We’ve all heard about the dreaded “pitch”. High expectations, not-very-detailed briefs and ridiculous deadlines. Although this has traditionally been a creative challenge, we are starting to see a movement where pitches increasingly require UX thinking and recommendations. And so they should. UX thinking plays a critical part in an integrated thinking approach to our client’s challenges.
This post stems from recently surviving two, back to back pitches. During this process I learned an enormous amount about fear, bravery, resilience and reward which I would like to share with you. As a UX practitioner I typically thrive when surrounded by data, research, analysis, and solution experimentation. None of the above is available on a pitch, and it left me very much outside my comfort zone. It was hard for me to think of solutions without understanding the business limitations of the client. What made me uncomfortable was also a very rare opportunity. The approach is critical to the success of the pitch and I recommend looking at the following 4 focus areas:
1. Team work
Immediately use internal support structures to shuffle schedules and resources in order to get a team of dedicated resources. The team makeup will be dependent on the brief, but I’d recommend at least a Designer, a Developer, Copywriter and a UX strategist. You should all sit together in an area where you won’t be disturbed and team communication will thrive. We typically use war rooms inside our office but you could use an off-site location if you prefer. The key is to have lots of walls where you can pin up inspiration and work to promote a more collaborative process. Discuss and agree each member’s responsibility upfront so that everyone understands their role during the pitch and expectations can be set.
2. Solid strategy
Be prepared to spend about half of the pitch time on understanding the requirements, research and defining the strategy. Deep dive into the client’s industry, competitors and users. Map out the key stakeholder groups – make sure you understand exactly who you are designing for. Run usability tests where time allows and speak to as many people as possible who might fit a user profile in order to gather insights. Use these insights to define one statement which sets the strategic vision of the project – we like to call this our “guiding principle”. All executional decisions on the project (functionality, design and messaging) will be led by the essence of this principle.
Navigation approaches are the next important area to focus on. They form part of the creative framework and demonstrate your understanding of which information is most important to the user and how you believe they should find it. It is important to explore different options with the team, discuss what works and what doesn’t and define the best approach based on the information you have. These will inform the global page structure and reusable components.
3. Smart execution
Start by mapping out your deliverables – stick these on the wall where everyone can see, and mark them off when completed (it will give you a great sense of progress). Think about which pages will aid you in communicating your ideas to the client. Gather references and present these back to the team explaining what you like and why. Come to an agreed consensus of the creative direction you want to follow and make sure to have frequent reviews of the artwork to ensure everyone is aligned with the direction. Define a grid structure to work off, regardless of whether it is a responsive build or not, it will help you with structure. As you design, put together a visual rulebook on how certain elements should be treated for user ease and consistency. This should include fonts, sizes, colours and link or image treatments to name a few. You have the rare opportunity to re-imagine the design.
When looking at page elements, try not to waste your time on wireframes – they really aren’t necessary in this environment. Rather opt for sketching on a piece of paper or white board as a base for discussing ideas.
There is never much time to present all the work to the client, so be clever in using that time wisely to demonstrate sound strategic thinking presented through creative execution. If you are able to, try to deliver a working prototype that shows the work as the user would see it – in a browser. It is not always easy for someone to visualise what the end product will be and I’ve found that talking through an example user journey, complete with supportive animations, goes a long way in communicating your idea.
Always prepare a “leave-behind”. There is a lot of information you might not get the chance to discuss in the presentation (or nerves that may cause you to forget). In this document, try to communicate your reasoning behind each decision you have made. Explain which elements you included on the page and why, how you have prioritised them, how the element will behave on interaction, and how dynamic content will change. Pay special attention in tying this back to your guiding principle.
If you already have a relationship with the client, try to bring them in for a WIP session. Involve them in your process and listen to their feedback – this is an extremely valuable exercise to make sure your thinking is on the right track. They will have a deep understanding of what they are looking for in a partner and the more open and honest the communication channels, the better.
Although this process may change from pitch to pitch, the core process doesn’t change much. Staying true to the guiding principle will give your work direction and will keep the work focused; resulting in work you can be proud of. This experience will test your patience, stamina, and sense of humour but it will also bring with it many challenges, creative freedom and stronger bonds with your team members. The best advice I can impart is to be brave in your recommendations and make sure you have fun!