Less is More: The Rule of 3

by NoD Staff | April 12, 2007

Designers love to show off. We’re creative, we seek heaps of attention and we absolutely crave the limelight. So, it seems only natural that when trying to win a job, a designer would want to show off their creativity by presenting as many design solutions as possible. 10 concepts, 20 concepts, heck–I’ve been at creative pitches where we’ve shown over 60 concepts!

With all of those creative options, you’d think the client would be so impressed that the job would be in the bag, right? Truth is we fell victim to the same trap that many designers fall into. We lost that job because we ignored “The Rule of 3.”

What’s “The Rule of 3” you ask? It’s the rule that says you should never present more than 3 creative concepts to a client. Ever. Now I know what you’re thinking: “What if they are expecting more? What if my three concepts aren’t good enough? What if I have other really good ideas?”

These are all valid questions, but they are ultimately traps. Clients hire designers to get their best creative solutions for the job at hand. They expect you to show your best, not a parade of so-so designs followed by a few really good ones. Odds are if you’re showing 10 concepts in a pitch, 7-9 of them are mediocre at best—and you know it. So why waste your time and the clients as well—or worse, have the client choose a design you hate and only showed because you wanted filler? By filtering in advance and choosing three ideas to present that are the best of the best, you eliminate the confusion and the potential for a bad decision to be made by the client. I suggest approaching the narrowing of the concept field this way:

  • Concept 1: What did the client initially ask for?
  • Concept 2: What would I really love to design for this project?
  • Concept 3: What is the happy medium between Concept 1 and Concept 2

This is just one approach to mapping out a strategy for narrowing down multiple creative concepts. The beauty of such an approach is that you can still dream up all the great ideas you possibly can (no one is saying to curb your creativity). But in applying “The Rule of 3” those great ideas get focused down to your best ones and you can present to the client with utter confidence. Remember, Less is More!



This post was authored by NoD staff. Notes on Design is a design industry blog sponsored by Sessions College for Professional Design.


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