Note to Boss: Stop Asking For Comps

June 26, 2008 by

No More CompsLast week I wrote a note to designers and creatives about how they should stop providing multiple design comps. Today I direct the same message to the other side–the people that are paying for them.

To Bosses, Clients, Marketing Managers, et al: Try with all of your might to hire freelancers and firms that do not provide comps. Working with someone that provides multiple design comps is like buying from a knife salesmen. If the Ginsu 2000 is the knife that beats all other knives, why do I need to buy all your other knives too?

When you support the bad habit that creatives have about providing multiple comps, you’re training them to doubt their expertise. You’re also presuming on them that you actually know better than they do about what works.

Stop already.

If you’re going to play creative director then design it yourself. If you don’t like the colors or the font or the motion graphics or the bumper music, perhaps you need to do a better job communicating your expectations up front.

And please don’t ever say to your freelancer or firm “I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s a major red flag and anyone who continues to work with you after hearing that must be desperate.

Creative people can be a little sensitive and insecure at times, and they think by providing multiple comps it gives them something to fall back on if you don’t like an idea. They also think it earns more points with you because it looks like they’re working harder.

Stop already.

Work really hard up front to make sure your freelancer or firm gets what you’re trying to accomplish. Give them the problem you’re trying to solve and let them come up with the solutions. The more they know at the beginning, the better they’ll be able to hit it out of the park for you when you see their winning idea.

If you truly hate the idea you are presented, it probably means there was a breakdown in communication from the beginning.

I’ve been working with this no comp approach for a couple years now at Foursquare and so far so good. The people that have the hardest time with it are the people who are stuck in the routine of “that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

So stick to what you know and let your freelancer or firm stick to what they know. Together you guys should be able to do some great things. Bonus: this is also a great way to save a little money too because less time is spent trying to fulfill your fancies.

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.
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14 Responses to “Note to Boss: Stop Asking For Comps”

  • Jesse Phillips
    June 26, 2008

    Yes, hear! hear!

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  • James
    June 26, 2008

    I second the motion! And for designers there’s:

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  • Carl
    June 26, 2008

    Yeah, I have been guilty on both sides of this issue.
    I guess it is the good project manager who can articulate the vision, and it’s the good designer who can draw that vision out early on.

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  • mlc
    June 26, 2008

    well i gotta say i disagree :-)
    many times i have briefed in creatives for many sites over the years – and its rare that a designer of even the best skill hits it first time. also – i want a designer to think outside the box.
    the best designers i have worked with are the ones who can present several options very quickly. i am not asking for a fully spec’d design up front. just options.
    indeed in my briefs now i specify varied personas, alternate journeys and brand positions to give designers guidance.
    then the decision process is still agile, and collaborative – including the designer.
    my view is that a “focus group of one” is just as bad as “design by committee”.

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  • Larry Witzel
    June 30, 2008

    You are absolutely correct. If I as a manager have 100% understanding of the audience I’m communicating with and the message I have, and am able to communicate with perfect clarity exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and the designer digests all of it, and then nails it on the first try, then comps are unnecessary.
    Unfortunately, in 20 years of working both as a designer and as a client, I’ve never seen that in the real world. I don’t have 100% understanding of the space, because by the time I gained that much understanding the space would have evolved already. I’m also not able to perfectly communicate the 40-70% that I do know. And the creative process is exactly that–creative.
    There are some things that you can only discover together, through an iterative design process. Yes, I’m going to push back on a color if it doesn’t feel right, and I expect the designer to argue her case. Yes, I’m going to make suggestions about moving things around, not because I’m a better designer (not even close), but because that conversation will result in a more effective piece. That very conversation is part of the communication process between myself as the client and my designer.
    In the end it’s about communicating the right message to the audience; it’s not about design. The design needs to help clarify the message, and I have found that working together through multiple iterations is the most effective–and efficient–way to get the best results.

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  • HiScrivener
    July 3, 2008

    Although the premise is true, it’s unlikely for people in the PR business with clients wanting a Web site, possesses no knowledge of making one (so requires a clairvoyant, us) and has high expectations.
    For those folk (and there are MANY), a comp is your best friend – for both sides. If we can show one, then we have a happy client. If you can make one, you have a client that will use you ad nauseum.
    It’s one of those necessary evils, namely when working and representing churches. Pastors have visions, PR folk gives them focus. If not, their staff will have delusions… and that’s never pretty for all parties involved.

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  • JB
    July 8, 2008

    I have to disagree too… hard to say from a designer’s point-of-view.
    A couple of quick points:
    1) You are assuming that the client knows what they want – meaning, they can’t give you all the information that you need to come up with just one idea. How many times have we all heard “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” So if the client doesn’t like your option do you walk away from the client and the client’s money, or go back with a little more direction (and billable time).
    2) I remember one of the best exercises by design instructor gave us when working on a logo was to start sketching out ideas and then a few minutes later, he would tell us switch directions in our line of thought – go in a totally different direction. This stimulated the creative stuff rattling in our head.
    3) We’ll there’s goes the idea of a brain-storming session. Obviously one person has the best idea and nobody else needs to show up. Who should be in the brain-storm group is another topic, but I don’t mind missing the occasional meeting myself.
    In all, I want the best design to come out. The best way to communicate ‘effectively’ without sacrificing design – that’s the goal. How many times as designers do we look back at old work and go “What was I thinking?!?” Single comps may not always be the option.

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  • W.Alston
    July 13, 2008

    Wow. Most of the comments above assume that the design piece will actually work in the market place or outreach.

    Once the creative quibble has subsided and design is approved, the product is STILL NOT 100% sure fire bet. A versatile comp piece is a nice place to go back and explore when the audience doesn’t respond well to the elder approved “MIAMI VICE” color palette or organic design. It’s nice to save time by revisiting some original thought points without having to recreate the creative outputs all over again.

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  • Nat
    September 6, 2008

    Designing two or three ROUGH comps is a way to get communications flowing between designer and client. In my experience, most clients don’t know what they want but when they see it they know what they like and don’t like. Designing several is part of the process.

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  • Richard
    November 22, 2008

    I have briefed designers for about 25 years now. Some in traditional areas [like the BBC], some radical [you can guess these]. I also paint draw and design myself.
    What I like to have [demand of all designers who work for me] is three ideas [comps]. Of those I want one wild off the wall idea and one they like and one they think I will like.
    In 25 years I think that I cannot predict which one of the three will likely be the winner.
    Presented with a choice of one option, its ‘take it or leave it’. Most times I leave it. Want the job… offer options… this ISN”T a closed market place. So. Forget the idea ‘No more comps’ it just won’t work and would hamper the creative process.

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  • Ktisis
    January 9, 2009

    Well put! I NEVER provide comps…I don’t want to waste my time on time. Either I have a God-inspired (which NEVER fails) idea, or I don’t take the job. It’s that simple, and it’s been a flawless process to-date.

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  • Felix
    January 14, 2009

    I disagree that designers should not provide comps. As a designer myself, there are many times when more than one solution could work. Having more than one comp sparks conversation and many times results in a even better solution that both satisfy the problem-solving and client.
    However, I’m not saying that there must be more than one comp presented. There are times when you just have one superior idea and you don’t want the client to go any other way.

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  • Michelle B.
    February 24, 2009

    My true fear is the Frankenstein logo! Show a client too many logo ideas and they start to pick them apart and put them back together.
    I try not to do multiple comps, but do one good idea to get a conversation going between me and the client. And there are tons of people out there that have difficulty expressing what they like and don’t like until they see it, and I don’t think it is a good idea to just let them go at it alone. We as designers must collaborate with our client.

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  • Ismael Burciaga
    March 30, 2009

    Doing a couple of comps never hurts, especially if the client is paying you 25K or more. Luckily out of all the sites I have done only 3-4 of them have asked for a second comp. One thing to remember is that most church websites aren’t designed very well so when someone comes in and makes a site 100 times better, that first comp becomes a winner.

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