Confidence to cost the job for what it’s worth

Whatever McVitie’s and Asda say they’ve gained from the Penguin/Puffin lookalike debacle, the real winners will inevitably be the lawyers. It doesn’t take a murder trial the length of the OJ Simpson hearings for legal fees to soar. A row over a chocolate biscuit can do it – a fact we all accept, begrudgingly but without question.

To some, design is a profession not unlike the law.

Others see it as a business. Either way, it doesn’t command the level of fees that doctors and lawyers might hope to make. And the problem could get more acute as work picks up. Surveys by Design Week and others over recent years have shown that fee income is not generally keeping pace with workload. Design groups simply haven’t the confidence to charge the rate for the job, prefering instead to work all hours unpaid to crack projects out.

Too often the upshot is work drained of vitality as creativity takes a back seat, a demoralised design team and clients convinced they can demand the goods for relatively little cost.

It’s easy to blame small start-up groups, working from a back bedroom and undercutting on fees. But the reality is that few consultancies have got a handle on costing jobs.

Time is a key factor here. A law firm will have an hourly/daily rate that is stated upfront and non-negotiable. It will be able to estimate how long a case will last and will have perfected billing as an artform.

How many design groups can claim such efficiency, even though their input, properly considered, can make a client money? How many are prepared to come clean with a client at the outset, even though honesty upfront might lead to greater respect and higher fees in the long run?

I hope that at least design’s strategic thinkers are considering these questions as they take on the ad boys for a share of broader consultancy work. We all know of bids that were lost or products that failed because they were perceived as too cheap. We tend to have a higher regard for services with a realistic price tag.

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