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Options are good. Presenting design versions is bad.

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People like and need options. Having alternatives to choose from can be useful. Barry Schwartz has a great TED talk about this where he talks about how we all need some options but there is a point of diminishing returns. When you are inundated with too many options you can have paralysis over making the right choice and can blame yourself for making the wrong one.

Designers are frequently asked to present versions - to come up with alternate design options. We are given a problem and then asked to solve it a few ways to let the client choose which they like best. It’s a strange practice that seems to occur disproportionally to people in design professions. One designer who was decidedly against this unwritten rule of showing options was Paul Rand. In a 1993 interview Steve Jobs talks about working with Paul Rand in designing the Next logo and how Rand said he would not be showing options. In quoting Rand, Jobs said:

“I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution - if you want options go talk to other people.” 

So why is this bad? Why is presenting alternative designs bad? Speaking from personal experience I know that (like an example of Murphy’s Law) when I have shown alternate designs to clients, they have frequently chosen the one I liked the least. Even worse, they look to start combining designs into some new Frankenstein’s monster of a design. 

The main reason however is that, in presenting alternatives, you are shifting the decision-making power away from the person who is trained & experienced at making design decisions, and giving it to the very person who has hired you to help them because they don’t know what they are doing.

Let it be said that there are always a variety of ways to solve a problem. As a designer or developer, you should absolutely explore a variety of alternate solutions, but the result of your ideation sessions should be to come forward with a single recommendation. Even in an alternate approach to solving a problem, such as Agile development where you may be working more closely with the client more regularly, you are still working on just a single solution. 

Ultimately, your informed recommendation is what the client needs. Presenting options dilutes the value of your work. Bring one strong, well thought-out solution to the table, and go from there.

For more on Paul Rand there is a good Miggs Burroughs interview with him from 1991 where he talks about design and branding.

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