The Experience of a Pitch

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.

4. Communication
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!


Worthwhile links :: Responsive organisations, cashlessness, net neutrality, savage chicken


The talks from the smart folk at Undercurrent about the responsive organisation have been very influential in my own thinking about the future of business and brands. The need to adapt (rather than die) a faster, more agile, “responsive” culture is a huge undertaking for any business, especially the larger ones. The problem with disruptive forces brought on by technology is that things are only going to get faster, more unpredictable, and more decentralised. For me, it’s not a case of “if” but “when” businesses start re-inventing themselves.

The Responsive Organisation – Presentation notes - Written by Mike Arauz from Undercurrent

This is a presentation that was originally created by Undercurrent’s CEO, Aaron Dignan. Over the past year, we’ve all been riffing on it. Here’s my latest iteration.

This presentation is primarily designed to speak to leaders of any organization that is aspiring to compete and achieve its mission in today’s world.

More on the challenges of large companies failing to innovate.. “Here’s Why Innovation Dies At Big Tech Companies, According To Steve Jobs” (via Business Insider). Jobs talks about how products that make a large company so powerful are typically ignored at the expense of sale and marketing which dominates the direction, leaving innovation out of the picture. (Too much focus on the story, not enough on the service I say!)


Cash’s days are numbered:

Welcome to Sweden – the most cash-free society on the planet
Electronic payment evangelists say largely cash-free economy has cut costs and reduced crime rate


The challenges banks face in defending their entire value chain against financial startups summarised in one pic:

“Banking is under attack. Here’s a screenshot of the homepage with examples of companies challenging the individual pieces of WF’s business.” by @tomloverro

Full article: here


And now for something completely different:

52 Of The World’s Most Widespread Myths And Misconceptions, Debunked


Ever look up into the night sky and see a satellite shooting across space like it’s late for a meeting?

This is every active satellite orbiting earth

There are more than 1,200 active satellites orbiting earth right now, taking pictures, relaying communications, broadcasting locations, spying on you, and even housing humans. Thanks to a database compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we can show you each one, as of August 21, 2014.

Hooray for open data!


If you’re a user of the Internet, you should know the ins and outs of Network Neutrality debate.

When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, he didn’t need to ask Comcast, Verizon, or other internet service providers to add Facebook to their networks. He also didn’t have to pay these companies extra fees to ensure that Facebook would work as well as the websites of established companies. Instead, as soon as he created the Facebook website, it was automatically available from any internet-connected computer in the world.

That’s network neutrality.

Everything you need to know about network neutrality. - VOX


via Savage Chickens – Cartoons on Sticky Notes.



That’s all folks.




UX: All the small things

As UX designers, we often gravitate toward large web builds where we can get stuck into user research, discovery sessions and dust off the post-it notes and white board markers. It’s the blank canvas that draws us to these projects. It’s about creating an interface from scratch and having a role in the strategic direction and visual design that the website will take. It’s about working with developers that are excited to try out new techniques and present work that is unique in some way (even if it’s just a new approach to share buttons).

That not the type of work I’ll talk about today, instead I want to chat about the brief that says “we need to increase conversions on an existing website”… the type where I don’t have the option to change the strategic direction or influence the page layouts. The reason I’m drawn to these projects is because there’s no option but to look at the smallest details and understand how they can affect your overall website experience.

Enter ecommerce
Ecommerce websites are the best example of this type of optimisation for a number of reasons, the most obvious being complexity. There are so many pieces of information that need to be shown on each product, each view requires multiple searching and refining mechanisms, the nuances of how location can affect price, availability and stock need to be explained. There are many actions that need to be included at each step – from the obvious selecting quantity and adding to cart, to inputting details into a complicated ‘fit visualiser’ tool. It’s is essential to understand how each element fits together and assign it a visual priority.

Another reason the details matter so much? Competition. South African ecommerce stores (particularly those focusing on fashion or electronics) are not only competing against one another and international sites such as Amazon for market share, they are competing against their bricks and mortar counterparts. A user will buy an iPad from your online store only if you make it easier and quicker to do so at a shopping center. This will remain the case until online shopping becomes second nature to South Africans as it is in Western countries. In the meantime, local online retailers continue to create enriched content, discount coupons and run ‘deal-a-day’ campaigns to draw us in. Once I’m lured in by the heavily reduced Smart TV in or I’ve clicked on the ‘Ten ways with linen’ trend piece in your newsletter, then it’s up to your website to give me a flawless experience… any mishap could see me clicking that ‘close’ button.

Small changes matter
The small interactions can make an imperceptible but enormous difference to the overall sentiment towards a website. The way in which you let me know how much remaining stock there is may just be the difference between me buying that product or adding it to a wishlist for a later stage. The elegance of a succinct line of copy that tells me I will pay one price for a product but an entirely different price if I also buy a combination of other products astounds me, and the inner peace I feel when I see a conservatively sized ‘Add to cart’ button is enough for me to take a screenshot for my favourites folder. These are details that you should not be impressed by or even really notice… if they are doing their job correctly. They make me happy because I recognise the thought and pain that has gone into them. That ‘Add to cart’ button started out 3 times the size and 5 shades brighter, and a determined designer probably mocked up 20-odd variations until the perfect compromise was found.

Shouldn’t it be right the first time?
Most of these interactions and pieces of functionality are explored, designed and tested during the initial build, but it doesn’t end there. As different product lines are added, new logistics and delivery types are introduced and seasonal offerings arise, so the interface develops. An ecommerce site is an ever-evolving structure that constantly needs new or updated elements. And that’s just the new features! There are also the elements that just aren’t working – such as the really useful ‘shopping lists’ mechanic that isn’t being noticed, or the “Delivery lead times look-up” that worked perfectly until frozen food items were introduced and required a new method of transportation. All of these small elements need careful attention around how they behave, how they are styled and the messaging around them.

I was impressed to notice that Takelot recently added a link to their product pages titled ‘Will I get it by Christmas?’. The problem they were facing is that users cannot select their own delivery time on the site, so there may be some ‘mild panic’ as Christmas approaches and those last minute shoppers may not know whether their gifts will arrive in time. Their solution was to add an easy reference table of order dates, times and methods, with a very clearly worded link on all products. A great example of a small detail used to address a big business problem.

Proceed to checkout
I am sold on the benefits of continually optimising the small details of interfaces, but my passion is often not shared with the wider team. What about Designers and Copywriters who are used to the creative freedom of conceptual campaign work or creating rich content? They are significantly less enthusiastic about spending hours reworking an ‘Add to wish list’ icon or writing explanatory messaging for every possible scenario that may occur twice a year. The rigidity that comes with optimising interface components is more difficult for creatives to get excited about than the more traditional ‘advertising jobs’.

While I don’t have a solution for this I think it’s important to encourage this approach. After all, it’s useful to remind our teams that these small details can make something measurable in Rands (not just in social shares and brand exposure). Any optimisations can be followed by scrutinizing a websites’ Analytics program in the hope of a solid increase in conversions. Surely even the most unencumbered creative mind can’t deny the joy of seeing a tangible increase due to their beautiful new button? Getting excited about making the small things better is so important in this competitive retail market. Or is it just me?


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