Make It Bigger

The book I’m foisting on my team these days is Paula Scher’s Make It Bigger. Make It Bigger […]

The book I’m foisting on my team these days is Paula Scher’s Make It Bigger. Make It Bigger is immediately appealing with its odd shape, powerful use of type and wooden cover. Cracking it open, you discover Ms. Scher designed much of the imagery from the 70’s-80’s that you might recall, from the dubious distinction of Boston’s “spaceship” cover, to the endlessly copied “Bring on the Noise, Bring on the funk” poster, to the controversial and eventually canonized Swatch-swiss poster parody. Flipping through the book it is clear the power one designer can have over how the world looks.

But more interesting to me, and the reason I keep making my designers read it, is her approaches to dealing with clients and her concept of “selling down.” (poor screen shot here of one of the many wonderful diagrams she users to explain how sign-off processes work–btw, the screenshots amazon chooses to show are just appalling– here is a book full of gorgeous colorful design and they choose a few text heavy pages? What up?). Having started her career making a design, having the assistant art director suggest changes, the art director suggest to changes, the creative directory suggest changes, the product manager suggest changes, the VP of sales make changes.. she realized she had to make changes to how she presented her designs.

The title itself — Make It Bigger– refers to Paula’s endless battle to help clients be able to see the design clearly, and accept it without the layers of hierarchy pissing on it (my words, not hers). By end running the hierarchy and then selling down rather than up, she is able to avoid watered-down design arriving for final approval.

All of us have heard those words– Make It Bigger, Make It Red, Put It On Top. But only a few have learned how to deal with it. In these days of designer disillusionment and rising struggle to make our work count again, Paul’s book comes at just the right time. The work quickly dismisses the idea that design is irrelevant while the text and diagrams give young designers the tools they need to navigate political waters.


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  1. 1
    Austin Govella

    I totally agree with the “selling down approach.” My work is generally well-received by my immediate supervisors, and getting the final sign-off is usually pretty easy, but in the past I’ve been caught a couple of times “walking out the door” with a final only to have some uber-head-honcho come in and suggest massive changes.

    So now, I barely bother with my supervisors at all and run everything by the uber-head-honcho. With that approval, I can offer a choice to anyone else who wants to unnecessarily tweak a design: we can go with what the boss says was good to go, or we can make these changes and *push back the deadline*.

    I wanted to specifically reference unnecessary tweaks, too, because none of us are perfect, and sometimes telling us something is ‘too red’ or ‘hard to read’ can actually illuminate a few of the trees we’ve lost in the forest.

    Anyway, I wish-listed Scher’s book. It looks like a great read.

  2. 2
    Daniel Harvey

    …but at the same time Scher is mentioning her “sell down” concept she admits it only works in very rare circumstances. Too many projects are run by committee, or proxy and this just isn’t an option. Does her book offer advice for the other 99% of the time that you don’t have the company president’s ear?

  3. 3
    Mike Lee

    Daniel, there’s a meaty excerpt from the book on the AIGA New York web site in which Paula provides some wisdom on design presentations and coping with design by committee.

    One of her design-committee axioms:

    If the design presented is simple and contains a limited amount of information and imagery, there are likely to be far more amendments and revisions than if the presentation has a great deal of copy and conveys lots of complicated information. This is because approval committees don’t have the discipline, patience, or fastidiousness to concentrate on the details of complicated information. They can focus on anything reasonably simple, and will amend it until all the interest and joy are removed or until they are out of time.

    Over the years, I’ve sat with creative directors through too many of these scenarios.

    The “Diagram of a Meeting” graph on page 63 of the book is precious and worth flipping to in the bookstore or library if you aren’t ordering a copy the book.

  4. 5

    Interesting Title…

    Nice little intro to a book called “Make It Bigger”. I kid you not. Pushing your good design through a bad or ignorant client can be a pain, perhaps this book can help?…

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