Better RFP Responses & Management
Graphics: Not My Fort, Eh?

Graphics: Not My Fort, Eh?

Lesson #1 for authors writing a newspaper column: You don’t get to choose the headline.

Lesson #1 for authors publishing a book: You don’t get to choose the title or the cover design.

Both are fair enough.  In newspaper column writing it’s because there are space constraints to consider, and because writing attention-grabbing headlines within those constraints is a skill not possessed by everyone.  In book publishing it’s because the person closest to the material may not be the best person to craft a snappy title.  As for the cover design, well, the less said about most people’s graphics ability the more accurate you’d be.  Including mine.

In another life I managed a corporate communications function and learned one hard truth: everyone thought they could help with the graphics but almost no one could.  People who would pass only a cursory eye over the text for a brochure or poster or advertisement would spend what seemed like hours picking at a design developed by professionals trained to develop such designs.

Wouldn’t green-blue make it pop better than blue-green?

Shouldn’t that space be infinitesimally larger?

Shouldn’t the font be indistinguishably smaller?  Italicized?  Bold?  Serif?

Surely that isn’t the best photo we have?

And so on, ad nauseam.

The roots of this pickiness are two.  First, we confuse our personal taste with professional judgement.  Second, we’re almost uniformly lousy at knowing what constitutes “good enough.”

And so it was that after a while in that job, I stayed out of the selection of colours, font types, font sizes, and page layout.  Sure I had an opinion, but so did everyone else.  One more (uninformed one) wasn’t helpful.  Instead, I concentrated on proofing the text for letter-perfect accuracy.  No one else was doing that.

And so it is now that I am grateful to my publisher not only for using my title for my book, but also for allowing me to comment on the proposed cover design for my book.  Given my experience, it’s a courtesy I certainly wasn’t expecting.  The best way I can show my appreciation is by remembering that my personal taste is not professional judgement, and that the designer’s smallest effort will absolutely be more than I could do in a hundred years. 

In Publishing, as in Proposal Land, it’s important to keep your eye on “good enough.”



  1. Jim Taylor

    Oh, yes, 100%. Maybe more. When I send my Sharp Edges columns to the newspaper that publishes them, I supply two or three headline concepts, just to give the news editor a clue for what I think the column is about. But he chooses the headline. I am flattered if he chooses one of mine, or a reasonable variant thereof. But if he does something else, so much the better.
    In the years when I edited a slew (perhaps slough) of newsletters, I insisted on retaining three privileges:
    1. To write the headlines. Imagine four or five submissions, all titled Company Picnic.
    2. To decide the order of articles and stories. The president need not always go on the front page.
    3. This was all long enough ago that I can no longer remember what my third privilege was.
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Yes, it’s hard to see why some privileges/responsibilities don’t rest with you and your position – not, at least, until you’re in that other position and see how different things look from there! I mean, who would even imagine multiple repeat headlines until they’d seen them? It’s much the same in Proposal Land, where people don’t see why their section can’t be formatted or designed or coloured (the graphics) the way they want – they have no view of the thing as a whole and how it should hang together. (As for whatever your third thing was, three is always a problem. I think I’m going to start going with just two.)

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