Design: What Are You Buying?

My ultimate goal in these posts is to try to provide concrete ideas and actions. A previous post (The Beauty of Being a Hack) was more along the lines of musing, but a few minutes after I posted it I realized one of the more concrete things to which it might lead: you get what you pay for. [brilliant flash of the obvious!]

One of the tangents in the post was that I’m in a creative profession, but as a landscape architect much of our work relates to function. When we are scoping new projects, I usually have two very important questions:

  • For the client’s aesthetic, how ‘high’ of a level do they want? (I see the simpler version of this now which is, “How much design/art do they want?”
  • How linear do you expect the project to be? (I see the simpler version of this now is, “How actively will we have to manage the process to keep it on track?”

We work in a city with a landscape ordinance. At the simplest, our projects provide a client with a landscape that meets local requirements. We have systems in place for this that allow us to do it quite efficiently, and we have the design experience to add some flair within it as well. These projects can be super linear, without the intricacies of reflecting a higher design aesthetic. We can be confident in providing a very reasonable fee.

BUT… realize that you are hiring us for our project management capabilities. We have an agreement based on the very high level of knowns required for that very reasonable fee. You are not hiring us as designers/artists. Luckily, that’s what you generally DON’T want for this particular scenario. You’re looking for fact and a successful permit, not design and opinion.

When we are approached as designers, the interesting by-product is that we need to provide an even higher level of project management services. Design is incredibly messy and opinion-based, and takes significant time and effort to create what might seem to be a linear design process. The fees will be higher.

A small fee indicates a discrete and known task. A less discrete and less known task has a higher fee. All of the above is logical and sets the stage for the conclusion of this post. The above has a foundation of us wanting to deliver an optimized client value. Our goal is to find the fee where the client gets best value in our market, and to have our internal processes where for this fee we make money.

So… as a client there is the spectrum between frugal and patron. Reasonable frugality gets good value that leans toward the sparse. The emphasis on control in this relationship lies with us. A frugal client will always hope for more scope for less, and we are in control of what we deliver. My interest is in the concept of patron. The emphasis on control in this relationship is the patron. They need to determine the level of patronage that gives them their desired return on investment. There WILL be a point where the value of patronage is optimized, and beyond which will have no benefit… if not beginning to result in negatives.

The tongue-in-cheek point of the above. Pay us little and you get exactly what you pay for. Pay us more and you get what you pay for, but you do place some more control in our court to exceed your expectations. Pay us a lot, you might just make us lazy.

 

Beyond the humor intended within this, the summary point is: As creative design professionals (a licensed profession), your fee always gets you a high level of project management to ensure that we meet your expectations. We will be very careful about setting good expectations (which takes a high level of effort for small fees, disproportionate). To enable us as creative designers, we need to be compensated. We are fair in our approach, and our goal is to find the right level of value for you. With the right fee, you will engage us in a manner that you may just get more than you pay for… that’s the beauty of creatives. We develop new and unique things that sometimes deliver much more than what they cost.

Endnote: If you see us driving an Audi… it’s because we eat ramen for lunch. =)

Endnote Two: I drive a 1998 Ford Bronco II… because I grow attached to things… and it has an awesome turning radii for city driving. And I’m frugal. And I like to fix things.

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About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: www.highestexpertise.com/who-is-peter/

This blog post was originally posted on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/design-what-you-buying-peter-briggs?published=t

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