Ok… we’re all being asked to do more with less. So when you’re tearing your hair out over the next invoice that blows your design budget, you might wonder if your design team are jumping with joy. They’re not.
After more than 20 years working in branding design I am yet to meet anyone in the industry who wants a project to go over budget. It impacts on productivity. It’s corrosive to good working relationships. And it leads to personal stress on both sides.
The only thing creative agencies have to sell is their time. So visible or not, anything that takes extra time will be included somewhere in the cost of doing business with your agency.
Unplanned changes blow budgets more often than anything else. So the quickest way to blow your design budget is to do anything that increases the likelihood or need for changes.
Here are 5 of the quickest ways I know to add unexpected changes and time to a project and to blow your design budget.
Number 1 – The sloppy brief
There’s a reason briefs should be written. Not because your designer needs a neat Word document but because a written brief forces disciplined thought. A haphazard brief is a recipe for the sorts of shifts and changes in direction that take more time and money.
We’ve occasionally been given the ‘after lunch brief’. Someone has a thought bubble, passes it to Marketing, then the agency gets a brief with no clear aims, no details and no structure.
If the brief isn’t clear on what is needed, then it’s no surprise the design team won’t be clear either.
How to avoid it: Think through and write every brief thoroughly and carefully.
Number 2 – Not getting internal alignment
Your superiors insist that a design project is your responsibility and want you to make the decisions… right up until creative concepts hit their desk.
It goes like this… The Brand Manager briefs the design agency who respond with concepts. The agency works with the Brand Manager until they’re happy, who then shows refined concepts to the Marketing Manager.
The Marketing Manager, having not been involved in formulating the brief, asks for changes. The design team present the changes and the marketing team approve. The concepts go to artwork which circulates for sign-off.
The Technical Department advise that the knife line has changed; the Legal Department advise that the primary claims can’t be made; and the Managing Director says that he or she thinks the brand needs to be completely repositioned and the design re-briefed.
The time line is shot and the design company sends lots of invoices.
Internal alignment keeps everyone focused in the same place. Everyone involved in a design project’s success, planning and approval should be aligned before the design team are brought in. Failing to align on strategy and brief before ‘pen hits paper’ all but guarantees frustrating, time consuming and expensive shifts in direction.
How to avoid it: Adopt a project team approach, ensure involvement and take the time to get alignment.
Number 3 – The afterthought
Design briefs are sometimes modified well into the design process when someone has an afterthought. Usually after seeing something on Google, a belated trip to look at the retail shelves, or talking to a friend who works in marketing for another company.
And yes… we really have had a major shift because “the Managing Director’s wife has a friend whose son is in design college”.
When your design company put together your estimate it was based on a calculation of the time according to the brief. That afterthought just cost you money and time.
How to avoid it: Think through all the issues and details BEFORE you write and give the brief
Number 4 – Lack of accountability for inputs
A challenge for marketers managing design projects is that you’re at the eye of a storm of information and stakeholders.
You need something from each one of the people in the project team… the designer, R&D, Operations, Marketing, Senior Management, Printer, Pre-Press and others. It has to be the right something at the right time in order for your project to run smoothly. The chances of that happening diminish dramatically if everyone thinks that any failure will be ‘your problem’.
An example is the supply of technical copy (e.g. ingredients). With some of our clients we can almost guarantee it will change from originally supplied, sometimes after full artwork is already complete.
If there’s no accountability then there’s often no care from those responsible for supplying information and inputs.
You end up as the ham in an increasingly expensive sandwich. If the attitude is, “marketing will pay for it” then most often… you do.
How to avoid it: Ensure that lack of care has consequences for people or departments responsible. You’ll be amazed how quickly inputs improve if mistakes and cost overruns hit their budget, not yours.
Number 5 – Trying to take shortcuts
Pressure on timelines has never been greater… we see your grey hairs appearing. It’s tempting to shortcut good design project process in an effort to hit tight deadlines. Shortcuts often actually take longer and costs more. Let me explain…
Shortcuts in good process (for example not waiting for correct copy, not confirming a knife line, or not having a print pre-production meeting) almost always results in things going wrong. Every time something goes wrong, design or artwork has to be changed or even completely redone. It has to be recirculated through approval channels. It can even require new printing.
So what’s happened is the time and budget it would have taken to do the project once properly has been used PLUS the time and budget to do it the ‘quick way’ first.
"There never seems to be time to do things right but there’s always time to do them twice."
How to avoid it: Do things the right way as fast as possible. Don’t do things as fast as possible any way you can.
To protect your design budgets do your best to avoid these 5 traps on your next project. It will save money, time and quite possibly, our shared sanity.