This classic poster by Colin Harmon captures the fundamental challenges of the design industry in a simple Venn diagram. It’s tongue in cheek, of course, but its point is deadly serious: A design agency can’t reasonably expect to deliver creative work that is Fast, Cheap and Great. At best, they can deliver on two of those promises – and always by giving short shrift to the third.
In a tight economy, many design agencies are lowering their prices to stay competitive. But this always means that either the quality of their work is going to suffer or it won’t be delivered as quickly (because the agency has to take on a crushing volume of work to make up for slim profit margins). Likewise, if super-fast turnarounds have become an agency’s stock in trade, they either have to hike their rates (to afford the extra staff they need to meet tight deadlines) or – and this is the ultimate compromise – they have to settle for pushing out mediocre, formulaic design work.
What does this mean for clients wanting to get the best bang for their buck? I always like to counsel clients to hire the best design agency they can afford, because superior design provides a superior return on investment. As Grandpa used to say, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” But great design isn’t usually cheap, and it generally isn’t fast either – unless you’re willing to pay rush charges. It’s a mystery to many clients why excellent design costs so much more than merely competent design. But any experienced designer can tell you why: it takes twice as long and/or twice as many designers to create! Have you found an agency that can handle every rush job you throw them – without steep rates or rush charges? You can bet they’re cutting corners on quality to meet your deadlines.
So if you’re the kind of client who appreciates the benefits of great design, be prepared to pay for quality and don’t routinely insist on rush turnarounds (unless you can stomach the corresponding rush charges). That’s the approach that will deliver the best return on your investment and push your company forward.