For many years now I’ve been fascinated by the number 3 and how it seems to have an important and powerful place in our culture—at times even magical. Think about it—the Holy Trinity; Goldilocks and the 3 Bears; The 3 Little Pigs; 3 Little Kittens; Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod; 3 Men in a Tub; The 3 Stooges; 3 Blind Mice; 3 Days of Peace, Love and Music (Woodstock); the 3 wise men; 3 wishes; 3 Women; The 3 Musketeers; the triangle; the third eye; 3 strikes, 3 outs; 3‑ring circus; 3-in-1; trios; triads; triplets; the triathlon; the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria; The Kingston Trio; Three Dog Night; Peter, Bjorn and John; and Peter, Paul and Mary.
How about all those ubiquitous 3 structured expressions? Tom, Dick and Harry; ABCs; wine, women and song; tall, dark and handsome; hook, line and sinker; me, myself and I; 3 cheers; snap, crackle and pop; 3 meals a day; small, medium and large; low, medium and high; third time’s a charm; faith, hope and charity; past, present and future; rock, paper, scissors; the good, the bad and the ugly and menage a trois. And when making a point, either orally or on paper, the recommended number of bullets to support your case is what? You guessed it: 3!
When Steve Jobs asked Paul Rand to design the logo for his company, NeXT, he requested a few options. Rand declared that he did not create different options for clients. “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs. “You can use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options.”
Unfortunately, this approach will not work with our internal stakeholders, and we are often asked to present more than a few different design options for our clients to review. I strongly recommend you limit your options to, you got it, 3. Present only your best work. And here’s why. How many times do we have 3 strong concepts ready and then—just to show our clients how prolific and creative we are—we throw in a few more? Well, what happens is that we dilute the impact and specialness of our triumvirate and diminish the focus it demands. Here, less is definitely more. And even if some of the concepts aren’t as good as our initial designs, we show them anyway. So what happens? Our client chooses the one we like the least—the runt of the litter. And it’s our own damn fault.
So remember, stick to the rule of 3. You’re in good company, and maybe your 3 wishes will come true.
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