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This chapter is from the book

Only One Concept (or Design Direction)

The most visible aspect of the funnel, in practice, is in providing one—not three—concepts for your clients. This is a central principle of The Design Method. You complete Discovery, develop a sensible plan, and then present a single design direction. This path will then be either vetoed or refined, but you will not force your clients to evaluate multiple approaches while hoping for the best. Such requests are not fair to your clients—in spite of how desperately they may beg for more options. Working in such an inefficient manner is outright unethical.

It’s important that you strengthen your understanding of—and belief in—this singular approach to creative concepts and design direction. Most clients worry that without alternatives they’ll miss out on opportunities. They think that having three different flavors of a design will help them pinpoint the one that’s right for them. Although the desire for many options is completely understandable, this perceived need results in a flawed means of producing workable design. You need to prepare them to understand the pitfalls of this outdated and costly practice.

The challenge of showing more than one concept or design direction at a time is that the multitude of options makes it difficult to weigh the merits of each solution. Viewers tend to confuse each option as part of a whole and lump their observations together. Compromising objectivity in this way makes the collection, and parsing, of feedback on individual directions difficult because all opinions become combined. This often leads clients to think they can have the best of all options by just picking aspects of each direction and merging them into one “super-design.” (We call this Frankensteining, and I’ve never seen it work out favorably.)

Additionally, it’s your job as a designer to edit options to those most viable for your clients and their audiences. Designers shirk their duties when they make clients answer questions about design direction—particularly given that most clients aren’t equipped to anticipate the potential limitations of certain approaches. Will they know that the laser-cut card option comes with a prohibitively high print cost? Do they appreciate that the complex logo won’t reproduce at small sizes? Are they supposed to implicitly know that using many custom fonts in a website will affect the load time? You are the one who needs to identify issues and help your clients avoid such pitfalls.

Another problem involves the necessary requirements to present three viable options for more complex design projects. Consider websites: They are layered, dimensional settings that take time to produce. Creating three variations for a website compels you to either split a limited number of hours three ways, diluting each option, or create one viable option and then apply some peripheral changes to create two more—often trivial—variations. Neither is a workable option, so you’re forced to either triple the design budget or work at one-third of your billable rate (which aren’t great options either).

Of course, providing only one option becomes more or less relevant depending on the effort required to produce a prototype fit for your client’s consideration. For example, showing a few logo variations at one time isn’t difficult—even though doing so might bewilder your client. On the other hand, presenting a few website or identity options at one sitting is less practical, simply given the onerous amount of time required to properly consider and develop such items.

More on how to present your work is discussed in Chapter 9, “Presenting Work to Clients.” For now, just know that The Design Method is built around supplying one concept or approach. For some, this viewpoint will prove a more substantial hurdle than for others. However, you can probably appreciate how much more sensible it is to create and refine one option than it is to create three options and make your client determine which functions best. Clearly, this part of the process will make some uncomfortable; don’t let how unfamiliar it is stop you from experiencing its benefits.

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How many targets can you hit at one time? Precisely. So, I stop aiming for three and instead concentrate on just one. Believe me—that’s hard enough.

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