How many options do you give your clients?

2, 3, 4

“I’m at a point in my design practice where I don’t want to waste time presenting more than one logo proposal. I feel confident enough to say that after weeks of working on a logo and applying a carefully tested method I don’t need to present two or three proposals. Instead I can fine tune the one I’m working on. Do you present your clients with more than one option?”

A good question sent in by Rome-based designer Sonia Gazzelloni.

I give a client three or four very different ideas, but I’ll explain the ideas in words rather than images. The client can then visualise each direction without getting distracted by details I select at a later stage, such as colour and typography. Once the client agrees on the most appropriate direction, I’ll create mockups and prepare a presentation.

Explaining ideas in words (and sometimes rough sketches) is much faster than using Photoshop and Illustrator, so the strongest idea gets developed sooner, without wasting time elsewhere.

How many options do you give your clients?

I asked the same question a couple of years ago for a giveaway of Eric Karjaluoto’s book The Design Method. You can read quite a few replies in the comment thread here.

Also relevant is another on davidairey.com: The ideal design process? Where I quoted Michael Johnson of johnson banks: “The best three options are presented (one safe, one adventurous, one scary — from a client perspective), a direction is chosen, developed, then signed off.”

Top image by Giuseppe Salerno

32 responses

  1. Lately I give just one option, shown in mockups. It gives the client the feel that we wanted to achieve as written in the brief. The key is to understand the client’s business and what he or she wants to achieve with the design.

  2. Talking about logos (this does not necessarily happen with other design work), usually I present two or three concepts, with some drafts to better explain the ideas (most clients have some difficulty in visualising based only on text).

    From the one that best suits the client, I start further work on it.

    Then, without presenting too many options that can lead to confusion, I usually show some stages of the process and involve the client (typography and color are some of the things I sometimes ask the client to choose from 1 or 2 options). I found that this way, by the time the work is finished, the client identifies much more with the result, as he feels part of the process. And this is a great way to make the client connect and identify himself with the brand.

  3. I used to give a bunch of options, 3 or 4 different variations.

    Now I try to give less. And I try to only give mark variations that are based off the same direction and strategy, which I firm up in the creative brief.

  4. For logos/identity, I still like to give 2-4 concepts — if that many ideas emerge — but lately I’m keeping them all within an earlier established visual style. Before I start with logos proper, I work with the client to decide on type and color that best matches the brand. It gives me a much smaller, more focused sandbox in which to play. Those parameters actually help since trying to create “a cool logo” is supremely vague and can have so much variation within the language of the brief.

    Usually within those options I go with an approach that represents classicism — the “expected” solution, evolution — taking the expected into something more modern, and revolution — something abstract that’s really a curveball compared to what everyone else is doing. The client will usually gravitate to one mindset, which is more important that a specific font or arrangement. Work that out in time.

  5. One and one only. If there is a disagreement, at that point I can do something else, or they can hire someone else. As Lukee says, showing an idea in context is key, as is setting the expectation that we aren’t at a Subway, chucking elements into a logo sandwich. This applies to almost any design work.

  6. One.

    I elaborate on options as the project is growing, but I only show one result to the client.

    Why? Well, because showing him a lot of options could mean he feels he can ask me to deliver even more options, and such diversity of visual options could confuse him into choosing different features from each option, driving the design more by taste than by strategy.

    Unless I know I’m dealing with an experienced client, I’m just doing one, and as someone already said, it gives the idea that you know what are you doing and you are doing it right.

    You don’t get four kinds of the same food in a restaurant, right?

  7. I usually give x2 or x3 rough options in black and white not colour. I then talk cleints through each idea and ask them to print them out and stick them on a wall so they can live with them for a few days…

  8. I have been doing three logo’s but from my experience this only confuses the client and makes the selection/finalizing of the logo much complicated and delays finalization.

  9. Wow. One. I can’t imagine doing that. I am in a completely different camp. I create custom calligraphic or hand lettered logos. My process is a hybrid of thinking with ink and designing with my eyes. I call it design through gesture. My experience is that a volume of work usually done very quickly arrives at surprises and wonderful solutions that could never come through a slow or measured process. I show a minimum of three and usually around six in the first stage, and include two rounds of changes in the final logo. I don’t discount taste over strategy, although that sounds convincing as a phrase. I am a consumer of design in various forms myself, and I want to work with people who respect and work with my taste, whether in landscape, architecture or web design. I try to offer the same to my clients.

  10. As Sean says, the problem with seeking too much client input, can be that the client assumes the position of design director. I generally agree that partnership is the best way forward for a design project, but that has to be under certain parameters. If we want our industry to be one of respected expertise, the designer needs to be able to make their mark at the right times.

    I suppose it also depends on your founding principles. If you believe design is a service industry where “the customer is always right,” then options might be more common. Or your approach may be more like that of a medical expert or similar. You see this at a lot of top agencies where the designer provides one definitive option, and that is pretty much that.

    A lot of what I wrote about the problems designers face is applicable when we are talking about fine details. Layout A vs layout B, or typeface A vs typeface B. In my experience this is where most micro management happens. The agency/designer is then asking not just for design feedback, but design direction.

    There is one genuine case for “options” though it is quite rare. A logo design is often done for a company who want a better quality of design, or perhaps a different direction. The rationale for changing an existing logo should present a clear path to improvement in a single design. But when starting a new business, there could be 2 possible option. I’d add that as long as they are completely separate directions, not variations on the same theme, there is nothing wrong here. As long as the designer gets compensated for their time of course!

  11. This is really interesting because I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

    I used to give 2-3 designs for logos and websites but I find that giving clients (people in generally) too many options just makes it difficult for them. They end up feeling the need to mix all the options because they like bits of them all. I do however think it’s important to work through different options as part of the design process. I always find that when I’m designing I like to have a few options to play with before I narrow down the best results. I think you as the designer should do this selection and not the client.

    So I would still do 2-3 options as part of my design process but ultimately only show one to the client, leaving the selection and mixing of elements of each design to me and not the client.

  12. Just one for me.

    My partner and I tend to ask many, many questions so we’ve found that creating a design that fits the client (and is liked by the client) is much easier to arrive at.

    I used to offer at least three options when working alone because I thought I should. I always felt that one was the obvious choice and the other two were weaker, and that led to problems when clients wanted to take elements of two or more designs and blend them.

    Having said all that, we now make it clear from the outset that we will present one concept after exhaustive research which we can then work with if changes need to be made or if it’s not acceptable.

  13. It depends. Normally 3-4 concepts are quite enough. Sometimes creative juice just keeps bursting out – so there may be even more options. I won’t try to forcefully limit myself. As always, the more, the merrier.

  14. Really thought provoking post here. I actually think it’s important to give your client some options – though I like your time saving idea of just describing them rather than making them. Maybe showing some thumbnails so they have something to look at while describing the full idea?

  15. I agree with Jordan above. I’ve been collaborating with clients for the past 15 years or so, and I really do value the input I receive when I give 3 options. It involves and activates the client, and really gives me an idea of what truly resonates with them. Yes, it’s more labor-intensive, but I really and truly value the conversation between client and designer. In my experience, only about 5% of clients have been overwhelmed, confused, or make unnecessary demands when given choices.

  16. @ Ognjen

    Those are the sad moments, when you hear NO after hard work. But it is also a part of our job.

    Sometimes the client agrees that his approved concept did not impress him in the end, that is not the designer’s mistake. So when I get a denial of a design in such conditions I discuss again with client for an addition to the invoice. :)

    But if the client did not like it because of the quality of design, the only way left is to re-work.

  17. Wow I’m really fascinated by the fact that most experienced professionals only present one option! I wish I asked this question sooner!

    Reading all the comments I think I agree with Josephine when she says that designing many options and then narrowing down is part of the design process, but I don’t think the client should be involved. It’s absolutely true that they tend to want to blend all of the options together, and then they even come up with their own clever ideas!

    No, from this post on, I am going to give my clients just ONE option, making it clear at the beginning of course, and then we can work together on that one proposal and make it just perfect for them if they are not satisfied.

    But like @Richard, I too ask a great deal of questions and I really get into my client’s business trying to understand as much of the business as I can, even when it sounds like I drift off topic, I don’t care, I want to know everything, and then there is the research part, the conceptual map part, the sketches part that brings between 20-50 sketches per logo to be narrowed down to just one, the different options for that one that keeps improving over time…

    Even the font, when I get asked to ‘try with different fonts’ I feel that they don’t realize that the font is not just ‘added later’, it’s part of the design process, and it’s part of the logo, IT IS THE LOGO. The shapes of mark and logotype blended together… you can’t just ‘try’ a different font… it’s not a Subway sandwich… after all this work why on earth should I give two or more options? MY 3 OPTIONS DAYS ARE OFFICIALLY OVER!! Thank you all!! :-)

  18. I work for a boss that has a hard time visualizing a concept. She needs to see it to know what she doesn’t like which leads to a ton of back and forth revisions before the concept is concrete. Learning from that, while freelancing, I listen to their needs and describe the concept to them and put in the contract that I’ll present 2 options in the comp stages so that they can pick their favorite one and move from there. I’ve learned that clients like to have choices and presenting 2 options gives them a good idea of what they do/don’t like.

  19. One. Always.

    This isn’t my client’s job to make design decisions. If I get to three possible concepts and need his input, then I haven’t done my job properly beforehand, while discussing with him about his business and goals. The point is, I expect the professionals I hire to do their job the best way they know. I don’t tell my doctor what drug I prefer. I don’t tell my baker what flour tastes better. I don’t make a logo red because it’s my favourite color. My clients pays me to do my job, all of it, not half. If I include them in the creative process, I introduce subjectivity in the project. That’s not what I’m here for. Designing a logo is about appealing to my client’s customers, not my client’s subjective tastes.

    People want to please their clients so badly that they end up forgetting about the goals. Clients who are ready to pay substantial amounts of money for a great logo don’t want to be pleased. They want efficiency. They want not to have to worry about it because they know they hired the best person for the job. Real managers don’t spend their time scrutinizing the work of the people below them, or they’d hardly get anything done. I know this is a touchy subject but I strongly believe it’s been too long that designers have been providing multiple concepts instead of focusing on one and making it outstanding. In all of our concepts, we always have a favourite. There is a reason.

  20. I would first find out from clients whether they have any design preferences, before I even begin visualizing a concept for them. I’ll give them two options at most. They would then have to choose either one. If they choose neither and have a change of mind, I’ll proceed with a complete re-design and impose extra charges.

    Time is precious. I won’t allow clients to go back & forth with design changes. If they do that, it is evident that they do not know what works for them and their business. It’s our job to give clients design direction and get them to give us full co-operation and work towards a common goal.

  21. I think the key phrase in the article is “the client can then visualize each direction…”. In my experience, not so much. I usually do two very thought out directions with mock ups in various environments. It is more involved but seems to really cut down on the revision process after initial presentation. It is more fine tuning of one of the directions.

  22. Funny, all you high end designers presenting one logo, what if the client doesn’t like your logo, seems like a big waste of money for them to not be able to see any different options.

  23. Thomas, I think this is because many designers feel that showing options is not right, or perhaps underselling themselves. If you look at most other “bespoke” service industries, they work in a similar way to one option designers. Sarah pointed out some great examples a few posts back. Another (often used) example is going to a tailor. If I ask the tailor to make a suit he will give me some prices, and he will fit the suit to my frame. If it turns out that I “don’t like” the suit at final fitting, that is irrelevant. If I put on 100 lbs, that is also irrelevant. The tailor has gone through their process to make a suit for me, so I still have to pay. As the old saying goes, “time is money” and if you work on something, you should get paid for it.

    A tailor is different to design of course. But there are services that are closer. Say I hired a copywriter to write a billboard poster for me….. The copywriter will use their time and skill to craft words for that billboard. It might take them a lot of time. If I decide I don’t want or like the copy, that is none of the concern of the writer. They will have sunk time into a specific project that cannot be re-used. We only get one shot to get paid each day.

    Really, it all comes down to setting up and working in a way you think works best for you and your clients. This is all part of deciding what work you want to do, and who you’d like as clients. When you sign up a client, they are signing up to the way you work as much as you are to the actual design itself. Some will prefer options, and that’s cool. Others will prefer to be “led” to a solution and that’s also cool. In the marketplace there is probably room for both.

  24. A design company designed a new logo for our shop. They first gave us 5 concepts and we chose the one we liked the most. After that they made some small changes. We are now very happy with it.

  25. I would present at least 2/3 concepts based on the brief provided by the client. I think it all depends on the client’s budget and time for initial ideas and further developments.

    I believe it’s good to provide more than one idea so they can see the different concepts and thoughts.

  26. I actually like the idea of using sketches to present to clients before further developing any logo. However, some of the clients that I dealt with often can’t visualize or “imagine” the end result. As a result, I often have to give a few options which are fine tuned to almost 80%.

  27. Sometimes it’s so difficult to explain your ideas by the words. I usually draw a sketch if the client doesn’t understand me, that’s why I always have a note and pen in my bag.

  28. I tend to start the process with sketches of logo ideas, Max 4 (depending on how unique the brief is) once the client chooses one they want me to develop further, I vectorise it and design creating a presentation of it in mockups and colour alternatives.

    You must never show too much and be confident in the logo you choose as the best, if you want to show more than 1 always lead the best first and worse last! A client can get confused and find it harder to choose if they are surrounded with many options.

    They have confidence in you to choose what you think best suits their business.

  29. I will do loads of options and exhaust every idea, then present as few as possible, ideally one, sometimes if there are a few I think work, I will present more, but will only mock one up into stationery, signage, livery, etc.

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