Michael Bierut elaborates on the similarities of graphic design and speechwriting for clients.
Your client has a message to communicate: an argument, a sales pitch, a call to action. Your job is to give it form. You’re an expert at this. You know how to take a complicated bunch of ideas and reduce them to their arresting, memorable, engaging essence. You come up with some big ideas that you’re convinced will work and, detail by careful detail, you bring those ideas to life. But there’s a problem: your work is second-guessed by a bunch of middle managers, some of whom are insecure, some of whom have their own agendas to inject, some of whom just like to say no. Despite all that, you refine and revise, hoping to keep the strength of your original idea intact. Finally, your work is approved, and it goes out into the world. If you’re lucky, it really makes a difference: minds are changed, passions are fueled, your client looks great. And, somehow, hardly anyone out there knows you were involved at all… It sounds a lot like graphic design, doesn’t it?
He goes on to reference some examples cited in Peggy Noonan’s What I Saw at the Revolution book about her time — and pressures — writing speeches for Ronald Reagan and H.W. Bush.
I particularly liked this backstage pass into the beautiful closing words of the Challenger Disaster speech Noonan wrote for Reagan:
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared fro their journey, and waved good-bye, and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
A deluge of mail and calls followed. But does it surprise you to learn that during the attenuated review process, someone from the National Security Council suggested that that the end be changed — quoting, of all things, a then-popular AT&T commercial — to “reach out and touch someone?” Noonan described this as “the worst edit I received in all my time at the White House.”
Ahh, clients. To be fair, we’ve all been there—we’ve all thought we had a better solution to a problem than the people we hired to solve it. But it’s still funny.