PUBLISHED / NOVEMBER 2019
3 Showing (Off) Your Work
I’m always excited to see my designers present their work for review. As a design manager, my most immediate opportunity to guide and support them is in the critique that follows. Whether the designer’s presenting to just myself or a larger team, it’s a big learning opportunity for all parties involved — one I take seriously.
But too many times, designers’ presentations have played out like so:
Designer: Here’s the work I did, it’s really not that good.
Me: Way to sell it.
Designer: Yeah, I’ve done better.
I get it, they’re hedging their bets. They might think downplaying the work will make me want to praise it, as a show of support — or maybe they just lack the security to really discuss it. When I started out, I’d describe my own projects similarly. But trial and error taught me just how integral it is to talk with confidence about your work.
Keep in mind: the manager reviewing your project wants to learn as much as they can. It’s their job to provide helpful feedback, and it’s the designer’s to make this as easy as possible for them. Convey every step in your process, if necessary — first drafts, alternative designs, dead ends and promising leads — to guide your audience through. Own your responses to the challenges that came up and praise the good in them. Make sure to define exactly how you think your design solves the given problem. If you believe improvements can be made — where?
While it’s key to remain open to the variety of perspectives a review welcomes, preparing questions pre-review can help your audience as much as it can help you. It can help you focus the feedback on whatever aspects of the project you’re least sure about. What exactly do you need to know in order to plan concrete next steps, and what questions can you pose to find this out? Asking about the specifics can even help those who are reviewing your work and unsure where to start; point them in the right direction.
To present a project positively is to honor the time, energy, and ideas that went into it. By contrast, downplaying the work forces your audience to pry, and ask questions you likely should already have answered. If you genuinely don’t feel the project you’re presenting is the best possible solution, being confident about it doesn’t mean disregarding its faults — it means believing that feedback can only help.
When I see a designer present their work positively, I see a designer open to improvement. As a manager, whether I’m reviewing with my team or hiring new talent, I want everyone on board to possess confidence like it’s a talent. My designers need to show me that they’ve thought through all the possibilities before I ask. Because from my perspective, a presentation can say as much about the presenter as the project in question.
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