Fee structure needed for design profession

Fees. A four-letter word, but one key reason we’re all in business. It’s largely fees and the requirement to respond to a client brief that set design apart from art. You’d be justified in thinking there could be more art in design, particularly on the graphics and interiors fronts, but there’s just as much reason to question designers’ approach to the business side, especially in their dealings over fees.

The arguments aren’t new: if designers are to enjoy the professional standing of, say, lawyers, they should charge more realistic fees; ditto if their strategic thinking skills are to be taken as seriously as management consultants. But they still ring true. We’re fortunate to be in a business where fees aren’t the only reward – creativity can be hugely satisfying. On the downside, fees rarely reflect the time and effort involved – even if they can be quantified.

The problems we had extracting details for this week’s trawl (see page 12) show how little information is available on fees. Bad feelings generated for design by the extortionate fees some groups charged in the Eighties and the crippling constraints of recession have left designers unsure what to charge. Undercutting on fees has become the norm. But, more importantly, they don’t know how to identify elements of a project and break down fees accordingly. Yet how can we expect clients to take design seriously if they have only a sketchy idea of what it costs and are stung for “extras” that the designers hadn’t anticipated?

Someone has to take a lead. Our survey, planned to build annually, is a start and we look to the database, set up jointly by industry bodies, to bring fees out into the open. Chartered Society of Designers president Adrianne LeMan has put raising professional standards high on her agenda, as have participants in the Halifax Initiative in their hopes for the new representative body. We urge both camps to make a strategy for fees a part of their pledges.

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