Earning the Right to Critique

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On two occasions, I sat in on discussions where brand positioning gurus dissected John Carter‘s box office failure. In both venues (one was a lengthy LinkedIn discussion while the other was a live panel in Manhattan), participants agreed that the movie’s poorly chosen name generally caused its failure. Yet, nobody had the bravery to suggest another name. Not a single branding consultant in either discussion!

Every movie needs a name.

Every brand needs an identity and a voice. Every team needs a uniform. You might not like what’s in place, but for us to have a discussion, we need to evaluate the current design solution against alternatives you provide. When you suggest a viable alternative, you contribute enough value to the conversation to justify your own participation therein.

Navigating the politics.

In my favorite article he’s written, Michael Beirut explains that designing a better logo, tagline, retail interior, or Flyers jersey usually isn’t the hard part.

Simply having the idea is not enough. Crafting a beautiful solution is not enough. Doing a dramatic presentation is not enough. Convincing all your peers is not enough. Even if you’ve done all that, you still have to go through the hard work of selling it to the client. And like any business situation of any complexity whatsoever, that process may be smothered in politics, handicapped with exigencies, and beset with factors that have nothing to do with design excellence. You know, real life. Creating a beautiful design turns out to be just the first step in a long and perilous process with no guarantee of success.

I have a hunch that the proposals getting rejected for “factors that have nothing to do with design excellence” were too far off-brand. That’s for another post.  Still, designers grow from participating in the kinds of discussions that go deeper than “I don’t like it.” Beirut doesn’t try to dissuade designers from judging work either, so long as they ask the right questions. “What was the purpose? What was the process? Whose ends were being served? How should we judge success?” But after all the eager critics have expounded on why the name John Carter caused a terrific box office failure, the movie still needs a name.

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Earning the Right to Critique

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