The problem with multiple concepts

Published on September 15, 2013 under Customer Education, Business, Web Development

Multiple website design concepts

Whether you’re a designer, or a client hiring a designer, you’ve faced the notion and dilemma of multiple design concepts. If you’re not sure what I’m getting at, ponder if you’ve ever said or heard something like this:

“I’d like to see 3-4 design concepts showing different approaches to the look and feel.”

I’m sure from the side of a designer, this will get a moan signifying “Oh I know what you mean”, while the client side would feel its within their right to make this request, seeing as they’re paying money. Who is right in this? Are multiple concepts ever a good idea?

Why it’s not a good idea

At first, the notion of creating multiple design concepts does sound like a creative means to build the best work possible. However, you might not always end up with two or more unique layouts that look amazing and will work for your business needs. Many designers will work hard to make the requested amount of layouts, but some might take a shortcut with this approach:

Layout 1: The brilliant, thought-out, artistic layout the designer poured his/her heart into, and hopes the client will select.

Layout 2: A more tame version of the layout that isn’t as cutting-edge as Layout 1, but it also might not scare a client.

Layout 3: A very “safe”, dull, boring, bland layout the designer tossed together and hopes the client doesn’t pick.

Now I’m sure if you’re a client you might be grumbling now at the notion of a professional you’re paying not giving you his/her best in all regards. However, there are valid points as to why a designer making three or more layouts is a waste of resources.

First off, imagine you give a designer one week to make you a layout. In that amount of time, how much effort could be put into three separate layouts over just one? It’s like a metaphor of buying alcohol in a bar. Would you rather pay $12 for one glass of high quality booze? Or buy six $2 glasses of crappy alcohol that might make you sick? The end result is you will need only one of those layouts, so why not pay for one good layout as opposed to several mediocre ones?

The second issue is how many times presenting one too many options can confuse and discourage a client. Again, designer or client, how many times have you heard or even have said something like this when presented with the multiple concepts:

“They’re all so good I can’t decide. Which one do you like the most?”

This right here is the downfall of asking for multiple concepts. If you as the client are not prepared to select a concept, or at least ask for a revised layout utilizing aspects of the initial concepts, then you’re wasting both your time and your designer’s time. I know I sound harsh here, but how would you feel if a customer in your business was wasting your time?

Lastly, you as the client might have to be prepared to pay more money for multiple concepts, or you as the designer might have to be prepared to lose money on the added time put in on making multiple concepts. Regardless of what you might think, time is still money, and it’s either going to come out of the vendor or the client. If you’re the client paying an hourly rate, then you know who’s spending the money then.

A web design is an evolution

Let’s take this now to my specialty, web design. I’ve had clients of all walks of life ask me for multiple concepts for the layout. Usually I discourage this, because I see the design of a website as an evolution. It’s a process that starts with a researched stab in the dark but grows to the final piece by working with the client throughout the process.

Responsive web designYou as the client could think that I could try one concept with the navigation on the top, and another with it on the left side. Some will even suggest the navigation on the bottom or the right side, but this is why you hire me (or someone like me) as your expert. Professionals like myself know that the layout of a web page is based on best practices of how average people read and interact with websites. It’s more than just colors and pictures.

Plus, remember that your customers are not just looking at your website off laptops and desktops. With responsive web design as the set standard, it’s more important for things to place themselves in a way so that your information appears quickly and clearly on different screen sizes. This same thinking also comes into play with solicited emails, now that most email is seen on mobile devices.

In the end, my work is an amalgamation of your information needs combined with your business goals and set branding, all of which will be viewed over many different types of screen resolutions. All those different variables floating about is why it’s better to approach a web design or even an email design as an evolutionary process. Build one good concept as a start, and then the teamwork of client and designer will evolve said concept into the final layout.

Where multiple concepts is a good idea

Now this discussion isn’t totally one-sided. Believe it or not, there are occasions when you as a client should demand multiple concepts and you as a designer should be delivering them.

Ad Campaigns: This is not something that should be pitched with only one concept. The best practice is to come up with several “big ideas” (usually the “slogan” or what not) and present them as briefs, each with one or two “ad-like objects”. Those are generally something that looks like a rough print ad to illustrate the idea. You never want to present something as big as a campaign with only one idea. What if the client hates it?

Initial Branding or Rebranding: Sometimes the project will be a full rebranding of a company or even building a brand for a business that has none. Again, you can’t just walk into something this big with just one concept. Unless specific information has been given which pretty much defines the brand, a designer or strategist should take different shots at what his/her client is trying to achieve. From there let the client pick one or help you modify one into the final result.

Logo Concepts for Illusion Bar●Grill●CaféLogos: If my adventure into designing a logo for Illusion Bar●Grill●Café didn’t illustrate the point, then you might want to read about it. When I went to design that logo, I came up with multiple concepts mainly because while we had a branding set, I wasn’t sure what direction the client wanted to fully embrace for his brand. I gave the client three different ideas for him to look at and thus go forward from.

Changing Color Schemes: This factor shouldn’t be one that a designer should be against, since it’s really taking one concept and trying different color schemes on it. As a designer, you will face clients handing you branding with colors that might not suit the business need or you just might think a better scheme should be used.

Right now I’m dealing with such a client. He has a set color scheme for his brand, but both of us believe this color scheme comes off as cold and corporate, when he needs to be more warm and welcoming. We’re currently designing one layout using his color scheme, but making a second version introducing new colors that still align with his brand, but bring out that warmth he needs for his business goals.

Crowdsourcing/hiring multiple designers: If you’re willing to put things to the test (and want to invest the capital into it), then try getting multiple minds on this project. As a designer, I don’t think much of crowdsourcing, but like it or not, it is an option for the client. Another is when you work with a design firm, and you pay to get them to put several designers on the project. This can work because you’re really paying for multiple “Layout 1’s” and thus you pick from them. A smart idea even is to toss in a bonus to the designer whose layout you choose.

This is, of course, an option more meant for larger companies with the capital to spend on design. Your average startup or small business might not have that kind of money, thus I reiterate that when you hire someone to design your website, you should approach the design as a process of evolution where you and your designer work as a team. You’ll get great results and save on time and money in the process. If you’re a designer reading this, you should be open to doing work in this fashion.

Have you as a client ever requested multiple concepts? If you’re a designer, how do you deal with such a request?

Tags: multiple concepts, design, freelance, work, business

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