Design is Negotiation

What is negotiation? Negotiation is more of something and less of something else. Its about matching often opposing elements - dark with light - to gain a result, or even a victor. Well, really - its more. It's a brutal transaction; a hammering and a thrashing out. It's to wrangle and debate a settlement over something which is quite obviously of chief importance to both parties in fight.

Like in any business or property deal, negotiating is the crucial essence and pinnacle of the given acquisition. It is where swords cross, arms wrestle and blood is shed, and the outcome is determined by the quality and intensity of the negotiation.

Design is like this. And its compromise as much as it is victory. 

If you are given the task to design or create anything to a restricted format, a certain size or space constraint, a smaller-than-ideal fenced area - the process is always a negotiation. It takes a certain ingenuity and audacity to navigate such a task, and achieve a 'good' composition and outcome, let alone a 'great' one. It can be like a seesaw - to and fro. A little more of this, a little less of that. No, wait.. back a bit. Now forward a bit. Ok, that's pretty good.

Over the past 10+ years of composing in graphic design, photography, cinematography and commercial space design, I can't think of a time where I haven't found myself haggling and wrestling for, well, more of something, or less of something else. It's such a present skill, that I'd almost be inclined to describe the whole role as more of a 'negotiator' or a 'master of balance', rather than a 'designer'.

"Negotiation is a core competence for life, not merely an important skill to be wheeled out for special occasions," says David Lax and James Sebenius (of Harvard Business School).

It ain't easy negotiating 'well', in fact, we often lose out on the good stuff due to some underwhelming, and sometimes obvious, poor choices. In an article on gigaom.com, about critical mistakes made in business negotiations, it was said that "without an accurate 'barriers' assessment, the tactics you craft may address the wrong problems." In other words: know what you've got to work with (and what you don't) and keep those boundaries in firm focus through the whole composition process. In other other words - know your brief!

There's nothing worse than designing some ballin' graphic, with all the world's sharpest imagery and content, perfectly sized and spaced to fit the restraints, only then to find out the size needs to be landscape, not portrait. Or to spend a bunch of time on a 'sure' idea of materials for the fit-out of a commercial space, to realise it won't serve the functionality of the space. Make sure you know where you can and can't go, and maximise that territory in between.

Negotiation is everywhere. Sharpen it. Get great at it, and you'll find it'll favour your communication and other core strengths, and will actually boost your career.