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Client Presentations or Class Projects: Show everything!

In my first years as a graphic designer, I worked on creative teams where we would show our clients two or three "first round" design concepts. Eventually I landed on the team of a rather interesting and innovative CD (Creative Director) who believed in showing the client just about everything his designers came up with in that first presentation! Now depending on the scope of the project, there may be 20+ ideas generated for a particular job. Most ideas tend to be stepping stones for better ideas. Sometimes they are graphic design meteorites that have sprung from those unconventional depths of the creative underling’s brain. Part of the CD’s job is to pick the best direction to pursue for a particular client, ultimately keeping that client happy. But this particular CD believed in impressing the pants off of clients by blowing their minds! 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about those mass presentations we did because of two projects I just completed with my senior classes. My two senior level classes (16 students in each) just designed posters as part of a class exercise for two fairly high-profile art shows being exhibited in MTSU’s Todd Art Gallery: MTSU’s President Sidney McPhee’s China: Through the Eyes of an American University President and In/Finite Earth, a traveling show supported by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As the 16 poster designs per show were being refined for final presentation, I was posed the question of: Which posters are appropriate to present to the client? And as you can imagine, if you tasked 16 skilled and competitive design students with the same project, you would get a pretty broad range of ideas. The poster designs ranged from minimalist type-focused solutions to illustrative interpretations. But the answer was obvious: You show everything!

  1. You show the client something comfortable—something they can easily slip in into their existing portfolio without making too much of a splash.

  2. You show them something a little bit beyond their comfort-zone, but something that could stop and turn a few more heads—more audience means bigger response.

  3. And then you blow them away with the rest!

Those far out ideas make the client see that stepping out of the safe zone might not be such a bad idea. And it elevates the perception of your creative team (or creative class in this case) because you were just able to demonstrate the level and range at which your creatives can think and perform when given the right opportunity.

My takeaway from that Creative Director: Impress the pants off them the first time, and they’ll be back for more!

As a freelancer, I still show just about everything. But the presentations aren't as massive as when I was on a creative team. How many ideas do you present to a client? One? Three? More?

Oh, and a note to my students: Show your instructors everything! We do like ideas that comform to the project nicely, but we also love to see what's running through the creative wilds of your brains.


Poster designs from the graphic design students in Fall 2014's Portfolio 2 at MTSU lining the halls outside the gallery during the show. Yes! We showed everything. Bottom right: Dr. Sidney McPhee speaking at his gallery exhibition.

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