July 2, 2014

Creative people say no

Kevin Ashton wrote a good, short piece aimed at helping designers in business, and about choosing your work wisely. Here's a quick excerpt.

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February 7, 2014

Giving better design feedback

Sarah in marketing wants to be able to log in directly on the home page, but Tim in engineering would prefer it on its own page. Can we compromise?

“No. We cannot compromise. If you tell your barber that you like it short, but your significant other likes it long, you're gonna get a mullet.”

That was Mike Monteiro in a post about giving better design feedback. It got me wondering how you keep things "on brief" when discussing your work with clients.

DirectionsPhotos by Tom Magliery

When I send design options I'll include a page near the end with advice on how to compare ideas and keep feedback centred on the design brief. I’ll ask questions such as the following, with my own answers afterward:

  • What option will your customers be most receptive toward?
  • What idea is stronger at conveying your company as (insert words from the brief)?
  • What direction is best at helping you stand out from your competitors?
  • What design will keep your identity the freshest for longest?

What do you do to make sure you keep the client feedback focused?

December 27, 2013

We could really do with £50k

Written by John Scarrott of the Design Business Association in London.

50 pound notePhoto by worldoflard

I was chatting to one of our 'experts’ at the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards when he recounted the following story to me. I’ll tell it from the expert’s perspective.

"One of my clients, a small design agency of five people, was asked to quote on a piece of work. They’d not worked for this client before. They took the time to carefully cost the project, based on their normal charge-out rates, and the time and level of commitment required. The price came to £100k.

"At this point the agency experienced what I would describe as a ‘slight degree of nervousness.’ It seemed like a big number to them; a lot of money. It was. In fact as a project it would be one of the biggest they had undertaken. But, they took a deep breath and sent the proposal off.

"The client came back the next day with the following news: "We’ve only got £50k in the budget." The agency rang me. Their first reaction was, "There's £50k we could have." Mine was a little different — we couldn't accept a £100k project for £50K. They were initially hesitant to accept my advice to turn away £50k. I reminded them that we had carefully worked out a financial plan for the business based on sound principles and we should stick to it.

"They contacted the client via email, thanked them but said that they couldn't do the work for the budget, concluding that it would be lovely if they could stay in touch. No counter-offer. The end.

"Actually not, as it turned out. Things did go quiet for a couple of days. But then the client picked up the phone and said they’d found some budget for the project and could pay £95k if that was acceptable to the agency. Which, of course it was."

Listening to this story, it struck me that that the agency’s relationship with the expert was key, and they'd built a positive and trusted relationship together. So I asked our expert what the key issues and turning points were. What gave the agency the confidence to know what they were doing was right?

1. The size of the number, it felt big!

A perfectly valid thought. But not a fact. The important point was that there were sound business principles behind the calculation of the price. It had been worked out. It was a genuine figure. There was no smoke and mirrors, no figure added on as fat (see 5.). They knew they'd done their numbers properly and this gave them a mindset of certainty and confidence in what they'd suggested.

2. They have a financial plan that underpins the business.

Sitting beneath the studio is a financial plan. This involves delivering income to cover overheads and make a profit. They know they need to bill at £X per hour to be profitable at the end of the year. If they have that plan and someone says "I won’t pay that" and they take what they offer, they’ll never achieve their plan. The more times they do this the further away they get from achieving their plan. They may actually lose money. I've heard tales of serial acceptors of these offers, eventually folding as businesses. This happened to one of the best creatives, a household name with books on shelves. No one wants to go the same way.

3. Imagine the atmosphere in the studio if they'd taken this job for £50k!

How are they going to feel? How will the team feel? That they're working "£100k hard" for a £50k reward. They can't pull their effort back to £50k because the client's expecting a £100k job. So they’d be stuck working their backsides off on a job that takes them further away from where they want to be. The effect on team moral is going to be bad, and they want to enjoy what they do, not suffer for it.

4. They're consistent.

They have a plan and they keep to it. They could add on some fat to the bill to negotiate but they choose not to. This instills a sense of self-worth that is important to them as an agency. It allows them to stay in rapport with their clients by being clear about where they stand.

5. They don't add margin only to cut it later.

What if they add some money on top, say 20% and then let that slide in the negotiation? How does the client know that they're supposed to stop there? If they give 20% what's to stop the client chipping further?

6. They're confident in their ability.

They know their ability and they stand by it. They know that what the client is paying for is better than they could get elsewhere. They've created a niche of expertise for themselves. This is another foundation stone for their confidence.

7. They understood the myth of "We'll just do this one."

It's always a tempting thought. Could £50k now be better than nothing? What about up-selling the client in the future? These things get questioned, but what stops them is the knowledge of what could happen. A better opportunity could come through which they can't accept because they're doing the £50k job. They know getting the client to pay more next time will be an uphill battle that in all likelihood they won't win.

Of course if you try this the next time you're asked to cut the price you might send the email and never hear from the client again.

It might be the best thing that never happened to you.

John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. Catch him on Twitter.

October 29, 2013

Measuring design’s return on investment

How do you measure the success of a design project? That's an occasional inbox topic because companies often see design as an expense rather than an investment.

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October 20, 2013

Originality in design

Emilyn Cheong, a student at Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore, asked me a few questions for her final year project, titled "Originality Trouble."

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August 27, 2013

On communication between designers and clients

Web Designer magazine asked me a few questions about talking to clients.

When communicating with a new client, what advice do you have to ensure that all parties understand what they expect to be delivered?

Projects run more smoothly when everyone involved asks what the others expect. It's also helpful when working terms are agreed upon.

Is it a lack of a detailed brief that often leads to misunderstandings?

From my early experiences? Certainly. There were times when I didn't ask nearly enough questions, so the client was more likely to end up with a design that didn't meet expectations.

Why do you think communication breaks down? Do clients often change their minds, leading to confusion?

It could be the client, it could be the designer. No one always gets it right.

A few past clients preferred me to work without too much in the way of back and forth. Sometimes that was successful, sometimes not, and when it wasn't, projects ran for longer than necessary — ideas weren't agreed upon and it became obvious that more mid-project discussions were needed.

Also, some client/designer combinations aren't a good fit — a designer might prefer a different design niche than what the client needs, and the client might want something the designer doesn't offer. That's another reason to ask plenty of questions before money changes hands.

Just as clients are unlikely to hire the first designer they find, designers shouldn't accept every project on the table. It pays to say no.

Is there always a risk that when a designer interprets a brief it doesn't actually fulfil the clients’ wishes?

All projects have risks, but interpretation generally only goes wrong if the brief isn't thorough. When it comes to the end result, the most interesting interpretations are generally proportional to the size of the risk (bigger risk, better result). A lot of that comes down to clients and how open they are to pushing boundaries and really standing out.

How can communications remain clear when some briefs seem to be design by committee?

A/ Even if you're dealing with a sole proprietor, he or she is likely to ask a friend or relative for an opinion, so in that regard it's rare when just one person is involved in the decision-making. But it's hugely helpful when one person has the final say, and I tend to cover that at the start of a project when sharing expectations.

What’s your advice on how to handle a client relationship that begins to break down?

Look first at yourself. You're not necessarily in the wrong, but don't blame others before thinking about what you could've done better. If you can't meet your client face-to-face then pick-up the phone. Put yourself in your client's position. Ask what's needed in order to move forward.

Previous posts on similar lines:
Thoughts on the designer/client relationship
The ideal design process?
Ask about the budget

July 10, 2013

Picasso and pricing your work

Designers often ask me whether they should charge by the hour or by the project. This tale is the best answer I can find in favour of the latter.

Picasso Brigitte BardotPicasso and Brigitte Bardot, Getty Images

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

"It's you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist."

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

"It's perfect!" she gushed. "You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?"

"Five thousand dollars," the artist replied.

"But, what?" the woman sputtered. "How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!"

To which Picasso responded, "Madame, it took me my entire life."

Quoted from How to charge, one of the archived posts on 1099 — "the magazine for independent professionals." The post was written by Ellen Rohr, author of How Much Should I Charge?

More resources for pricing design.

June 19, 2013

Design pricing for non-profits

Kim Hatton asked, "Do the same design pricing principles apply between non-profits and for-profit businesses?"

When it comes to pricing for non-profits there are a few things I think about:

  1. A percentage off my normal rate
  2. Pro bono, cutting my rate entirely "for the public good"
  3. A service trade, where the client can offer a product or service that's useful (although this is actually better suited to for-profit clients)
  4. Full rate (we might call them non-profits, but they're still businesses with design budgets, needing to turn a profit to grow)

Most of my clients are for-profit businesses, but when the third sector gets in touch, sometimes I'll choose one option, sometimes another. It depends on my workload and how strongly I feel about the cause. When a client needs a reduced rate that I can't offer, I'll always be happy to give feedback on ideas for no charge — a kind of free non-profit consultation.

If you work pro bono or offer a discount, send a full-price invoice as normal but show the saving, whether it's 100%, 10%, or whatever. It's a little reminder about the value of the project.

It'd be good to know how you work with non-profits.

Thanks for the question, Kim.

May 28, 2013

Thoughts on design crowdsourcing

My answers from a brief interview about design crowdsourcing for the Design Bureau Magazine.

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May 7, 2013

More on unpaid internships

An internship is not where the intern does the work of a normal employee without getting paid.

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February 16, 2013

Reflections on design self-employment

If you're thinking of quitting your salaried job to start your own design business, here are a few designers who've reflected on their time in self-employment.

Lamp workspacePhoto via Slim 69

I penned a few self-employment pros and cons over on Peachpit.com (a 2-page post excerpted from my book) as well as advice after five years of self-employment (written back in 2010).

December 13, 2012

On trading design services

When Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar started their design practice in the late 1950s, one of the first things they did whenever possible was to trade design for some minor services they needed. Ivan cites the following example.

Money kite

“When the time came to have an attorney to help with a simple contract agreement, we traded the legal fee for a letterhead design. We did such trades from time to time with landlords and other suppliers to whom we owed something — anyone who could use a little graphic design and didn’t have anything of any quality in place.”

Ivan isn’t the only professional who has traded design for something else of value. Vancouver-based Nancy Wu recounts an occasion when she traded her design skills with a man who specialized in custom woodwork and home renovations.

“He asked if I ever traded services, as he needed some design work done and wondered if I needed anything done around the house. In fact, I did. I live in an old house with splintered wood in one spot, so I traded for minor work redoing the floors in my son’s room, fixing some bathroom tile cracks, and creating a removable cover for one of the vents to keep the house warm during the winter months. In return, I designed a postcard, banner, and business card for an upcoming trade show. Our form of trade was less about monetary figures and more about value for value. He had one of his experienced men come in to put in new high quality laminate, taking advantage of the kind of discount rates they could obtain with their suppliers. Likewise, I had my own printing contacts and signage suppliers to help keep things affordable and on schedule to meet his deadline.

“In the end, it was a win-win situation and we ended up both being quite happy with the results. The key is that we kept it professional at the start, getting everything outlined in detail so that each of us knew what was needed and what the expected outcomes were.”

Excerpted from the "Pricing your work" chapter of Work for Money, Design for Love. Get the full chapter when you join the mailing list.

Chapter contributors include Alina Wheeler, Ivan Chermayeff, Nancy Wu, Ted Leonhardt, Andrea Austoni, Karishma Kasabia, and Mike Reed.

Other chapters have been excerpted on the AIGA website.

November 28, 2012

When selling design is like selling furniture

"They'd rather buy a few things that are good and are going to endure, than lots of stuff which isn't."

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David Airey
Brand identity design

Independent since 2005
Website hosted by Fused

13 Gransha Park, Bangor
Northern Ireland
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