I have been a fan of the American graphic designer Paula Scher ever since I read her book Make It Bigger when I was in university. Besides her amazing work with typography, she’s a creative who understands how business decisions are made. She recognizes what it takes for good work to get done and the hierarchy of power plays that take place as part of the process. Scher was my first introduction to thinking that great ideas don’t sell themselves. Great ideas need great sales people.
Shouldn’t great ideas be able to sell themselves? Surely that’s a sign of a GREAT idea – that it is understood, accepted, lauded. Unfortunately, the people who are responsible for making decisions on projects – whether it is the layout of a newsletter or the branding for a new car – are rarely experts in the field in which they have hired consultants for. To assume that an idea can speak and fend for itself is to leave its future to fate. Scher advises to find out how the idea addresses the client’s concern, and learn to speak that language. You have a choice to get great work done, or just focus on getting the work.
Another lesson I’ve learnt from Scher is that sometimes clients place more emphasis on process than the idea. She talks about this in an interview with the late Hillman Curtis. Let’s say a consultant has a great idea that is developed in a fraction of the time expected. Management feels weird having the client pay for something that took so little time, or having someone solve the the problem so fast. (Let’s do more work!) Or the client feels weird paying for a solution that has been developed so quickly.
Why am I paying so much for a solution created in 5 minutes? Well, if you’re a genius to come up with a workable solution in 5 minutes then the client should understand that he is paying for the experience and expertise you have accumulated through the years that enables this magic to happen. Time does not determine quality. More time doesn’t produce better ideas. Usually more time just produces more work.
I’ll leave the process of developing great ideas to the creatives, but the occupation of selling great ideas to clients is a skill I think needs to be acknowledged and mastered. The consequence of us not seeing good work through means more.