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The Art of Presenting a Concept

December 10, 2012

I recently had the unpleasant experience of watching a badly presented design concept.

It was unpleasant because of my negative knee-jerk reaction to it. Before I control my mouth I started nit-picking minor details, like the choice of font and styles, when all they were after was feedback on the name and the concept.

At the time I was rationally aware that I wasn’t being helpful, yet I couldn’t stop.

The concept itself wasn’t bad; in fact I really liked it. It was just the pitch itself that was badly done.

It was really challenging experience for me because I’m usually on the other side, presenting the concept. I know how frustrating it is to put a lot of work in to a design; considering the proposition and the target audience, how it is represented in the content and structure of a page, and then how the colours and fonts provide just the icing and cherry on top of a well thought out package.

I know what it is like to do all this work and then have someone fixate on just the superficial skin of the concept – it’s really annoying. And yet here I was doing it myself.

The experience got me thinking about what happened. I didn’t want that irrational reaction to be the only feedback they got from me. Thankfully it was an internal piece of work, with colleagues I know well. This gave me the opportunity to mull it over for an hour before getting back in touch and telling them that I actually really liked their concept and that they just had to work on their pitch.

The happy ending to the story is that they did a presentation version 2 the next day and they blew everyone away. Rather than walking out feeling negative, the audience were all really excited by the concept and went away feeling pumped.

What did they do wrong? They made 3 common mistakes:

  1. They didn’t explain what the design that they were showing us was for and the context of how it would be used. They assumed we knew what they were doing and why.
  2. They jumped straight in to the solution without explaining the journey of how they came to that particular solution. In the interests of time they just cut to the chase and presented the final idea.
  3. They presented a draft concept in a high-fidelity polished format, even though it was still a work in progress.

Here’s what they did different the next day which made it far more successful:

  1. They booked a longer time and took us through a more detailed presentation. They provided all the background, context, and alternatives ideas they considered before getting to the solution. Even though the audience already knew bits and pieces of this story it made sure all the gaps were filled in.
  2. They hand drew their concept and presented that instead. If you want someone to focus on the underlying concept (not the fonts and colours) present ideas in the same level of fidelity as the idea – rough drafts. You can’t comment on fonts and colours if they aren’t any there. We do a lot of lo-fi prototyping for exactly this reason.

The best advice I’ve come across on how to present a design concept was in Matthew Frederick’s book 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, on page 57 he gave this simple set of instructions:

An effective oral presentation of a studio project begins with the general and proceeds toward the specific.

  1. State the design problem presented.
  2. Discuss the values, attitude, and approach you brought to the design problem.
  3. Describe your design process and the major discoveries and ideas you encountered along the way.
  4. State the parti, or the unifying concept, that emerged from your process. Illustrated this with a simple diagram.
  5. Present your drawings (plans, sections, elevations, and vignettes) and models, always describing them in relationship to the parti.
  6. Perform a modest and confident self-critique.

Never begin a presentation by saying, “Well, you go in the front door here” unless your goal is to put your audience to sleep.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Stefan permalink
    December 14, 2012 3:25 pm

    This is an excellent article, and the personal story attached to it makes it very easy to understand and more importantly, appreciate. Nice job

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