Dealing with clients/bosses with pie-in-the-sky ideas

Anyone ever had a client or a boss that has all of these wild ideas and expects you to jump at them? For instance, say you have a project that needs to get pushed through pretty quick so you can get to market fast. Obviously, as a designer, you’ll do your absolute best to challenge conventional thinking but at the end of the day, sh*t has to get done. Is it taking the easy way out by avoiding complicated, wild ideas? Or is it OK to say it’s too risky to attempt these wild ideas with such a limited development window? What’s a good way to tackle this?

Usually I just present them with a timeline that has ideas arranged on it.

For example concept A will take 12 months to avail to ship date, concept B will take 18, concept C 24 months.

Use that as the horizontal, and investment dollars as the vertical and you have a pretty compelling matrix that will help you judge how risk averse your stakeholder really is. Everyone likes to say lets invent transparent aluminum or some such, but when they see how long it may take and how much it may cost, people get realistic fast. As a designer, it is pretty impossible to make that matrix on my own without resorting to the WAG method (Wild Ass Guess) so if I bring in some folks from engineering and development to help force rank the concepts and assign rough values, it helps give it validity.

This way you avoid the “Why is this costing so much and taking so long” conversation that may happen in 12 months if you do as told and pursue your boss’s vision. It can be awesome to go on those goose chases and develop something really differentiated, just as long as the people paying the bills understand what it will take.

How about creating a decision matrix?

Pretty much create a version of the standard Pugh decision matrix and have your client assign weights to each aspect of the product or the project deliverables, including cost targets and time for delivery. Plug their numbers into your rankings of each concept and use the outputs to show the client what path they should be taking if they want to hit the target. Even if they throw an equal weight on each category, the differences between the feasibility of concepts should be pretty apparent.

If you have uncertainties for certain aspects of the project, you can attempt to quantify the uncertainty with error bars on a fancy chart.

Where I work, we vet ideas a little differently. We very quickly build a lot of small rough functioning concept test models and run them through our user group to get immediate design/learning feedback. This does a few things: 1) it keeps our design cycle time low and provides immediate learning about our concepts (either we change or pursue) 2) it keeps the momentum going so we don’t get married to our designs and force an idea/feature that’s unnecessary just because we spent time on a longer design cycle 3) we can pivot or persevere on an idea and build a strong case to our financial/marketing/executive team from our concept evaluation learning experience.

This kind of works better for a startup model where cash is low market is a bit ambiguous and feedback is critical. But it works for us because we’re a smaller design group in a larger company and each of us can critically and objectively value our concepts quickly. May not work for all but it does help reinforce spending the cash in potential pipelines.