How many designs do you usually present to the client?

6 years ago from , Maker of Claritask.com

This story is quite old, though still relevant.

Steve Jobs describing Paul Rand while working on the NeXT logoI asked him if he would come up with a few options. And he said, “No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how. And you use it or not. That’s up to you. You’re the client. But you pay me.

I've sort of prepared clients that I would always present 1 solution, even though I may do 3-4 while getting to that one solution. I don't remember once being rejected completely. There were comments, Yes, though never — I want to see something completely different.


  • Wes OudshoornWes Oudshoorn, 6 years ago

    Screw that. I'm showing one. Imagine going to the doctor and getting three different diagnoses or treatment options. NO. Just tell me what's wrong and tell me how to fix it to the best of your ability.

    13 points
    • Chris CChris C, 6 years ago

      A raven is like a writing desk.

      0 points
    • Ix TechauIx Techau, 6 years ago

      Correct approach. If you're showing multiple solutions there will be at least one in there you think is inferior to the other(s)...and the client will always end up picking that one. Lose-lose situation.

      0 points
  • vadim mikhnovvadim mikhnov, 6 years ago

    My usual reasoning is that I present the best possible solution that I believe in myself. And I can't possibly believe that there are two (three, four…) best solutions. Options are for the research phase, options are something that you iterate upon and either transform or reject. Then again these work process artifacts are something that I discuss with the client routinely, so it boils down to the question what you really call a presentation.

    13 points
    • Val Sopi, 6 years ago

      Very true Ichik! / It's definitely a process that you can't really define in rigid steps / In a sense, there is always one solution, no matter how many it takes to that one single best (regardless of how many you present)

      0 points
  • Ozan Caglargil, 6 years ago

    I told my clients "I'll bring you three different designs. One of them will be my favorite, the others are just for you and they will make the first one look better"

    8 points
  • Tyson KingsburyTyson Kingsbury, 6 years ago


    thou must count to three.

    Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three.

    Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three.

    Five is right out.

    Seriously though, 3 is the optimum.

    concept 1 is the one you put your heart into...(the one you like best usually)

    concept 2 is the conservative one (the one the client will most likely be comfortable with)

    concept 3 is the way out in left field one.

    generally, the idea is to show the conservative one to let them know you're listening to them, and have heard everything, and have paid attention to the brief... the way out one is to show how creative you can be if budget wasn't a concern, or the brief, or sanity... the one you put your heart into is what they hopefully will pick, once they've seen the others....it has it's feet in both the conservative idea, but has it's heart in the way out version....so the client can feel you've listened to the brief, but also are forward thinking .....

    3 shall be the number :)

    6 points
    • Jan SemlerJan Semler, 6 years ago

      I hve tried that it doesn't work at least for german clients, lol. But my experience is that clients start to mix for examples logos and that is always a bad thing. Try to figure out what he doesn't like and alter your concept or start new.

      0 points
  • John PJohn P, 6 years ago

    one then iterate

    4 points
  • Jake CooperJake Cooper, 6 years ago

    I think it depends on the job. Sometimes I have 3 options that fit the bill that depend on what direction the client wants to go down. Other times, one option is the best solution, so I'll say, "this is the logo that best solves your problem".

    Really I think the reason we present three options is because the client brief is never specific enough -- showing them different, but still brief-appeasing options helps them decide based on what they couldn't articulate. And when the brief is perfectly clear and you refine that solution down until you feel you've nailed it, it belittles your work to present ideas you're not confident about as equal contenders.

    (And I don't know why it is, but when you present options you aren't happy with, the client ALWAYS seems to pick one of those over your favorite)

    So in short, I would recommend only showing the solutions you're truly happy with and fulfill the client brief, whether that's one or more.

    2 points
  • Val Sopi, 6 years ago

    Granted, that was Paul Rand talking. A legendary designer with an out-of-this-world track record. But, what about us, mere mortals... how do we handle these situations? Are you pressured by a "design committee" to present 3 options, because "that's what the management is expecting"? or do you stick to your guns and convince the client that 1 solution policy is what makes a project successful?

    2 points
  • evan kosowski, 6 years ago

    From my experience, there are two commandments for this phase of the project.

    1. Always show everything you've done. You don't have to get into detail at all. Flash them a single page with everything you've done in order to display to the client that you have tried many things, if not just about everything.

    2. Show them one final design and explain why it is the best for them and why it will work.

    Of course, these two points are dependent on previous steps in the process like explorations, moodboards, market research etc. They obviously shouldn't be very surprised with what you have come up with. Without the early steps in the process, you are taking a shot in the dark and you will likely miss your target. You also have ground to stand on as to why your "Final option" is actually the best solution for them.

    Often times there will be tweaks, sometimes they may even like a different visual direction but if you are confident in speaking to why your option is the best you shouldn't have many issues.

    PS. Don't keep them in the dark and pull the "reveal" tactic. Make everyone is aligned on expectations.

    1 point
  • Ryan RushingRyan Rushing, 6 years ago

    My clients get a single solution from me, regardless of the project.

    If for some reason that solution doesn't work, or misses some key factor in the final result, I'll redo it and eat the cost.

    The way I see it is that if I cannot confidently create and sell them on the solution I presented, I have made a mistake along the line. And that's on me, not them. The client's goals usually don't change during the process, so the only variable is how well I have communicated and researched their problem.

    1 point
  • Brittany HunterBrittany Hunter, 6 years ago

    I bring one solution, although typically it has been developed in iterations with the customer.

    For example, if working on a visual identity, I'll use 3-5 style tiles to hone in on their overall desire for look/feel, and after getting their feedback on the style tiles, present one visual mockup.

    If implementing a feature/workflow, I give them one solution, but typically do a whiteboard session with stakeholders early on so that we know the general direction that they're interested in heading.

    1 point
  • Thomas PalumboThomas Palumbo, 6 years ago

    OP, always show 2 designs to a client. Both should be good options but different. Psychologically it presents your designs as "which do you like better?" and if they are different enough the conversation will lead to the client saying what they like and don't like about each and it will lead them to choose one over the other. Remember with 2 designs it's about which they like better. 1 design is simply a yes or no rejection.

    0 points
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, 6 years ago

    Personally I do not like "options" for a number of reasons:

    • the designer, secretly or not, always has a favourite and so puts more work into that one
    • it's simply not efficient to do 4x the work required, when we know 3 of the options will necessarily be rejected. Better to spend that time on quality research so that the problem is properly understood
    • It's better that the client goes on that creative journey with us, feeling like a collaborator, and is not surprised by the proposed solution
    • a suite of options to pick from reduces design to a beauty contest
    0 points
  • Greg Warner, 6 years ago

    I'm not really convinced Rand was right, or that presenting design can be compared to a medical diagnosis. It depends on the type of work, though. If I strongly believe in, say, the design of a user flow, I'll stick to one concept and fight for it. But I've tried to build on Dan Mall's talk on using Visual inventories, sometimes with two or three aesthetic approaches suggested. When you start to involve more of the artistic or subjective element (green or orange? This typeface or these two other choices?), there may may be taste and strong opinions but there isn't a definitive right answer. Allowing for some variation there shows the client that you're interested in letting them have input on the personality and organization of what goes forward. However, once visual direction has been explored with a client and we have some general agreement on approach, then I'll try to stick to that concept for full comps and refine going forward.

    0 points
  • Shina Memud, 6 years ago

    If client doesn't ask specifically, I present one or else I present 3 max. I personally think designers usually have several iterations and rare to have just 1 concept at a go, why not present couple of those iterations ?

    0 points
  • Lucinda Roberts, 6 years ago

    In my opinion, I'm on Paul Rand's mindset. It's my job to find the best solution if I ask them to choose; I'm not doing my job.

    0 points
  • Daniel FoscoDaniel Fosco, 6 years ago

    I think options are good during research and when you want to define a design direction for the project. This phase should involve the client somehow and showing rough concepts for each direction can avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.

    Showing options for finalised work, however, seems pointless to me:

    • If you're showing three different directions of high-fidelity finalised work, you've wasted time going off-brief on two of them. If your client is asking for three finalised versions, you're doing three projects and being paid for one.

    • If you're showing three slightly different versions of the same work, you're handing execution decisions to your client (who generally has no clue on how to execute design details).

    It's one thing for the client to ask for small adjustments — sometimes they give good suggestions and you're able to incorporate their feedbacks — but don't hand over your responsibilities on a plate and then complain they screwed up the job.

    Present your work and defend why and how you reach a solution that suits your clients needs. I'm not saying this is always easy (clients can be tough), but it's the approach I try to follow.

    Also, I'm referring to presenting final work to clients. When you're showing research/ideation to clients or other designers, it makes total sense to explore different directions.

    0 points
  • Hendrik Runte, 6 years ago

    Three. One is what the client might have expected, which is mostly a mediocre solution. Another one is what might be the low-end solution. And one is what I would really want what the solution should be. Which does not have to be the most expensive solution but what I consider the best. The low-end solution is needed in comparison to the other two, in order to what one really should not do.

    0 points
  • Tony Jones, 6 years ago


    0 points
  • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, 6 years ago

    If you have to present options (that is completely different designs not just variations), it means you have failed to understand your client's company, their goals and their problems. It's our job to take that information and translate it into design, not give our client 3 pretty options to chose from and hope one of them gets it right.

    That's not to say you should only explore one solution throughout your process or that you shouldn't discuss ideas with your clients, because that's usually what leads to the best results, but there's a clear difference between that and going away and coming with several different versions hoping one of them gets it right.

    0 points
  • Ryan B, 6 years ago

    I present two variations to my clients. One that I believe is the correct direction after research etc. and the second, what my client wants.

    I then push my variation pretty hard, explaining why it works better. It's worked out pretty good so far, I can't recall a clients variation ever going live. I haven't had many freelance projects though, it's a side thing to my full-time.

    0 points
  • Jan SemlerJan Semler, 6 years ago

    It depends on the project. If i do logos i will present one. Everything else is stupid. If the client doesn't like it will ask why and ask what could make it better and then i go from there. If you do more variants clients start to mix them up and alter the visual effect. In thebeginning of my career i was providing three concepts and it was always the same can you use the color from this dann mix this and that. I figured out that i am no the tool of the clients mind. I am a professional in my field. I don't tell a mechanic or developer how he has to repair of develop.

    The same goes for webpages, flyers, posters packaging etc.

    If i do interfaces i will create other solutions and show them to the client because in this case the clients knows his clients better than me. Another thing might be that one design is more stock while the others are stock and the client can design if he want to put the effort into the solution.

    0 points
  • Dean HaydenDean Hayden, 6 years ago

    For a long time I'd give options. Never worked as ultimately I'd be into one direction and the client would be down for the half-arsed conservative option(s).

    Now, I show one route but how that route developed. Hit the two extremes and find the middle ground; go for the predictable and explain it lacks differentiation, show the 'out there' and whilst interesting / edgy, explain it maybe a step too far.

    All depends on the brief and client but show the thought process, make comparisons with competitors and ultimately have conviction in what you show.

    0 points
  • Matt WillettMatt Willett, 6 years ago

    It depends on the project. But on average three is the magic number for me.

    For websites, apps, and branding it's a much more integrated process and I treat it like a conversation. You don't bog down your friend with more than 3 or 4 options when talking, it's just too much of a cognitive load. Keeping it simple is best.

    For collateral and production pieces, usually that surfaces only one, maaaaybe two designs. But those are few and far between.

    0 points
  • Brittany HunterBrittany Hunter, 6 years ago

    Love the Rand Paul quote. Source?

    0 points