Five on Design  |  Episode 53  |  July 6, 2018

How many design concepts do you present to your clients?

I remember the first job at the first agency that I had ever worked for. After I graduated, we were working for a local restaurant. They were going through a branding phase as they were building their business up.

My boss had asked me to come up with three potential concepts for a logo. At the time, I didn’t have a whole lot of experience working with clients. What I ended up doing, was creating one really awesome concept and then mailing it in on to other concepts. I didn’t have the foresight to know how the entire process was going to go with the client.

As you might expect, they ended up loving the two concepts that I did not put any time into. And ultimately, we ended up merging those two concepts together into something that as I look back on now looked pretty terrible.

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the signage is still there in my hometown today. And every now and then I have the privilege of driving by and reminding myself about what I had learned when it came to presenting concepts to clients.

What’s interesting is a lot of clients tend to expect an arbitrary number of concepts when they hire a graphic designer. Three to five seems to be a common range. I don’t know where this came from, or why it came to be. I assume a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re spending a decent amount of money on a logo. They’re not thinking beyond what it means to brand business.

As designers, we get caught up in this and go with the flow. Maybe we don’t know any better? Anyway, we’ll end up trying to design three to five concepts and turning a whole thing into a mess.

So, I’ll say it: it’s not always a good idea to present an arbitrary minimum number of concepts to a client.

The way I like to approach my logo designs these days is going off of what I feel is appropriate for the job. If it’s a smaller job, I’m probably presenting fewer concepts. If it’s a larger job, I might present more concepts. All that matters is that I’m presenting the work that makes my cut. The terrible ideas stay in the draft folder.

If I come up with eight great ideas, I may present all eight. If I come up with one good idea, then I may sell it really hard. There’s a case for both situations. No matter what, I always reassure my clients that I’m doing what’s best for their business. It’s the best solution for their problem. It’s the best solution for getting their likeness out there.

You might find it crazy that I only present a single concept sometimes. It’s more successful than you think though. Doing some work ahead of time, I typically have a good idea of what the expectations are. I’m able to use the clients words back to them as I present the work. I’d go as far as saying it’s easier than presenting multiple concepts.

In multiple-concept-land, there’s always the issue of merging ideas together. This is what sunk the restaurant logo.

They chose to use a combination of fonts (I think it was around three to five.) It ended up looking like a mess to a moderately trained eye. It’s difficult to manage what should be merged together and what shouldn’t. There’s an art form to it, and it’s easy for a client to get carried away with it, because they start to feel too creative.

While we’re at it, make sure you’re presenting your concepts in a clear manner that your client can understand. It’s easy to spit something out on a plain white background and hope that they get it.”

For most clients, they may not be able to imagine how a logo will live in its environment. Help them out and create some mockups. If it’s a restaurant, put together a sign. Design a cheesy menu in Photoshop. Whatever you do, give them an idea of how it’s fitting into the environment.

This can be a great way to help the project move forward, as it gets them thinking about implementation instead of what shade of blue you’re using. That’s music to all of our ears, especially when the deadline is looming in the background.