I started watching Mad Men for the first time a couple months ago—I know, I’m about a decade late—and as I’m watching Don Draper stands in front of the room revealing his latest campaign, I have my own realization. Pitching ideas to your client like this is a waste of everybody’s time. Too often designers forgo the role of designer in favor of being a magician and then get upset when the clients don’t like their magic tricks. We should stop thinking about the grand reveal and start using the invisible pitch.
Don’t Let Clients Believe You’re a Magician
When somebody doesn’t understand how something works then the only resolution is to call it magic — or in our case, creative. Your job is more than making beautiful websites, clever logos, or slick motion graphics. Your job includes teaching people how design works, how to give meaningful feedback, and the process of problem solving.
Nothing bothers me more than designers complaining about clients. If you have problems with your clients—it’s your fault. I know, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, so let’s savor the taste for a minute. Why do we complain about clients? They chose a bad option? They keep telling you to “make it pop?” Why do you expect them to give you good feedback if you don’t teach them how?
There will always be a little magic up your sleeves, but you are not a magician. It’s ok to reveal a few of your tricks. Help clients understand your role. You solve their problems. They don’t need to voice solutions, you will explore those, they need to voice concerns and raise questions. It’ll take time and coaching but don’t be impatient, just remember all the stupid shit you did when you started.
Looking for Milestones, Not Ribbon Ceremonies
Good work will not sell itself. Hate to break it to you, but good isn’t good enough. The fatal flaw of the pitching mentality is that you pit yourself against the client. When you pitch your work you’re trying to prove it’s worth to an adversary. The invisible pitch is all about setting expectations and working in harmony.
Design is 90% strategy and 10% visual
You and the client are a team. Set goals together, determine strategy together, and set your deadlines together. After you’ve started a project, a client should never walk into a meeting not knowing what to expect. If you are showing some logos, both of you better have agreed on a strategy and story already. If you’re ready to move on to high fidelity, they need to know they are signing off on something today. People are happy when they know what to expect.
How to Make This Work for You
Start with introspection. Do you have any frustrations with your clients? Can you help them understand your process better? Can you define your process better? Do you show work to your clients without managing expectations?
Don’t beat yourself up, but seriously consider what you can do better.
Set deadlines and milestones. If we want to get this website done by X then we need to decide the informations architecture by Y, I’ll need you to approve the wireframes by Z, approve finals designs by A, so development can get you a live version for Q&A by B. Too many letters but you get it.
Teach clients how to give you feedback. This is key. Your clients didn’t go to design school, they don’t read articles about design, and they might not even understand what design is. It’s your job to build a partnership where you both contribute your expertise.
Don’t reveal visuals, tell stories together. I know… everybody claims to be a storyteller. A true storyteller will understand the audience and make them an active participant. Cool stories fade away but stories of substance become classics.
The invisible pitch is all about teamwork. Stay on the same page as your client and you won’t have to rely on magic tricks. So let’s not repeat the mistakes of Don Draper, get on the same team as your clients from day one—oh and don’t cheat on your wife.