The Art of Selling Visual Ideas
by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a designer is having
a good design one that you know is really good and
you can't get the client to buy into it. When this happens, designers
blame the client for their stupidity and poor taste. Instead, designers
should examine the technique of how the design was sold.
Whether it's a full-scale redesign of a major web site or some
brochure-ware for the local workout club, selling a visual idea
(a.k.a. "the pitch") is one of the most difficult hurdles
for a designer to overcome. This is largely because designers typically
place a higher value on aesthetics instead of reason. But when a
design is pitched in purely aesthetic terms, it's too vulnerable
to uninformed criticism and personal preference. If the client says
"I don't like it," you could be sunk.
To successfully sell a visual concept to a client, a designer must
use a strategy that turns a subjective argument into an objective
one. We've found that the following objective arguments will greatly
increase your chances of getting a client to say "yes":
Define the concept.
Prepare for your pitch by writing a design statement a clear,
understandable definition of how your design helps to solve business
goals and how it provides a rewarding experience for the customer.
Then write an outline of how key design decisions support this statement.
Doing this will not only make your pitch more objective, but it
also helps you understand the client's perspective. It also presents
the design as "a solution to the problem," rather than
one of personal taste.
Be ready to answer "Why?"
Before the pitch, prepare an explanation for every aesthetic choice
of the design typeface, color, grid, photograph, illustration,
etc. in rational, not emotional, terms. For example, if you
are using the font Verdana in a design, you have to give reasons
other than "I just like it." If you use this kind of rationale,
then you open the door for a client to use this as well, "I
don't like it."
However, it would be hard to argue against Verdana with this type
of explanation: "This font was designed by renowned type designer
Matthew Carter for Microsoft specifically for optimum screen readability.
It has extra space between characters so they don't touch. The bolds
are strong enough so that you can always tell the difference between
bold and roman, yet the bold characters never fill-in..." You
may not need to provide this depth of reasoning for every choice,
but if the question arises during a pitch, you will have this as
Providing smart supporting information for a design will increase
your credibility and authority in the client's eye. It also educates
the client, who might otherwise evaluate the design from a purely
Use smart comparisons.
Few designs are entirely original. Before your design pitch, identify
successful design solutions similar to yours. Use them to help give
your decisions and methods credibility. You might consider choosing
examples that the client particularly admires. This will reinforce
to the client that their taste has approval, and likewise reflect
a positive light on your design.
Try, try again.
If your client doesn't "get it" after the first meeting,
don't give up. Listen to the client's criticism of the design, and
ask for an opportunity to present a revision. Build a track record
of compelling ideas that are substantiated with objective arguments.
A history of good thinking can only build a client's confidence
and trust in you.
Bowman and Chris Willis
of Hypergene.net, specialize in media product development and presentation
design. They write and speak frequently on information & graphic
design, creative development and the design process.