Quality or Quantity?

Quality or Quantity?

By: Berlin Packaging Specialist
Date: October 28, 2019

"We never show them sketches and never present alternatives."

-Walter D. Teague, Founder of Teague Design Associates

This often cited quote from one of the fathers of industrial design describing how his firm would present new concepts to their clients seems foreign and almost hard to believe today. Most of us have a natural tendency to want to present more information and options to our clients, customers, or prospects. Most public speaking seminars will tell you to pare down the information and visuals, but Teague seems to be taking this to the extreme, by claiming that they only present a singular option during meetings.

While I'm sure there was a world of nuance behind the successful process he was describing, it may actually say more about how corporate internal decision-making processes have changed since the heyday of Walter Teague in the 1950s.

The quote conjures up an image of the Don Draper creative presenting to an all-male board room, with eyes fixed toward the end of the table, waiting for an intuitive up-down vote by the ranking executive. Of course, nowadays there is a lot more interaction and dialogue throughout the process, with big decisions happening across various departments, and consensus building a fundamental component at most companies (of course there will always be the lone-wolf charismatic leaders who shoot from the hip and make instantaneous final decisions - but rarely in large consumer product companies).

Most often, we encounter clients who need a variety of options shown (3-5 – not 12!). If nothing else, it’s to help them visualize the schematic tradeoffs of different component or mechanical arrangements, perhaps on an escalating scale of cost/risk. A spreadsheet of success criteria is not useful until embodied through design, and some of those abstract "must-haves" change or melt away once a beautiful cohesive concept showcases the best path forward.

Sometimes we do wish for simpler times. Marketing managers often don't have the benefit of design training, which teaches us how to dissect a problem and put it back together seamlessly...Boardroom brainstorms can devolve into amateur design sessions with watered down results. The best approach to decision making is of course a fully informed, consumer-focused, and data-driven set of criteria that are weighed and then tested. In the end, this messy process of a democratic design more often wins out against the "clarity" of a unilateral vision. As a consultant, I think our time is better spent fighting the limiting assumptions than the instructive feedback.