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Learn the Art of Design Bullshitting

by Jeff Bates on August 31, 2020


Colorful blocks of letters arranged to spell out the phrase little lies. Photo by Pawel Czerwinski Unsplash

Learning to speak about your work with eloquence while engaging the audience is one of the essential skills designers can learn. They should be able to craft a compelling story that incorporates your rationale and meets the criteria of the project brief.

Wax poetically

To succeed in selling your design work during pitches, you need to learn how to positively and optimistically speak about your ideas. There’s still a bit of mystery to what designers actually do. Come prepared with a compelling story about your vision and use emotion to speak about your work, and they’ll be eating out of your hands.

Blue sky with clouds, Photo by Arthur Yao Unsplash

Before going into a design presentation, I always write out the story I’m going to tell and then practice by doing dry runs of my pitch. Consider the outcomes of the following two statements about why you chose the color blue.

  1. The possibilities and opportunities for your business are limitless. I‘m using this particular hue for your brand because it represents the vast optimism and openness of an endless bright blue sky.
  2. I know your company is dull, risk-averse, and you think you’re going to become the next Facebook, or maybe LinkedIn. I tried to find an available shade of the most ubiquitous and over-used color in the tech world.

Both statements might be accurate, but one will land you “limitless opportunities,” the other will get you shown the door.

The art of bullshitting is knowing when to spin the truth, not into a complicated web of lies, but a smooth silken net that captures hints of truth then glistens when the morning sun hits the drops of dew and sparkles like magic.

Uh oh, the CEO just dropped into the meeting unexpectedly

She didn’t have any background or context for the work being presented, and she doesn’t “get it.” Now people in the room who were previously digging the work are beginning to waver.

It’s time to pivot

Sometimes presentations start to go south, and the next skill of design bullshitting is knowing how to read a room and knowing when it’s time to pivot. In this case, you’ll have to throw out the entire story you’ve prepared. Pulling a new story out of thin air and making it up on the spot is a daunting task. It’s taken me years of presenting concepts and design work to confidently spin elements of what’s being discussed into a new tale as if that’s what I had in mind all along.

Many younger designers I’ve mentored lack confidence when presenting their work. Combine that with being shy or introverted and presentations are a terrifying experience.

But there is a trick to learning how to pivot and instantly craft brand new design rationale.

Practice giving presentations with projects you’ve never seen

Practicing giving design presentations is part of our learning routine. I get three or four designers together over our lunch break. We take turns pitching new branding projects. When starting out, the practice sessions work best with friends or close colleagues. As people get more comfortable presenting, we begin to invite people from other departments. These can be stressful, so we always try to keep the meetings loose and fun.

If we get in a flow, they start to feel like an improv troupe, and the stories get ridiculous and hilarious.

This practice works by developing the ability to glance at a design and quickly extract the essence, intent, and meaning of the story.

Use a portfolio website like Behance to search for branding projects

One person is assigned the task of finding and preparing the new presentations. A search for branding on Behance will yield thousands of results. The only criteria the presenter gets to know is what the company does, e.g., vitamins for women or a new bakery.

Sometimes to ensure hilarious responses, we look for projects where there is a pivot built right into the presentation. They might have to switch from speaking about the UI/UX of a website to rambling on about the packaging for fresh-pressed green smoothies.

Give this practice a try and you’ll become so good at bullshitting, you’ll want to leave the design world and become a politician.

This article was originally published on Medium by The Startup
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