Why some ideas never see the light of day.

One of my favourite clients used to embrace everything I presented. He accepted them whole-heartedly, with great enthusiasm. Problem was, he would slowly change his mind over the following weeks and many of (what I considered) my best ideas remain buried, never to see the light of day.

I now understand my client was a charismatic decision-maker. And I now know charismatic decision-makers respond to balanced information and results. So rather than join his enthusiasm and assume the idea was accepted, I should have completed my presentations by stressing my proposal’s features and benefits.

I think my experience is common to many designers. Most present work exactly the same way, regardless of the client. That’s never going to work because not all clients have the same decision-making methodology.

Some clients need to have all the facts before they can possibly reach a decision. Others want to canvas the opinion of colleagues and read copious case studies to gauge the risk factor. And then for another group, it’s all about the numbers. They want time to diagnose statistics, return on investment data and cost/benefit analysis before giving approval to proceed.

Designers routinely design to allow for the different ways users process information. For example, annual reports present the results as infographics for those only interested in the big picture, all the while knowing there are other readers who love to delve into a long, detailed narrative.

So it makes perfect sense that the way client’s reach a decision differs too.

I read about decision-making styles in an article in HBR’s 10 must reads: On communication. Change the way you persuade, an article by Gary Williams and Robert Millers, describes the results of their research  conducted over several years. They found that most executives have a default style developed early in their careers. Styles are reinforced through repeated successes, or changed after several failures.

There are typically five decision-making styles: charismatic, follower, controller, skeptic and thinker. Each style has typical characteristics, and responds to different arguments.

Decision-making stylesdecisions

Take home point.

By understanding your client’s decision-making style, you can adjust your presentation to their needs. Presenting exactly the type of information they require may help them make a quick decision that sticks.

*The information for this article is from one of HBR’s 10 Must Reads, available at every airport bookseller. Highly recommended.


Want more? Subscribe to get weekly Design Business Review articles, Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers.

Carol Mackay

Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she is moving from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Currently Carol is co-writing a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. It is due for release late February 2018. Contact Carol for more information.