8 Ways to Cut the Cost of Design

Every design project includes a punch list of required deliverables and a budget. When the budget does not allow for the creation of all these items, either the budget must increase or the list decrease.

Whether creative fees or expenses, clients have little understanding of  the effects of inflation, pricing and cost of business in the design field, but will insist on having their entire list of items created and implemented.  They can be unhappily surprised to learn they can’t have everything they want within the budget they’ve established.

There are things the client can do to reduce the cost of a design project. Here are eight of them:

1. Communicate all project requirements up front, so that the designer can “bundle” them. Bundling will often reduce the overall cost of a design project, similar to ordering a meal versus al la carte at a restaurant. Within a project scope, some things can be developed concurrently, thus reducing time and costs. For example, a client initially requested a logo design. Then, not too long afterward, they initiated another project involving the development of a communications system: business cards, mailing envelopes and labels, etc. Rolling these two projects into one larger one would facilitate the designer’s workflow. When the pieces are bundled into a single project with multiple deliverables, creative fees may be significantly reduced. Think ahead. If you want a logo, how will you use it?

2. Work with a designer who uses value pricing. Value-based pricing, also known as project pricing, determines fees based on factors other than time, such as rights transferred, duration of use, geographic scope (local, regional, national, international), the range of platforms where the design will be deployed. Projects priced on number of hours can be more costly to the client because there are alway unexpected variables and incidentals that require more hours than anticipated.

3. Avoid scope creep. The addition of new requirements and deliverables to a project already under way will add to the cost of the project. Scope creep increases the amount of work and time and often impacts expenses.

4. Take advantage of the designer’s full range of services. Assigning different aspects of a project to different designers will pretty much ensure a lack of cohesiveness both in approach and visual outcomes. If you contract with one designer for logo development and another for web site design, and the designer creating the logo is also capable of developing your web site, you’re going to pay more for the projects. Find out what your designer is capable of accomplishing before splitting up a project.

5. Listen to your designer. Rather than insisting on your idea of something, consider alternatives he suggests. You can always choose to run with your initial idea, but it’s wise to look at additional options because there might be something among them that’s far more effective. Choices of platform (print, digital) and delivery methods (web site, app, direct mail, email, social media, etc.) will directly affect the cost of implementation. These choices should be made up front with the designer’s recommendations so that the design process can be pursued effectively.

7. Implement a phased roll-out for large projects. Plan the scope of work and budget with your designer. Have a conversation about what you want to accomplish, and allow your designer to determine deliverables, sequence and implementation schedules. If you cannot afford a $20,000 outlay all at once, divide the project into smaller pieces. A large project, broken into chunks, allows creative work and expenses to be accomplished and billed in phases over several months.

8. Pay your designer on time, as agreed in your contract. Avoid late fees, interest on unpaid balances, and, above all, ill will. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the ill-will factor. Delaying payment is a primary reason for many designer-client breakups. Check your contract. You may not have the right to use the design until it is paid for in full. Not paying for what you order is a form of theft. Additionally, non-payment may result in attorney fees and court costs, not to mention your compromised reputation. If your designer is faithful in meeting your project deadlines, why should you not be as faithful in meeting her payment deadlines?

You could work with a less expensive, less experienced, or off-shore designer. However, with less experience, a designer has more to learn, and will learn it on your project. You could also crowd-source your project. With these options you’ll pay less up front but more on the back end because of delays, ineffective design solutions, or lack of understanding of the market you’re trying to reach.

The bottom line: To lower the cost of a project and still receive effective designs, clients and designers need to plan, collaborate and follow through together.

What ways do you have for cutting the cost of design?

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.