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Presenting ideas and the paradox of choice

By Keri Newman
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This article explores the paradox of choice, and how as designers we can create enjoyable decision-making processes for our clients.

Making choices can become more mentally draining than pleasurable when we have too many options available to us. Recent studies have shown that too much choice can lead to decision paralysis. Overchoice can leave you ruminating and overanalysing choices, leading to dissatisfaction. Although we like freedom and options, we can also suffer from decision fatigue.

Great design comes from great collaboration. Healthy creative partnerships will always produce better results. This comes from both the client and designer having trust in one another, and working towards the same end result. It is essential the designer understands the client’s business inside out. Who their audience is, who their competitors and the brand personality prior to any major design decisions being made. When all these elements are in place, the designer can start making decisions more independently.

This article looks at reducing decisions within the visual identity design process. Ensuring neither the designer nor the client is overwhelmed by too many choices. Creating an end result where the client is happy and confident in their brand design.

The issue with Overchoice when presenting client ideas

In the context of design, your client needs to explore, dig deep and have options. As designers, we need to manage this process and be strategic about where and when options are given, and how they are presented. In the brand identity process, if we design 5, 10, 20 different logos and present them to our client, we have created too much choice, for no real reason. In advertising, I think they say it’s like “chucking 10 tennis balls at someone and expecting them to catch one.”

One of my first ever clients, who I was desperate to impress, said “you just keep designing and I’ll tell you when I like something” I was there for days, pulling my hair out creating option after option with no real direction. She would say things like “I like Shabby Chic.” “I love lime green,” and I was designing her brand identity based on this. That was never going to work since I was trying to design something she liked with no brief in place. Even though I knew it was wrong at the time I lacked confidence in leading the design process. After that experience, I put a clear design process in place, which has evolved over years.

When designing visual identity it’s an idea to only ever-present one or two concepts to your client. When research has been carried out, and designs are based on research, and you have narrowed down your concepts, there should really only be one or two concepts. Starting off with several designs is a natural process in the design process they just don’t all need to be shown to the client.

With five concepts there is usually one good one, and the others are weaker. Presenting all ideas to a client could result in them choosing the weakest one, or making no choice at all. Brand identity is not about making a design that looks good. It is creating a design that works well for the company. Showing a client designs that look stunning but won’t necessarily work is a bad idea.

Here are some outcomes of presenting too much to your client.

Paralysis
1. Presenting too much choice can end up in Paralysis

The American psychologist Barry Schwartz said in his book The Paradox of Choice:

“the more choice offered the harder it is to make a decision, which ends up in paralysis.”

Presenting a multitude of ideas to a client may result in them liking them all or hating them all. Or just not being sure at all. We are asking our clients to make a big decision on concepts that are difficult to compare. This can easily result in a decision being postponed or not made at all.

Presenting one concept gives you the opportunity to explain the reasons behind your design decisions and why it works well. If you have two or three concepts these can be shown briefly as part of a presentation to emphasise why the route chosen is stronger than these designs. By doing this you are showing you have thought the process through, but you are still focussed and confident in the concept you are presenting.

Dissatisfaction
2. Presenting too much choice can end up in Dissatisfaction

This for me is the worst outcome. Recent studies have shown that it is much more likely that regret occurs if too many options are presented, as rumination and over-analysis of the decision takes place, resulting in dissatisfaction. If a client chooses from five concepts, it’s a big decision for them, now they are worrying that they made the right choice, at every hurdle they are becoming more dissatisfied with their choice, wondering if they made the right one. Even if the idea is the best, and works really well dissatisfaction can still occur and they may see the other design as a missed opportunity.

When the client is ruminating about whether they have made the right decision, even if they have the best design in the world, they may not feel satisfied with the “what if” clouding their decision. When a client is moving forward with a design concept, we want them to feel excited, inspired, and confident, rather than deflated and half regretful.

Of course there will be times where the first idea isn’t right the first time around. If the client doesn’t feel it is right, go back to the drawing board. Use the presentation time to find out what they don’t like it. Rest assured, asking these questions and discussing the brief in more detail, can be far more valuable than simply showing others concepts you have worked on.

“how we value things depends on what we compare them to. When there are lots of alternatives to consider it is easy to imagine the attractive features of what you reject making you less satisfied with the option you have chosen … it’s easy to imagine features of all the alternatives you reject, that makes you less satisfied with the alternative you have chosen. When you are choosing to do one thing you are choosing not to do other things which may have lots of attractive features.”

Barry Schwartz

Involve your client in the design process without overwhelming them

At the start of the process in-depth discussions about the company or individual are crucial. The aims, the personality, archetypes, and the way they want to come across should be explored in great detail. This process should be in-depth to really get underneath the skin of the company. Look at competitors and study other companies with a similar audience group. Questionnaires and discussion prompts are all useful to ensure all the information is gathered.

The aim of making independent decisions is not to cut the client out of the design process. The mood boards created should reflect the conversations with your client. Moodboards are great to show clients as they are very conceptual. They are simply reflecting the conversations you have had exploring options. They are discussion points. Discuss the mood boards with the client as it involves them in the decision-making process in a positive way. Check you are on the same page before you start actually designing any concepts.

Once a concept and direction are chosen, there will be tweaks, and the ideas can be evolved. The client can then be involved again in the rollout stage. Once you have completed your concept there will be smaller decisions the client can be involved in.

In the rollout stage variations of design can be presented within the new brand guidelines. These are not potentially overwhelming decisions. This is the fun part. You are sticking to the brand guidelines and working on smaller options. I will give 3 or 4 examples of the homepage hero if they all work. This is where choice is fun and not overwhelming.

Summary

Most of our clients won’t be designers. But they will know their business and their competitor’s businesses. Of course, clients need to be involved in the design process, work with them, guide them and limit options you present to avoid them being overwhelmed. There is a balance between offering choice and giving too many options. Finding that balance at every stage of the project is important to keep the process smooth.

In order for our clients to have a positive experience, collaboration is key. By being cautious and aware not to overwhelm, we can create positive experiences for our client. By paying particular attention to the first stages of the brand identity process we can ensure our concepts are executable. Have faith in yourself being able to make good decisions at crucial parts of the project.