Bistable liquid crystal displays offer the potential for considerable power savings compared with conventional (monostable) LCDs. The existence of two stable field-free states that are optically distinct means that contrast can be maintained in a display without an externally applied electric field. An applied field is required only to switch the device from one state to the other, as needed. In this paper we examine a theoretical model of a possible bistable device, originally proposed by Cummings and Richardson (Euro J Appl Math 17:435-463 2006), and explore means by which it may be optimized, in terms of optical contrast, manufacturing considerations, switching field strength, and switching times. The compromises inherent in these conflicting design criteria are discussed. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.