January 12, 2021 · 6 min to read

How many times you’ve made a great, well-thought design, that solves the business goals, meets the user expectations, looks great… and was dismissed by your client? Like really, shouldn’t the Good design sell itself? Isn’t it obvious at first sight?

I have bad news for you guys. Design can’t speak for itself. You do. It’s part of your job, to sell your design. You don’t need to be a salesman, you just need to know how to present and explain your work.

Being a great designer is not just about crafting great designs, it’s also about being a great storyteller.

You think you did good work. So how do you sell it? How do you tell a story that will convince your client? Let’s twist this question a bit.


What does your client expect to buy from you?Quite often when clients talk about “design” — they assume visual appearance. To be more precise a lot of clients value our craft because of “the beauty” that we create. Ever heard of the quote: “ Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”? It is saying how the beauty of something is subjective and that different people have different opinions on the attractiveness of something.

Design is not about what one likes, dislikes or personal tastes and subjective preferences, it’s about what works.

If clients are not coming to you for strategy and problem-solving — the whole process is broken from the start.

Design is both a verb — the process of design — and a noun — the result of that process. You need to master the process of reasoning and you’ll hit a sweet point each time.

So here is a common-sense approach of selling design work and telling a meaningful story that works like charm.

Sell your process before clients hire you

The success of your works starts way before you show them any mockups. You need to have a process that leads you to good results. Step by step actions that you need to follow to do good work. It means when a client hires you, they are hiring your process as well. This should be discussed before clients hire you, not after. You need to sell your process firsthand not during the design pitch.

Dear John, if we’re going to work together, here’s how it’s going to work. I use the Goal-Directed Design Process. This process was why my work succeeded enough times that you heard of me. My design works are pretty, but more importantly, they do the job. They meet the goals of business and satisfy user needs. So let me present the process that we will follow… and you guide your client through the process.

If they will try to break your process, and they will probably try to do so, you need to fight for it. Back the process by showing “John” how many times it worked in the past.

If you lose this fight… probably it will be a hard time to do your work properly, and even harder to sell it.

Research, research, and research

In a good design process, you need to do a lot of research before you show the design. It means that a lot of agreements and decisions will be made before the designer will create the first mockup.

Remember good design is informed design.

Push visual design out for as long as possible, and get agreement on everything else first.

Each step of your design process should fill the gaps in your design and give confidence to you and your client that you’re on the right path.

The pitch

Set the stage

A meeting without an agenda is a coffee break. Every planned meeting must have a detailed, written agenda that identifies the leader specifies the objectives, and states the goal. Email the agenda before the meeting. If you want to get design approval, make sure that the decision-maker will join the meeting.

The agenda gives you as the presenter a chance to change the presentation if there is a misalignment between you and the audience.

Start the meeting by thanking the audience for their time. Repeat the agenda at the beginning of your meeting, so everyone would be aligned with what to expect and what kind of participation you need from them.

Thank you for your time. We are in the middle of the website redesign process. To this day, we have defined user personas, customer journey map and how we want this journey to look.

Today I will show you the brand new checkout process screens that should fulfill your primary user persona and your business goals. The presentation will take 10 minutes.

After the presentation, we will have a Q&A session that will take up to 40 minutes.

The goal of this meeting is to get approval on the checkout design.

We encourage you to give us feedback. You have the right expertise related to the ticket selling. If you see something that isn’t working, you need to point it out. If you don’t tell us what you think isn’t working, we will show you the same thing again and again until we are out of time and money and you are stuck with it.

Be confident

Confidence means you believe in the work that you’ll show because you’ve done the research, you understand the problem and the work you’re presenting backs that up.

But… confidence also means you can handle being wrong. Don’t keep trying to sell something that’s broken. If the client comes up with an obvious use case that you had overlooked, you should be thankful that you are working with smart clients.

The story begins…

Rather than just talking about design features or doing the real estate tour around your design, a great way to communicate design is to tell the story of how someone will use the design in the real world.

Chapter #1: Introduce the main characters

You might introduce your main characters as user persona and outline the sort of context in which someone will be using the product or service.

As we already discussed, our primary user is Jack. The person that plans his romantic date in the theater. According to our research with your marketing division, that segment of users represents 60% of your customers.

After Jack made his research, he already decided to go to your theater, yet he might have some doubts.

Chapter #2: Current state

Show the current state of the situation. The unsatisfying solutions missed opportunities and pain points based on qualitative or quantitative research.

You might use your findings that you’ve captured in interviews, diary studies, customer feedback, heuristic evaluation, surveys or SME interviews.

The goal is to create awareness and need. If it is possible to use some examples that your audience will relate to.

Is it good enough? — that question is the main question that pops in Jack’s head.

The biggest pain points during the purchase are seats. According to our survey, 65% of your customers had these doubts when selecting the seats. It was next to the price. The price of tickets is bit high for him, and to be honest, the most expensive tickets are already sold out (you’ve done amazing job with your loyal clients), so his a bit unsure about the seats that are available for him, if the view will be just ok, good enough or bad. The current solution is not giving enough information.

I think you had the same feeling. At least I know, I did. Imagine you are going to someplace for the first time. Which seats are the best? With condition that the most expensive tickets are sold out… so which seats are good enough?

Chapter #3: The change

In this chapter, you want to introduce a new way of doing something. How your proposed design will solve the main pain points & fulfill the goals.

Your goal is to convince the audience that your way of doing something will do the job.

In the new checkout process, we shoot two birds with one stone. With the proposed design we will solve two main questions that arise in Jack’s mind. Price and seats.

First of all, we show the actual view from the seat. When you click any seat in the plan, it will show Customer his view, how he and his partner will see the performance, the scene.

Price… was a bit harder thing. But we thought that we could give a full package of romantic date in the theater. We offer Uber discount (your partnership department is working on that), and great discount coupons for local restaurants (25% — that was just arranged by Philp from the marketing department). So now you can sell the whole experience, it’s not just a tickets for performance, and the price seems reasonable.

Closing the deal

You can use various techniques for closing. Here are few that you can use:

  1. Alternative choice close
    also called the positive choice close, in which the salesperson presents the prospect with two choices, both of which end in a sale. “We have some doubts if we want seat view to display some real performance view, or we will use the empty theater view? 
  2. Assumptive close
    also known as the presumptive close, in which the salesperson intentionally assumes that the prospect has already agreed to buy, and wraps up the sale. The designs have already been tested with 10 customers against the current baseline. It performed positively. When can we start implementing this?
  3. Possibility of loss close:
    also known as the pressure close, in which the salesperson points out that failing to close could result in a missed opportunity, for example, “If we agree on this approach, we will be able to launch a new website before Valentine’s day”.

I’m using an Alternative close, or mix the alternative with assumptive. I give an option to choose from. In my opinion, it gives the decision-maker some sort of satisfaction, and additionally, his thoughts are directed in the right path of choosing between the given option.

End on time.

Thank them one more time for the time. Make sure everyone’s questions have been answered and they have an avenue for feedback

Pack your belongings and leave the building.

About the author 

Zbignev Gecis

Zbignev has been a product designer for nearly 20 years. He has worked on hundreds of projects and offered his expertise on everything from SaaS and eCommerce to marketing and branding.

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