How many concepts should you create?

by / Tuesday, 02 July 2013 / Published in Concept development

“We need to see a bunch of options. Here’s the brief. See you Monday.” It’s Friday at 4:16pm. So, what are your next steps? Well, you have a deadline, and (hopefully) a clear idea about the project. Assuming you do (if you don’t, you’re not ready to start. Stop them from leaving your office/desk/whatever and ask for more clarity. Once you have it, keep reading…), you have to create some options. Whether copy writing, graphic design, art direction or concept development, you have the same challenge – what stuff are you going to show on Monday?

This is the point at which I feel dread, in most cases. Not because I’m not confident I’ll create something, or I don’t know where to start or how I’ll proceed, but it’s because I’m not sure what everyone’s expecting of me. That’s normal. When I worked at a really busy beer agency years ago on Labatts brands, I learned how to approach these situations (in a way that works for me, to this day) with the help of a creative director I worked with. Kim would get stressed out if the basics weren’t met first, on any project. We’d discuss that all the time – “Make SURE you do this version. We really need that, or they’ll FLIP!” I’d do that version, and try something afterward, once I knew that was locked down. So, the simple formula goes like this:

1) Do the client version, dictated by the brief and by their current campaigns. Play it safe for one version.

2) Then, do the version you’ll try to sell. The one that’s like the first version, but with something cool. Not way out there, but enough visual and conceptual smarts, they’ll go for it.

3) Finally, do the version you want to do. Spread your wings (if there’s time, after meeting the first two requirements). It’s the type treatment you’re interested in doing. You’ll still need to follow brand guidelines in cases they apply, but you can still push the limits. Just go for.

The first option eases the tension, and everyone relaxes, knowing the important version’s in the can. The second version (hopefully) get’s them excited about presenting to the client. They’ve got the safety, now they can take an extra risk. The third version is important – because though you may never be able to sell it, and the client could never execute it, and no one could afford to shoot it, or film it or whatever …it’ll get you more interesting projects. in the future.

The best way your account team-mates could ever possibly perceive you, is like this (if they were to describe you to someone else), “Yeah, we got this creative person back at the shop – she’s a freak, man. She does all these wild idea sketches and out-there shit. But her work is solid, so we’re going to put on that big project to see what she does with it.” <- that’s a good reputation to have, and a fun way to work.

Do what you have to, followed by what you want to, followed by what you could never. It’s a powerful trio.

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