It’s common among logo designers to present 3 concepts to the client, so they can choose the one they like the most. I’ve even seen this taught in design schools and courses.
I don’t offer multiple logo design concepts to my clients—I show them one, and then we discuss whether it works for the business or not, and if something needs to be changed.
Some of my colleagues and clients are surprised to hear this, because multiple concepts are taken for granted. Business owners usually think they must have a choice. But that’s only a convention—it’s not necessary to achieve a great final logo. If anything, the one concept approach helps the client get the logo they need, instead of the logo they think they want.
Design legend Paul Rand subscribed to the “one concept” method of logo design as well, as recounted by Steve Jobs:
I asked him if he would come up with a few options. And he said, “No, I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution — if you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how, and you use it or not, that’s up to you — you’re the client — but you pay me.”
I’m no Paul Rand, but I have plenty of real-world logo design experience, and I’m always focused on the best interest of my clients and their business. This may not work for every designer, but I’ll explain why the “one concept, one revision” approach works for me and my clients.
I design many logo ideas, but I only show one
“One concept” doesn’t mean that I come up with one logo idea, and then I’m done! Quite the opposite, I sketch pages and pages full of ideas, starting from the most obvious associations, to the more original ones. This stage can take several days, until I feel like I have a few potential concepts I can refine further.
Hospitality consultant logo sketches started off with images of food and wine, until I developed it into the shape of smiling lips – the seat of the sense of taste, and a universal language of hospitality.
I start my logo design work on paper with a pencil, marker, or a brush, and I can already see clearly which ideas would work well, and which are not worth wasting further time with. Sometimes there is a clear winner already in the sketch stage.
After I’ve selected one or more ideas to refine, I redraw them as digital vectors, and tweak the shapes and colors until they’re just right. I try out different fonts and compositions, and I narrow them down to one concept that meets all of the criteria that the client and I agreed on in the beginning of the project.
Variations of the selected idea for the hospitality consultant logo
Testing different fonts to find the one that stylistically matches the symbol
If I can’t decide between two variations, I sleep on it and come back tomorrow with fresh eyes. Given enough time, I always find the one logo that is far better than all the other concepts I created, and that’s the logo I fully stand behind.
Presenting the concept to the client requires additional work.
The logo proposal presentation is all about explaining why the logo looks the way it does, and showing it in real-life use. I want to create the entire brand identity context for the logo, so the client can see how it will live in the world.
This involves creating mockups of applications in different printed and digital media that the client anticipates using. That means I start designing drafts of these graphics during the logo design stage, just to create a “home” for the logo to fit into.
I usually refine these graphics later on, but it’s still time-consuming to create the presentation. If I did this for multiple logo concepts, that would be costly for the client: I’d need to increase my logo design project fee to account for the extra 15–20 hours of work.
By focusing on the one final concept, I’m also able to invest time in creating additional logo variants and graphic assets like icons, patterns, illustrations, and other elements that elevate the brand identity.
For as long as I’ve been following this logo design process, I’ve only once had a client say:
“I don’t like this, can you show me another idea?”
With that kind of track record, I have total confidence in my design process, and my clients have confidence in me.
Clients are experts on their business. Designers are experts on design.
I don’t believe that most lay people are educated enough to make the best design choice. If I were to trust my client’s guidance, I would first need to train them on the basics of visual communication, color theory, explain why certain lettering styles work better for certain mediums, etc. I don’t have time to give a crash course in design to every client.
Multiple logo options are forcing the client to make a decision based on criteria they’re not familiar with. Clients that hire designers acknowledge that they need expert help. (Otherwise, they could design their own logo.) They want designers to create a solution, not a buffet of half-baked ideas.
If design is intended for the consumption by non-designers, why can’t a lay person make the decision?
Short answer: non-designers make completely subjective decisions based on their personal preferences, and those differ among people. The business owner probably can’t know what their audience will find appealing.
Designers are trained to consider objective criteria, which can offset their personal preferences for certain colors or shapes. My favorite color is red, but you don’t see me putting red on every single client logo design. I may enjoy brush lettering, but I only use it when it’s a good fit for the client’s business and their audience.
A good designer will listen to the client, research the target audience, examine the current design landscape of the client’s market, and deliver the solution that fits into this well. We don’t just make stuff up because we happen to like it.
I’m not claiming that designers are totally impartial.
We may have an aesthetic style that’s informed by our cultural heritage, personal life experiences, hobbies, and interests. We may be drawn to certain fields more than others. We are humans above all, so we can’t be completely objective, no matter how hard we try. But the years and decades of immersing ourselves in design literature and media helps us move beyond our personal bubble, and we can feel confident that our approach will work in the real world.
Business owners are most likely to get the logo they’re happy with if they choose the designer that demonstrates a style that appeals to the client in their portfolio. I’m not asking anyone to put complete trust into any designer they stumble across. By carefully vetting the logo designer, the client can expect excellent results.
Can polls or focus groups yield the best logo choice?
I’m not a fan of polls, because people are presented with the choices with no context. In the real world, a logo will always appear in context, and sometimes people need a few weeks to get accustomed to the new brand. Showing folks 2–3 images on a white background is not giving the concepts a fair chance to demonstrate their strengths. One may look more appealing on its own, but may be impractical to use on certain media.
With an anonymous poll, you have no way of knowing whether the respondents are in your target audience, and how familiar they are with your brand. People who would never become your customers may be skewing your numbers.
I often see business owners post the concepts on social media, asking for the audience to state which one they like best. I don’t know if the designers of these logos are aware that their clients do this. If they aren’t, that’s not right—the concepts belong to the designer until the work is completed and paid for. Circulating the concepts around without the designers explicit consent is actually illegal.
The audience on social media often doesn’t know anything about the business, so their preferences are purely cosmetic. You might think that an uninformed audience can give you the best fresh “first impression” response, but is this even the right audience to ask?
Your logo should not appeal to everyone who sees it—it has to strongly appeal to your ideal clients.
If you want to include more voices into your decision, I would recommend a focus group of your best clients or customers, with an addition of a few people who are new to your brand but are shopping around for services and products like yours.
These focus group members need to be presented with samples of promotional graphics or product packaging, so they can judge the new logo “in its natural habitat”. Then we need to ask them pointed questions, such as:
- Which one appeals to you and speaks to your values?
- Which one looks the most innovative and different from the logos you’ve seen?
- Which one would you reach for on the shelf?
- Which one would you click on?
- Which would appeal to you on a product such as a shirt, pen, tote bag..?
After a few weeks have passed, we’d need to ask them:
- How well can you remember the logos you’ve seen last time?
- Can you sketch what they look like?
If a client wanted a focus group, I would totally be on board with that. But that would significantly increase project costs, so it’s not an option for most small businesses.
“A bit of this, a bit of that…”
Designers hope they’ll avoid numerous revisions by just giving clients several different options to choose from, but the clients sometimes say things like:
“I prefer the colors in the first one, and the font in the second one, but the symbol in the third one is nicer… Can you do a combination of that?”
Someone may be content with that feedback, but I think that it completely misses the point. Each concept is a carefully balanced composition of graphic elements, and should stand on its own merit. If we go changing colors, fonts, and symbols willy-nilly, the concept breaks down.
There’s a reason why this symbol goes with this font, and not with that other font. To a lay person it may look all the same, but pairing the right elements and tweaking the curves in the icon so that it matches the curves in the font is a process that requires expertise and obsessive attention to detail.
Mixing and matching elements from different logo concepts results in a mediocre, thoughtless logo.
The biggest hurdle to narrowing down to one concept may be not knowing the client’s aesthetic preferences.
There are many possible ways to create a great logo for a business, but what usually makes one concept a “winner” is the fact the CEO likes it the most. That’s a very subjective decision that has nothing to do with how “good” the logo actually is.
Trying to guess the client’s taste based on what they expressed can be difficult, which is why I use a mood board to set a broad direction for the brand before I draw a single line.
In the mood board, I lay out one or several possible aesthetic directions for the logo. I find 5–6 examples of each style, so the client can get the gist and imagine whether that’s something they’d want for their brand. I’m talking generally, so let’s use an example.
For this non-profit organization logo, I suggested two possible approaches:
- Expressive and colorful lettering (because the name only has 3 letters).
- Symbolic logo with the name set in a sans-serif font.
The client expressed clear preference for direction #2, so I didn’t waste any time drawing concepts that would fit with the direction #1.
Sometimes there’s very little doubt about which direction to choose, because both the client and I have a strong preference for a certain type of logo. Most universities use either a symbol, a monogram, or an emblem. When I was working on the brand identity design for a local university, the dean emphasized they wanted a “strong regional character” that the local students will connect with. For the region of Istria, this means only one thing: goats.
I showed the client examples of contemporary university logos with animal symbols, and others that feature landmarks, which I thought were appealing to a young audience (something they would gladly wear on a shirt). I proposed we use the official regional animal as a symbol, and they agreed.
Once we narrowed down to the goat symbol, the only remaining question was: what style of goat? I set out to explore different ways of drawing a goat head, and how it could be incorporated into a geometric shape like an emblem. Once I got the idea to use a two-color composition of triangular shapes withing a square, it all fell into place. I immediately knew this was the one, and no one could have convinced me otherwise. It was obivous, with the goat and the triangle-shaped Istrian peninsula, but it was also highly stylized and allowed for some very interesting applications using the triangles. The client loved it, and I only tweaked the horns a bit before the logo was approved.
The green and blue goat symbol sketch looks very similar to the final university logo design
Sometimes clients don’t have a preference, and that gives me free reign to explore whatever ideas come to mind, and choose the one I think is best. But if there is any indication that the client would not accept a certain style, I won’t try to convince them otherwise.
Earlier I said that a business owner may not always be the most reliable person to make a design decision, but that doesn’t mean I dismiss their preferences outright. They need to take pride in the logo as well!
When I show that first proposal to the client, I have great confidence that they will be satisfied with it. That’s because I made sure in the very beginning to understand what they respond to, and what message they want the brand to communicate.
Another skill that definitely helps to show clients why my logo proposal would work well for their business is persuasive communication. I’ve had the gift of the gab since I was a toddler, and it has helped me in my freelance business more than anything else. Being able to talk my way through the concept, pointing out why I made this specific color choice, or why the logo curves just so, helps the client recognize the complexity and nuance of logo design, and why listening to a designer’s recommendation is a good idea.
One revision is all it takes to get it right
When Sean McCabe first introduced the “one concept approach” to the internet audience, he took the “randian” stance that there are to be no revisions whatsoever. The one concept he submitted to the client was final, take it or leave it (but you still need to pay for it).
I’m not quite as extreme, so one revision is included in the scope of each logo design project. (Except pro bono projects, which usually don’t include revisions.)
There are two main reasons why I limit the number of revisions to one:
1. It focuses on the main goals, and reframes the purpose of revisions in the client’s mind.
Back when I used to do “unlimited” revisions, the clients would get too excited about the revision process, like that was the main point. They’d ask “Can we try another color?” or “Can we try another font?” or “How about if we try this..?” as if we have all the time in the world.
The clients would be having so much fun playing the art director, and get lost in the process along with me, but the project would not benefit from it at all. We’d have to keep comparing whether this or that version is better, spinning in a circular path instead of moving forward. I’d be racking up work hours, and for what? No good reason that I could see.
The clients wanted to experiment, but I have done all the experimenting behind the scenes already, and I was presenting a completed concept that we needed to evaluate on its own merit, not further muddy the waters.
The purpose of the one revision is to fix small problems and polish the concept. It’s not to branch out into five different directions and keep comparing them. That just wastes everyone’s time because I’ve already done it on my own. We are focusing now, not expanding.
2. It rewards decisive clients and keeps costs fair.
If I included 3 revisions with every project, then every project would need to cost more, because I’d be putting in more work hours on average. But what if the clients don’t use up the 3 revisions? I charged them for something they didn’t get. Do I refund them? Do I just say nothing and pocket the difference? I don’t like any of those options.
The “one” revision doesn’t have to be exactly one revision. If clients are not confident that one revision will get us there, they can ask for additional ones, but that incurs extra charge because it requires extra work hours. Someone who is prepared to pay more can certainly get more of my time. But I don’t want to force everyone to pay more if that’s not necessary.
My project fee reflects the type of client interaction I want to have:
- Focused on the goals and expectations.
- Contemplating the meaning of the logo design.
- Confident decision-making.
One revision works great when all three are present. I guide my clients to elicit those qualities in them, but if they’re naturally indecisive, this indecision comes with a price tag.
How much does the logo change in one revision?
I was never asked to create a completely different concept in the revision round. Typical changes that we agree to may be along the lines of:
- Slightly increase or decrease the size of the icon compared to the text.
- Change the logo color, because there’s an objective reason the color I initially suggested is not appropriate.
- Change the font to one that’s more fun and unusual.
- Change the style of handwriting to a slightly different style of handwriting.
- Tweak the icon design a bit.
First logo proposal and the revised logo for a fashion brand identity
If for some reason the client didn’t agree with my first concept at all, I would propose a different concept in the revision round. (They would need to accept that one with no edits, or pay for a new revision round.) This hasn’t happened to me yet.
Changing the business name in the middle of the logo design process may incur extra costs.
Some clients, especially if their business is so new they haven’t even registered it, may change their mind about the name. If this happens once the design process is already down the way, this means I need to scrap everything I did, and start over.
You may think that changing a name only involves typing different text in the same place where the old one was, but it may not be that easy.
- Many of my logo designs are hand-lettered, which means there is no font. I need to write the new name by hand, and then scan and turn it into a digital vector graphic. (You can see an example of my hand-lettering process here.)
- Even if I use a font, I usually customize the letters a bit to balance them better with the symbol.
- If the new name has a different length or a different number of words, the old composition may not be appropriate, which means more work is needed to find a new composition that matches these specific words.
If the client changes the name after I’ve already started working on the logo design, they need to pay for an additional revision, to make up for the time I spent working with the old name.
This approach may not be for everyone
Before deciding whether you want to apply it to your own design business, or as a client who uses design services, consider all the pros and cons.
“One concept, one revision” doesn’t mean it’s always faster
I work meticulously, and my logo & brand identity design process takes 3–4 weeks at a minimum. Some of my colleagues work much faster, even when presenting multiple concepts. This approach is not about achieving speed, although I find that the design process is more streamlined. Any excess that is cut from the process was not producing a better result, anyway.
Transitioning to the “one concept, one revision” may take some testing
If you’re a designer, you might be wondering “How do I transition to the one concept approach?” or “How do I make my clients agree to that?”
I can offer some insights from my journey. I did “one concept logos” when I was a design beginner, before I knew what the industry norms were. So I started out good, then got sucked into the “multiple concepts” for a few years when my clients or bosses expected it, and later came back to my senses.
The first step is to test the one logo concept approach on a pro bono project, or with a client you know very well. If someone is not paying for the service, they don’t have anything to complain about. If they don’t like your logo, they don’t have to use it.
If you’re working with a friend as a client, you can be transparent about trying out something different, and asking if they’re on board to be your “test subject”.
I completed my first such project for a non-profit, and you can check out my case study of the design process here.
The next project I did in this manner was for a friend who was launching a new business, and needed a logo really fast to meet a deadline. I didn’t have to explain anything about my process, and they didn’t ask. I just presented the concept (in two color variants, orange or red) and they loved it immediately. If I recall correctly, those two logos didn’t even have a revision round.
My first official one concept, no revisions logo for a sci-fi convention brand identity
Every logo I’ve designed since, I presented as a single concept. The “test projects” gave me confidence that I can do this, and it came really naturally to me.
The number of rounds varied a bit for a while. There were projects where I did multiple rounds of tweaking (because apparently I didn’t communicate clearly enough that one revision round is what they get, nobody reads the contract). Now I’m much clearer about my design process, and emphasize that “one concept, one revision” is what they get for the quoted fee. Everything else is extra.
In my article on creating an exceptional client service, I point out why setting clear expectations is key:
“Misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions can affect a business collaboration to the point of dissolution, so we need to work hard to eliminate as many opportunities for them to happen. […]
I don’t want them to be disappointed when they get “just” one logo proposal from me, so I go out of my way to mention in all my marketing and onboarding materials that I will show one concept at a time, and one concept only. If they think that’s unusual, we talk it out before signing the agreement, and then it’s out of the way.
Think about what assumptions your clients may have about your profession (hint: try to remember awkward conversations from your past), and spell it out in as many places as you can how your services truly work, and what scope is covered by them.”
Results and client testimonials speak in favor of this method
I don’t ask anyone to just take my word for it. My portfolio of logo designs shows what I can achieve using this method. In addition to that, my clients are very happy about their experience, and proud of the results we’ve achieved. (My logo & brand identity design services page has quite a few featured testimonials.)
Designers who can demonstrate visible and tangible results get to set their own process. We don’t need to all work in the same way. There is no single best design process—there is the best process for a specific designer with a specific client.
If showing multiple logo design concepts works great for you, keep doing it!
I chose the method what works much better for me.
I help consulting companies increase their visibility and impact with my signature human-centered branding approach. For more information on how we can work together, check out my brand identity design services.
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