WHAT’S WANTED v WHAT’S NEEDED

After leaving Apple, Steve Jobs founded a company called NeXT.
Jobs said it normally took 10 years and millions of dollars to establish a company’s brand and logo.
But he didn’t want to wait, he wanted it to happen straight away. So he needed a really powerful corporate identity.
As usual, Jobs only wanted to work with the very best designer.
So he contacted Paul Rand.

Rand had worked on some of the most famous and enduring corporate designs in America.
IBM: the biggest computer company of all.
ABC: one of the three biggest broadcasting networks in the US.
UPS: the original worldwide courier delivery company.
Westinghouse, the massive domestic products group.
Esquire, the brand that launched the men’s magazine market.
And many more, all iconic brands.
Jobs decided that Rand was the best, so he was right for the job.
He took him through exactly what the company was, its ethos, its marketing problem, exactly what he wanted from the corporate design, how and where it would have to work.
Eventually, when he was satisfied he’d covered everything, Steve Jobs
said “So, I guess you’ll get back to me with some options.”
Paul Rand put the cap back on his pen.
He said “I don’t think you understand how this works, Steve.
I don’t do options. I will solve the problem, and you will pay me. It’s up to you whether or not you use my solution, that’s your choice. But I don’t do options.
I will give you my solution, and you will pay me. That’s how it works.”
Steve Jobs just looked at him.
He’d never been spoken to like that before.
That was how he usually spoke to other people.
To Jobs, Paul Rand’s attitude was proof that he was the best.
He was supremely confident, and not desperate for work.
Paul Rand’s attitude was exactly like Steve Jobs’.
And eventually Jobs said “Okay, if that’s how it works, I’ll wait for you get back to me with the solution.”
And they shook hands and parted.
The interesting part about what Paul Rand was saying was the subtext.
He was actually saying “Of course I’ll do lots of options, many, many of them. But you won’t see them, you don’t have to, that’s my job.
I’ll see all the options and I’ll decide which one’s the best solution, and I’ll show it to you.
But, if I show you all the options, you’ll just end up choosing the one you like, which means you’ll be doing my job.
In which case I’m not really in charge of the design anymore, I’m just running the studio, and you’re the head of design.
I appreciate that in designing your products you’re the best, so it must be hard for you to let go of that.
You’re used to people bringing you lots of options for product designs, and you choose the best.
But this isn’t about product design, this is about corporate design.
And that’s my field, not yours.
And in that field I’m the best, not you.
So in corporate design I see all the options and I pick the best one, then you see my final solution.
But, if you’re not happy with that arrangement, you can get some other designer to show you lots of options and let you pick the one you like.
You just won’t be working with the best anymore, so you won’t get the best solution.
Your choice.”

We now accept tissue meetings, and dozens of options, as standard practice in our business.
I think it’s worth remembering that conversation between Paul Rand and Steve Jobs.
And asking ourselves if that really is the best solution.

  • john woods

    What bright spark coined the term ’tissue’ meeting? What the hell is wrong with the universal word, interim?

    • Dave Trott

      HHCL coined the term John.
      Although Steve Henry swears they were never meant to be used the way they are currently.

  • Sue Atkinson

    Just how refreshing is that!

  • Mike Williams

    Dozens of options isn’t appropriate, but there is never one single best solution either. (Maybe there’s time or budget for only one solution…)

    Jobs and Rand earned the ability to approach design this way but when other designers with less experience and talent hold this as a model of design it makes the industry seem arrogant. Briefs, research etc can only communicate so much information, and never replaces a close partnership with an experienced client. 

    Further, this one-solution approach works best for small businesses and startup clients, or when there are certain political issues within an organization. This approach rarely if ever works for a Fortune 500 (these days). And this approach ignores that there is something vitally important about collaborating with a client throughout the process, and trusting them with partial ownership and responsibility for a project that they will ultimately be managing and implementing.

  • Kenneth Tan

    Love this one as well. The way Rand established his expertise by saying such bold words to Jobs. That is just astounding. Great article, Dave.

  • Oliver Newton

    Great story. I love the idea of using confidence to challenge a fairly established approach to certain client / agency relationships.  It’s a shame Rand’s solution in this particular case wasn’t exactly his best work… 

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