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It’s All About Options

When going to a supermarket, it often amazes me how many different choices and varieties of products we are being presented with. I guess the variety makes sense, after all, as consumers in America we are usually being told that more is better. For clients shopping for design, this would be a bad thing. And they might not even know it.

How many design options should you present to a client? Some designers insist on showing one, as they feel there is only one perfect solution. Others insist on showing them all. The best approach might lie somewhere in the middle.

Let’s take a logo for example. I have played around with both ideas. Initially I always limited the concepts that I showed to three. I thought it was a healthy number, and from asking around and presentations in past places of employment, it seemed to be somewhat of a norm.

Then, I went through a phase were I showed anything that had some merit within the design criteria. Not that I woke up one morning deciding that this is what I had to do, it was basically what one of my clients asked for. And since I believe in an open relationship with my clients I thought, “Well, I have the explorations done, so why not show them. If nothing else, my efforts will impress them, and some questions that otherwise would come up, could be answered by example.”

To be honest, when I showed three options, I felt as if I was not showing the client that I had spent a substantial effort on coming up with these three options, therefore not showing them enough of the explorations and challenges that led to the three. Since, in essence, I bill my clients for time spent, I saw a benefit in showing more.

Needless to say, when I showed about 35 options, clients were amazed… and usually overwhelmed. But while they were impressed with the effort, it was nearly impossible for them to make a selection out of all the options — 35 options caused a problem. With three options on the other hand, things were easier.

Looking back, this makes sense, of course, as part of our job is to guide our clients in the right direction. I think it is our responsibility to preselect the few, most appropriate designs. Further, narrowing our selection down, will show confidence and expertise — exactly the things many clients will be looking for.

And it’s not just that way in our field, examining choice in the decison making process, the september issue of Negotiation offers the following: “…One explanation is that most of us just aren’t mentally capable of weighting all the possibilities. According the the old ‘seven plus or minus two’ rule of short-term memoery, we can hold only so many newly presented bits of information in our mind at a time — for most people, somewhere between five and nine items.”

So do your clients a favor: explore as much as you’d like, but present a digestable selection. Chances are you will save yourself and your client valuable time.

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.22.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
Michael H.’s comment is:

Always three options. Always. It is the extremely rare case where anything other than three would be necessary.

If it's a case of validating the work I've done for them, I can usually talk through that. To me it's seemed to be more important to be able to directly discuss that issue rather than overwhelm them with options to imply it. We don't want to get sidetracked and waste anybody's time. I usually cringe if, as in Peter's case, the client asks to see all the options. There are reasons I don't show them those other comps. Just as Paul Rand had a reason for showing Steve Jobs all the logo options leading to the final one for NeXT in his presentation book.

Heh, actually for fun I did take the Rand approach with one of my clients recently. But it was appropriate at the same time. Unfortunatley since it was an all or nothing gamble, the client didn't like the final logo. However, since he's a friend of mine and I'm not charging him either, I still have the account.

Nice discussion piece Peter, I think we've all gone through that learning phase of knowing and trusting ourselves well enough to be comfortable with what we are showing the client.

On Sep.22.2004 at 12:55 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

One. Only one.

Think about it. We're ostensibly hired to make an expert design decision. Are we not trusted to come up with the single best option? How can there be two or three or thirty-five best solutions?

If you've done your best and strongest, there should be one and only one option.

Come up short? Fine. Do it again. But it seems illogical to show multiple options and state, "These are the best."

On Sep.22.2004 at 01:31 PM
Patrick C’s comment is:

As a general rule I like to show no more than three concepts for anything. However, I usually show only one web concept (possibly with additional variations) and only two logo concepts.

A couple observations:

1. Clients have a hard time envisioning what is not in front of them (in other words they don't miss what they never had).

2. If you've done the proper background/lead-in work with the client your solution should rarely be a complete miss.

3. If it is a complete miss, I take their comments and tell them I will work on something new. Then I go and find one of my unused concepts and refine it.

4. If you give them too many choices you will be in trouble. I had to work with a bad logo on a web project. The studio that had created the logo had given the client nine choices. Of course the client played the mix and match game and ended up with an awful mix of colours, type, and shapes that looked like the shape of a penis (the client was a dentist). Don't open Pandora's box because you can't close it.

5. Giving options devalues the service of graphic design. It inherently suggests that you, the designer, have not made choices and, after all, that's really what you're being paid for: informed, educated, experienced choices. An explanation of this and process involved is usually all that's needed to reassure the client that they got their money's worth.

On Sep.22.2004 at 01:39 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Two. Definitely two.

I tend to always show two directions, unless one direction makes the most sense. I'll sometimes (depending on the client) also show them the 'make ready' concepts on the side. This is one of those 'it all depends' things.

Rarely will I tell the client they'll get X number of layouts to choose from, though. If I need to do more after the first round, so be it, but usually we can get a solid direction down right away.

I also find the more upfront 'project brief' type research you do, the less actual arbitrary decisions need to be made at the mock-up stage.

A good example of why many-multiples of options are bad is to look at the result of any competition/spec-out project. We all tend to spend too much time thinking about too many options. Decisiveness is a virtue. ;o)

On Sep.22.2004 at 01:45 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> How can there be two or three or thirty-five best solutions?

Actually, there can be. That is what makes this so difficult. If we take logos as an example it will always be the case that you end up with 2 or 3 logos that you think best represent the solution, then, of those three there is one you absolutely love and think is the best, but is it really? And I'm not saying this to debate your judgment in particular. There is absolutely nothing in this world (other than most mathematic stuff, ie 2+2=4) that has only one solution. There are alternatives to everything.

But back to the problem at hand. I also find three to be a healthy option for both clients and designers. We usually do 5, 10, 20 anyway so then it is just a matter — actually, the very important matter — of self-editing and deciding what best fits the project description and showing it to the client. I even do this when doing preliminary internal crits; I'll do 7-8 logos and just show the 4-5 that I think are the strongest. I used to work with a designer who would sit down at the table with an 11" x 17" page with 20 or so thumbnails of mediocre work, with one or two good logos, and it would be impossible to critique it, narrow it down or even look at it — more is never, ever better.

My moral: Self-editing is one of the most overlooked qualities that a graphic designer must have.

On Sep.22.2004 at 01:46 PM
Greg’s comment is:

I tend to give several options all around the same theme... and never in two different styles. That's why people get confused. If you have a client picking between a serif and a sans, they'll be confused as to what the message is they're paying you to help them convey, and it also shows that you haven't done your research. At the same time, presenting with one final take-it-or-leave-it seems kind of risky, especially if they're new clients. You can usually get away with that when you've established a relationship.

That's why I like to give several options that all look pretty similar - the client got to have input, and it looks like you've done your homework.

On Sep.22.2004 at 01:52 PM
ps’s comment is:

My moral: Self-editing is one of the most overlooked qualities that a graphic designer must have.

i agree, making the right edit is big part of the game. its a quality that most recent graduates don't have yet, or know about.

On Sep.22.2004 at 01:58 PM
Daniel’s comment is:

In looking back at some old publications on the shelf here, I found an article that introduced me to Mirko Ilic's way of maximizing presentations to the client, "Rather than show the standard three sketches, he provides one completely finished piece."

Prior to reading the article, I was a standard three sketch presenter. Now I kind of lean towards the concept of being the professional for hire and making and experienced and educated decision on the matter. The article goes on to say that upon rejection of the attempt, Mirko simply creates another.

His way of illustrating this idea of being hired to make an expert decision is, "I don't need to carry a red sofa into a green room to know it clashes just so you can see it."

Back Issue: HOW June 2000
Article: Conjure Your Clients Creativity, Pg. 59
Written By: Susan E. Davis

On Sep.22.2004 at 02:30 PM
krf’s comment is:

I would agree with the "less is more" standard. Having said that, I have run into situations where I went a ahead and created that "extra" comp just for me and released it on a few occasions and it was the one that was chosen.

I would probably recommend NOT doing that but I'm sure others have faced similar circumstances.

On Sep.22.2004 at 03:05 PM
jana’s comment is:

a Bass (or a few) and a book (non design-related, though other artistic topics are a-ok)

o, and: hi all!

On Sep.22.2004 at 03:21 PM
jemma’s comment is:

What I've done in the past is present the half dozen or so solutions as sketches, and the one I've chosen as the best totally finished with the colour palette I recommend.

This way I've made it clear what my recommendation is, and I've shown my client that I've explored all the options. And I can show my clients edgy solutions, as well as more formal interpretations.

On Sep.22.2004 at 03:31 PM
Hex’s comment is:

This is one of the never ending debates I have with my peers. I have worked in studios that have used both approaches (only one vs. three options).

In my experience, the three options (but anything more is over kill) route works best. I like to work in collaboration with my clients and it gives the client some "buy-in" to include them in the process. Having an honest and open discussion with clients (treat them like adults) discussing why there are merits for each direction will go a long way.

In the situations were it was ONLY ONE option, I find it comes across as elitist and just plain old arrogant.

On Sep.22.2004 at 03:55 PM
Steven’s comment is:

There is absolutely nothing in this world (other than most mathematic stuff, ie 2+2=4) that has only one solution. There are alternatives to everything.

Armin, I completely agree with this!

Having said this, initially, I usually try to give three solutions: one conservative, one middle-of-the-road, and one out-there. I take this initial approach to make sure that the client is clear and happy about the direction. Every person has different shades of understanding of meaning, even with very well-defined projects. They can often say one thing initially, but then change their minds when they see it in actuality. Seeing a design concept often creates other issues to come into view. And so a project can evolve in ways not initially conceived. I always want the solution building process to be adaptive so that I can be responsive and flexible to a clients needs.

Now, once basic direction is defined, then it comes down to managing expectations and getting the project completed by the deadline. Sometimes that means a number of little iterations of ideas. Sometimes it means just a couple of options. Very rarely do I give just one solution and this would be probably only with people that I have already worked with quite a bit and already have a good feel for what they want.

Giving just one option is too limiting for most circumstances. And most clients want to see options. They're paying you "big" money and they want to know that you're investing some time and energy. Besides, if you're "not quite there" with that one solution, for the third or fourth time, it's easy to see a client getting frustrated. And then things can get bogged down all sorts of non-productive issues. I'm always focused on trying to make the client happy, while still pushing to get the project down to final approvals and production.

I only give clients, like, 30 or 50 logo options when they've snivelled that they're not seeing enough options. When I show them way more than they can digest, it ends the options whining immediately and redirects them to focusing on just a few.

BTW, I never show solutions that I don't really like, because clients have the annoying habit of picking that one. (Maybe because there's so much bad design out there that it seems familiar to them.) Call it Murphy's Law for Designers.

On Sep.22.2004 at 04:06 PM
Greg’s comment is:

I never show solutions that I don't really like, because clients have the annoying habit of picking that one.

Yes! I was just thinking about this, and coming to the computer to type it out. Actually, because I'm sketching logo ideas for a client.

It's funny how speak up topics can sometimes be so spot on.

On Sep.22.2004 at 05:07 PM
MisterKen’s comment is:

3 works for us.

You start big, put the one you are sort of 'iffy' about and finish with the one you love the most.

Whenever we have shown more, we ALWAYS(!) get something we like to call Chinese Menu..(I like this from #2, and the color of #4 and the photos from #39...can you put those together so we can take a look at it?). Maybe it's us, but this always seems to happen.

Many moons ago, I spent a bit of time working at Landor on a rebranding pitch/lifetime in hell for Coke. We lead the client into a 12' x 20' conference room with all 4 walls lined, 5 deep, with logo variations. Some variations so slight you would need an electron microscope to see the difference.

I would swear that a high percentage were exact duplicates and it was only shown to explain the eye watering amount of money being charged.

The only words I remember the bewildered client saying was 'wow' and 'you expect me to make a decision on this today?'

Shortly thereafter, I quit.

On Sep.22.2004 at 05:58 PM
jenny’s comment is:

I use 3, as a general rule, as well. Self editing is really important. Recently I did show 4 logos to a client, mostly because the CEO of the company let it be known that he wanted to see a very specific idea worked out for a logo concept, which everyone else involved (on the client side) was equally certain wouldn't work. It didn't, but it was specified in the contract, so I showed the three viable options and the "dictated" one.

I do have certain clients I only show one design - I may give her a variation, but nothing major. It helps the client, and it helps my sanity. But I think that's a case of knowing the client - and I don't think I would do it for a new client.

>we ALWAYS(!) get something we like to call Chinese Menu...

:o) I love it - I have that experience too...

On Sep.22.2004 at 07:16 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

> I would swear that a high percentage were exact duplicates and it was only shown to explain the eye watering amount of money being charged.

That's amazing. I can see why you quit MisterKen. Surely the client is intelligent to know that quantity does not equal quality. How insutling (and an incredible waste of time and money) for Landor to do something like that.

On Sep.22.2004 at 09:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:

This is a topic where I've changed my views on a number of occasions as time goes by.

A few years ago, when my work was predominantly annual reports, I was adamant that it was best to show clients only the one, best solution. We explored and developed other concepts, but our team always chose one best solution to design and flush out completely from front to back, before presenting to the client.

We placed in a number of steps in the process along the way that gave clients an opportunity to involve themselves, so they would feel like they had a part in the development of the final solution. We also went to great lengths to develop accurate messaging and make sure that we were developing content that met the client's needs.

In truth, it was a tremendous amount of work in order to get to that one best solution — and it always showed. But believe it or not, that approach worked like a charm — resulting in years of happy clients and award-winning annuals.

But that approach didn't always work for everything.

Identity design is a different beast. You can do an insane amount of due diligence and strategic development ahead of time, but in the end, there are still too many factors that can determine which solution is the best solution. It's not always clear-cut. Most of the time, there is a solution that is strongest. But many times there's more than one. And no matter how calculative and qualitative you engineer your process — there's still a largely subjective component to the final selection process. It's the same on both the design and the client side.

So what we do is show a number of finalists (it's usually 3 to 5, but sometimes more), and then a final, recommended candidate. We try to back up our recommended favorite with clear, strategic, objective reasons — but we also cross our fingers and hope that the client will subjectively like the solution as much as we do. The recommended almost always wins, but once in a while, a finalist is chosen despite our best selling effort. It's not quite a science.

These days, my work is primarily packaging and branding. Our team develops and present fully-backed, multiple options. But each option is keyed in to specific, strategic and content requirements and differences. The best solution isn't always the design favorite. It's more about what's most effective, what's most appropriate, which is most differentiating. All of those qualities can't always exist in one solution. Often, there are different approaches that prioritize those creative objectives differently. So we develop multiple options, discuss the approaches with the client, often test the solutions with consumers, and refine, refine, refine.

In this case, it is a science sometimes.

So bottom line, my answer to the dilemma of how many options to show is a question: how singular and defined is the client's goals and strategy, and how certain are you of that?

Don't just choose an arbitrary number of solutions and think it's reasonable and suits every client and situation. If you don't have reasoning behind your decision, then presenting 3 makes no more sense than presenting 50, or just 1.

It all depends.

On Sep.22.2004 at 10:53 PM
Rob’s comment is:

In the situations were it was ONLY ONE option, I find it comes across as elitist and just plain old arrogant.

Really? How about secure and confident that you totally understand what will work best for the client. Isn't that why they hired you? I certainly wouldn't call the "showing the one that works best presentation" an act of arrogance or elitism. If you've done your homework and really worked closely with the client, there's always a clear 'favorite' even when you present three ideas, so really, most of us go in with one and have two as back-up, just in case.

I've found working in-house that I don't always have the luxury of time to come up with three different solutions, and so I usually only do show one and sometimes two options.

As for my freelance work, it really depends on the project and the relationship I have with the client. But the most options presented is limited to three. Never more and sometimes less.

On Sep.22.2004 at 10:59 PM
elv’s comment is:

I definitely show a maximum of three comps. Sometimes only one, for clients on a budget. And I definitely select one as the prefered solution.

I once heard that "three is choice, two is dilemna". And clients don't like dilemnas :)

On Sep.23.2004 at 09:51 AM
Joseph’s comment is:

I've always played the three rule. But a lot of the comments made on here have sort of converted me to the one and only one rule. We all complain and bitch about how the graphic design community is misunderstood. And we are all hired to perform a problem-solving duty. In that mindset there is only one answer to the equation. 2 + 2 = 4 In the preliminary discovery meetings we should all learn enough about the client and the goals to develop one solution that meets all of the requirements. If we all start portraying ourselves as goal-oriented, problem-solving professional designers, maybe the misunderstandings will decrease. Just a thought.

On Sep.23.2004 at 11:20 AM
ps’s comment is:

if there would be only one solution, there would be no need for designers. there can be various versions of a design project, all of them can match the criteria. so why not give the client more than one. i guarantee you the designer next to you will come up with something just as good. is one wrong and the other one right? i don't think so. i for one would not hire a designer that would show only one option and act like this is the only way to communicate something.

On Sep.23.2004 at 11:47 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>In that mindset there is only one answer to the equation....develop one solution that meets all of the requirements.

But you can't make these assumptions. Design is not a qualitative science. We may prefer one solution over another, but it doesn't mean that it's the only solution that will work.

And often times, a client's requirements can contradict one another. Case in point, suppose a client wants a redesign of a package that breaks new ground — something that's totally differentiated from everything else on the market. But they also want to fortify their existing brand, keep the cost of goods the same, not alienate loyal customers, and increase sales in a conservative market. Now, is it possible to create a single solution that's both innovative, yet conservative at the same time? Which is the more correct direction? And who's call is that decision — yours or the client's?

Like I said, you have to look at design problem-solving as a fluid process. For some projects, one solution is most prudent. For other projects, developing multiple options is essential in determining the best course of action. Less is not always better.

On Sep.23.2004 at 11:56 AM
david e.’s comment is:

When working with a team of designers on a logo project, its amazing how differently everyone interprets the brief, no matter how detailed. That alone shows me that it's impossible to come up with one definitive solution for a logo. You're creating something very small, that must reflect the objectives and personality of the company or brand — that's a very difficult thing to accomplish. On top of that, it has to please the client on a purely subjective level.

I, and everyone I've worked for have always shown multiple logo concepts. There's never a set number, but its rarely been more than 6 or 7 — usually in black and white.

With packaging, it varies. When creating the initial branding for a family of products, naturally we'd show multiple options. For a smaller, simpler package, or part of an existing family, usually only one concept is presented.

The same goes for brochures and print collateral. A piece deemed big and important by the client usually calls for multiple options. Usually just the cover, plus maybe a sample spread.

On Sep.23.2004 at 12:19 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Yes. Of course the real number is... 'it all depends.'

But in the end—after all the cryin' and yankin' and hollerin'—there is... one.

Maybe it's a Zen thing: see the arrow already in the target.

It's possible.

On Sep.23.2004 at 01:28 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Maybe there is more than one target.

Maybe there's no target at all, and it's only in your mind.

Be the spoon.

On Sep.23.2004 at 01:38 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Wow. Nice.

Missed ya', Tan. Where you been?

On Sep.23.2004 at 01:40 PM
Hex’s comment is:

Really? How about secure and confident that you totally understand what will work best for the client.

What, you can't be secure and confident about 3 directions?

Obviously there are some dangers involved in presenting more then one direction, — MisterKen's Chinese Menu, for example (which we refer to as the Shotgun Wedding). But if you have an open and honest dialog with your clients, those situations can often be avoided. That is why our client's hire us... to be a Guide, not a Dictator.

I'm not saying that the ONLY ONE option doesn't work. I just don't think that it is fair to your client to close the door on the discussion that other directions (of equal calibre) usually initiate. Show your client that you really understand the project, and how it can be approached from different avenues.

Not that anyone here would let this happen, but I have often seen studios present the "obvious" solution, or the "first" idea, just because only one direction was required. ONLY ONE could lead to laziness.

On Sep.23.2004 at 01:41 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Missed ya', Tan. Where you been?

Yea, missed you guys too. I've been in my work cave, generating those countless design options to present. Been traveling on business too. Nowhere fun though.

On Sep.23.2004 at 02:52 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

I have to agree with Tan on this.

Especially when considering that most clients want to communicate multiple and often contradictory messages within a single identity or brochure. By presenting the client with options, it does force them too SEE the visual manifestations of what they have asked for and then it forces them to make a choice on which is most important to their company.

I feel that this applies more to identity work because the idea that the highly abstract and varied agendas of the modern super corporation can be communicated ONLY ONE WAY is a theory long passed its expiration. While I admire modernism and all its beautiful simplicity, I also have to face the fact that its emphasis on universal communication is extremely outdated.

With multi page printed pieces, comprehensive research can often lead to only one design being necessary to show to the client. I still don't believe thats because it was the ONLY solution but because any reasonable budget in which a significant amount of time was spent on research would only really allow or even need one solution to acheive the companies goals.

But another talented designer could still do the exact same project, meet all of the projected goals and produce a completely different look visually.

On Sep.23.2004 at 02:54 PM
Patrick’s comment is:

I agree with much that has been said, mainly that it depends on the project. I go with two options for most everything. Except logos, which usually get 3-4. To me, there are usually too many conflicting parameters/messages/needs to say that one design is the only design. And as Armin pointed out, design and communication is subjective. There is always more than one option that will accomplish all the needs of the client.

For those of you that do show multiple options, how do you order the presentation? I tend to do the safer, I-know-this-covers-what-you-want one first. Then transition to the second more-out-there one with a "This second one communicates many of those same messages, but goes a step further..." kind of segue. Anyone else?

On Sep.23.2004 at 03:42 PM
Patrick’s comment is:

We explored and developed other concepts, but our team always chose one best solution to design and flush out completely from front to back, before presenting to the client.

Not to be bitchy, Tan, or make this a grammar discussion, but this is a pet peeve of mine I hear ALL the time.

It should be "flesh" out (as in let's put some meat on the bare bones of a concept) not "flush" (as in let's send this concept down the toilet).

Unless you mean you always trashed your best solutions before a client presentation....

On Sep.23.2004 at 03:53 PM
Tan’s comment is:

thanks for the correction Patrick...but that was a bit bitchy of you :)

regardless, it's a moo point.

On Sep.23.2004 at 03:59 PM
Patrick’s comment is:

I thought it was a mute point.

On Sep.23.2004 at 04:18 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I think it's foolish to try to treat all client presentations as the same. Sometimes all we want is for the client to say 'yes' or 'no'; other times we want a much more thorough disscussion to try to understand what they really want.

Presentations where multiple ideas are useful occur very early on in a project, before either party knows what the other is thinking. In these cases, the designer is, in effect, sketching for the client (who doesn't have the skill-set to do this). It's important, then, for these ideas to be closely tailored to what the client has said - so that a helpful discussion can emerge. It's also important that these ideas aren't too finished - the client should realise that these are only conceptual sketches.

Later down the line, once everything has been worked out and agreed, only one solution (the 'best' solution) is required. To present too many at this stage would make the designer look fickle and lacking in confidence - and would also be confusing for the client: "We've already discussed this. Why haven't you made a decision?"

These are two distinct stages in the design process, and they ought to be treated differently. To try to jump straight to the finalising stage, and then to present alternative finished designs, is a very risky strategy. You might get lucky, and the client may like one of your solutions; but you might not be so lucky, and none of your solutions will be liked.

Then, of course, the client will try to explain what they think should change, and they don't have the skill-set to do this!

If we're truly concerned about finding the 'best' solution for the client, we must involve them from the start.

On Sep.23.2004 at 07:00 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

The ability to sell Design and what a Designer

is able to get away with is based on the reputation of the Designer and/or Consultancy.

Rule of Thumb, Large Consultancies and/or Firms generally show more

concepts based on criteria. And the amount of money spent by the client. e.g. Landor, Pentagram, FutureBrand, Lippincott & Margulies,


If a client is paying 7,000,000.00 dollars for an Identity Solution. You should be shot in the head tarred and feathered for showing one or three solutions. Generally, as MisterKen stated the client is usually taken into a room and presented many possible solutions.

Generally, there are one or two solutions pushed by the Consultancy. Several solutions the client may be interested.

Often times, if the project is large enough. Certain elements of solutions are combined to create a totally different Identity. A practiced Landor Pioneered.

Individual Designer(s) and Smaller Design Firms don't have to commit themselves to the practice of First Tier Consultancies.

Visual Communication is totally a subjective practice. Now-a-days clients are more educated

and demand more.

The one Identity Solution is a Good Gestalt. You better know your SHIT have the BALLS to be able to pull it off.

Even PAUL RAND had major, major problems presenting his first one Identity Solution. Which was for Westinghouse.

It would've not be accepted; if Elliot Noyes hadn't stepped in and informed the POWERS THAT BE AT WESTINGHOUSE. RAND, was one of the most respected Designer(s) in the World.

My point, Westinghouse looked at the one solution through Jaundiced Eyes. Certainly unheard of at that level of business.

The Powers That Be at Westinghouse raised more than a Brow.

BTW, what worked for PAUL RAND at that time. Will definitely not work for another Designer in this day and time. At the level PAUL RAND worked. Referencing, Fortune 500 Clients.

Only PAUL RAND could've pulled that off. At that level.

Having said that, Individual Designers or Smalls

Firms operate within the Formalist Principle. In short, without Market Research. Specifically concerned with Design Driven Solution. Less emphasis on Marketing and Communication.

First Tier Identity and Design Consultancies operate with the Functionalist Principle. Which means the work is backed by Market Research, Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis and Focus Group Research Testing. Emphasis is placed on Market Research and Communication Driven Solutions. Design often share prominence with marketing and communication.

I'm often commissioned to execute Identity Exploration. Which I conceive and execute anywhere from 20 to 75 possible concepts for a Consultancy.

I'm sure my compadre's Felix and JonSel have done the same.

As an Individual Identity Designer. Three maybe my Rule. Most important, not the exception.

As TAN implied. Clients have the last word.

I always try to make my clients think. I giving them more than I actually am.

Ultimately, I can choose the clients I work with. Therefore, I'm generally given a certain amount of creative flexibility.

If not, sometimes you have to remind clients why the came to you in the first place.

Scenerio, If a Fortune 500 client called DesignMaven, Felix Sockwell, Michael Surtees, Gunnar Swanson, Rick Tharp, and Michael Bierut to give a presentation based on work and reputation.

Generally, Felix, Surtees and myself will have to show more work. Our reputations are not a renowned as the other Luminares.

Bierut, reputation preceedes him and is World Renowned.

Gunner, Luminare, already thinks he's on MT. Olympus.

Felix, his claim to Fame. Showcased in Logolounge Book One. Currently wearing a 100 Gallon Hat.

You get my Picture. Depending on the client requirement, fiscal budget and reputation of Designer. Depending on the amount of work you're required to show. On an Individual level.

On Sep.23.2004 at 07:32 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Our contracts are flexible, often state "up to three" options will be presented. If we only have one or two that we feel we can live with for the duration of the account, then that is what they get. Only our best and preferred work is presented with a written rationale that shows how it solves the problem. 100 designers will present 100 different solutions, with many potential working answers.

We direct focus (ours AND the client's) to the company's issues ie., market positioning, growth strategies, competitive field, audience preferences, etc., etc. and only show "answers" that really speak to the problem. No unsubstantiated bullshit about serifs are homey, or blue means success. We do show variations in execution, but the concept is what we get them to buy into. (what a concept)

The number thing can be a real hang up and force you to show a solution that is unworthy. As shared already - the client often has an off target Spidey-sense, percieves your avoidance to the one you aren't selling hard - and zeros in on it as "The Choice". I have to borrow the Chinese Menu line for future clients - but we redirect this remark to say an alternate design solution will be required (as opposed to giving birth to the mutant bastard child of logo A meets logo B).

On Sep.23.2004 at 08:23 PM
Hector Mu�oz’s comment is:

Isn't presenting the client with many options passing to him a decission we had to make?

Clients want to be involved in the work, and the easiest way for doing this is leting them choose the final option, but are they prepared to do such a decition?

In my last two works I implemented a pre sketching concept approval in which I described the design approach, for example if I would use a wordmark or a symbol, if I would stick to the industry colors or not, which referents would be avoided, etc... and presented them a single option in the end. It was no exciting but I got an easy approval.

On Sep.23.2004 at 09:09 PM
ben’s comment is:

you show them what they want

you show them what you want

and they always pick one that is a mix of the two but leans more toward what they want....

so 2.5

On Sep.23.2004 at 09:27 PM
marian’s comment is:

I'm late to the discussion, and it's all been said, but I'll weigh in.

At my former company, we always showed three options. We also often used it as an opportunity to push it in the third option, like "if they had a bigger budget / if they *really* meant 'zany' / if they didn't have to have x-restriction." In that 3rd concept we'd go against the guidelines a bit, give them what it would be nice to have in an ideal world (esp. working with clients with tight budgets, its surprising how often once they see something they really like, they manage to dig up some extra $$ to make it happen).

I do think that when you have the rep, and are earning the really big bucks you can get away with going in with one option, esp. for something like an annual report. I understand this is what Dave Mason (Samata Mason) does.

I also agree that identities are different, but I'm surprised and a little horrified that clients would be presented with many options (more than 5 seems bizarre). I still stick with 3 and revise from there. Maybe this is why so many large corporate identities get so fucked up? The client is making too many decisions? I dunno.

I know some of the bigger firms in town show many many identity options to clients, and I've seen some of them: they usually look like student work with iteration after iteration, trying on typefaces and colours for wear. It looks like a changing room after a teenager's been in it. I can't imagine that a client would ever want to see that shit.

And as others have mentioned, most important is never show something you're not happy with, because chances are the client will pick it and then you're screwed.

On Sep.24.2004 at 12:46 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

slightly off topic, so I will be brief...

100 designers will present 100 different solutions

This gets thrown around like an aphorism all the time. But if it was true we wouldn't be subjected to endless, mind-numbing, glossy (or dull) designer sameness. I bet that 100 randomly chosen designers would present 25 different solutions and only about three would really "sparkle."

Any researchers out there want to do the study?

On Sep.24.2004 at 03:50 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

Oh man, so much great stuff to discuss. For those who just want the main gist, read the bold parts.

For me, setting a rule like this usually means I'm eschewing my own judgement, which is based on the specifics of the situation and my own observations. So, I usually avoid rules like this. Some clients get 3, some get 1, some get 2 (I'm talking first-round proofs), unless they specifically request a certain number. I won't exceed 3 unless told to (too many choices).

Typically, once I get them to make a general direction choice or a specific one, I refine that one idea. Any variations after that are minor adjustments to one logo concept. Occasionally, I will run into a visual choice that is so neutral, I defer to the client because it allows them to get involved and invested in the idea but not take over.

However, I've had a few logos that I was so certain of, I only showed one and it went really well. I don't like setting up arbitrary rules based on generalities. I work with each client and project as I believe works best.

Although, I will occasionally take out my 1 or 2 or 3 options and 'accidentally' display my myriad of hand sketches and pages of color swatches and tests in the process, or I'll tack the variations up in a secondary way or flip by them during my opening intro/ description. This way I let them know about the design process and that I've been through a million choices (because I have) but that I am confident enough to choose from that field of options.

However, I, unlike some designers I've encountered, view designing as working with the client, not for them (design as us serving the clients' whims and desires, or design as keeping the decisions out of the uncouth clients' hands). So that influences my behavior quite a bit.

I recognize the importance of protecting good ideas from certain clients whose judgement isn't always properly focused, so I do 'handle' them a bit. I'm not completely na�ve. However, I'm not going to lie to them and say: "There is only one solution to your problem." Because there isn't. Some approaches and solutions are much more appropriate or whatever, but you can't nail one solution down as The Best.

I also agree with Jeff. 100 designers will come up with groups of similar ideas with a few that come in from very singular directions. I've been in situations where 2 designers have arrived at near-identical solutions without ever communicating with each other.

On Sep.24.2004 at 03:56 PM
David V.’s comment is:

Part of what impels us to show more than one solution is that most times, the client doesnt know what they want nearly as clearly as they think they do. So when a financial services company tells you they want their site to be "funky and fun...but professional and solid...oh and we love Flash...but it cant be too flashy...I love the Diesel site, oh and Morgan Stanleys site is nice too..." You need to respond to all desires while simultaneously looking for the best solution, and that may require presenting more than one solution. Often-times for clients like the above (and yes that was based more or less on a real experience) we'll present a "funky" solution just to get it out of the way, because once they actually see it they realize there's *no way in hell* a company like their's could have such a site, and then we can move on to the serious options.

On Sep.27.2004 at 02:55 PM
Kevin S’s comment is:

Design is a collaboration with a client, a conversation. We don't design FOR clients, we design WITH clients. I learn way more from a client by sharing different ideas than by sharing one. The idea that we are experts hired to make a decision FOR someone is bogus. Whatever process we use, however much we share, it must be to include the client in the process, not to inform them of the result.

On Sep.28.2004 at 07:31 AM