. Once the spark of confidence is developed, convincing a client to accept your proposal becomes almost second nature; the client will feel comfortable trusting your design decisions because there is a mutual goal and clear understanding of their needs.

Clarity of Concept is essential to the success of a project. The best ideas, if not articulated clearly, will be lost on the client. Part of clarity involves speaking the same language as your client. While designers often use jargon and terms that have significant meaning within our profession, many clients are unaware of the lingo. Educate your client on the terms you will use to describe their design solution to eliminate confusion from the start. Try to use terminology that is concise and be sure to ask your client questions to gauge their understanding along the way. Remember that a proposal presentation should be a dialogue, not a monologue. It may be helpful to present the design solution to others before showing it to the client. Not only will this help settle nerves and provide an opportunity to hone the presentation, it will ensure that your concept is understood by a diverse audience.

Quantity can often trip up even the best designers. Excitement and enthusiasm can sometimes overshadow clarity. There must be a balance between giving the client choices and overwhelming them with decisions. It is best to gauge their expectations on the number of proposals they want prior to your presentation. Try to keep your ideas focused and relevant by limiting proposals to 2 or 3 total. While a single proposal may indeed be the best solution, there will be clients who are uncertain about their needs and goals. Providing more than one option can help clarify their aspirations through a process of elimination. Additionally, a designer can show their flexibility and creativity by providing multiple options. Finally, a set of choices helps keep the client engaged. By asking their opinion and having them make a decision, they will remain committed and active in the project’s development.

Communication is an essential part of any project, but honest communication goes beyond listening skills and understanding one another. Honest and open communication entails being upfront about the limitations of a client’s requirements as well as having frank discussions about the direction of the design. Often, a designer can feel trapped by wanting to please the client at each step of the process, which can ultimately sacrifice overall satisfaction at the project’s completion. It is important to discuss the impact decisions will have on the overall goals, and align designs so that the goal is achieved. Some clients may have specific expectations for how a project is implemented; taking the time to manage expectations and explore alternative solutions helps build trust and re-focus on the ultimate goal: a built project with lasting client satisfaction. Be prepared to speak up when something impedes progress towards the goal.

By combining good salesmanship, clarity of concept and limiting the quantity of proposals, designers can impress clients and establish a strong foundation for their project and see it through completion with honest and open communication.

 

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