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5 Ways to Elevate Your Design Pitches to Clients

Business of Design

Learnings from design projects

A column by Manik Arora
February 8, 2021

Pitching is one of the most important skills for any UX designer to have. Your ability to pitch clients well naturally permeates your UX design outcomes. Knowing what makes a perfect pitch is something that undoubtedly comes with practice, but your pitches can be effective if you prepare them meticulously. Whether you’re working for a multinational design agency or are an independent UX designer, your design solutions are only as good as they appear to your clients. Therefore, a good design that you pitch poorly has very little impact.

Throughout all my years pitching designs to clients, there have been highlights and lowlights. Over the years, I’ve isolated what has worked well from what hasn’t. I’ve picked up the best ideas from how others pitch and formulated and refined my own approach to pitching. You can do the same. In this column, I’ll share my specific approach to pitching, including five strategies that have helped me impress my clients. Whether you’re a rookie UX designer or seasoned veteran, incorporating some or all of these pitching strategies can elevate your pitching skills to the next level.

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1. Support Everything with Research

For UX designers, the discipline of research permeates the entirety of the design process. You should undoubtedly bring your research findings into your pitch.

Going into a pitch, be sure you’ve already researched the industry that is your client’s domain, including their biggest competitors and innovators in that domain. Study the competitors who are the major players to understand the unique elements or processes that differentiate them from one another. Also, be sure that you’re aware of the newest trends—not only in your client’s industry, but in the world of UX design as well. You should incorporate these into your design pitch, providing examples that bring contemporary flair to your presentation and your project as a whole.

Being prepared with plenty of research is the single most effective way to elevate your pitch. Research enables you to back up your own claims with hard facts, and you’ll be better prepared to answer your client’s questions and make relevant connections to the information they provide.

2. Show Your Thought Process

As a UX designer, it’s all too easy to overlook the more arcane aspects of the design process when you’re pitching to a client. But your clients are probably not UX designers. That’s why they need your help understanding your though process, as depicted in Figure 1. But don’t construe this as your not needing to present your design process at all. The first rule of pitching is: explain your design process to clients.

Figure 1—Showing your thought process
Showing your thought process

There are three benefits of explaining your design process to your clients, as follows:

  • It gives your client more context into your decision-making process. Your client gets an opportunity to see how you choose to tackle issues as a UX designer. Plus, it gives structure to information that would otherwise probably be confusing to your clients, who aren’t designers.
  • It demonstrates that you back up your decisions with evidence. The client gets to see that you’re results oriented and can piece together how you’ve worked—from defining the problem to creating a solution. It also demonstrates that you’ve done your homework and are fully invested in solving the problem that the client has presented.
  • It helps build rapport with your client. Showing your knowledge and prowess in not only design but the entire design process establishes you as the expert in the client conversation. Being confident in your pitch and backing up your design solutions with your rationales for your decisions demonstrates that you’ve followed a formal process in creating the design you’re pitching.

So whether you’ve conducted a heuristic analysis or created some low-fidelity wireframes, walk your client through how and why you’ve arrived at your conclusions. This can have a far greater impact than you might have expected, even reinforcing your reputation as an expert in your field.

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3. Center Your Pitch Around Problem Solving

While UX design—and design in general—are vast and seemingly all-encompassing fields, we should never forget that the core of design has always has been problem solving. Therefore, everything in your pitch should tie into your problem-solving process and its various facets. Even though focusing on aesthetics and functionality are certainly important and strike a chord with many clients, your problem-solving approach should form the overarching narrative of your pitch, as depicted in Figure 2.

Figure 2—Centering your pitch around problem solving
Centering your pitch around problem solving

For example, the ability to define a problem well—either as a problem statement or visually—is important and shows your client your ability to block out the noise and isolate what work you truly need to do. It also streamlines your pitch because everything in your pitch should communicate how you intend to solve the problem.

The following are helpful questions to ask yourself when preparing for your pitch presentation—or even to integrate into your pitch:

  • What is the problem you need to solve?
  • Who would benefit from your solving the problem?
  • What would be the most efficient way of solving the problem?

Be prepared to answer these questions and provide a clear problem statement, and your pitch automatically adopts a smooth, flowing narrative that can keep even the most impatient client engaged with what you have to say.

4. Emphasize User Centricity

When you’re pitching to your clients, it can be tempting to focus your pitch around them. But it’s important to remember that your clients would not likely use the design solution in question. So you should instead focus on the client’s target users when designing the solution, as represented in Figure 3. Whatever you communicate during your pitch, be sure to tie it back to the users and how they would benefit from a certain action or design choice. Including some UX personas in your pitch might be helpful in showing the effort you’ve made to address the needs of one or more different types of users through your design.

Figure 3—Emphasizing user centricity
Emphasizing user centricity

One helpful exercise could be to remove all personal pronouns from your pitch, especially those referring to the client. You and your are the most common offenders.

Your user personas demonstrate your understanding of your client’s target users by highlighting their attributes and tendencies. Plus, you can target certain design decisions especially toward a specific part of the user base that you’ve identified. For example, you might provide accessibility options in an app whose target users are the elderly. Not only does this show you’ve done your homework but that you have a dynamic understanding of users. This makes your design solution a more appealing candidate.

5. Be Receptive to Feedback

Something to note about any design pitch is that it’s not just about an idea you’re conveying. In a sense, it’s also pitching you as a UX designer. Your client has to make a decision about not only whether they approve of your design solutions but how well they like you as a UX designer and whether they want to work with you going forward. For this reason, communicating particular aspects of your personality and your attributes as a UX designer along with your design solutions can propel your pitches to new heights. Emphasize things such as your being on time or your eloquence. Communicating these attributes is equally as important as communicating your design work. While every UX designer is different so would choose to throw light on different aspects of his or her work and strengths as a problem solver, one quality UX designers should universally emphasize is their ability to collaborate.

Throughout your pitch, your client would likely weigh in with their thoughts, impressions, and ideas for improvements. Instead of dismissing these, indulge them. Be collaborative even during your pitch. Listen to and show that you’re receptive to their feedback and have no issues with making adjustments to your vision to satisfy the client, as depicted in Figure 4. Begin building a relationship with your client during the pitch itself. You can easily transfer this relationship to actually working with them on a project.

Figure 4—Being receptive to feedback
Being receptive to feedback

Conclusion

As I as mentioned earlier, a good design solution that a UX designer pitches ineffectively has little impact. To get your designs the attention and respect they deserve, be sure that you pitch them effectively. Be confident in your abilities as a designer, and don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when necessary. Applying these five tips has helped me on numerous occasions, enabling me to persuade even the toughest clients. So implement whichever of these tips works for you, and blow everyone away with your pitch presentation. Best of luck! 

Co-founder and Design Director at Onething Design Studio

Gurugram, Haryana, India

Manik AroraManik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use.  Read More

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