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Culture of the Quick

These days, Americans believe that nearly any task can be done through a “hurry up” state of affairs. The breadth of television programs, such as ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition, have an entire house remodeled or built in under an hour. Other entertainment like Fox’s The Swan has promised physical transformation with the help of surgery, exercise, and diet. Of course, these shows and others operate during television’s compressed timescape, but one thing’s certain, people want results and they want them now. Chances are you’ve worked with clients that want things done on the fly, and when that happens, how do you cope with it? Do you give in, and if so, how do you manage the pressure—have you seen the work suffer? If you refuse to work under a “hurry up” offense, how do you communicate this to the client—or buy yourself more time?

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PUBLISHED ON Apr.01.2006 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Armin’s comment is:

My theory is: You — not, you Jason, personally… You can whine about it or you can use that time to get it done. If a client wants something fast, and has an existing and real deadline and comes to you for help, it is your job to do it and do it well. If you can't or don't feel like it, you can point him to another designer who might be willing to do the job, but who knows, that desiger might just get to keep the client.

And never blame an execution for lack of time. Sure, it could be better if you had spent more time working on it, but if it somehow comes up short of your expectations, time is not a scapegoat.

And sometimes the best work happens in these fast-paced jobs because you have to make decisions quick and on target, rather than pussyfooting about every single thing.

On Apr.01.2006 at 10:05 PM
Su’s comment is:

One tactic I've had to resort to is simply not responding to e-mails(for a period; calm down). My mail client only checks automatically somewhere between 45min to an hour. If I'm not busy, I'll poke it more often, but otherwise that's the lead time. I also don't generally accept people randomly popping up via IM or the phone.

Emergencies are one thing, but I've watched clients get trained into thinking that they can just drop whatever project in my lap at any given moment and I'll stop anything I might be doing. They've all been told response time will be within X, but if you don't actually put that into practice, they start assuming you'll always respond within five minutes. This eventually leads to outright lack of planning or prior notice for anything. If you've known about stuff for weeks, there's absolutely no excuse for calling me at 10PM needing them tomorrow morning, on multiple occasions.

Sometimes, if it's something smaller I'll take care of it, and just not tell them immediately, which has the added benefit of giving me extra review time(Handy when I'm asked to do something that just plain doesn't make sense, and I need time to figure out exactly why not so I can explain.)

On Apr.02.2006 at 06:51 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Armin, your point is well made, especially about less time yielding a more targeted solution. I’ve seen this happen with my students, when they do better work in a shorter time period; it’s as if they work better under pressure. And with clients, I sometimes feel like less pussyfooting (as you call it) helps he job get done without loads of red tape and administrative weight. I wonder how many of us prefer this method of working—that of less time, instead of more?

On Apr.02.2006 at 08:33 AM
Esin’s comment is:

I've used Su's tactic of not responding immediately as well. I find it works to show that you have other things to do and you are not willing to just drop everything and respond to a client's sudden urgency.

Though it's true that we have a dedication to our clients to get the job done, we have beware of getting wrapped around our client's little finger (anyone will take advantage of you if you let them). It is good to keep a healthy distance and be firm from the beginning, outlining your methods of working, and stating your rush work procedures in the contract.

If the client doesn't like that from the start, they shouldn't sign along the dotted line.

On Apr.02.2006 at 04:43 PM
Randy’s comment is:

Quite simply for me, the long-standing, valuable client relationships, usually get treated with priority. If something can be done in 10 minutes, and I have 5, I chop the other 5 off the front end of my text scheduled task. Obviously for more involved tasks, that can't always apply.

Other than the above act of willingly speed client service, I usually maintain a reply within 24 hour policy and plan most tasks at about 7 days in advance. This is typically communicated upfront. If a project inherently requires quick moves at somepoint, we'll articulate that upfront. Because I currently carry a full-time graduate courseload, I must maintain tight control of scheduling, and fortunately have been disciplined (and lucky enough) to take on only projects/clients that understand the turnaround limitations.

On Apr.02.2006 at 04:49 PM
Natalie’s comment is:

I'm probably not the best person to comment since I haven't been able to make my freelance practice take off (read: not enough chutzpah at soliciting new clients and loving the not-for-profit ones I already have too much) but here it goes anyway.

There are a lot of factors to consider when taking on a (rush) job. What is the client like? Are they a regular? Are they new? (part of Susan’s argument) What are their demands? Their time frame? Realistic or unrealistic? (Be honest with this one, because everything can be seen as unrealistic if you really choose to). Do you already have tons on the go? Nothing at all? Is the project interesting? Is the client/organization of interest to you? Would you be the ideal candidate for the job? That is, would the project be most effective in your hands or in the ones of, for example, an illustrator? A graphic artist? A print shop? Would your client benefit from going to a small shop or an agency? And dare I ask, could you see the potential of follow-up work with this client or would it be a one time thing? (part of Armin’s argument). Of course, the last question is hard to answer, and shouldn’t be the deciding issue of to do or not to do, but it could allow you to think of the bigger belief at work here: putting boundaries into place, right from the very beginning. (What Debbie, and everyone at SpeakUp, so generously shared with one another).

Rush jobs (ideally) have different (ahem — higher — as I clear my throat and avoid eye contact) prices. New clients need to be educated on how you/your agency works. Regular ones can gently be reminded that you are not checking phone/email/IM/Skype/soup cans-attached-to-string every few seconds and can be reached at a certain time of day when a review is necessary of the work done so far. Mini-meetings at set times can buy the kind of assurance on a client’s side, and the bit of peace on yours, to make sure you get the work done in a timely manner, and sometimes, to your surprise, even with time left over. (It does happen!)

A small bookbinder and print press shop that I know of hires a night crew when a project’s deadline is near, short-notice or not, and assures their clients with numerous correspondence that when they say, “5pm, We’ll have it to you at your door” they mean “5pm”; not 4:30pm or 5:14pm. (I suppose years of being that good, and all the things you come across in between, help you get to that point. Keeping the lines free for your psychic connection forecast probably doesn’t hurt either).

I don’t know what your situation is exactly (new to SpeakUp) and feel like I shouldn’t comment any further since this sort of decision can’t be addressed in general terms but on the client-to-client basis according to where you are with your work; and maybe also with life. (Wouldn’t know where to begin with the pay-your-dues vs. luxury-to-say no argument, regardless of the financial obligations. Another time).

The sad truth is, that with the tech boom, despite reality television, everyone thinks that creative thinkers are really computer operators and that our job is not to question but just to generate (in a T Ford kind of way); usually with twice as much work to be done in half the amount of time. How can you tell your client that the reality series they should really be watching is the one of the camera crew that is taping the Extreme Makeover crew who have recruited enormous professional help, suppliers, and in most cases, the entire town, to work night and day to build a house? That show isn’t out yet and may never will be.

(Who knows. Maybe, in Extreme Makeover hands, Rome would be built in a day).

I’ll leave you with the quote below. It’s from Talk to the Hand, The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door (2005) by Lynne Truss.

“Choice from menus is a burden dressed up as a privilege. It is bondage with bells on. And, of course, it sill makes us do all the work.”

Be realistic. Do what you can. Lay down the rules. Follow them through. Try to get something out of the process. Learn from it. Bill accordingly. Turn off the TV. Star in your own reality. Invite your clients to do the same.

Now get back to work!

On Apr.02.2006 at 05:07 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Armin, I can see where that line of thinking makes sense in the agency/studio environment. Working in-house, though, you really have to be careful, otherwise you'll be stuck at the tail-end of a lot of bad planning.

I find that rush jobs can be exhilarating and even (dare I say it) fun, but they can play havoc with the schedules of concurrent projects. (It sucks to have to tell a college dean that their brochure will be delayed because the university president needs something right away.) They can also impact the moral of your staff, particularly if the "it's just a tiny thing" projects keep pulling them away from more satisfying work.

Most important, though, last minute jobs are a tremendous risk for designers: when you have no time to spare, even a minor vendor mistake can turn into a disaster. (Guess who gets blamed if the job is late because your printer rep ordered the wrong stock? Believe me, it won't be the rep.)

I see it as part of my job to educate my internal clients on the proper timeline for a communication project. Part of that education is to make a clear connection between time and quality. I've seen beautiful work produced at the last minute, but almost always luck played a big role in the process. As a professional, it's not a good idea to depend on luck.

On Apr.02.2006 at 05:35 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

This is slightly off topic, but fitting in the rush world of today's culture and design as a process for thinking. I'm working a lot these days with how post secondary education will be delivered in the not so distant future. There's a couple themes that seem to keep coming up in the research. Perhaps there's a parallel to the rush of today. There's the Millennials or Generation Y people who are in the education system right now and an approach to education called blended learning. What's interesting is that the rush might be to collect all the info and let that person decide on how they want to deal with learning about the subject matter. B/c were so used to seeing things get done quickly, this has transfered how we learn. I think there's an idea that follows the line that an idea can come in an instant though it just might take twenty years of experience to get that thought. Maybe it's a sad commentary on where design is heading, but those designers that can deliver in a rush will be more trusted and respected then those that create the big idea two hours past the deadline.

On Apr.03.2006 at 12:20 AM
Chris Bowden’s comment is:

What's that old saying?

Client wants the job:

1. fast

2. good

3. cheap

Designer answers - 'Pick two'

On Apr.03.2006 at 03:32 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I like the way you think Armin. It shows a maturity in this business. And I agree.

But I also think there are ways to manage deadlines and work with the client more effectively.

I once had a client tell me, "You guys aren't the fastest shop, but you're always consistent. And that's most important to me, because it helps me manage expectations to my boss." And therein lies the key — deadlines and turnarounds are all about managing expectations up the chain of command.

A client demands a quick turnaround because sometimes a deadline comes up unexpected, or because sometimes they've screwed up and need to recover time, or because they made the mistake of over-promising to their boss. And in a jam, they need to know that they can count on you to bail them out. Fine. But in the long term, you need to work with them to maintain a consistent record of deliverable service. And it's absolutely crucial that you maintain this consistency to the nth degree. Because consistency means dependability, and in the client's world, that's more valuable than speed or budget.

Being consistent means never, ever missing an agreed-upon deadline. But more importantly, consistency also means never delivering something early just because you're done. Lots of designers make this mistake in their eagerness to please the client. But instead, they break the pattern of consistency, and turn the client's expectations into an undisciplined game of chasing deadlines. So don't do it. Sit on the proof for a couple of days if you need to. Maintain the consistenncy at all costs.

That discipline is one of the most difficult thing to teach to account managers, but it's crucial to sanity in the agency world.

On Apr.03.2006 at 08:51 AM
bryony’s comment is:

Indeed expectations and parameters are what it all boils down to. If you have an established relationship, or are in the works on one it is very important to communicate what your turnaround times but it is also very important to let your client know that you are there as a partner. You are there to help them out and listen and find the best solutions to his/her problem, be it a piece of collateral, or a crunch.

Further along in the relationship it is also key that you learn to read your client. I have had the case where a client calls me franticly while on a meeting, leaving 8 voice mails, 10 emails, and paging me on the overhead system as if the world was coming to an end. An emergency, but not even close to what she was thinking. After going through this a few times and moving her away from the ledge in a consistent and successful manner the dynamic has changed to a more sane one. I recognize her emergencies and respond to them, and she recognizes my timeframes and works with them.

On Apr.03.2006 at 10:07 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

I'm a big fan of charging more money.

Of course, I can't actually MAKE that call so there goes the relevance of that idea...but I have seen it work for some folks.

The greatest problem I have with any quick-turnaround, sub-24 hour type projects is that IF you do well (which is pretty random, you can't gurantee brilliance every time under those constraints), then you run the risk of building unrealistic expectations. This is solved by open communication, at least in my case it has been. One client in particular has lots of emergencies--legit ones too, like having media paid for in a publication and another agency failed to deliver the creative (!!!)--and every now and then...we do it. It frequently sucks but its only enhanced our relationship.

But then there's this other client. Not mine personally, but one of the bigger accounts around here and they too magnetically attract crises. The failure to establish groundrules for those situations has turned into a truly disastrous situation where things like budget and timelines are automatically assumed to be arbitrary and unpredictable. Fun!

So we're a speed-freak culture. If you're into studying and analyzing that (worth the time), pick up "I Am a Bullet" by Dean Kuipers and reflect for a bit. Personally, I hate piddling around.

On Apr.03.2006 at 12:26 PM
bryony’s comment is:

when the work needs to be done overnight or during the weekend, does anyone charge for "after-hours" work?

On Apr.03.2006 at 01:53 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Sometimes, I have a rush fee I'll add, and have been known to put in an "after hours" disclaimer too. I believe something similar exists in the AIGA contract template too.

On Apr.03.2006 at 02:45 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Bryony, I'm so terrified of angry (read: unpaying) clients that I almost always charge a flat fee as opposed to an hourly rate. Yeah, that screws me in some ways because it nearly always comes down to late nights and weekends, but I hate feeling like I'm spending too much time thinking about a project.

As for our speed-freak clients/culture, it's hardly ever a true emergency. I tell 'em to keep their pants on, it will get done in a timely manner. They sulk, but only for a few minutes.

On Apr.03.2006 at 08:00 PM
Natalie’s comment is:

In the "Graphic Artists Guild Handbook Pricing & Ethical Guidelines," 10th Edition, it says that "rush work may increase the original fee by 50 percent." The handbook includes this disclaimer for the Surface Design Prices & Trade Customs section, however, agencies I have interned at in the past followed the 50% rule, either multiplying it to "after hours" work or fee decided before commencement of project, in all aspects of their rush related jobs.

On Apr.03.2006 at 08:26 PM
Robin’s comment is:

If I had a nickel for everytime a client needed a rush turnaround, I'd (fill in your own blank here).

I actually have some long-term clients who can best be described as chronically disorganized, and I often wonder how they keep it together, or at least their sanity. Every project seems to have sat on their desk for weeks before they realize the deadline is fast approaching. The best way I've found to deal with this is to expect it, proactively call them, and buffer my days for the unexpected.

I think clients like these have turned me into the "multi-tasking, idea-demon who can think and work on the fly" person I am today. If I really think about it, I don't think that's such as bad thing.

This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy my other clients who give me projects with reasonable deadlines, but you just learn to devote the time where needed. Either way, deadlines are good, and complaining about not having enough time, or money, or people, etc. is a waste of your precious energy. :)

On Apr.03.2006 at 09:01 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Either way, deadlines are good, and complaining about not having enough time, or money, or people, etc. is a waste of your precious energy.

Not building rushes and after hours into your billable seems like a waste, that devalues your time and talent.

On Apr.03.2006 at 10:48 PM
Frank’s comment is:

It's one thing where a client needs something yesterday; you do your best to meet that deadline and the design work turns out great. It's quite another thing when your design isn't working, you know it and the dealine has arrived. This happened to me last week with a great client. I just wasn't pleased with the design. So, I was honest with the client and told them I'd need another week for it to come together. The client understood. They didn't want anything less than the best either. Of course there are those clients who don't understand (I've been one!), and to them I say, "When you want it bad, you get it bad!"

On Apr.04.2006 at 12:37 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Not building rushes and after hours into your billable seems like a waste

Rush fees —while it does make practical sense— doesn't really solve anything.

It's a nominal source of additional income, and it negatively impacts most client relationship because it basically fines them for not being organized. In the long run, you'll likely lose the client.

A better way to fix the situation is, a) try to manage the client's demands better; b) suck it up, finish the project, and charge them more on the next project; and c) become more astute at value billing your time overall to accommodate the occasional demanding client.

On Apr.04.2006 at 12:58 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Tan, once again you've proven why you're a CD, and a damn fine one at that.

BTW, I was browsing through a collection of Strathmore writing systems, and guess what I saw in the stationery samples? Grip's system. It brought a tear to my eye.

On Apr.04.2006 at 02:42 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>I saw in the stationery samples? Grip's system.

man, that feels like another lifetime...thanks for the props, bro.

On Apr.04.2006 at 04:35 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

There's nothing wrong with "Quick". It's "Impossible" that's the problem. The worst is "The Fast-forward Death March Through A Bad Idea" kind of project. Nothing good comes from disorganization.

I tend to agree with Tan that billing stiff rush charges is counterproductive. They'll resent it, of course, and rather than blame themselves, reflect the anger back on the designer. If it's a long term client, it becomes necessary for them to recognize that good work requires a reasonable timeframe and fee. Unexpected changes & additions are billable when they're spelled out in a contract, but speeding up to meet deadlines are not.

If you were to ask a taxi driver to drive you across town and then change your mind about where you want to be dropped off, you wouldn't expect him to reduce his rates. But designers are not in the taxi business. It's the communication business and sometimes it's not so linear. An inspirational idea that took five minutes to dream up, isn't billed at 1/12th of an hourly fee.

It's all part of the necessary dialogue with clients about time and money. It's no time to be shy. If they're decent business people they'll recognize that you don't do a ton of work for free, they wouldn't.

In Louisiana we had a term "lagniappe". It meant "a little extra". Sometimes when a client not only gets good serviceable work but an unexpected extra effort or followup, they can get pretty grateful next time.

But then there are others who aren't...

On Apr.04.2006 at 06:35 PM
Jordan’s comment is:

First off, I love working fast, and a lot of my recent thesis research revolves around the idea of absurd time constraints. However, dealing with clients is totally different story.

There is this thing I like to call the Time-Money-Quality Matrix. In this Matrix the client gets two options the designer the third. For instance a client can want quality quickly, but s/he will have to pay. Or s/he may want it cheaply and done well, so in this case the client will have to wait. It's not fair for the client to have all three.

I've explained this before when working with a client, and I've found it helpful. If they don't understand this, I simply explain I'm the wrong person for their job, and they should contact Armin Vit instead.

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:12 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Time-Money-Quality Matrix

I'd like to see this visualized into an information graphic, it might make more sense.

On Apr.06.2006 at 07:46 AM
Jordan’s comment is:

Once upon a time, after a horrible interaction with a freelance client, the MTQ (Money, Time, Quality: Matrix) was born. If you’ve ever worked for anyone as a designer, especially freelance, you’ve likely run into that “I want cheap, fast, and good” client. These people are unfortunate because they, albeit often unintentionally, cheapen our profession by failing to realize that design takes time and effort. I have found the MTQ to be a helpful tool in deciding whether or not a client is right for me.

In the MTQ, there are 3 categories. The first is Money, and it is the representative of exchange of currency for a completed job. Sometimes designers are rewarded with great sums of money, and at other times they work for free. The second category is Time, and in this category deadlines are the major factor. “How soon do you need it?” is often my first question to a client. Lastly there is Quality. Quality is the effort required to create exactly what the client needs and/or wants. A good way to gauge quality, is to take note of where a specific project is on your project priority list.

There are a total of 8 possible outcomes with MTQ (MTQ|-MT|Q-M|TQ-|MTQ-Q|MT- TQ|M-T|MQ-MQ|T). That’s 2^3, for all you combinatics wizards out there; however, 8 combinations is too complicated. I have found it most helpful to select the category that is most important to me, and then barter for advantage within the other two. For example, time is usually my category of choice. If I have plenty of time to work on a project, I don’t have to reorganize my project list, thus the quality of effort put forth in completing the project is minimized. Oh, and did I mention I bill by the hour?

Clients often approach me having already selected their categories, and usually they/re unaware they have done so. When this happens, I do my best to explain the MTQ to the client. As an example, in the info graphic above I have illustrated what’s expected of both sides for any given job. In line 1, you can see that if a client requires something quickly and needs a lot of effort put into it, then you should charge more money. Line 2 shows that if client wants something cheaply and of high quality, then you should be awarded plenty of time. Finally, in line 3, if a client has little to pay in a short amount of time, you should not be expected to have this project on the top of your priority list.

Because money, time, and quality are all related, the MTQ often works itself out. However, if you find that your client is difficult to work with, you should be honest with s/he and let them know what need from them in order to do the best possible job. If you’re not being honest with your client, then they cannot be held accountable for mistreating you.

Enjoy the MTQ.

On Apr.07.2006 at 06:23 PM
Bradley ’s comment is:


Great chart! Here is an ugly version of what you have which allows clients to pick two:

On Apr.08.2006 at 10:36 AM
bradley ’s comment is:

p.s. i didn't make that... i found it online.

On Apr.08.2006 at 10:37 AM