Freelance designers and design agencies often ask themselves this very question.
Before answering this question let’s first look at it from the other side- What message are you sending by the number of designs that you are presenting, and what is the client expecting of you?
I have sat through meetings on both sides of the spectrum:
The flooding of designs
I have sat through meetings where hours of clicks of designs were presented, and a moment that should have been the exciting climax of the meeting, turned dreary and dull. On the client’s faces you could see a feeling of disparity appearing, as they slowly realized how lost they were in this avalanche of designs. They started to dread the, some form of, relevant feedback that they would need to give. Let’s be honest, even the most trained design professional would have difficulty sifting through 99 designs, let alone having some form of relevant comments.
The message we (the designers) are sending, by being unable to cut down the number of designs selected to present, is one of insecurity. Often it’s the nature of more junior designers or less experienced account managers to be unwilling to make a choice. My strong advice would be to cut down- see which design routes are overlapping and create a consensus with the other designers which are the better options.
The ‘one and only’ design
On the other hand- I have been in the ‘tadaaah’ meeting as well, where a designer presents the ‘1 design’- ‘the only real answer’… Let’s face it, often this design might not be the only answer, let alone the best answer to the briefing. Walking into a meeting like that will mean there is a serious chance that you will end up disappointing a client- after all, there is very little that they can say, comment on, or request, as it has already been presented as ‘the one and only’ solution.
The message being sent here by the designer is one of overconfidence, and maybe even arrogance. If you are really one of the world’s very very top designers, you might just pull it off, but the odds are not in your favor. My advice would be to create at least some different concepts, or if you are completely set on doing it this way, at least allow for a ‘shoulder look’; a small pre-meeting with the client to see if they like the direction in which you are taking the project.
So what’s the right number then?
Now that we have established that the correct number should be somewhere between 1 and 99 designs, that probably doesn’t help much. Luckily we can narrow it down much more.
Let’s first point out that every single design that is being presented in a first creative presentation should be a completely unique concept. If you are just presenting variations on the same design, (different colors, small amendments) then you are making a mistake- let the client pick a route, and then you still get a chance for this in the next presentation.
Essentially a minimum of 3 genuinely different designs should give a nice basis, but might still disappoint some clients, this is why the number can be expanded to a maximum of 10 designs. With more than 10, things just tend to go downhill- So have your pick, based on the client’s briefing, and the way the creative team moves forward with it, make a selection, and pick the very best designs on the table- just make sure to keep it between 3 and 10.
About the author:
Christiaan Huynen, founder & CEO of design crowdsourcing platform DesignBro, has been in the design industry for over a decade. He founded and managed the Cartils London office, an award winning agency, has spoken at global conferences, and has judged industry leading design competitions.