How To Budget For A Design Project

To answer the question, “How much will it cost?”, the question, “What do you want to accomplish?” needs to be asked first. Clients are often in the dark about what goes into their design project. The pricing question cannot be answered until the project is first outlined in some detail. Only then can an accurate estimate be made.

Six items that need to be considered when developing a project budget are:

Creative fees. This involves the designer’s time and effort – from initial consultation through delivery of the completed work. Designers may charge by the hour (hourly rates vary depending upon experience, expertise and demand), by the project (based on the actual scope of the work) or by value (what the finished design represents in terms of reach, revenue and duration). No matter how the designer set his fees, rates vary based on scope of work, scope of use, geographic distribution and duration. There is also the issue of transfer of rights, meetings with the client and correspondence.

Complexity. The amount and nature of the work requested will help determine its budget. A project that has many aspects to it will necessitate more investment on the part of the designer than a single solution. Designers may choose to bundle several related projects together, and offer the client a lowered rate. Clients should expect that changes to the project once it’s under way will affect the designers fees and some expenses.

The pricing question cannot be answered until the project is first outlined in some detail. 

Expenses. Expenses are the costs involved in implementing the design. The are separate from the creative fee, and are reimbursed to the designer by the client. Expenses include web hosting, printing, training, cost of materials, shipping, delivery, installation, and anything that is subcontracted to a supplier.

Rights transferred. Copyright, which is automatically owned by the creator of the design, is a bundle of rights. Rights to the design assets need to be transferred to the client in writing. Limiting the rights that transfer will usually result in a lower cost. A project where the client requires a buy-out or all rights will cost more than one that transfers limited rights.

Immediacy. Experienced designers will have a good sense of how much time a project will require, and schedule accordingly based on their current project load. Anything required in a shorter length of time may incur an immediacy fee to accommodate a short turn-around. Other projects will need to be rescheduled. Immediacy will also affect any sub-contractors and vendors involved in implementing the design. When an immediacy fee is appropriate – the shorter the turn-around, the greater the fee. I have known fees to range from 50%-200% in addition to the actual creative fee.

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Unusual requests. Clients will sometimes have unique requirements or requests that are not normally part of developing and implementing a design. Whether something is unusual or not will depend upon the designer. If the request is something the designer wants to accommodate, it is appropriate that they be compensated for the extra work involved. Any request that falls outside the normal services and policies of the designer would be considered unusual.

A real-life example of an unusual request in the extreme: An out-of-town client was speaking at an event almost 3 hours away from my studio. She requested that I pick her up at the airport, transport her to her hotel, and spend a couple of hours reviewing her project before driving her to the event. What would you do with this request? I cordially advised her to use the local shuttle service and that we talk about the project via phone.

Clients should not simply assume what a project will cost. The designer knows what the project entails. A more experienced designer may charge higher fees, but in that case the client does not need to worry that a less expensive designer is using their project as a learning experience. There is a strong correlation between experience and rates.

Occasionally, after providing a written scope and estimate, the prospective client will decide to “go in another direction”. I have no problem with this. To provide uncompromising quality and value with every design project I accept, I need to be confident that the budget is appropriate to cover my effort and expenses. If  not, I decline the project or, if possible, reduce its scope. In this way I can serve my clients to the best of my ability.