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First Round Conference 2018

Johnny Lee June 18, 2018

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First impressions are important, especially when it comes to presenting design concepts to clients. Everything from visuals, atmosphere, and presentation style can impact how the audience receives your work. But how do high-profile designers and agencies do that effectively?

First Round, organized by Under Consideration, was a one-day showcase where a select number of designers and agencies revealed how they present the first pass of branding, logo, and identity projects to their clients. It was an incredibly insightful glance at some of the similarities and differences in how each presenter introduced their first concepts. Here are some of the insights that I came away with:

Let the Work Show Itself

Using a clean layout lets the focus of your presentation be your work. Incorporating a lot of colors, text, and other visual elements can detract from your work, make the colors of the design look off, and distract your clients. Each of the presenters used a layout that was appropriate for their own brand/company while letting their work shine.

Differentiate and Name Your Concepts

Several of the designers and agencies that presented made a point of naming each of their design directions. They made sure that their designs were distinct from each other and not just variations of one concept. Naming each concept gives their clients something descriptive about each design to latch onto and helps them understand the story and direction of those designs.

The most notable example at First Round was how Gretel presented their Kickstarter homepage and project page concepts with labels. Their first direction was named Storytelling, which incorporated type, data, statistics, facts, and bios to help tell the story of Kickstarter. The second was called Connect the Dots, which presented Kickstarter as a network of people, ideas, and culture. This concept was carried across visually with lines, timelines, and connected elements. The third concept was labeled the Byline, which incorporated the storytelling elements, but in a very editorial and magazine-like way. Their last concept for Kickstarter was dubbed the Process, which celebrated the messiness of the creative process and had more of a raw, pasteboard-esque style with overlapping elements and many things on a page.

Present As Little or As Much Work As You Need

Different agencies have different philosophies on how many concepts that they present. It also depends on whether the client would be satisfied seeing just one concept. Zipeng Zhu from Dazzle has a daring philosophy of only presenting one design in the first round, including in his work for Viacom Next. Zhu feels that pouring his energy into a single concept helps them create the best solution for their client. After the first round however, he branches out and presents a few variations on the first concept.

Original Champions of Design had the opposite thinking when pitching concepts to MTV to rebrand the Video Music Awards. They closed down the studio to other clients and for a week, cranked out ten concepts to present to MTV. This situation is atypical, but they were motivated to get picked by MTV to redesign the VMAs since it is such an iconic part of pop culture.

Show the Identity in Relevant Applications

Brand elements can sometimes look dull or uninspiring when presented alone. Furthermore, people are not always able to visualize how logo concepts will work in real-world applications. One of the best things for designers to do is to use mockups in their design concepts. Different ways to show off a logo could be different lockups (vertical, horizontal, etc.), how the logo would look on clothing, websites, swag, and relevant physical products or signage. Secondary elements like patterns, illustrations, and color schemes can also help clients visualize how the new designs could be applied.

One example from First Round would be Mucca Designs’ mockups for Farmer’s Fridge (essentially a vending machine that serves fresh food), where they conceptualized and mocked up different fridge designs for each concept in addition to the more standard mockups like t-shirts.

Images from Louise Fili

Louise Fili’s Tips

Designer Louise Fili shared a couple of tips that she gave that no one else touched on. Not everyone gave specific insights on the venue, timing, or atmosphere of their presentations, but Fili has one hard and fast rule for presenting: the first round of designs must be presented in her studio, in the afternoon, and after serving the clients gelato. What better way to put a client in a good mood before you present possibly wild and out-there concepts to them? I love how this cozy rule fits in so well with Louise Fili’s very warm and timeless work.

Her second tip was to not be afraid to recycle designs. Perhaps you made something that you liked, but maybe the client wasn’t into it or it wasn’t right for them. If it feels right for another client, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try and reuse something you’ve already made!

Final Words

First Round was enlightening, inspiring, and entertaining. The presenters provided a fresh perspective on an integral part of the design process, and being able to peek behind the curtain a bit was a great way to be able to pick and choose parts that could be incorporated into my own work.

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