One Design Direction: Better Work, Happier Clients.


I have recently entertained the notion that presenting one design direction to a client can help keep a UX project on track. This post will describe the strategy behind this presentation style.

Like most designers out there, I would love to have that spark of genius turn into a creative frenzy, making beautiful and engaging work that leaves the client speechless every time. Well this is a bit more than ideal to say the least, but isn’t that why we chose to get into this field anyway? We have a knack for problem solving and executing our vision. If it wasn’t for those pesky clients, we would be masters of our own creative destiny.

The Problem: Too many options create Frankenstein designs

So what usually happens along the way? We need to provide options to the client. This is where things get a bit tricky. The client is viewing the creative process as purely transactional. And in a society where commerce options are grossly abundant, why should they think otherwise? They want to make sure that they get what they pay for and have choices as well. Most agency scope documents are pretty traditional in the way they are put together. There are design presentations with multiple directions to choose from, and sign-offs during the process. Meanwhile, clients are basically left in the dark until presentation day where they are asked to choose between A or B.

Too many options leads to confusion. Try one design direction instead.

From the client’s perspective, this is sort of like going through a deli line and saying “I want an amazing sandwich. I’m not sure how I want it to look or taste, so make me 2 sandwiches and I’ll probably like one of them.” Using this same metaphor from the designer’s perspective, you would love to wow the socks off of the customer by creating the best sandwich they have ever tasted. And you surely know that they cannot digest both sandwiches. So you end up making one good sandwich and another ok one. The customer is left with too much food, and feeling very confused about what to do with it all. Is this how we want to treat our industry? The client is, after all, paying us to do something that they cannot do. They are trusting us to execute a vision for them. Otherwise they would make their own sandwich.

Clients will appreciate one design direction if they're included in the process.

The Solution: One design direction

It might seem shocking, but what I’m suggesting is to spend more energy on one design direction. The key is to take an agile approach and keep the client in the loop the whole time. This will give the client a clear vision and avoid a Frankenstein design. Why do you think companies like Chipotle and Subway are so popular? This is because the customer feels part of the process the whole time. There is a layer of transparency that consumers appreciate. In no way am I advocating a production line, but I am suggesting an agile approach to design that keeps the client focused in one direction: the end product.

This is not a new idea. Acclaimed designer Stefan Sagmeister has used to his benefit. His new partner Jessica Walsh summed it up well when she said:

“We also only show one option to our clients versus showing a plethora of mediocre options. I was shocked by that strategy at first, but it really seems to work. The work ends up being better and the clients are less confused.”

Credit: The Great Discontent

Here at FreshForm, we are always working towards delivering the highest quality work for our clients. This one direction approach has recently given us a big win and a very happy client.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *