Martini Minute

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The One Trick Pony

Just a fair warning that this blog post happens to be a little sassier than previous posts…just so you know. Okay, here we go.

I have one major design-related pet peeve: the one trick pony. As an Art Director–and ofttimes client–I just don’t get a designer who comes to a presentation with only one concept to show. My first reaction is “REALLY? That’s all you could come up with?”

Coming up in the “biz”, I was always expected to come to the table with at least three solid options to show the client. The conventional wisdom was you show three types of concepts: the safe concept (the one you know the client wants to see, the wild “out there” concept, and the appropriate third concept that could really work, and that you sell the client. I don’t really agree with this approach either. I think every concept you show the client should be viable; otherwise, you’re just wasting the client’s time. It’s often preached that you should show an odd number of concepts. You shouldn’t show two, or four, but three, maybe five concepts if you’re really inspired, but you shouldn’t show more than that. Even five is pushing it. Showing more than five concepts tends to make the presentation too long and confusing for the client.

That said, in recent years I’ve noticed a disturbing trend away from showing options, and towards showing one concept with MAYBE some slight variations. Why the variations? To make the client feel like they’re getting their money’s worth? As an Art Director, I KNOW better. As a client, I’m NOT impressed.

There are those out there who advocate for the one concept approach. Their argument is that the designer is designing for the client’s target audience (not the client), that the designer knows best, and is presenting the very best singular solution. You think you know the client’s audience better than the client does? Really? I’m not so sure. I’m not saying that the client’s personal preference doesn’t come into play. Of course it does, but a designer worth their salt sees through that and presents in a manner that helps to mitigate the want for combining concepts, making unnecessary changes to the design, or going with a concept that’s cheesy or uninspired.

I also know that there are folks out there that suggest the design process should not be subjective, but objective. There simply is no such thing as objectivity in design. Design is an art. Art is subjective. Period. Each person experiences design (as designers, clients, consumers) through their own personal lens. Perhaps a design evokes a certain emotion, or reminds you of an experience you’ve had. Whatever the lens through which someone, anyone, views a design, if there is a consensus that a design is effective it probably is. That’s about as objective as you can hope for in THIS business.

You know the phrase “more than on way to skin a cat”? Well, it’s true. Many design solutions can be effective for one given problem. That’s the beauty of creativity. It’s endless. What matters is giving the client value and building trust. If the client trusts the designer, the designer can sell them a great concept. If the client doesn’t trust the designer, it’s probably not going to be a fruitful relationship. Sure, I’ve had my share of cheesy clients who want crapola design. My solution was to fire the client. It’s very rare that I’ve had to do it—maybe twice in my career—but with a career spanning 20 years, that’s not a bad track record.

What of the one trick pony in race? My money is not on them to even show.

— Berta