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How to get designs approved

Being able to sell design is a huge asset and skill (no I don't mean landing clients).

In the setting of a studio, an average designer who can sell their ideas is more valuable than an amazing designer who cannot. Now that sounds really harsh, but beautiful designs that never get seen are an expense if you're a freelancer (or the designer), not only are they a financial expense but often an emotional one.

Often with sales and negotiation, it's made out to be a skill that some people just "have", you know, that old "gift of the gab" type of personality. But there are also some really simple tactics to put into practice that improve the success rate of being able to sell your ideas and get people on board or at least on the same page.

These simple tips ideally start before designs are created, or even before the concept stage altogether. This starts in the initial conversation with the client. This happens when a brief is taken. Here are my general tips:


1) Take a personal brief:

Take a design brief in person, questionnaires may save you time but they can only tell you so much. They do not detect the nuances in tone and language and they do not stop people and ask for clarification. When you take the brief, listen for the language they use, make note of the exact wording and phrases they use. If they say "gritty" to describe what you call "organic" then make sure you note what THEY say.


2) Mimicking language:

Following on from the above point, when you present concepts back to people, use the exact language they use. In most situations, people will not remember the specific words they use, but they will feel more connected with the ideas you present to them. It may sound like a cheat, but if you are genuinely trying to capture what they described, you're simply presenting it back in a way that resonates to them.


3) Focus on GOALS:

Design, while it's a skill entrenched in beauty, is actually a purpose-filled communication tool. Now the problem with only focusing on aesthetics is that taste and style is subjective. Even the terms people use to describe things they like "bright", "bold", "dynamic", "clean", "modern", etc are deeply personal. If your conversations focus on what goals people are achieving, you can move the conversation away from "I like" to "this achieves".


4) "Frame" or "Prime" the conversation:

One of the biggest things you can do is to set the expectation of what normal is. Yes, well all want people to instantly love the work we create for them, but often the most impactful work isn't the easiest to digest. Often people are expecting to be "wowed" but this is not always a sign of great work. Just like a relationship, some of the most meaningful and long term relationships start as a slow burn and that is often what design is (especially branding). It's a long term relationship. So set the expectation that design is not often "love at first sight".


5) Champion the customer:

Never present ideas from a personal stance. Sure you can fall back on your experience, but any reasoning and rationalisation on why a specific design is right should come from the angle of it being right for the END customer (your client's market). If you can take a step back, it's fair to ask this of your client. This means when people push back on you, you can explain they are pushing back on their customers (and their goals, as mentioned above).


6) Ditch the big reveal:

This is the big one and the hard one for many. There is a huge thrill that you get when you present a design to someone without them having seen it and blowing them away. We've all had that moment. This is how we are trained, or how we imagine design presentations to work. But this is a flawed and dated approach.

Whenever you can, you should try to include the client on the journey and help them see the thought process that goes on. Now I'm not talking about having them sit over your shoulder, I'm just talking about not keeping them in the dark until you're committed and finished. After all, if their business is about their customer, then yours should be too.

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