I'm currently working on naming a product, and I have a list of names. Some are okay, some aren't, but I know at some point I have to close the list, pick a couple that sound good, and present them to the team members as the available choices for the next round.

I've experienced this sort of thing with logo designs as well in particular, but this is an issue that can happen with pretty much anything we design.

Sometimes you create something and you know it's perfect, or great enough to present to the client and move on with. But how do you move on when that's not the case?


I've found when I don't have a clear winner its because of a few reasons:

  • I didn't set up inspiration boards. Contrary to what most people say its GOOD to have reference, not always but most of the time. Being inspired and stealing are completely different things.

  • I didn't set up clearly defined needs for design. Who is the audience? What are some designs that are already overused in this genre? etc.

  • I sat in front of the computer too long. Grab a sketch book, take a walk, get away from computer.

  • Look at it from another perspective. Print it out, flip your screen upside down ( you would be surprised how different something looks upside down)

  • Show iterations early on, make sure you explain they are sketches and only trying to get the look and feel. Sometimes only show them to team, other times only client (depends on dynamics)

  • 3
    "Good artists copy, great artists steal." :) May 8 '14 at 3:59
  • 4 out of 5 seems to be broadening the set of evaluation criteria or estimating their immediate “value” :}
    – thebodzio
    May 8 '14 at 11:18
  • 1
    I think the clearly defined needs for design is often the critical problem. Loose requirements tend to end up with loose designs, which tend to end up with loose feedback. It is a vicious cycle to say the least. May 13 '14 at 23:41

The missing ingredient in what you're asking is testing.

When all's said and done, if your client is in business to sell something, and your job is to help them succeed (which it is), you have to consult your audience to know what's going to work. You started with some survey data to guide the development process. Now you need to test.

A logo, a slogan, an ad or an identity program stands or falls on how the intended audience responds to it. You can be sure you know that answer, and you may even be right, but there is absolutely no substitute for testing.

Take your top three or five "most likely" candidates out into the field, show them to some people from the target audience and find out how they react. Don't let people look, ponder, discuss and overthink the thing. You're looking for the reaction, the instant take, not a critique.

Show the person one item for a few seconds, then hide it. "What impression did you get about this company?" or "What impression does that leave you with?" will elicit responses that sometimes make your jaw hit the floor. The "extra credit" question comes at the end, after you've shown all your candidate designs/logos/taglines: "Which one stays in your mind?" can tell you more than a month of brainstorming.

This doesn't have to be done on half the local population. Two or three dozen representative people, in most cases, is enough to let you know if you're in the ballpark.

At the very least, you'll be able to present the data to the client and say "Here's how 80% of our test subjects reacted when we showed them this, which is why we recommend it."

A different technique that helps in the studio is to stop asking "Which one seems best?" Flip the question around and ask, "Which of these is least likely?" It's remarkable how this switch in viewpoint can give you a bit of distance and a fresh look. It also works well on CEO's who are nervous about committing to a final decision.

Ultimately, though, it's about the audience, so that's where you have to take it to know the answer.


In my experience, if there's no clear winner among competing designs or ideas, then they are all equally good/bad.

To estimate the value of each solution we use explicitly or implicitly a set of criteria.

If, according to these criteria, each solution is as good as any, to choose one possibility, we can either choose it randomly (or using current “guts feel” ;}) or try to extend our set of criteria.

If the latter is impractical or impossible, we just fall back to the former.

If not, additional criteria may give us definitive answer to the question “what is best”.

  • How well has this process worked for you in the past? Do you tend to find that people will fall back to the former or bite the bullet and pick one? May 13 '14 at 23:42
  • Pretty well, actually. As to the second question, I always try to explain my reasoning, the same way as I did here. The thing is, you always need something to differentiate the choices—the said evaluation criteria—to be able to say “this is better than that”. If you can't do that, then you either lack some additional criterium or your choices are equivalent. Realizing it can save a lot of time…
    – thebodzio
    May 14 '14 at 0:47
  • It would also save a lot of posts to the Clients from Hell website :D May 14 '14 at 0:55
  • Exactly :} Although not a CfH story, but still… A friend of mine ordered a business-card design. Because he wanted to have a choice, a designer send him a couple of different variants. For the next 2 weeks my friend tried to decide on one. When he finally did, he was exhausted by the process and in the end his choice was as good as any…
    – thebodzio
    May 14 '14 at 1:08

Publish a poll somewhere and let users decide. I guess you have a target group, so ask them and they will choose. :)


Some good answers above. I'm a huge advocate of taking a break; getting away from the computer, taking a shower, going for a run. Anything to occupy the conscious mind and let my unconscious speak.

I have one tactic to contribute which gets me by sometimes. It's simply to give yourself a set amount of time and then move on! Parkinson's Law; "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"

Sometimes, good enough is good enough. Momentum kills, Minimum Viable Product and all that. Clients usually don't care what the hell it is, as long as it does what it supposed too. Results are results!

Then again... You're only a good as your last project... AHHHH DILEMMA!


Methods for Evaluating Ideas

#1 De Bono's Six Thinking Hats Theory

enter image description here

The main point of using this method is to ensure that all angles are covered when discussing an idea.

There are six differently coloured hats, each signifying a different mindset to be employed by the wearer.

Traditionally it goes:

  • Managing (Blue) - what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal?
  • Information (White) - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions (Red) - intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
  • Discernment (Black) - logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative
  • Optimistic Response (Yellow) - logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
  • Creativity (Green) - statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes

You can systematically iterate through these mindsets and evaluate your short-list of names to either decide on a new one or help to narrow it further, when you stop wearing the hats is up to you.

Click here for more extensive reading on Wikipedia

#2 Arbitrary Scoring

This option can help you to organise your thoughts by realising what you like and what you don't like about each idea. When combined with the previous method in one of a few different ways, you can end up with not only a set of ideas you're happy with, but also a complete understanding of why, enabling you to better articulate your logical reasoning for each idea, later on.

It can be used for group brainstorming sessions or alone.

The simple concept is:

  1. Write out a set of constraints that you need to adhere to, it can be as few as one or as many a thousand (extreme).

  2. Turn those constraints into as many separate questions as possible.

  3. Choose a scoring scale - the more questions there are, the larger the scale will need to be to get clear scores at the end.

    In most cases you'll want to use a scale of 0 - 5/10, with zero being 'not able to satisfy this constraint' and the highest value being 'very able to satisfy this constraint'.

  4. Score away!

You can extrapolate the scoring data in a few different ways (that are a bit too technical to describe quickly), to help with the process of elimination.

Afterwards you'll at least be able to discern what you think is good or bad about each idea, and should almost certainly have a basic hierarchy of best to not-so-best.

  • I'm not sure I understand how the Six Thinking Hats is relevant to this question. How does it actually lead to picking out a logo to show your client?
    – Ryan
    May 8 '14 at 10:49

summary: Group your names into categories that cover qualities you're looking for in a name. When you have entries in all categories that you think are important, you can show the group or the client.

full answer: When reviewing our designs we can quality check against design principles: does my use of white space reflect groups and separations, do I have unnecessary elements, does this color scheme and typography reflect the mood I'm trying to convey? I'm not experienced with naming products but I think you can use a similar process.

Do you have specific qualities that you are looking for in a name? What do you like about other product names? Are they simple, complex, funny? Group your current name choices into similar categories (eg. these names are short, these names are funny, these names produce an emotion). Then look at how many of your choices fall into each category and compare them on the basis of that category. If a name falls into two categories, mark it down in both and note that. Do you have roughly equal names in all categories? Or does your list show that you value some qualities in a name more than others? I think if you can whittle down to an equal number of names in each category, that will bring you closer to presenting to the client. Even if you haven't found "THE Name" yet, you can know you're meeting certain criteria.

I am a fan of E.B. White's essays. In Elements of Style he says that writers should choose words carefully and avoid unnecessary words and phrases. When I proof my writing I check to see if I can further condense my words. I do the same thing with design (e.g. do I really need that border?). Maybe you can apply this principle to your list of names to help eliminate some. Are any of them too long or contain unnecessary words? Do they make people think of something unrelated? Can they possibly have a negative connotation? Are they easy to read? Easy to say aloud?

I try to wait until the next morning before submitting work to clients. When I'm working on something I feel too close to it to judge it. I get used to seeing something and don't see it anymore. I try not to submit work right when I finish it. I like to step away for a night (or a couple of days if possible), take a fresh look, and see if I want to edit it when looking with fresh eyes.

Fun article about how some bands picked their names.

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