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Open Discussion: How Much Choice Do You Offer Clients?

posted by Matt Ward on Feb 16, 2011.

Here’s an interesting question: how much choice do you give your clients? In this post, I want to pose this question, discuss some of my own thinking on the matter and then open things up for a general discussion on the topic. So, be ready to share your thoughts!

I am looking to bring some more open discussion to the Echo Enduring Blog, and to this end I’ve decided to try running a few open discussion type posts, where I’ll post a relatively short article (or at least short for me) to help spark some thought and discussion, hopefully get some more people commenting and interacting. I have no idea how this is going to go, but I figure it’s worth a shot right?

So, the first topic for this new, social experiment is going to be: choice.

More specifically, I want to talk about the relationship between choice and the client. I think we’re all probably at least partially familiar with the paradox of choice, a theory that posits that certain forms or levels of anxiety may actually be related to or emerge from being presented with too many choices. When standing in the supermarket, looking at shelves with hundreds of different types of cereal, we can start to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice that looms before us. Instead of feeling liberated by the numerous choices, we feel something very un-liberating, which is the manifestation of another, similar concept—choice paralysis.

The idea here is that, when presented with a wide range of options, an individual actually has a harder time making a choice than when they are faced with just a handful of options. Again, the cereal aisle example is an excellent illustration. I also wonder if the premium WordPress theme market might be heading in that direction too. But that’s a different discussion altogether.

The question at hand is, how do we deal with this issue when it comes to working with clients? How many choices and options do you provide? How do you make that decision?


For me, it depends on the type of project. When I take on a new logo design, my typical process involves breaking out my sketchbook and drawing dozens and dozens of different ideas. Some of them are very similar, while others may be out there, and seemingly only nominally related to my actual subject, but the point of the exercise is just to get as much onto paper as I possibly can. Then, once I’ve filled several pages and feel that there’s no more juice in the old think tank, I start working through the sketches, analyzing them to pick out which ones I think work the best.

Once I have these, I’ll then turn to Illustrator and actually start rendering them in vector format, usually tweaking and refining as I go. I’ll do this with the best three concepts, and these initial Illustrator renderings are what I will send to the client as the initial concept. Occasionally, I will also provide some variations on a concept, but I generally try to keep the number of options to three.


With websites, I generally limit the number of choices even further, by reducing it to one. I’ll put together a single concept—either in Photoshop or by creating a basic, working prototype—and present that to the client, making tweaks and changes as required.

I do this mostly as a matter of scope. A website project is generally much larger and more extensive than the average logo design project, and involves many more stages, from wireframing to mockups, to front-end coding and back-end deployment. Given this level of scope, I feel that introducing multiple concepts at the outset will just muddy the waters and ultimately prolong the entire process.

However, I know that some people work differently. Once agency whose work I’ve seen actually provides three complete Photoshop designs with their web projects, and allows the client to chose which one they want to go with. They also charge a great deal more money though.

Your Thoughts?

What about you? How do you approach and/or address the issue of choice when presenting mockups and concepts to clients? Let us know what kind of work you do, how much choice you offer your clients, and why you’ve chosen to work that way. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and getting this discussion started!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Feb 17, 2011

Steven Bradley says:

With websites I do the same. I offer the one design to my clients. Much of the time their response is they like the design and we move toward development.

When their response isn’t the 100% enthusiastic, it’s usually more about smaller tweaks to the design than full scale changes. Sometimes they might only say they don’t like one part and then I ask questions to see if I can figure out why.

Depending on the client you might send them the wireframe and let their response shape what comes next. I don’t think you ever have to offer more than one design concept, unless the client is specifically paying you to come up with more than one.

Often if you really listen to the client and include them in the process you’ll end a design you both are happy with.

Feb 17, 2011

Dave Ferrick says:

I can only speak regarding websites but I’ve learned over years that presenting 3 designs up front will not net consensus on one. Instead you will hear clients moving pieces of each design into a mysterious fourth possibility. (Put Header A on Content Area C with Footer B)

The client’s not trying to be hard, instead just trying to help by picking the best pieces of each design. The designer knows these pieces can’t be moved like blocks however so it now puts them in the awkward position of either telling the client “no” or swallowing their opinion (their paid-for, knowledgable opinion) to just move the project along.

Presenting only one design focuses the client on what they like and what needs work. The designer can then judge whether Footer B really should be with Header A.

Feb 17, 2011

Afraz says:

I think we should produce only one design instead of many. Our full time concentration will give the design a stunning look.
eh.. eh?

Feb 17, 2011

Ken Girisya says:

Thanks for sharing your thought.

For logo design, i probably present around 10 concept in the beginning in illustration renderings. After that, choose the best 3 with my client.

For web design, i offer 2 initial concepts, because i thought that the client has the right to choose. After that choose 1 that will be coded.

But I agree with you that if we give the client too much options, it will end up bad in both side…


Feb 17, 2011

Andrew says:

When I was doing wedding videos I would get a general feeling of what the client was looking for and then present them with a semi-finished project and have them look at it. They would recommend changes and they would get done. So I guess we only gave them one “choice” but we had a policy of endless editing so if they didn’t like little parts they had endless times to choose to have it done a different way.

Feb 17, 2011

Alex says:

Nice article!

In general i do it the same way as you. For logo’s sketch most things that come in mind and later on putting 3 to vector for presentation.

Also for websites i make one design.

But, for all my work; logo’s, branding, websites and whatever else, i continue to keep designing till the client is pleased.

So if the client doesn’t like any of the 3 presented logo’s i’ll start over. Same for websites and everything else.

Sometimes it’s my luck if i have it right the first time ad sometimes it takes me a little bit more time, but i think it’s worth it for a happy client.

Feb 17, 2011

Adam says:

Just focusing on the web design part, I work in stages starting with wireframes and rough sketches. I dont show these to the client though more for me at the start.

The client will then get a full preview from photoshop of normally a homepage and inner page. From that I will work on changes etc..

Some clients want to see what you can do for them before they have even accepted your proposal, something I would never do if they are not confident enough from your portfolio and knowledge it just isnt going to work I dont think.

Feb 17, 2011

Stu Mason says:

First up there’s a typo in your intro “In this post, I want to POSE this question”

That aside, an interesting post. I generally offer 3 web concepts. One that is top notch and the one I’ll push hard. The second one that’s good (but not quite as good as the main concept) and one other. The same with print.

Well, that is unless the main concept is just that perfect that nothing else comes close which is obviously what we all strive for! ;)

As for logos, I think it’s entirely dependent on the project and any criteria the logo needs to meet (such as sitting alongside an existing family of logos).

Feb 17, 2011

Phil Franks says:

Totally agree from the web side, and actually just wrote a post about it. http://www.dynamit.us/blog/2011/01/why-we-design-one-at-a-time/

Feb 17, 2011

Michael Østergaard says:

Where I work we often show the client the completed design. That seem to be a way of doing things at many work places.

However, on freelance basis I try to bring the client along from the begining.

Clients don’t like surprises. Actually this is advice from Pual Boag himself. I think he’s right!

Feb 17, 2011

Maria Malidaki says:

This is a very interesting article. Thanks for beginning a discussion on an important concept.

I also go your way in matters of choice. I don’t professionally design logos, but I needed to provide some help with it a couple of times and I let the client choose between 3 to (max) 5 designs.

As far as web design is concerned, it’s also best for me to present one design and work on it with the client. Usually the one design is more than enough since I make it after discussions with the client, and it’s already oriented towards their philosophy, so it overall looks the way they imagined it and then we focus on details.

Feb 17, 2011

Daquan Wright says:

I only do user interfaces, but I do as many wireframes as necessary (usually starting with two or three). They’re easy to do and are even faster once you get the first few wireframes going. I wouldn’t be designing multiple concepts, unless I’m bing paid good money. That’s time extensive and so is coding.

I like my client in on the wireframe from the first step. :D

Feb 18, 2011

Fink About It says:

I always start off by making 1 basic template and 2 layout suggestions. Worked fine for most of my clients.

Jul 1, 2011

Raju says:

Thanks. it looks really great and very informative.. Keep posting. Usually we offer two designs

Jul 26, 2011

Eliminar la Grasa says:

Great website. They’re easy to do and are even faster once you get the first few wireframes going. I wouldn’t be designing multiple concepts, unless I’m bing paid good money. That’s time extensive and so is coding

Aug 8, 2011

Como Comer para Perder says:

They’re easy to do and are even faster once you get the first few wireframes going. I wouldn’t be designing multiple concepts, unless I’m bing paid good money. That’s time extensive and so is coding.

Jan 24, 2013

W3C-WebDesign says:

Useful post…..
I read it and I really enjoy. I think my point of view this is a great post I appreciate this artical.Usually we offer three designs for our clients.
Thanks for sharing the logo designs.

So dear keep it up!


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