Tom thoughts

Creating a way to present a client 35 different design ideas. Innovation or heresy?

I was asked by Richard Bird, of the package design firm R.Bird, to help them rethink their design process. Since I had never worked in a design firm I only had my own methods.

The firm consisted of 4 designers, a creative director and Richard. Their typical process was for the creative director to assign a new project to one of the designers, and to approve two or three designs to present to the client.

Throughout my career I have switched between being the client and the designer. I knew from being the client that the outside designer rarely could absorb all the shifting needs of the client.

What I created for R.Bird, which they named PROCEDE, was a start to finish series of design exercises that gave them an insight into the client’s product that was broader than even the client’s thinking. 

How did I do that? I had the whole design team work together on the project.


Tempur-Pedic in stores

Researching Tempur-Pedic pillows and their competition.


First they all went out and researched the product in stores. 

Next we went through an exercise called “expanding the brief.” Everyone brainstormed about who else might use the product. In the case of the Tempur-Pedic client, the brief said the product would be for a 40+ woman with neck problems.

The brainstorming session led to two other areas…following the trend of “wellness.” And because it was the most expensive pillow on the market, treating it as a luxury item.

Tempur-Pedic design process

Tempur-Pedic design process

The design process

I then encouraged the designers to, in one half a day, generate 20-30 designs. GACK! They all responded. We can’t design 20-30 total package designs in half a day. Sorry. My bad. Not total design…just a logo and visual concept. Print them out and stick them on the wall. By the end of the day there were over 70 designs scattered over every wall space in the R.Bird office!

Tempur-Pedic quick design sketches

Tempur-Pedic quick design sketches

How to decide what to show the client? I gave everyone  a Post-It pad and told them to mark any designs that they liked. That ended up being 38 of the designs. 11 x 17 printouts were put into a bound book, but upon looking through that many designs one kept wanting to refer back to previous designs. Stratton Cherouny, one of the designers suggested putting each design on a 5×7 card. Brilliant! Now they could be shuffled and moved around and compared.

How the client reacted

The client was taken aback when presented with 37 choices, but when the individual cards were spread out one of the clients chose one of the cards. Then another of the clients picked a different card and said, “I like your choice, but what if it had more color like this one?” A third client said, “Yes, but what if we added an image like this one?”

Presenting to the Tempur-Pedic client

Presenting to the Tempur-Pedic client


Tempur-Pedic the final choice was chosen because of the PROCEDE process

Tempur-Pedic final choice came from the PROCEDE process

What was happening was that the client was engaging in the design process! They were reacting to actual possible solutions, including ones they never though of. In the end the design that was chosen was from the “wellness” category” and not the “40+ woman with neck problems.

In opposition to traditional design firm thinking

Most design firms would never dream of presenting clients with 37 different design choices, presuming that they would get confused and choose “the worst design” (hint…don’t show any designs your wouldn’t be proud of!) Because clients, like all of us, are time pressured, they don’t have time to think through all the possibilities of their product. How valuable is a design firm that does that for the client?


R.Bird and I used the PROCEDE process for another client, Avon. When they went to present their multitude of choice the client informed them (only then, not before they did all the design work) that the brief had changed. No problem…19 of their 40 designs addressed the new brief with relevant solutions.

To this day R.Bird still uses the Procede process that I developed with them.

By |2022-09-02T12:26:56-05:00July 19, 2022|8th chapter, rethinking creativity, Tom thoughts|

my 10th chapter begins

Here are the chapters:

  1. High school and before
  2. School of the Art Institute
  3. Chicago
  4. New York
  5. Columbus
  6. New Jersey
  7. Upstate New York
  8. Leawood
  9. Leawood after Deborah
  10. Today

There are, of course sub-chapters to all of these. Each one signifies either a change in geography, or profession…or life events.

I won’t be writing chronologically. I will key word the posts so that they can be sorted and grouped.

Tom's old business cardsSome, but not all, of my various business cards through the years.

By |2022-09-02T12:27:35-05:00July 18, 2022|10th chapter, history, Tom thoughts|
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