Garrett Dimon shares his view of a design firm’s responsibility in “One Idea is Better than Three“. His premise is that presenting three directions to a client, then leaving it up to them to choose between the three falls short of our duty to create — and guide them to — the best design.
“If you present clients with multiple ideas and expect them to choose one, invariably, the end result is muted and diluted as the message of the different ideas gets blended together.”
I pretty much agree with Garrett. At another design firm early on in my career, we always presented two or three directions. However, we always had a favored direction, and it showed. Because we biased it. The favored direction was more polished, the details worked out, and it was generally more cleaned up than the others, because we spent so much more time on it. This wasn’t so much a spoken rule, just my observation of how we worked and presented design to clients.
I never liked that approach, because we spent so much time on one direction. Other directions felt like a waste of time. They were thrown together at the last minute just to meet the multiple direction requirement of the RFP.
Fast-forward to today. Sometimes Stopdesign presents only one design. Sometimes 2-3 designs. But my philosophy and intent is that all directions and explorations help push toward the best and most appropriate final design. Multiple designs aren’t usually presented to the client as options from which they much choose. Rather, they reveal different phases of thinking and problem solving during the design process. And they’re not all saved for one final design presentation. I like to pull clients in at key points in the design process, expose current thinking, involve them in key decisions, which then better informs and shapes my work moving forward.
While I believe its my responsibility to lead the client toward the most optimal solution, I don’t like spending too much time on just one direction. Especially early in the design process. I like to work out and present other directions that explore the client’s boundaries. Alternate versions that use entirely different concepts or themes as a base. Exploration of alternate designs are critical in ensuring I don’t fall too far down the wrong rabbit hole. As the client is shown each direction, we discuss the benefits and tradeoffs. “Is this too much of X or Y?” “Have you ever thought of doing Z?” “Is it feasible to expect this type of content?” The resulting discussion feeds back into the creation and/or refinement of the final design.
The design process should always include an active dialogue back and forth with the client. When I don’t get enough interaction with the client, I get a little nervous, and wonder about the end result. Even though I’m confident I can create goodness for them without much help, will my work still meet their needs and goals as well as if they were more involved? I want the client to understand how we (client and designer) arrived at the final design. If they contribute to the final direction, they feel just as invested and confident in the final result, and will best understand how to take advantage of the new design once it’s in their hands.
Instead of a surprise ending of look-what-I-created-for-you, this makes the final design presentation much more a confirmation of all the decisions we made together. “Remember when we talked about Q on direction #2? Here’s how that plays out in our new design…”