I’ll start with an admission.  I sometimes provide multiple options when I don’t have a clear, zesty idea. It can be a crutch. Design clients want great ideas, not more ideas.

Providing options is often a useful tool, but just not always. There’s a few circumstances I’d like to talk about where I might shy away from littering the table with options. And here they are:


1. When it’s limiting participation

Selection is not the same as collaboration. Design should be a search, not a roulette. The downside of using options is that it could diminish the authentic search. Let’s embrace the search in design. It’s hard work. While we are searching, we may need to work through some ambiguity or contradiction. When have you ever made something rewarding without a little bit of hard work? That will make it great. All that work to communicate effectively in the design process, be honest about what you really want and need – that’s really good stuff.

There’s going to be a time in every project when you need to just choose. OK I can do that, and I will again. Design projects can be exhausting. But if you’re just throwing a dart every time, you’re not really getting to something personal, something specific.


2. When it’s thoughtless.

Let’s talk about the idea of being deliberate. To Design is To Plan. There is knowing that goes into planning. There is understanding. There is an internal logic to a building; it has its own skin tone and hair color. Sometimes the building already gives you the answers, and if you have a sense for the building’s inherent logic, you can feel that and understand it, then the options logically whittle down. A design team in touch with that essence is doing their job; they can adhere to the truth of their project’s identity. This should delete some options. It might not eliminate the concept of options, just the idea that options are always the way to truth. I don’t take that courtroom approach here. Not all options are innocent until proven guilty. Some of them suck. Let’s not waste our time.


Why write about this?

I’m writing about this because I think we have too closely tied the idea of selection with agency. This is a marketing tactic that I dislike. Everyone please stop using the work “bespoke”. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

I’ve had a couple chats about this post before posting it, and a few friends reacted like I was a lunatic for questioning the idea of options. Hopefully I have made a couple points here, but maybe I can boil this topic down to one phrase: good ideas, not more ideas.