The First Round

The First Round conference, held in Denver, CO, this past May featured a series of creatives presenting their first round of design explorations for logo, identity, and branding projects to clients. Speakers included everyone from large ad agency creative directors to independent freelance designers and showcased a vast array of approaches when first pitching concepts. Attendees learned about different approaches to help open up possibilities for delivering the best and most impactful impression on their clients.


The Classic “One Step – Two Step – Out of the Box” Approach
This is the most traditional approach when presenting to our clients: showing three visual concepts that get progressively further out of the box from the current state of the brand. This approach naturally makes the most sense. Starting with a concept that is relatively safe and working your way out, you are building a sense of comfort and safety with your client.

This approach works well with clients that are hesitant to change and are protective of their brand. It is a way to ease into your big, outlandish ideas by warming up the client to the idea of real change. It allows you to pitch out-of-the-box ideas while still making your client feel heard and comfortable.

This approach is also great for refreshes of any kind. The word “refresh” implies there is still attachment to the current look, just freshened up a bit. By coming at the refresh this way, it shows you acknowledge and respect what the client is wanting from the project, while still demonstrating what could happen if they completely flipped the script. Again, it goes back to comfort and easing your client into something completely unexpected. Who knows, they just might get out of their comfort zone if you present it.

The best approach for:

  • Clients hesitant to change
  • Clients that don’t know exactly what they want
  • Any project that involves the word “refresh”


  • Gives the client a sense of comfort
  • Natural progression makes the out-of-the-box idea less intimidating
  • Can build excitement for the out-of-the-box ideas


  • The most common approach
  • Can become predictable


“The One and Only” Approach
This method of presenting is unconventional but can be effective with the right project and client. This approach presents just one concept in the first round. By presenting just one concept, you can focus more time and energy on developing and showing a wider breadth of how the concept can come to life. However, “The One and Only” is not for every project or client. This method requires trust and communication. Regular check-ins during the concepting process and gut checks will make this method the most successful.

It can also be successful when you are working with a client who knows exactly what they want. Since they have a clear direction in mind, you can narrow in on that and put all your resources into building on that concept.

The best approach for:

  • Clients that have a clear and direct vision
  • Clients you are in lock-step with during the creative process
  • When you are certain (without a doubt) this is right for them


  • More time to build the concept out 
  • Ability to incorporate more meaningful mockups to bring the concept to life


  • You can swing and miss if you aren’t communicating with your client
  • With the wrong client, this can feel like you are pigeonholing them into your vision


“Casting a Wide Net” Approach
As the name implies, in this approach you are throwing everything at the client. Casting a wide net involves showing a large number of concepts to get a reaction that will help identify the best direction. This can work with a client that is not sure exactly what they want, allowing them to react to what they like and what they want to avoid.

Concepts in this approach are meant to be more surface-level—quantity over quality in the first round. Referring to the designs as “ideas” rather than concepts in the first round will help the client understand that nothing is set in stone and is meant to be a collaborative experience. This can help build trust when the client feels like their input is driving the direction. The idea for the second round with this method is to hone in on building out selected concepts, similar to a traditional first-round presentation.

The best approach for:

  • Clients that don’t know exactly what they want
  • Clients that want to explore multiple visual directions


  • Ability to explore many different design approaches
  • Helpful in getting a reaction from the client on what they gravitate to
  • Client feels more involved in the creative process


  • Can overwhelm the client
  • Can make them more confused about the direction
  • Can lead to a “Frankenstein” approach in Round Two


Overall, first rounds are crucial to every project. They truly are what sets the tone for the rest of the process. Being able to make the most out of your first round presentation will ultimately set you and your team up for success and leave your clients wanting more.