Good Design is Expensive. Bad Design is Costly

New article on the blog. Excerpt below.

I rarely get into cost (of services) discussions with prospective clients. Either they understand and value design (why they come to me in the first place) or they don’t.

If needed, I educate. But I don’t often negotiate.

I don’t sell design. I sell solutions.


Generally, agree with you. We make a similar pitch and leverage our experience.

Im curious when you say that your most expensive projects are the shorter focused ones - how do YOU ultimately estimate the cost if not by the time you put in? Even if time to market is of higher value to the client, your time should be equally valuable to YOU whatever you do with it, no? So any project that occupies more of your time should be more expensive. Of course what and how you present the quote to the client may be 1 thing and actual time spent another, thats why Im interested what your pricing is based on if not time?

Yes, of course time is part of the quote.

But it is also focus and opportunity cost. A shorter project that requires 8 hours a day for 2 weeks is going to be more expensive than the same time spread over 2 months as I have to drop everything. If I am working only on one project and not also doing the usual business development, content, etc. that also means I need to effectively pay for the opportunity cost of getting other projects.

A concise, quick turnaround project also means that all that “unbillable” time you spend between projects thinking about stuff has to happen more likely concurrently and in “work” time so becomes billable. We all know that design often happens in the “off time” - while you are out for a walk, watching TV, daydreaming… that becomes paid time when there’s no off time.

Less time for exploration can also mean each and every solution needs to be that much more dialed in.

It’s a simplification. Of course a 2 year long retainer project is going to be more expensive than a 1 month quick sprint.

I used to include time with my quotes. Now I never do (aside from due dates and milestones, but not hours).

Thanks for elaboration. Good point on making the ”mind wander” billable. I agree that sometimes you can spend 3 weeks not lifting a pen before you have that eureka-moment and then make a production grade drawing in 1 day. Billing for just 1 day is a bit scewed.

Here’s also where experience comes in - knowing what some deliverbles are worth to the client and what they value less or more.

Exactly. It’s not procrastination if it ends up with a good result at the end.

I also consider the stress of rush billable. Huge project. 1 week sprint. No time off. No fun. It’s like charging for emotional and psychological damage/effort.

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Love the article. You have some great examples.

I like that other expression, “if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it again?”. That’s been my experience working in corporate. I realized that almost all my jobs have been cleaning up messes left after people were in a hurry. It’s even more shocking talking to the owners and having them tell you their business advantage is speed, but all their projects are a year late because of quality problems.

Thanks Ray.

Yes, indeed, the “do it right the first time” is a big part of my approach and reasoning for quality over speed or cost.

You pay for bad design twice. Once originally and then again later when you need to deal with it or fix it!

Great discussion. Thank you for sharing.

While I was working as stage hand at the theater we had colleagues, who also worked at film. They had the coined phrase “We fix it in the post(-production).”

When doing tight budget TV films it might make perfect sense, not to wait for that one perfect moment of light (or anything), but to do some of the video and sound work via editing later.

Whereas on stage at the theater, we could not rely on “We fix it in the post.”
We had to get it right. First time.

Industrial design is much like that.
But you see many marketeers relying on the “postproduction”, that will never happen or drive guarantee cost through the roof.

On the other hand my significant other once told me: “Perfect tends to be too late”.
And she was a CIP trainer for years. :wink:

Some designers seek perfection until the 11th hour. I was one of those. There was no party at friday evenings, that I attended as a junior designer.

And some of the late nighters turned out great.
My boss loved it, obviously.

And 20 years later I still have to learn, where to draw the line of “good enough to leave it alone”.

Now that I’ve been in tech for a few years, I joke that if the design fails we can always just push a software update to fix it. Funny thing is, managers often pause to consider it a serious suggestion.

There is a difference with blue ocean products. It is one of the reasons i have been where I am for this long. While we do some sustaining products (next gen, fill the product line, etc), much of what we do is new to the world. It keeps my interest.

With those products, speed trumps everything. We do plan for it. We know many times the first released product will need a fast follow in 3-12 months. Many times we are waiting on automation and are mostly eating margin. But in some cases we release a non-optimally performing product for the sake of capturing market share. It is a long slog for any company to take share and the first to that mountaintop typically wins.

If there is nothing in the world like it, it does not need to be good, just good enough. Competition will come out with a subpar copy while we will relaunch new and improved with a year. It has worked for the 15 years I have been here and the 15 years prior. And I’ll be gone long before is is an obsolete tactic.

Totally agree there’s room for a “innovate and iterate” approach. My original thoughts on Good Design wasn’t meant to at all mean perfection, but rather a complete consideration of the market, business factors, function, etc.

In my experience, sometimes there’s no choice but to make it “good enough” when it’s a new product and you really don’t know how it will work. All the testing and pre-production evaluation in the world is no substitute for real world applications and often throwing something out there IS the best way to do it.