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Why I present only one design concept to clients

Cup of coffee and some stationery on a desk.

Presenting clients with several branding concepts seems to be a fairly common practice in the design industry. Most designers work in this way, and so that’s probably why clients have come to expect that they will be shown a number of concepts to choose from for their project. This is how I was taught to work with clients, and I guess I assumed this was “just how it was done”.

However over the last year or so, I started to realise that there are a few problems with this process. The same issues were coming up again and again for me, and subsequently for my clients too, and it started to become obvious that I needed to find a better way of doing things.

So after a lot of research, many discussions with other designers, and then refining of my processes, I started implementing a ‘one concept’ approach and it has revolutionised not only the way I work, but the outcomes for my clients too.

What is a one concept approach?

A one concept approach simply means that instead of presenting several different design options for my client to choose from, I find the best solution and that’s what I present. Of course, there is a lot of preliminary work that happens before arriving at that solution—I learn everything there is to know about my client’s business, their target market, their competitors, their mission, their values, their brand's personality etc. I then use this information to put together a moodboard to communicate to my client how I envisage the overall “feel” of the brand in visual terms. This will give an indication of colours, typography, style, and the emotions I’m wanting my client’s branding to elicit before any designing even takes place.

So the concept I present to my clients is never anything completely out of left field for them. Instead, it’s strategic, it’s tailored, every design decision is intentionally made, it answers the original problems laid out by the client at the beginning of the project, and it’s completely aligned with everything we have discussed and agreed on throughout the project.

So what were the problems with presenting several concepts for my clients to choose from?

1. One concept is always stronger than the others anyway.

Design is an iterative process. I usually start by sketching out a huge number of ideas—sometimes I will end up with ten or more pages of little sketches, notes, scribbles and drawings. Then I will leave it for a while, come back to it, leave it again, think about it more, work on some other ideas, come back to it again, etc etc. And then, at some point during this process, one concept just keeps jumping out at me. One concept is always stronger than the others.

However when I have promised several concepts to my client, instead of being able to spend all my time refining that perfect design, what happens is that I have to split my time working on a couple of the other, less solid concepts, purely just to "make up the quota" of designs. In the end I would always feel that I hadn’t given enough time or attention to any of the concepts.

2. Asking my clients to choose leaves them open to subjective opinions.

The best branding solution for your brand might not actually be what you "like best" but instead it should be what represents your brand the best and appeals to your clients and customers the best. Of course, I want you to be happy with the design outcome, but not because you “like” it, but because it successfully solves a problem, because it will make your brand recognisable and memorable, and because it will speak to your customers or clients.

Understandably, clients often have trouble removing themselves from the equation once they have been given a choice and asked to make a decision. Subjectivity inevitably creeps in.

Oh, and what if my client doesn’t choose the strongest concept?! I would then be finding myself either having to convince them to change their mind, or worse, having to go along with it, knowing that another design would actually benefit their business far more than the one they had chosen.

3. Asking my clients to choose feels a bit like I’m making them do the work they’re paying me to do!

The process of deciding which concepts are best isn’t just something that happens at the end of a project, it’s actually part of the design process itself, and so it just wasn’t sitting well with me to ask clients to do this. My clients are usually busy people with plenty of things to do. Surely they would rather be focusing on what they do best, as opposed to having to take time out to make the design decisions that really, they have hired me to make.

4. Frankenstein design

A Frankenstein design occurs when a client wants to take different elements from different designs and morph them into one single design. I can see the client’s point— they like the colour of this concept, but an icon from another, and the type from another, so surely if we just combine all these elements together we’ll have something amazing! In actual fact the opposite is usually what happens, and the result is a weaker, not stronger design outcome.

Of course this one concept approach doesn’t mean that I just give my clients my final design and that’s the end of it. There is definitely room for refinement if necessary. Although since I’ve started using this approach, every project has been accepted at the concept presentation stage, with only a couple of minor tweaks here and there.

Implementing this one concept approach has completely changed the way I work. My process is now smoother, I’m providing so much more value to my clients in terms of services and deliverables and my quality of work has increased exponentially.

Interested in finding out more about my process or collaborating on a project? Have some questions about my one concept approach? I would love to hear from you.


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