Board it Up

by Jason Beaird — Sep 12, 2007

If there's one thing to be learned from print design, it's the impact of presentation. Unlike on the web, you can precisely control how your design will be presented, down to the exact dimensions, weight, and even sheen of the paper. As web designers, we have to relinquish most of this authority, but not when presenting a proposed design to a client. Take control over the presentation of your design by boarding up your printed design comp.

Congratulations! You've done it, and it is indeed good. Yes, I see you there — basking in the warm glow of your maximized Photoshop window, listening to birds chirp and angels sing out about the wondrous completeness of the awe-inspiring website design before you. At this stage in the game, you've successfully (or so you think) converted your clients ideas and wishes into an image of what their website should look like. Now it's time to convince them.

Do you...

  1. Post a jpg of your comp to the web and send them a URL?
  2. Put it on your laptop or flash drive to present it on screen?
  3. Print it out and show them a paper version?

A. Post it Online

Having a subdomain of your company site or a client intranet to post up comps and HTML mockups may seem like a technologically advanced solution. After all, if you're building a website, your client had better know how to get on the web. There are a few downsides to this method though. For starters, you lose all control over how the client sees your hard work. No matter how many computers they have at their disposal, a client will inevitably choose the slowest one with the most obsolete browser and least flattering display. Another downside to this method is the potential for foul play. With an image or HTML comp in hand, a client could easily walk away and hire someone else to do the work for them. Let's hope none of our clients are that shady, but it happens and is therefore a valid concern. Perhaps the biggest problem though is the lack of personal interaction. If you're meeting face to face with a client, the presentation becomes a conversation. Design decisions can be discussed, concerns will be immediately revealed, and crisis will be diverted. Which brings us to the next option...

B. Bring a Digital Copy

Obviously, meeting in person isn't always practical, especially if the client is more than a short drive away. When the option is available though, take advantage of it. By setting up a face-to-face meeting with your client to present a design comp, you'll get to be there for those invaluable non-verbal queues and gut reactions. Unless you bring your own laptop though, you're again stuck with the dilemma of using the clients computer. When I have brought along a computer, I've noticed that clients tend to get distracted from the task of reviewing your comp. Rather than focusing on the design itself, they tend to focus on the medium of delivery. They start thinking about how the comp looks in the browser window, asking you to pull up other websites while “you've got the internet open” and comparing your laptop to their own.

C. Print it Out and Board it Up

Printing out a design and affixing it to presentation board is a skill you learn early in any academic graphic design program. As a student, even if you are presenting a project that you designed on a computer in the classroom, it becomes your responsibility to get that design printed up, cropped, and glued to a board. While this is a standard method of delivery in the print/advertising world, it is often overlooked by web designers for seemingly good reason. “website design will rarely be printed, so why present it on paper?” In the design comp stage though, what you are presenting is simply an image. It's a little window through which the client can see what the inside of the house they're buying will look like. By printing out a design, you have precise control over what the client will see, and reduce the possible distractions which technology can bring to the table.

The Proper Way to Board up a Design

Supplies Needed:
  • Black Mounting/Presentation Board
  • Xacto Knife
  • Metal Straightedge
  • Spray Adhesive (aka Spray Mount)
  1. Print it Out — Most likely your comp will have been designed in RGB at screen resolution. Most consumer laser and inkjet printers do a pretty accurate job these days of printing from RGB. To prevent pixelation though, scale your design down a bit (75-80%) in the print dialog.
  2. Crop it Down — Place your printed comp on a flat surface that you don't mind messing up. I usually use a scrap piece of presentation board because it is hard enough not to cut through in one pass, and soft enough not to dull a blade too quickly. Place the straightedge on the comp and cut along the edge with an Xacto knife removing excess paper.
  3. Prepare a Board — Mounting board typically comes in 20x30 inch sheets. Measure your cropped design comp and choose a size for your mounting board that leaves at least an inch of excess around the paper itself. Use the straightedge and Xacto knife to cut the board to size. When you have it cut, center the comp on the board and use a pencil to lightly mark where each corner should line up.
  4. Board it Up — Take your can of Spray Mount and design comp outside and give the back one even coat of adhesive. Allow the adhesive a minute or two to dry, then bring it back inside. Line up two of the corners on your comp to the marks on your board, press down one side and smooth down the rest, being careful not to get any bubbles under the paper. Erase the pencil marks and you're good to go. Other adhesives like rubber cement, or good old Elmer's glue can be used, but I prefer Spray Mount because it's tacky enough to keep your comp in place but stays flexible enough to peel the design off cleanly a few days later to get a few more uses out of the board.

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