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Deadlines

I pride myself in meeting deadlines. In my career I barely missed one. I believe missing a deadline is worse than delivering a mediocre result. Making deadlines is a matter of respect. To the client, to his or her time and to all the other parties that might be involved. So, I make a point to always deliver on time. However, “on time” doesn’t necessarily equal “when initially promised.”

If I realize during my work process that I will need more time in order to deliver work that I can stand behind 100%, I will call my client and ask if it would be okay to add extra time to the project. Usually clients are fine with it. After all, the simple inquiry suggests that more time might equal a better result. And ultimately that is what clients are interested in. The amazing part about sticking to this simple habit, is, that it is extremely appreciated by clients: “We have never worked with a designer that was on time” is a response that I have heard quite often. Then they go into stories of their previous design firms and how they blew them off so many times. It’s quite wonderful to hear some of these stories.

Needless to say that I don’t push my deadlines back too often, but I believe it is perfectly fine to do once in a while. I don’t make the call the day when the project is promised to arrive at the clients, but as early as I know that extra time would be helpful, giving the client time to plan and reschedule his or her time accordingly.

Graphic designers seem to be great at promising clients whatever they ask for: “Sure, no problem… we can do that” is probably a very common graphic designer statement, but the delivery of that promise seems to be much harder.
It’s always shocking to me how many designers fail to meet deadlines, flake on clients, show up late for meetings or call-in with last minute excuses of flu, family emergencies… oh, and computer crashes. The sad part is that very often, these designers know in advance, that it will not be possible for them to deliver what they promise.

And all it would take is a little communication.

A few weeks ago, I referred a young, talented graphic designer to one of my clients. It would have been a great, and potentially steady new source of projects and income for the guy. Unfortunately he did not even show up for the initial meeting. Supposedly he woke up and realized that he had the flu. He informed the potential client a few hours past the meeting time about this. Talk about blowing an opportunity before the first deadline is even set.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2034 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Aug.02.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Stefan Hayden’s comment is:

Graphic Artists always seem to be split with some being a little more business then art and some a little more art then business. I personally fall on the business side and I don't fall victim to those mood swings artists are always said to have. I have a good friend though that is exactly opposite. He rather obsess about making the project perfect then worry (or meet) any sort of deadline.

On Aug.03.2004 at 07:19 AM
Patrick C’s comment is:

I tend to work very quickly and always meet deadlines. There's been one exception this summer, but the client hasn't minded as they were not on a strict deadline. The fact that I meet deadlines, and turn work around quickly has earned me a lot of points with clients and a good reputation.

But I've always made a point of not promising too much and trying to buy more time during the initial negotiation.

As you pointed out, there's often not a lot of competition. Being on time is one of the easiest ways (to my mind) that you can separate yourself from the heard.

For me the problem is with clients meeting deadlines. They almost never do. Something is always behind. They haven't got the text yet etc. Clients are usually responsible for deadlines being missed and project timelines stretching out.

On Aug.03.2004 at 07:27 AM
bryony’s comment is:

Missing a deadline or being late are unforgivable in my book. For good or bad I was born with this built-in deep into my brain and have never been able to shake it off, or evenlet it budge in small details or smaller aspects of everyday life.

A common trait I began to notice a couple of years ago, is based on near-miss/barley-made-it/just-in-time/30-seconds-to-spare deadline. As pdfs become more part of our daily communication with clients, and time more precious than ever, I find myself working (to my utter delight! — notice the clenched teeth) with my creative team up to the last second before a meeting, because since we are sending a pdf, and we don’t want the client to have time to see it and destroy it without our presenting it. With a few minutes to spare we start spooling and preparing the cover email, and should a glitch come up, a computer crash or something of the sort we miss the deadline. Personally, I hate working like this, but it is a scene I see several times a day. Why? Is my office the only one that works this way?

On Aug.03.2004 at 08:21 AM
Josh’s comment is:

I thought meeting deadlines were a no brainer. I expect the client to miss them and I simply budget a little extra time for it so I don’t. I didn’t think it was an option for the designer to miss a deadline. They are the ones getting paid. I don’t understand. How do people who flake on deadlines get work?

Of course I say this after missing three weeks of work due to mono, causing me to miss a deadline — or I should say, move a deadline.

On Aug.03.2004 at 08:40 AM
Ron Hubbard’s comment is:

Have you ever noticed how the clients deadline for content and information doesn't push our deadline back at all. They have a little leverage but we have none.

If you have 5 days to get something done and the client doesn't get you anything until the 4th day then it looks like you're pulling an all-nighter.

Where's the justice?

On Aug.03.2004 at 08:55 AM
Kev Leonard’s comment is:

Is my office the only one that works this way?

Bryony, I don't think your office is the only one working like that. Everyone is trying to cram a million things into an 8 (10-12) hour day. Sometimes you don't have a choice and I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

Further, I want to know who these designers are who are blowing off clients and missing deadlines without so much as a phone call--not good for business and just plain rude.

I've learned in my travels I've learned (especially in Chicago) people talk. The majority of my business has come from word of mouth and my clients aren't saying "Hey, you should try Kevin Leonard for your brochure, he misses deadlines, blows off meetings and is as slow as molasses."

On Aug.03.2004 at 08:58 AM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

The deadline thing is one of the many reasons I have broken off from an agency and started my own design practice. It is most astounding that some businesses are constantly up-to-the-last minute and consistently missing deadlines by a narrow margin.

You would think someone would take pause to suggest that, perhaps, the process for scheduling work and making deadlines needs to be reviewed.

Josh also made note that he doesn't expect a client to make their deadlines and therefore builds in extra time so that he doesn't blow his. That is a reasonable method, and one which I practice with my clients. Of course, some inevitably insist they will make their deadlines and that we should compress the timeline anyway, which often is a set up for a missed deadline. In these cases I do my best, but I only do what I can without killing myself.

On Aug.03.2004 at 09:10 AM
Kev Leonard’s comment is:

Sometimes I don't think clients really get that quality = time. They don't think that there is a thought process involved. I think the think that you really go back to your studio and press a button and the solution come out of a slot on your Mac.

On Aug.03.2004 at 09:18 AM
Valon’s comment is:

My experience with clients has almost always been the same: s/he wants the goods right away! And I think this is true for all of us no matter what. Say when we are using someone else's services we always want to be served right away. I think it's the human nature. And for the client to want from me to come up with a great idea right away cannot be condemned. Because, I am the "creative" and I call myself "graphic designer", and that's all the client knows. S/he doesn't care what I have to do to get the project done, s/he wants it by a certain date and that's all that matters. I can't complain.

On Aug.03.2004 at 10:17 AM
Kev Leonard’s comment is:

My experience with clients has almost always been the same: s/he wants the goods right away

My services always come with a little education (production schedules.) I don't sweat it if a client (even long standing ones) can't wait for genius.

On Aug.03.2004 at 10:29 AM
Peter Scherrer (ps)’s comment is:

S/he doesn't care what I have to do to get the project done, s/he wants it by a certain date and that's all that matters. I can't complain.

well, you can tell the client that creativity is not like a tap that you can turn on and out it comes...

what always seems to help is to give the client the following options:

tell them to pick 2 out of the 3 choices: fast, good, cheap. they can have 2 but not all 3.

On Aug.03.2004 at 10:59 AM
Lea’s comment is:

The "rush" that clients tend to put on designers isn't isolated to designers alone. Isn't it normal business practice to make sure that whoever needs to get work done for you does it as quickly (and already assumed, with quality) as possible?

Though a lot of business people give tight deadlines, what some designers don't realise is that you ARE allowed to call them up and ask them for more time if you need it--because good business people give *themselves* enough breathing room, so any types of delays wouldn't affect the bottom line. There's the written-down deadline, and then there's the "real" deadline. Of course, that's no excuse to slack off and try to veer off the agreed-on deadline, but again, design is a business and in business, there's ALWAYS room for negotiations.

It's the same for printers. They can probably print a simple poster for you the next day, but they'll give themselves a week to get it over and done with to give themselves leeway and to take care of other projects at the same time, right?

On Aug.03.2004 at 11:02 AM
Valon’s comment is:

but they'll give themselves a week to get it over and done with to give themselves leeway and to take care of other projects at the same time, right?

Yea Lea, I've actually learned to do that from the printers myself. I always try to push the deadline slightly forward just to give myself few extra days in case something major comes up and I can't deliver on time. This way if I deliver way ahead of schedule everyone is happy.

On Aug.03.2004 at 11:22 AM
Danielle’s comment is:

I think the bad habits mentioned (cancelling meetings, blowing off deadlines) are often nurtured while designers are students in university or art schools. Many (not all) teachers out there do not emphasize professionalism in their courses, and they certainly don't penalize their students for late work or absences from class.

On Aug.03.2004 at 11:26 AM
Michael’s comment is:

Is my office the only one that works this way?

As a student constantly working right up until the last minute, mounting my work as quickly as possible and making a mad dash to class, I had somehow always thought this would be different in the real world. It looks as if I should start changing my habits early, so I won't be still falling into the same deadline trap that I am now.

On Aug.03.2004 at 11:34 AM
bryony’s comment is:

tell them to pick 2 out of the 3 choices: fast, good, cheap. they can have 2 but not all 3

Love this. In Mexico we have a saying: Rapidéz o precisi´┐Żn. Speed or quality. You choose. I do.

On Aug.03.2004 at 12:39 PM
Nary’s comment is:

i agree with Danielle. as a student, you can take a look around you and see who's ready to come out of school and hit the ground running, just sucking up opportunities that come their way. however, there is also the case of egotism in the virtuoso. people who are naturally talented and who do well in school sometimes feel that their talent will get them their next gig because they're so genius. that's fine if you've got a reputation for turning out concepts and design that can sell ice to Eskimos by the ton and advertisers are throwing money at you. maybe people will still work with you, but as a student, to develop that type of mentality, that's just setting yourself up for being an ass in the professional world. nobody likes getting blown off, especially if they set time aside out of their busy schedule to give you a chance.

tell them to pick 2 out of the 3 choices: fast, good, cheap. they can have 2 but not all 3.

i love that. my best prof., Jim Kelley, said that to one of his beginning GD or Typography class and i would always laugh inside because i'm picturing the client, all baffled, trying to (uhh.............) make a decision.

and Patrick mentioned clients missing deadlines. yeah, that sucks. sometimes they expect you to make up for time they lost and still turn in the work at the set deadline.

here's one, how about when the client comes to you and goes "we need this brochure in three weeks, we couldn't get anybody else because the other designer we spoke to said she was busy and it'll take her two months. we can't wait that long." you take the assignment and think, ah shit, i'll do it as a favor. then it takes them a week and a half to give you the text in English and some images. then it takes them another week to give you more images because the other ones didn't work. oh yeah, did i mention that they want text in Chinese? yeah well, it takes them three and a half months to give you the text in Chinese. but that's fine. in the meantime, just work on other things. but now that they've turned everything in, every week they're like, "so what have you done?" "so, anything new?" aaaaaaaargh.

does anybody really want a project to drag on for that long? because even if i'm not working on it, i know that it's always in the back of my mind. i know i'd like to get it done and out of my head. it's all cluttered up in there...

On Aug.03.2004 at 12:52 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I had a country club call me up 2 weeks ago. They want to start a twice-yearly 48-page magzine, about half of it advertising.

Can you design it for us?

Sure. What's your timescale?

We want to get it out by the end of September.

Oh. How much of it is written.

None of it.

And who's writing it?

The two owners & I.

Ah. And how much of the advertising have you sold?

We haven't started yet.

Hmm. Who's selling the advertising?

I am. And I'd like you to be available to put together the adverts if that's required.

Great. And who's arranging the wrinkle in the space-time continuum?

I put together a realistic timeline for them. They hired someone else, but I'm willing to bet there will be no magazine by the end of September.

On Aug.03.2004 at 02:24 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I've gotten in the habit of setting a timeline/schedule for both myself and the client. I will deliver x, y, and z provided the client has delivered a, b, and c on time.

I find that makes both parties get a much more realistic perspective on things.

On Aug.03.2004 at 04:36 PM
Josh’s comment is:

"… teachers out there do not emphasize professionalism in their courses, and they certainly don't penalize their students for late work or absences from class."

I must have been lucky with my education. A late project was an “F”. If you couldn’t make the critique for some reason — and it had to be a good one, like cutting off your fingers in sculpture class — you had to turn in your project early or find someone to bring it in for you. There was an option to re-do projects if you didn’t like your grade, but they were due before the next project deadline and the final grade was an average of the two tries. For every three missed classes, your grade was docked a letter, even though there was a university-wide policy against grading on attendance. I don’t know how the Art and Design department got around that rule. After I graduated, the “real world” seemed easier.

On Aug.03.2004 at 04:52 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Here's the key to deadlines, and business success in general: Consistency.

Clients NEVER remember if you met a crazy deadline, or if you did something in an insanely short period of time. All they value and remember is that you always deliver things when promised — consistently.

It doesn't really matter if you're fast or slow. A client just needs to know and trust that everytime you say you'll get them something, you'll do it. That peace of mind for a client is the most crucial thing — it's what your clients need to plan their own schedules and deadlines.

So don't play the speed game. Believe me, it's not something you can win, and it's never something a client remembers — no matter how much you sweat and bleed for them.

On Aug.03.2004 at 07:20 PM
Patrick C’s comment is:

Time be time, man,

It be flexible.

Tan, I agree with you: consistency with meeting your timelines wins the most brownie points. But there have been times when a client has needed something really quickly and I've delivered it and they've not forgotten that I got it done.

I've found, as others have mentioned, that trying to stretch the dealine at the beginning to a safe margin and then beating it pays off. If things get messy you, hopefully, just meet the dealine and the client is still happy.

But has anyone every (and let's be honest here) ever met a web deadline?? Never seems to happen.

On Aug.03.2004 at 07:38 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> But has anyone ever (and let's be honest here) ever met a web deadline?? Never seems to happen.

Now, this is something I really don't get. What is so damn hard about meeting a launch date? At m1, we pushed stuff back all the time. And that "we need to test it" crap is no excuse. That is what you are supposed to do between the deadline and the time you start the project: design it, build it, test it, launch it — on time.

I really can't comprehend why launching a web site needs to get pushed or the deadline not met. It takes less than 5 minutes to upload a web site via FTP. It's not like you have to let the RGB ink dry before applying spot varnishes so that they can dry so you can trim so you can fold so you can send to fulfillment so you can deliver anything printed in time.

On Aug.04.2004 at 08:34 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I must have been lucky with my education. A late project was an “F”.

Not where I went to school. I once turned in EVERY project for a class on the day AFTER the last day of class. It's not that I hadn't been working on it, and the teacher knew my work because she'd critiqued it all, but the final projects had never been finished. I might have been slightly downgraded in her mind for doing that, but there was no policy. I think I got a C in that class.

So, yes, I once was the stuck up "I have natural talent so I don't need this crap" type. That changed real quick in the real world. "Natural talent" gets you over the first hurdle, maybe, but there are fifteen more waiting to trip you up.

RGB ink

What will they think of next?

On Aug.04.2004 at 08:57 AM
Patrick C’s comment is:

Now, this is something I really don't get. What is so damn hard about meeting a launch date?

Getting all the necessary content from clients. With web they seem to like to piss around with it because there is no equivalent of the press deadline. It's usually their own deadline that they miss, however.

On Aug.04.2004 at 09:01 AM
Kendall’s comment is:

Now, this is something I really don't get. What is so damn hard about meeting a launch date?

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes... For some reason the client feels like they can change content, structure, design, and have it not affect the timeline. I am coming from a developer perspective so excuse me if i step on anyone's toes. A lot of people (clients, project managers, designers) sometimes don't understand that a "minor change" can really mean a major rehaul in the code.

And that "we need to test it" crap is no excuse.

Again, from the developers perspective. You (designers) wouldn't put your name on something that didn't work, had spelling mistakes, was the wrong color, etc. In the same way developers don't want to put their names on sites that don't work, give errors, aren't usable. I have found that designing and developing are more similar than either group of people would care to admit. I went to art school and now am on the technical side of things so I have experience in both. At the root of both is problem solving. And we can help each other.

On Aug.04.2004 at 09:41 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> You (designers) wouldn't put your name on something that didn't work, had spelling mistakes, was the wrong color, etc. In the same way developers don't want to put their names on sites that don't work, give errors, aren't usable.

Kendall I agree. But the point is that all that stuff we all want perfect — whether in print or web — has to happen before the deadline. I don't see how it would affect a deadline in a bigger way to fix an error on a web site than to fix an error on a brochure. That's what deadlines are for, so that when you get to it, all the errors are taken care of.

As a designer and developer of (smaller-scale) web sites I see no reason — other than the web's "flexibility" and clients' lack of timely delivery — to not deliver things on time.

On Aug.04.2004 at 10:07 AM
Kev Leonard’s comment is:

So don't play the speed game.

Amen to that Tan. There are so many things you can control but far more that can't be controlled. If you're ahead of the game you can manage the unforeseen obstacles. If you are always last minute sooner or later you will meet with something that can't be forgiven.

On the subject of school. In our design classes we were expected to conduct ourselves as though we worked in a design office. Every assignment came with it's own production schedule. When pencils were being reviewed by the (principal) professor you had to have them. If you didn't, they were expected at the next stage of the project. It was nice because when I got out of school the real world was not that big of a surprise.

On Aug.04.2004 at 11:35 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Tan nailed it when he said don't play the speed game. It'll never be enough anyway. Quality goes down the toilet. You can count on that, as if anyone notices anyway. But you do. And there is always next time when they'll want it just as fast and faster. The art director becomes just a talented hampster in a turning wheel, but a hamster nevertheless. Clients aren't all bad in this equation. They're just getting faster and cheaper. But there has to be some limits, at least for the sake of professionalism.

What designers (and I include all the creatives in this) need, collectively, is a Spartacus.....

a slave revolt....>>laughing>> Hey Tan, did anyone ever tell you your picture looks like, kinda, Kirk Douglas?

On Aug.04.2004 at 12:22 PM
Tan’s comment is:

One more piece of advice on deadlines — this one I learned from my first art director: don't be late for a deadline, but also don't be too early.

I remember working on a project once, that for some reason, I'd finished three days ahead of schedule. When I told my AD that the proof was ready to be delivered to the client 3 days early — he told me to sit on it, and not to send it until the day it was due. He said that it's generally good to overdeliver, but in the case of deadlines, you'll just shorten the client's expectations for turnaround time, which will just tighten the noose around your own neck. Just get it to them when you said you'll get it to them.

>there have been times when a client has needed something really quickly and I've delivered it and they've not forgotten that I got it done.

Sure, I've done the same. I'm not bragging that I've never scrambled for a client. I'm just saying that the issue is more about expectations and dependability, not about speed and response time.

>In our design classes we were expected to conduct ourselves as though we worked in a design office.

Kev, I tell my students that exact thing — pretend I'm their AD/boss, and they're a designer in my office. As a matter of fact, I give them a specific time on the day of a deadline. I tell them to pretend that I'm stepping on a plane to present the work to a client. If they're late in handing in the work, and I have to step on that plane empty-handed, well then...they're fired. No excuses, no 5-minutes late crap, no leniency, no exceptions. Either it's on time, or it's an F.

Why should school deadlines be anymore lenient than the real world?

> Kirk Douglas

Ha! Actually, I'd rather be his son — cause then my wife would be the incredible Catherine Zeta Jones. *sigh*

On Aug.04.2004 at 01:04 PM
jenny’s comment is:

Good advice about not being early - I learned that once from experience and haven't made the same mistake since.

One of the things that got to me from Peter's orignal post was the designer who blew of the client... It seemed to me that he blew two opportunities, the first being the client, the second being referrals. I once referred a copywriter to a client of mine, and she also blew off the client and didn't show to a meeting. I couldn't in good conscience refer her to anyone else after that.

On Aug.04.2004 at 01:22 PM
Kendall’s comment is:

Armin. I agree with you as well. Typos, and minor content changes should be a) easy to fix and b) done before the deadline. I think what I was meaning was when functionality is added, changed, or expanded upon at the whim of a client and/or other controlling interest. And I certainly know that that is a bigger issue within that particular working environment. I have since left that job and am an independent contractor now. All that to say changing the functionality can really screw you up on the timeline. Imagine you have a print piece that has a bunch of intricate folds or die-cuts or something of that nature that you have designed into a piece and then someone comes to you close to the deadline and says "we need to add insert functionality here" (sorry i couldn't come up with a better example, a little out of my realm).

On Aug.04.2004 at 03:29 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Re: clients making stuff late ... my friend Simon who works with a lot of record companies, put it well: they want the design yesterday, but they'll give you the copy tomorrow.

R

On Aug.05.2004 at 03:40 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

I presently work for an engineering consultancy. A foundation for any project here is the "Project Planning Document" or PPD (engineers love acronyms). Before any work can begin, this detailed document spells out things such as Project Goals/Key Issues, Contract/Invoicing information, List of Deliverables, Budget, Scope of Work, Critical Path Schedules, Meeting Schedules, Contingency, etc., etc. It may seem too left-brain for some graphic designers, but it actually provides a framework of understanding that can allow the design process to flow in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the client and the designer. Sometimes, things still come up that unexpectedly threaten a deadline, but at least there is a common reference for both parties to deal with the delay in a proactive manner.

On Aug.05.2004 at 01:11 PM
Saman Rahmanian’s comment is:

Needless to say that meeting deadlines is absolutely crucial in the design world (and HEY - in what business world is it actually not essential?)

However, meeting those deadlines is a tricky thing - no, not because there is not enough time, but because some people (I include myself here) work well - only under pressure. So, it seems to me that handling deadlines is as much about handling the psychology of deadlines.

scenario on day x:

"project K needs to be delivered in 14 weeks; oh, there is still sooo much time left...fair enough, I try something out...nope, that sucks...oh well, I'll try another day..."

days pass and pass....

scenario on day x+13:

project K needs to be delivered TOMORROW!!! okay, let's focus - let's try something out...hmm, that sucks, well let's try to tweak that... yeah, better - okay, we are getting there....BUT...dang, only 5 hours left until the meeting....

what has really helped me in dealing with this issue is by setting my own internal deadlines - way before the client's date. I just have problems convincing myself into taking my own deadlines too serious :-)

On Aug.14.2004 at 01:14 PM