Budgeting and Managing the Design Process
by American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

If the design brief you provide your team with is thorough, budgeting and managing a project is easier. It really takes two to budget and manage a design project: the client and the designer. The most successful collaborations are always the ones where all the information is on the table and expectations are in the open from the outset.

Design Costs Money
As one very seasoned and gifted designer says, “There is always a budget,” whether it is revealed to the design team or not. Clients often are hesitant to announce how much they have to spend for fear that if they do, the designer will design to that number when a different solution for less money might otherwise have been reached. This is a reasonable concern and yet, it’s as risky to design in a budgetary vacuum as it is to design without a goal. If your utility vehicle budget stops at four cylinders, four gears and a radio, there’s no point in looking at Range Rovers.

If you have $20,000 to spend and you’d really like to dedicate $5,000 of it to something else, giving the design team that knowledge helps everyone. Then you won’t get something that costs $23,000 that you want but cannot pay for. The trust factor is the 800-pound gorilla in the budgeting phase. Without trust, there isn’t a basis for working together.

The ideal approach is to bring in your designer as early as you can when budgeting. The design team can then help you arrive at realistic cost parameters that relate to your objectives in lieu of an arbitrary budget figure. At this stage it is quite feasible to put together a budget range based upon a broad scope of a project or program. Individual estimates can be provided, for example, for design concepts, design development and production, photography, illustration, copywriting and printing for a print piece (or, in the case of a website, estimates for programming, proprietary software and equipment).

The more informed you are as a client about what things cost, the more effective you can be in guiding a project. You should know that designers, photographers, illustrators and writers are generally paid a “50% kill fee” if a project is cancelled after work has started. That’s because talent is in constant demand and accepting one project often means turning other work away.

Who Leads/Who Follows?
It is the client’s role to lead a project and the designer’s to design and manage the design process. Don’t confuse leadership with involvement. As the person representing the client, you might want a great deal of involvement, or very little. If you provide leadership, your participation can be whatever you want it to be.

Leadership as an Art
In a design project, leadership requires that you give clear direction at the outset. You must be available when needed by the design team and ready to make decisions in a timely manner. You should understand how the design supports your objectives (so you can sell it). And you’ll need to monitor major delivery points and be prepared to get the necessary approvals. On this last point, some designers are excellent presenters, and, in fact, like to present their work to the final authority. But while they can be persuasive, they are not the ones to get the final sign-off. As the leader of the team, you are the deal-maker, the closer.

If you identify and articulate your objectives, establish your process early, see that the design team has access to what it needs from you, have a detailed budget and schedule to measure progress with, and lead the process from beginning to end, there is no reason that you won’t be able to enjoy the design process as much as the end product.

This article has been paraphrased from AIGA's "A Client's Guide to Design: How to Get the Most Out of the Process." For more information, visit: www.aiga.org


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