Inspiration Monday: 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations by Mike Monteiro


We’re big fans of the brilliantly straight talking Mike Monteiro of Mule Design. He’s a fab speaker and so it makes sense that he’s written a great piece on Medium imparting some wisdom about the many ways designers can shoot themselves in the foot when trying to communicate their ideas.

There are a lot of articles out there about the most efficient/effective ways to do things in industry, but sometimes it’s great to be reminded about the ways in which earnest, nervous, but ultimately passionate creatives keep getting it wrong.

Here are Mike’s 13 (plus one bonus round) pointers on ‘what not to do’ at your next crucial presentation. Below each point I’ve included the first line or two of Mike’s elaboration, but there’s a lot more juice in the full article.

1. Seeing the client as someone they have to please

Your client hired you because you are the expert at what you do. They are the expert at the thing they do.

2. Not getting off your ass

This is your room. Your first job is to inspire confidence. Not just confidence in your work, but also confidence in your client that they hired the right person.

3. Starting with an apology

Do not start the presentation with an apology or disclaimer. No matter how much more you had hoped to present, by the time you get in that room, whatever you have is exactly the right amount of work.

4. Not setting the stage properly

You have gathered all of these busy people together. They probably have other things to do. So let them know why they are in this presentation.

5. Giving the real estate tour

Never explain what they can obviously see right in front of them. They can all see the logo on the top left. They can all see the search box.

6. Taking notes

You’re too busy giving a presentation to take notes. You’re on stage. Ask someone else to take notes for you.

7. Reading a script

I’m already asleep. You need to convince your client that you’re excited about what you’re showing them. Let’s be honest here. This is a show. There’s a little smoke and mirrors. There’s a little Barnum.

8. Getting defensive

You are not your work and your work is not you. It is not an extension of you and it is not your personal expression. It is work product done to meet a client’s goals.

9. Mentioning typefaces

Clients don’t give a shit about typefaces. And if they do, they’ll ask. The thing I’ve heard most often from clients is “I don’t know anything about design.” (They’re wrong, btw.) This is their way of telling you they’re uncomfortable.

10. Talking about how hard you worked

The worst feedback you can get from a client is “Wow. It looks like you worked really hard on this!” Stop using your work like a time card. If you did it right, it looks like it was effortless. It looks like it’s always existed.

11. Reacting to questions as change requests

“Why is this green?” “I can change it!”

12. Not guiding the feedback loop

There’s only one question worse than “What do you think?” (It’s coming up.) Ever hear a designer scream about a client giving them the wrong type of feedback? I have.

13. Asking “Do you like it?”

Dear sweet lord in heaven above and all his angels, you just gave away the farm. They are no longer viewing you as an expert. You are no longer their equal in expertise.

…and one weird trick that you won’t believe works every time.

Learn the client’s goddamn name.

I really dig the way, although he’s giving some tough love here, that Mike is being really supportive of the designer in this article. Yes, we all want to impress our clients, no doubt about that, but too often we do it at the expense of ourselves. Mike is here to remind us that we are the creatives in the room and that’s something to stand up and be proud of.

#9 particularly, is standing out for me right now. Not so much the typeface part, as the client saying “I don’t know anything about design” part. We mostly work with clients in non design / art fields and we get this statement a lot in meetings. It’s great to be reminded that the best way to respond to this is making them comfortable with being the expert in their field and reassure them that you are the expert in yours.

“They hate feeling uncomfortable, and you do too. It’s on you to get them back into their comfort zone, which is the thing they’re experts in – their business. Which is great, because that’s something you are not an expert in. It’s great to have one in the room. There’s already a design expert in the room – you! So when presenting the work, talk about it in terms that relate to their business. Talk about how the decisions you made as the design expert match up to the goals of the project. Then your client can judge those as the subject matter they are.”

Click here to read the full article on Medium, there’s so much meaty goodness in there.

Also, if you haven’t watched Mike’s excellent Creative Mornings talk, titled quite simply ‘F*ck you, Pay Me’, it’s a must watch primer on the realities of business for all you designers out there and the importance of taking time to cover your ass when going into new working relationships. Having been burned a few times ourselves, we highly recommend paying attention here.

And to wrap up this Inspiration Monday package with a beautiful bow, we need to credit our source which is the very excellent Storythings newsletter. Do sign up for their weekly drop of amazing stories into your inbox. Yes, I know, we spoil you with all this goodness. Happy Monday guys and gals.