Why Do Designers Use Mockups?

Why Do Designers Use Mockups?

Q+A with a tote bag

Presenting a design in context can be a really helpful visualization tool. It allows a client to see how their new logo might look IRL or how a color palette pulls through packaging before signing off on the final design.

Digital mockups make showcasing just about anything possible, and the ever-growing library of high-quality mockups available means the choices for a designer are endless. But what do we usually slap a logo on? A tote bag. Where better to turn than a tote for some input on the pitfalls and benefits of mocking it up.

Question from Client: Um, why are you a tote bag?
Answer from Tote: I’m a ubiquitous and useful object that everyone can relate to, and so a natural choice to showcase a design.

Q: Does that mean I’m getting a tote bag? I mean, you’re designed already, right?
A: No, sorry! I know I’m cute, but a lot more goes into the design and production of a tote bag than updating a layer in a mockup. An actual press-ready file would need to be created, pricing and production details sorted out, and trafficking and approval all take time, too. Unless your contract states that it includes a tote bag design, I’m probably just here for visualization purposes.

Q: What do you mean by visualization purposes?
A: It can be hard to imagine how a design will look when actualized. Mockups help us make that leap. It is a simple tool, but an effective one. Mockups allow the designer to show rather than to tell the client what they are thinking.

Q: How does a designer choose which mockups to use?
A: There are so many great mockups out there, both free and premium. Choosing the right one can be overwhelming, which is probably another reason why so many designers pick me. Considering the end client’s industry or specific products contracted also influences the choice. You could put a logo on a jet-pack, but if the client is in hospitality, that might not make too much sense. Plus, jet-packs are expensive.

Q: Wait, if the designer puts my logo on a jet-pack, does that mean they expect me to buy a jet-pack?
A: Nope! No one expects you to buy a jet-pack. When presenting a logo design, mockups are generally for conceptualization only. They in no way lock the client into anything or establish expectations that either the client must buy or the designer must provide the object or design in the mockup.

Q: So, mockups are a commitment-free way to show how something could look?
A: Exactly! Digital mockups help showcase a design’s potential and create excitement around it. They are important to help get everyone on the same page when talking about how a design could look without the cost in time and expense to produce a sample.

Q: How accurate are mockups?
A: Honestly, that depends on the mockup in use. Digital mockups are not intended for production purposes of any kind and don’t 100% replicate the real thing. Some mockups are of higher quality than others, and better built mockups present more realistic and faithful representations. But, they are still for visualization purposes only. No matter how pretty and detailed the tote bag mockup is, it is still just a digital expression of possibility.

No matter the project, a digital mockup can help direct the conversation about a proposed design solution, provide a direct visualization tool, and ensure that the team—client and designer—are seeing the same things in their heads. After all, imaginations are powerful, like jet packs. Digital mockups give the right vision lift off.