#41: Design problems don’t have ONE solution


I’ve been asked more times than I can count, “How do i know if i’m going the right direction with my design?” or “What if i chose the wrong idea to go with?” Designers are often more insecure about their design choices than they should be. There’s an infinite number of possibilities when we design stuff for our clients. Design is not a science, there is not one right answer, campaign, or solution to every design problem. There are potentially dozens of great ideas that can solve the clients problem for them. The question is what will your solution be and how or why will it work?

I’ve said before, that designers are more like cooks than bakers. Baking takes a lot of exact measurements and very precise ingredients to come up with one perfect product like some fancy dessert. But a cook has the ability to improvise, to take the base of what needs to be made and add in or remove certain things to make the same dish as someone else, but to make it uniquely theirs.

Designers are a lot like chefs, we all have our own styles and our own flavors to add to a recipe.

Ten different designers can be given identical creative briefs for a client, have the same design problem, and come out with ten completely different solutions. They may all have the same base idea, but each design will most likely look different; they will all have a unique flavor because of the person that designed it. It’s entirely possible that all ten could all be really great solutions to the design problem given by the client, but this doesn’t mean that the other nine were wrong-even if the client only chooses one.

Subjectivity & Objectivity of Problem-Solving

Because of the subjectivity of design aesthetics, the final chosen solution depends greatly on the perception of the client.
It is not our job to kill ourselves trying to find one solution for our clients, it is our job to find the one that we feel is the best for them that we can do.
The primary responsibility we have as designers when approaching a design problem is to look at all of the objective information given to us in the creative brief. Start brainstorming words from that information to get a good direction in your process. If you research the target market, the mission of the client, the way the design will be presented (billboard, magazine, poster, etc.), and everything else given by the client via design brief then you have everything you will need to craft a custom design solution for that client.

We have to choose our solution and design direction objectively, because often, the client will choose subjectively based on what they prefer or what they are attracted to.

This is why it is so important for you to remember who you are designing for, who your target audience is. When you take great care to approach the design problem from an objective angle, and target who you need to-you will send the right message. When you do this, it won’t matter if the client chooses based on their subjective ideas of what they like, because you have already done the hard work of designing for the target to solve the problem. For example, if you bring two design options to your client that both target the audience the way they should and have good design aesthetics, then it won’t matter if the client chooses based solely on the “look” of the design, because you have solved their problem two different ways. Present two designs, two solutions for the same problem, and both could work.
Designers often get stuck in dark corners of despair when they are attempting to create a “good design” for their client. When this should never be the goal to begin with.

A good design is a product of good problem-solving based on the facts presented to you as the designer.

When you can come to a place of confidence in the midst of the design problem and whatever boundaries are in place to guide you, you will have the boldness to just go with it and present your unique solution. Don’t be afraid of presenting the “wrong” idea, because there isn’t one. To illustrate this point to my students I gave all twelve of them the very same creative brief for a client and asked for a rebrand of the company from each student. Of the twelve, the design students that really read the creative brief and designed from the standpoint of solving the problem objectively all had the best designs. They were all different, but had elements of similarity, and any one of them could have been the “right” choice for the client.

Solving design problems simply

When you’re approaching your design problem, with a creative brief in hand, here’s a few simple steps to take to start solving that problem. If you can follow these steps and a process, I guarantee you will achieve a successful design solution.

  1. Identify or understand your problem. This can only come from communication with your client and a clear creative brief. Once you’ve identified this problem, you should review it with your client to be sure you are both on the same page before you start on the next step.
  2. Start the design process and map out the plan to solve the problem. Without a plan, your ideas will go nowhere and you will feel lost and insecure about every choice you make.
  3. Design something that will implement your solution. Don’t design ten different things, have a clear direction and make it the absolute best it can be.
  4. Check whether it was successful. Look at the problem and ask yourself if all of your design decisions contribute to solving the problem. (If it isn’t successful, then you probably missed something in the process)

Why many solutions is awesome

Pitches and competitions of every single kind in this industry work exactly the same. Different designers approach the same design from different angles using only the exact same ingredients/facts given to them and they all come out with great ideas and solutions.Design is about using good principles and design thinking to solve a problem for a client, not just to make things look good.If you approach the design problem with the right thinking, you’ll actually achieve both (solve the problem and make it look good), and that is the one solution.

This idea of there not being one single solution to a design problem should be a huge motivation for designers the world over.

Not only does it mean that you aren’t a failure if you don’t create that one perfect design, but it also means that you have the opportunity to bring your uniqueness, your singular vision and approach to the design problem and do what you are passionate about. Often your passion for your design is what will sell your solution above any other options. It won’t sell because it was the “one”, but because you solved a challenging design problem with confidence, boldness, and individuality and were able to explain to the client why you know your design will work for them and what you did.

Design is not a science, it’s not math or baking. There’s no such thing as one right answer in the world of design. There’s no right one, just the right one for the client. Design is a creative world of problem-solving and making amazing art while you’re at it. Designers have one of the most interesting and exciting jobs there is-embrace it. Embrace the problems and challenges and how you solve problems. So work with confidence, make your decisions based on research and stop second-guessing every single decision you make. Present knowing that your solution will work. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there is only one right answer but that your answer will be the best one for the problem. Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.


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