What Determines the Number of Concepts you Show to a Client?

01.16.2010 / Question submitted by: Steve Zelle

15 replies. Share yours.

Creative Process Discussion

Ruth Galloway & Glenn Kiernan:

There is no hard a fast rule to the number of concepts we show to our clients. It varies depending on the type of project. Ideally we aim to show only three solutions.

If we are working with a mature identity or packaging brand these three routes will include an evolution (if the brief requires), a mid point, and a revolution. Sometimes if we are confident enough with the rationale, the consumer insights and we have complete courage in our conviction, those moments when you know you have the winner, we will present just one route. This rarely happens as the process usually takes the client on a journey from their present position to the winning idea. We never just present concepts to ‘fill’ a presentation, each concept presented must fit the brief and be something we would happy to develop and be proud to show if chosen by the client.

In our experience we never try to just ‘sell’ a design in, the best results always come from a shared vision and desire to change from our clients. The better the relationship the more concise the brief, the better the result.

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  1. Steve Zelle

    I think many clients believe “more is better” and a broader choice of design concepts means a better end result. It would benefit everyone if more value was placed on the ability to understand the problem than the number of concepts provided. While I have occasionally presented just one concept to a client in the past, I have found that even if the client loves it, there seems to be hesitation. It’s as though there must always be something to compare it against before they are comfortable moving forward. Because of this, I usually present two concepts that I am completely comfortable with my client proceeding with.

  2. Tad Dobbs

    I completely agree. Ideally, I’d prefer to show 1 solid design that is built completely from the strategy and research developed, but it seems that most clients expect 3 ideas to choose from. The few times that I’ve presented 1 idea has ultimately led to the client requesting to see at least 2 more ideas. Strangely enough the results are almost always the same. The initial idea is what gets picked. Knowing this, I try to present 3 solid ideas initially with a detailed rationale. The downside to 3 great ideas versus 1 is that it sometimes leads to the “Frankencomp” effect. “Can we take the type from version 2 and the mark from version 1?”

  3. Ryan Brown

    Does anyone else run into the issue of a clients being underwhelmed when you first present logo concepts? Despite our best attempts to educate them on what successful is in form and what it should do, it’s almost as if they can’t see or understand the underlying concepts unless it is placed on ten different things, which increase your workload exponentially if you are showing more than one variation.

  4. Tad Dobbs

    I’ve run into that issue quite often, particularly when presenting black & white first. I usually try to gauge how decisive or visual a client is before the first presentation to prepare myself for any confusion. If the client seems really indecisive, which often leads to showing more work to sell a logo in, I often pad my time and budget to help compensate for the extra work necessary to develop the logo.

  5. Ryan Brown


    That seems like a great approach to take. Right now we send clients full color concepts with mark variations which often times leads to the “Frankensteining” that you mentioned before. However, I really like the idea of sending black and white comps first. Ideally, it would help clients understand the concept from the beginning and also that creating a logo is a process. And I guess I feel like it would be better for them to feel underwhelmed with a black and white comp than underwhelmed with a full color comp with variations.

  6. Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

    The fewer the number of concepts shown to a client the better. Hopefully, my research, information-gathering and early client interaction has gone well enough that I truly know what the client needs (which is MUCH different that what the client thinks they want). I very seldom show a client more than three designs – even then 85% of the time clients will select the design that was my very first concept. Multiple concepts are usually presented due to client expectation or a direct request. If I have any personal doubt about a concept or two, they will be tossed prior to presentation. If not, it is guaranteed the client will select them. I only present concepts in black and white – and will not even consider suggesting colors until a logo design is approved. My goal is to avoid the design process getting bogged down by an unnecessary focus on color selection early in the project. Quite often I will know that I have hit the mark with a single design concept and present the client only one design. Each time I have done so the logo has been immediately accepted by the client. I’ve now been designing logos for 32 years. It only took about 20 years to trust myself in regards to what I should present to a client.

  7. eric|von|leckband

    I have always had much greater success when only presenting a max of 3 logos and in black and white. I have found that the clients tend to get distracted and overwhelmed if too many choices are shown. I think the work also tends to get watered down when showing too many solutions – just show 2-3 great solutions.

  8. Camille Friend

    I typically show clients 2 to 4 concepts, initially (all of which I would be happy with should the client accept it). These first “drafts” are illustrated in black and white so that the focus is on the form and concept, rather than color preferences. So far, this has been a successful practice as the clients appreciate having a choice, and it often leads to good conversation about specific design elements or ideas that they feel relate to their business and brand.

  9. Fabian

    After trial and error I have come to realize that some clients tend to get confused and find it hard to make a choice if offered too many concepts at one time. I only send a client one concept at a time and let it be judged on it own merits, from there it gives me a clearer direction in which to come up with the suitable solution.

  10. Joshua Geiger – 1981

    I’m pretty much right there with Jeff. Typically three concepts and they are all in black and white until a concept is chosen. Back on my sketch pad, I’ll probably have a few pages of thumbnail sized concepts or ideas… but that always gets narrowed down to the few best in the bunch and then those are refined before allowing the client to see anything.

  11. Duane

    I typically show 1-3 concepts to a client. The number usually depends on my determination of the strength of the concept. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm the client with too many alternatives as it usually makes it difficult to maintain control of the process.

  12. Manuel Olmo

    Three is the magic number, but less is better. In the end the client wants to be satisfied and it’s a matter of getting to know what they want and need. Always remember the project has to comply with the client and reach the end user.

    When you don’t know the client, it may take more steps. This is very important to know when pricing. You don’t want to end up working for free.

  13. Paul Galbraith

    I like to involve the client as much as possible throughout the process with the understanding from the start that we’re aiming for one final concept. This concept is then presented in black and white, to avoid any distractions with colour and I explain the decisions made that lead to that final design. This process usually proves successful but on the occasions when it doesn’t, we then try to identify which elements of the design are not working and look back over the process to see why they were chosen and what alternatives there are, that would work better for the client.

    Latest Post: How the Pros and Cons of Spec Work Impact You

  14. Tad DeWree

    Ideally 1-3. You should be so on point that more is unnecessary.

    Even at an early stage. Use three to determine tone, look and theme.

    More? Too many variables.

    Paul Rand, when presenting Steve Jobs the NEXT computer logo, he showed just one. But he made a great case for it.

    More? Usually means you, or the client is lost.

    Best of luck. Works for us.

What Determines the Number of Concepts you Show to a Client?