Insights

Why ‘I’ll Know It When I See It’ Doesn’t Work

We’ve probably all heard a client, boss, or friend say, ‘I’m not sure what I want exactly, but I’ll know it when I see it.’ I’m here to put some perspective to why this does not — and never will — work for design projects. I’ll even be so bold as to say that statement applies to all circumstances of the use, not just in the design world.

Math is not my strong suit, and I’m not even going to pretend I remember anything from calculus class, but I’m going to bring out the numbers to show how design minus direction or feedback can quickly add up to one big mess.

Let’s imagine I’ve been tasked with designing a logo. The client has decided that they want a two-color, wordmark-only logo created with a serif font. (Yes, I’m keeping this simple to make my math easier!) The Pantone color-matching system has approximately 1,114 spot colors to choose from. With 1,114 choices to select from for the first color and 1,113 choices to select from for the second color, there are 619,941 different combinations of colors. Then we add in the typography. Just to make things manageable, I’ll narrow down the fonts to Google serif fonts…169 families worth last I checked. That brings us up to 104,770,029 possible combinations of two colors and one serif font. Ugh.

You see where I’m going with this. The more options, the more possible combinations, the more unlikely a designer will land on the one that is ‘It’ for the client. I didn’t even get into what would happen if an icon were included, custom fonts requested, or the style be modern vs. classic, edgy vs. conservative. The more elements, the more possible options, essentially leading up to an infinite number of combinations.

Designs cannot successfully be created that way. While a logo may finally be selected, it may come as an acquiescence or with great frustration on one side or both…or a logo may not be selected at all, leaving all sides dejected.

So what can we do?

At the core, much as most things in life, working to create a successful design comes down to a need to communicate — early and often.

Clients, take time before starting a project to think about what you’d like the design to do for you and what you want it to reflect about your company. Jot down the top three things you want the logo to feel like or accomplish and share it with the design team. Refer back to this list as a litmus test during your reviews. Provide examples of designs you like and ones you dislike. If we can see where your preferences lean, it helps us to capture the essence of what you like and gives us a direction to focus our creative juices toward and what to shy away from. When you receive mockups, speak up and tell us why you don’t like things or how what we provided was different from what you thought you were asking for.

Designers, ask questions! Even if the questions seem off-the-wall, ask them anyway; use them to gain perspective on who clients are and what they’re about. Or consider starting small with moodboards or sketches before jumping into full-on designs. If the feedback doesn’t explain enough to you, go back and ask for clarification. Still not getting there? Ask the question in a different way.

So for all of you out there — clients or designers —, refuse to let the ‘I’ll know it when I see it” philosophy prevail; actively work to change the process to ‘I’ll let feedback and iteration craft a thoughtful design’ and come away with a successful result and a happier, healthier client-designer relationship.

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