Designers Hate Estimating, Pt. 2 of 3
Why I Am a Designer

Designers Hate Estimating, Pt. 3 of 3

In Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of this series, I shared some of the common variables that designers should take into account to reduce their "cone of uncertainty" when estimating a project.

In this final post, I want to talk about the things that designers often don't quantify when creating an estimate.

Factor: What the client needs, as opposed to what they articulate they need. The client wants a new logo, but that's not the business problem that comes out in your exploratory call or meeting. If you need to reframe the problem for them as part of the process, you need to consider it as a variable and secure more time and money to do that work. The way I couch this to clients is that designers aren't just problem solvers. They also have talents in helping clients to understand their problems, clearly define them, and then solve them. This is our strategic role beyond providing decorative assets.

Factor: How the client will behave through the course of a project, and if that will influence your work. Clients ask designers for references, but it's not always a bad thing to check up on your clients and/or closely observe how they interact with their peers or other vendors. This kind of gut check should govern what kind of buffer or multiplier you apply to your project fee, or whether you wish to engage with them at all. Sometimes you need to say no gracefully.

Factor: Not budgeting for potential failures through the design process. Why do we budget for exactly how long it will take? There should always be contingencies for at least one point of failure. Assume that at least one thing will go wrong, and be prepared for it in advance of it happening.

Factor: Not having an articulated business process that fits another designer. Let's say you're indisposed and you need to pass off your project to another designer. Many designers make the fatal mistake of estimating it to a person as opposed to a role. Don't just say, "It'll take me twenty hours to design this logo." Think about how long would it take any designer to design that logo. Leave room, should you get too busy or need to hire a freelancer, that the project can be covered without losing your shirt on the estimate. This may sound like heresy to some solo-flight designers, but this is what keeps large agencies alive.

Factor: You've never done a specific deliverable before. If a project is outside your realm of expertise, most designers usually assume they'll eat the cost of learning how to do it. This opens up risk from the client's perspective, and also gives them a point of negotiation to have you burn up hours meeting impossible goals. Do your due diligence and consult with one or two colleagues and ask them for advice on how to bid the project. Don't just give it away if you haven't done it before, or let the client know you can be taken advantage of because you're not an expert regarding this one type of deliverable. You should always continue to control the process of the project, follow your established design methods as they apply to the deliverable, and not allow the situation to become a power play.


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