There is one key reason why I love professional wrestling: seeing that one moment where I can still suspend disbelief.
After reading two articles about what designers can learn from Ghandi and the Red Baron, I thought, wrestling taught me a lot more than this! So, what can designers learn from Professional Wrestling; a set of guys running around in their underwear? Actually a tremendous amount. I’ll share three key insights. Prepare yourself and set aside your judgements that this is white trash entertainment.
1. The Story
This is the most important part is wrestling, as well as design. In wrestling, without a story, you have just two guys rubbing eachother in their underwear, which is less than exciting. The story is what people buy into and makes them tune in. A great story has people wanting to see what happens next. You see the same thing in design. When you present to a client, executive, or team, you don’t present just a design; you present a story. You tell them how everything is set up and how it has all fallen into place; sharing the problems and the opportunities within this design. You tell them why the design matters and find that hook to pull your client in.
Walking into a client with no story is inviting them to give their opinion and random comments. Setting the stage for a story focuses their feedback. It gives them rails. It tells them you have a vision and a rationale and end point with the design. It empowers you with more to control over the direction and outcome of the design.
2. The Promo and art of selling
One of the most important parts of getting a story across in wrestling is the promo. You can have an amazing story and amazing wrestling, but without the ability to connect to the audience, it’s useless. If you can’t make people buy into the story and believe it, you’ll go no where. How many times have we all seen great designs crushed. Part of our role when we go in and present, is to take ideas, protect them, bring life to them, and sell them. Get the design, the potential and the story across to the client. Being dynamic and connecting in presentations is just as critical as the design itself. Not only that, but you have to believe in what you’re selling. You have to buy into your own story, you can’t just fake your way through a great presentation.
The best wrestling promos are the ones that are extensions of personalities. It’s the same with presenting your designs. The best designs are the ones that are extensions of what you love. Why would a client buy into something if you can’t even believe it. You have to be excited and enjoy what you do, because if you don’t, why would other people?
I can never stress how important it is to be a great presenter, and be “on” each time you’re in front of a client, no matter how simple the presentation may be. It’s something I see a lot of designers drop the ball on because they see the designs as selling themselves. The bad news is most often, they don’t.
3. The Patterns and spots
After watching wrestling for 20 years, and training (yes, I trained) for a few years, you learn there are patterns and spots. To simplify, patterns are common elements and spots are usually predefined moves that wrestlers have worked out before the match. Patterns are used to develop the way matches are put together. Spots often represent a high point in a match to get the crowd moving.
Both regular patterns, and the ability to break patterns when needed are critical in great matches. In our design world, we hear about patterns non-stop. Desktop patterns, mobile patterns, gesture patterns… and we stick to those. We’ve heard presentations and read articles on those. Then we see new designs that come along and twist them or break them and create a new pattern. Or create a one-off for their design; but it works. We can’t always be a slave to patterns or we just end up the same as everyone else, but using them is what makes it comfortable and soothing. Just remember that sometimes we need to throw things out and say “what are we going to do for this to support our story, our goals, and how do we make people fall in love with this”. Don’t be afraid to change even the most common elements.
A spot, by contrast, a more of a signature element. A unique piece that brings the design together. You have the story, you’re presenting it, and now it’s time to pull out the piece that people cheer for. Most wrestlers have spots they perform exclusively. These are their signature moves, and out of respect, other wrestlers don’t do them. In the design world. This is like the animated control on the Path mobile application, or the genie window effect on a Mac. Moments that those designs are known for. In each story, and subsequent design you create, what are your signature elements? What are the moments that people see in your design that they connect to emotionally. That they do a little cheer for when it happens and they tell other people about about. Don’t have any? I’d recommend thinking a little more.
In closing, when you need inspiration for design, it’s not always looking at Apple or the obviously products that are there. Look for the non-obvious sources and what they can teach you. Pull from everything and bring something no one else has to the table.