If someone told you they had invented pants that could make you run faster than anyone on the planet, you’d roll your eyes. But if you got to try on those pants and broke the sound barrier during a quick jog, you’d believe that those super pants were real.
A major flaw with humans is that we need to experience something to be convinced it’s real. The ability to grasp abstract ideas doesn’t come naturally, even to those of us who fancy ourselves creative and have the gift of imagination. Ultimately, one needs to have hands-on experience with a new idea, product, or environment in order to really understand it and appreciate its significance.
This is especially true in the design industry when pitching something to a client. If your idea for a website, application, kiosk, billboard, branded film, or other media is forward thinking or outside the box, odds are you’ll have difficulty selling it through with anything but a basic working prototype or something you can point to that demonstrates your thinking. Coming from an advertising background, I was used to producing close to high-fidelity work for concept presentations. Our team would often create full top-to-bottom campaigns and if the client signed on to the idea, the work could be used, plug-and-play.
Obviously, this is a ton of work, stress, and energy for an individual or even a small shop to take on in the early stages of a project. Luckily, there are other tried and true ways to help your (potential) client get on board with your vision.
The simplest way to convey a vibe is through a collage of relevant images. A strategically produced moodboard can gather disparate components into one cohesive thought. Abstract forms, patterns, colors, architectural photography, symbols, and technology examples guide your audience into your world to see the thinking behind the idea.
Chances are your idea has been done before. But maybe the executions you’ve seen differ from what you were thinking or are just not as amazing as your idea. Go out and collect all of the similar executions so that you have working examples of your idea, and know what you are competing against. Present these examples to contextualize your idea and then show that yours is cooler. The examples you pull could highlight certain features that are part of your idea and when viewed all together, form a composite of what you want to sell.
Quick tip: In your off time, when you’re just surfing the web for cool stuff, be sure to bookmark. You never know when you’ll use those references.
This approach may seem daunting, given that you have to actually make a version of what’s in your head. But it’s also a great way to figure out if you have a good idea to begin with. Taking your audience through the inner-workings of the concept is a great way to get them invested. Whether you’re scheming to create an interactive experience, environmental signage, or a short film, there are many available tools that make prototyping easy without your having to be an OmniGraffle genius. Here is a short list:
Interactive design: Mocking Bird – https://gomockingbird.com/
Interactive design: Balsamiq – http://www.balsamiq.com/
Motion design/video editing: iMovie
Image collaging – http://mixel.cc/ (iPhone app)
Architectural/environmental – http://www.sketchup.com/
Finally, if you have the budget and time, there is nothing more powerful than a video that your audience can sit back and absorb. Go out and shoot footage, or use motion graphics to convey the importance and effect of your idea. A video that explains the problem you’re solving, the genius solution you’ve come up with, and the benefit to the client will show the strong thinking behind the idea and is easy for the client to pass around to other stakeholders and build excitement.
Good luck with those super pants!
Harun is a Senior Designer in our New York office.