By Peter Mendelsund and Peter Terzian
Illustrations by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
Call it the design world’s dirty little secret: Getting a client’s approval sometimes means relying on more than brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed comps. In desperate times (and aren’t they all, these days?), when faced with the objections of intractable, unimaginative, chronically contrarian, color-blind, or just plain grumpy clients, designers may resort to more nuanced methodologies.
Yes, a good design should speak for itself—but what if the client isn’t listening? Well, that’s when designers employ methods that are not taught in design school. Psychological methods. Machiavellian methods. Used-car-dealer methods. Manipulation. Intimidation. Seduction.
We canvassed a cross-section of the design community, asking designers to share their favorite and most effective approval-garnering techniques. We thought they might be sheepish about lifting the curtain on such a sensitive (and occasionally unsavory) aspect of the designer-client relationship. On the contrary, they were eager to recount stories of hard sells and cunning ploys.
Learning the art of persuasion, it turns out, is an essential part of the designer’s job description. “If I considered a particular cover design worth the effort,” former Penguin U.K. art director David Pelham tells us, “I would take the ‘all’s fair in love and war’ approach to getting it past the editorial board. As the game progressed, I would frequently have to employ fresh gambits, sometimes even having to descend into a web of deceit, distraction, lies, and tall stories in order to get my way. A good art director has no shame.”