Quoting design jobs = experience + psychology

Quoting for a job is something that gives a lot of designers anxiety! Mainly because if we get it wrong it could end up costing us many unpaid hours work OR the job never gets off the ground because we’ve overestimated and priced ourselves out of it. Estimating the time required for a project is something we get better at with more experience but there’s always an element of risk. For big design and branding firms, budgets are usually so substantial that a few hours or even days lost, are only a drop in the ocean. But for most small design studios or sole traders, it’s really important that we get the estimate right, spell out clearly what we’re going to do for that fee and specify what the costs will be if the requirements or scope of the job change beyond what was estimated.

A smart and eminently sensible studio manager I once worked with, used to say “quoting isn’t rocket science, you just multiply your hourly rate by how much time you think will be involved.” And this is basically the way I approach it.

But “how much time” depends on a few factors. It’s a bit like counting jelly beans in a large sealed jar. You can make calculations based on what you see on the outside but you have to guess what’s happening under the surface. We know from our experience how much work goes into designing the average brand identity. There’s the first stage – brief, research, concept development and presentation. The next stages depend on a few more variables – how well we’ve nailed the brief, how well the client responds to the presentation, how complex the rollout will be, how many aspects of collateral the brand will be applied to etc. You can get a lot of this sort of information at the briefing, which is why I nearly always push for a face to face meeting. It’s much easier and more efficient to dig for information when you’re at or with the source, so to speak. But a significant aspect of estimating time requirements is the human factor – which can’t be easily quantified.

Humans are wonderful, complex animals who can often be unpredictable. A significant part of being a good designer is being good with people. Or being good at reading people and reading between the lines. If a client and designer are struggling to communicate at the briefing, you can be fairly sure that the job won’t be all smooth sailing. And that’s ok. It can often be improved by actually working together and building effective lines of communication. Many of the best client/designer relationships are built over time. Generally, the more you know and trust each other, the more efficiently you can work together. But you need to also factor this into the time estimate. It’s not about pricing based on how much you like a person – but pricing based on an understanding of the psychology of humans. For example, if a business owner has come to us for a re-brand but they are reluctant to actually give up their existing brand identity (maybe a family or staff member has been pushing for it) – that process is going to be a lot more complex than if a client is enthusiastic about re-branding. So too if a client comes to you with a clear understanding of who their target market is and where they want to position themselves in the marketplace – developing a targeted brand identity is probably going to be an easier process than if the designer has to excavate that information themselves. And again that’s fine. Many of us actually love that process of researching and understanding a client’s market, and helping a client understand what that means and how to communicate to that market. But you need to build that into the estimate.

So estimating a design job is part experience, part guesswork and part multiplication. And the more you do it the better you get at it – but there will always be unknown variables. The practical ones can be allowed for by specifying an “out of scope” or “author’s corrections” fee. But the human variables are harder to predict. One of the best ways to do it is have a face to face briefing, ask lots of questions and really listen to the answers. Also don’t be afraid to ask for more information after the initial briefing. The more information you have the more accurate your quote will be. No-one likes getting a surprise invoice and no-one wants to feel ripped off. Good, open dialogue is the best way to avoid that. Happy quoting!

Liana Lucca-Pope
Creative Director