Back when I started my design career (i.e., actually getting paid for my work), I would almost always present a client with three design concepts – be it for the web or print. I honestly can’t remember where I learned that, but it was industry standard. Every designer I knew did that. I’m pretty sure many still do. But it’s not something my team and I do any longer. In fact I haven’t taken that approach in at least five years.

The idea of presenting more than one design concept to a client is great, in theory. It gives options – different well-thought-out solutions to the same problem(s). And despite the designer knowing in their gut which one is best, all three are presented anyway, only to have the client choose the weakest one (which is usually the one the designer put together at the last minute to meet the design presentation milestone). Or worse, the client picks one and asks the designer to combine elements from the other two into the one they picked, ignoring the fact that each one is a different solution (i.e., “frankensteining”).

It can get ugly pretty quickly. I mean, who ever said Frankenstein was attractive, except maybe his bride? Joking and aesthetics aside, presenting multiple concepts is a practice that has worked for many designers and agencies. That doesn’t make it the best process though, nor the most efficient time or money-wise.


"...so much energy has been put into the first concept, there’s little to none left for the other two concepts, which, by the way, are due in two days"

Let me be clear: part of the design process is exploring multiple ideas, concepts, and potential solutions. That’s not only expected, it’s required of any designer or design team worth their salt. But those multiple solutions need to stay internal and be whittled down. Iterate, iterate, iterate! To that end, the amount of time and energy it takes for a designer to create just one great design is underestimated and often undervalued. From idea generation to sketching to polishing, it’s not an easy feat. So from a design process perspective, having to do that three times can be exhausting. Exhausting in the sense that so much energy has been put into the first concept, there’s little to none left for the other two concepts, which, by the way, are due in two days.

That exhaustion of energy and creativity translates directly into effort, or lack thereof, particularly when there’s a deadline looming. And here’s a reality check: it also impacts budget.

Presenting more than one design option means that, by default, a good chunk of the project budget is being tossed. In this model, clients pay for their design team to work on at least one or two other relatively polished concepts that will never see the light of day. It’s a flat out waste of money. But it doesn’t have to be.

The same amount of money for the design phase can be used to really knock a single concept out of the ballpark. It comes in the form of more in-depth internal activities and better client meetings. More research, more questions and answers, more brainstorming, more sketching, and more iterations. All for a single concept that hits every checkbox in the creative brief. That’s a much better investment. And to top it off, the designer(s) will stay more excited and focused throughout the project.


Published on October 10, 2014