Note to Creatives: Stop Providing Comps

June 19, 2008 by

Stop providing design compsGraphic Designers: If you haven’t kicked the habit already, stop giving two to three design comps (or more) when you present key art ideas to your client or boss. Not only does it suggest that you lack confidence in your ability to accomplish the goals set out by the project initially, it also says you’re not convinced enough to present one strong idea. This in turn helps to protect your ego so that in case one idea is not a clear winner, there are a few others to talk about. “Hello Client, here are a couple ideas to get something on the table. I look forward to talking these over with you and seeing what fits best, or maybe a hybrid of the two.” Sound familiar?

Stop already.

I was talking to my art director at Foursquare yesterday. He has a really strong background in corporate design and branding, and does stellar work. He has a solid portfolio of real world work, including training at one of the best art schools around. Shortly after he joined my team, I gave him my “no more comp” spiel. “But that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it!”

Stop already.


When the boss or client receives multiple design comps, it puts them in the expert seat. It says that the client or boss knows how best to communicate and that you don’t, so you’re going to keep mocking up ideas until you get it right.

Get it right the first time.

Do your homework. Research. Survey. It’s completely fine for you and your team (if you have one) to work internally on several ideas to see which one emerges as the clear winner. But don’t include the client or boss in on that process. The process with your client or boss should be heavy on the front side–understanding the goals of the communication piece and what they’re seeing. If you present your one and only idea and it doesn’t knock it out of the park, it means there was a breakdown in understanding the expectations of the project in the first place.

Start over.

The more you’re the expert, the more you’ll be trusted to continue delivering over and over again. The more you come up with multiple ideas, the more you’ll be seen as the Photoshop wonder-kid.

Apple, Trader Joe’s and In-N-Out get this right. They don’t give many options. They get it right the first time. They narrow the focus for you because they know what you want/need in the first place.

By the way, providing one winning idea instead of several decent ideas will save you time and either make you more money (firms and freelancers) or save your employer more money. There’s an idea.

Next up: I’ve got a note coming to bosses and clients who need to hear this as well.

Post By:

Brad Abare


Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles with their daughter, Miró.
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17 Responses to “Note to Creatives: Stop Providing Comps”

  • Antwon Davis
    June 19, 2008

    Makes good sense to me. I’ve been guilty of giving my clients options to choose from, and you’re right… they will take the role of the expert and almost control the project. I’m definitely learning as I grow as a freelancer.
    Great post.
    T H I N K | C H A N G E


  • Michael Calabrese
    June 19, 2008

    This have to call you on the carpet on this on. Your advice is fine for some cases, but the truth is know your audiences. One audience is the people that you are marketing to, the other audience is the person(s) you are pitching the idea to.
    Some bosses will expect you to fight out your (one) idea to see if it can stand. Others really want their ideas and want to pick. Others want to see choices so they can have a better feel of what is possible.
    It also depends on where you are in the process. There is nothing wrong with presenting multiple selection if you are ferreting out the real wants of the “boss.”
    You idea sounds very much like — programmers should not get guidance from the people that will user their programs. That is because the programmers are the professionals and know how it “should” be done. That is nonsense.
    Learn to watch for when to push one idea or when to put out multiple. The world is not flat.


  • Greg Atkinson
    June 19, 2008

    Great word, Brad!


  • Tim Cote
    June 19, 2008

    I guess I am one of those evil bosses. Give me one choice and I will demand more views before I even consider the work.
    The artist is paid to show what can be done, the boss is paid to make decisions knowing about as many possibilities as he or she can possibly evaluate.


  • This is good stuff to chew on. There are times I give one concept…it’s the direction to go. Other times I do give a couple of options. Now I only give the options I am on board with, but I do give options. Especially with logo design.
    The positive of a couple of different, strong concepts is that it can generate some great conversation and then refine our communication and design.
    But this is only true of design. Copywriting-one take, then edits. Video-one take, then edits.
    What I like most about only sending out 1 concept is that it forces me to dig even deeper and refine until I love that one concept above all others.
    What I also like is that it reinforces the fact that I am the expert…okay that sounds arrogant, but I’m the one with the gifting in communication and design, the pastor, etc. is gifted in his areas one of those not being design or he’d most certainly skip over me and do it himself. It puts the design in the postion of leading the design instead of just someone to take orders.
    You have held up the tagline…I am now frustrated as I’m not sure which side I’m on…good stuff as always Brad.


  • Mark
    June 20, 2008

    One thing I’ve noticed is, you show one idea, they seem more likely to go with it, you show many they either fluff round more with them or pick the one you don’t like that much, but you showed it anyway


  • Les Brown
    June 20, 2008

    You nailed it. When I ask for a graphic, I dont need three or five or ten, I only need one. The designer may need to work up a few in order to get their heads around the project and that’s fine. However, I don’t care to see all that. I want the one graphic they think works best. If I don’t like it I’ll give them feedback so they can take another crack at it.
    So glad you wrote this.


  • Bo Lane
    June 20, 2008

    This is a great thought. I am the Art Director for a local Christian newspaper with a 20,000 distribution. I NEVER put out more than one option for my employers to view. If they have changes, ideas that might flow with the original concept … Great! Adding multiple options also allows more people to give their “two cents” – making a simple project more complex and time consuming than it needs to be. Great post!


  • Charles Waugh
    June 20, 2008

    This is the kind of article I needed to read years ago. The whole time I’ve wanted to jump up and say “Amen! Preach it!”
    I was involved in a ministry training program for 2 years. It was asked if anyone had any design skills and if you did to mock up a shirt for the group. Well I made 2 or 3 designs but only showed 1.
    It was considered but I was asked to show another idea or two. This went on and on for a few months until I had about 10 different designs!
    The worst part was none of my ideas were chosen. The shirt they went with was made the day the choice had to be made using MS Paint and Powerpoint (I still haven’t figured out to this day how that worked). The head of the ministry chose what they liked when myself and almost the whole group like my FIRST IDEA I submitted.
    I was bent out of shape for a little bit but shortly after got over my offense.
    I appreciate this article very much.
    -waugh


  • jb
    June 21, 2008

    I think I have to agree with Michael C. comments. I worked for a church as the primary art director and pretty much had free reign over what I wanted to do. I have since relocated and now work for a church where I typically submit 2-3 options on most things. It depends on the audience, even for different ministries, some don’t care and just want a graphic, it’s just not that critical. Other times, yes, I do have to drop some options on the table and see which direction they want to go in.
    I feel I have a pretty good pulse on what is going on in our ministry, and the options I submit are all solid. It’s a matter of preference. I still am supplying the design options, so I am fine with any decision.
    I can tell you that since I have started two things have been noticeable to me:
    1) At first, I had some resistance to offering more than one option, but that was pride really. Over the time that I have been there I can see that I have grown in my craft. I look at it now as stretching me to be better.
    2) As I said, I do submit options, but there are times that I don’t need to. It has been a growing experience for my employer and I in that there is a trust factor that has been established. They expect the best to come out of my office – again a stretching.
    I find this helpful with side work for clients. They don’t know me, and I have a chance to tell them I’ll submit 2-3 options to see which direction feels better to them. It is all part of the dialog. It is part of me wanting them to feel good about the product that they are getting, and a chance to know that I have their best interest in mind.
    my 2 cents


  • Brendon Derr
    June 22, 2008

    This idea/approach is great if you simply consider it another tool in your toolbox of service tactics, but it can spell out doom for the person who adopts this as an exclusive approach. Maybe you do work in an environment where this is always the best option, but that is not reality for most. Great client service professionals will do as some have suggested here in their comments, they’ll discern each situation on a case by case basis and determine what action is going to lead to the most profitable, loyal relationship for both parties. In some cases, your post easily represents the best way, but don’t limit yourself into thinking that it’s the best way all the time. One thing that has helped me in client services over the years is to literally write out a list of the tools you have to best manage a client relationship. Your post sounds like one great tool to have on that list. It’s no different than looking at your version of Photoshop and deciding what tools/functions/options would help you create the best design for your client. You have a box full of tools that can be used to manage your client along every step of the way, and the best services professionals learn how to use the right tools at the right time.


  • Josh
    June 26, 2008

    yeah…
    i have just really started designing “in the business”.. i have been doing it for friends, church, and myself for more than 12 years..
    sometimes it’s tough to get in your client’s head. it’s harder if they don’t know what they want.


  • Aaron
    June 27, 2008

    While I think your intentions are good, I think there is a major, major flaw in your argument. By implication, you are assuming that each “comp” differs from each other in more than aesthetic ways.
    You should properly solve the real spoken, and unspoken, problems that your client is facing. After the real problems are addressed, you should realize that there is more than one aesthetic way to paint over those solutions.

    This in turn helps to protect your ego so that in case one idea is not a clear winner, there are a few others to talk about.

    Don’t you think it’s the other way around? Showing one idea helps give “your” ego a boost by forcing the client to assume your reasoning and problem solving skills are more adept than theirs?

    When the boss or client receives multiple design comps, it puts them in the expert seat.

    No it doesn’t, it puts them in the “as a designer, these are several aesthetic and structural solutions to your problems that I(we) feel fits your demographic, now which one do you think fits you most of these solutions” seat. As designers, we aren’t hitting a refresh button on a Photoshop document that randomly generates colors and layouts and conceptual elements that we then save as JPEGs and run in front of a client. As a design, you should more than be aware that there are several ways to solve creative design issues. While some situations may be exceptions, there is always more than one solution to a given design problem.

    The more you’re the expert, the more you’ll be trusted to continue delivering over and over again.

    You show your expertise in what you deliver, not how many of those you deliver. If you provide 3 amazing comps, all different in varying aspects, that doesn’t demean you or tarnish your aura of creativity. It merely shows you are aware that the client can help you better understand the problems. If you don’t trust your clients to give valuable feedback that can help in the process, get better clients. Bad clients is a reflection on you as a designer.


  • Aaron
    June 27, 2008

    While I think your intentions are good, I think there is a major, major flaw in your argument. By implication, you are assuming that each “comp” differs from each other in more than aesthetic ways.
    You should properly solve the real spoken, and unspoken, problems that your client is facing. After the real problems are addressed, you should realize that there is more than one aesthetic way to paint over those solutions.

    This in turn helps to protect your ego so that in case one idea is not a clear winner, there are a few others to talk about.

    Don’t you think it’s the other way around? Showing one idea helps give “your” ego a boost by forcing the client to assume your reasoning and problem solving skills are more adept than theirs?

    When the boss or client receives multiple design comps, it puts them in the expert seat.

    No it doesn’t, it puts them in the “as a designer, these are several aesthetic and structural solutions to your problems that I(we) feel fits your demographic, now which one do you think fits you most of these solutions” seat. As designers, we aren’t hitting a refresh button on a Photoshop document that randomly generates colors and layouts and conceptual elements that we then save as JPEGs and run in front of a client. As a design, you should more than be aware that there are several ways to solve creative design issues. While some situations may be exceptions, there is always more than one solution to a given design problem.

    The more you’re the expert, the more you’ll be trusted to continue delivering over and over again.

    You show your expertise in what you deliver, not how many of those you deliver. If you provide 3 amazing comps, all different in varying aspects, that doesn’t demean you or tarnish your aura of creativity. It merely shows you are aware that the client can help you better understand the problems. If you don’t trust your clients to give valuable feedback that can help in the process, get better clients. Bad clients is a reflection on you as a designer.


  • Bryan Clark
    July 13, 2008

    I agree with the “there’s a time and a place” brand of comments.
    You’re absolutely right that showing multiple comps just for the sake of options or “because that’s the way it’s done” is useless and, in fact, detrimental to the process. I definitely lean toward a single comp in most cases.
    However, since the message is key in all design, there are SOME times when presenting two completely different angles can be beneficial (especially since having clear communication of the message up front doesn’t always happen) and give the pastor (or whomever) the ability to choose the one that best fits the message, event, etc.


  • Ismael Burciaga
    March 30, 2009

    Here is how I see it. If the client is paying you 5K-10K, yes don’t spend your time doing 2-4 comps. However, if the client is paying you more than 25K then it is not bad to provide a 2nd or 3rd comp. I normally hit the nail on the head with the first comp.


  • The House
    April 17, 2009

    Once I can trust the designers to starting being as interested in getting the marketing right as being nicely artsy, I’ll accept just one design. But until then I won’t even consider making a decision until I have some options.



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