Graphic Design Portfolio

Honesty, Clients, and Deadlines

This is a comment I received about my first post:

Aaron I like what you said about reputations. It doesn’t matter who you are or what company you are you have a reputation, and it is up to you to make it good or bad….you can maintain a good reputation if you are open and honest with the client.

I totally agree, and I think this is a good point about being honest with your client. Honesty with clients is always important – whether deadlines are met or not – as it helps to deepen you trustworthiness and level of professionalism in their eyes. Obviously, meeting deadlines will also help to do this as well, but there are times, as many of us have experienced, when you just can’t meet a deadline. But that’s why I also really appreciate the quote this commenter gave me from Leo Babauta:

Work in a cushion. It’s wise to build in a cushion for your deadline. To get a clear idea of how long a project will take, break it down into smaller pieces… And for each piece, add a small cushion to your time estimate. Then add up the time estimates of all the pieces, and you’ll have a cushion built in. This will allow for delays, and if you finish early, the client will be pleased. (Babauta, 2010).

Working in a cushion, as he suggests, is a good way to avoid a big stress and rush near the end of a project, because you have estimated more than enough time to accomplish the project. Additionally, if you are able to accomplish the project ahead of schedule due to your cushioning, then your client will be extra pleased and more likely to work with you again in the future.

Unreasonable Deadlines

However, there are those times when clients request a rather unreasonable timeline for getting a large project done. Rather than simply agreeing to cramped deadlines, I think this is where honesty and breaking the project into smaller pieces can really help. Many people who appreciate graphic design work really have no realistic idea about how long a project actually requires to complete. So, as designers, it becomes our job to educate our clients as to a reasonable timeframe for completion of the various parts of a project. If we honestly evaluate a project, break it into smaller parts, and tell the client that X number of deliverables can be completed by a certain date – but to rush it would compromise the quality of work we can deliver – then they will probably be willing to work with us in adjusting their deadlines or required deliverables.

Just for an example of what I’m talking about, I design a bulletin on a weekly basis for a local church. The pastor often assumes that since the main bulletin design has been completed, he can just email me updated text every week, one or two hours before he needs it printed. I have to remind him that in order to maintain the same quality of work (and typography) as in previous weeks, I need the new texts at least one day in advance – to resize and space all the text in their boxes. Additionally, I occasionally need to remind him of his text-length limits – in order to maintain the same design and readability of the text (I really hate shrinking things down to less than 8pt font or decreasing line leading too much).

I find that by educating my clients about the work I do, it helps them better understand and appreciate the fact that graphic design is an art that requires significant time, and not just a simple point-and-click, copy-and-paste operation.

What about You?

Are you honest with clients about deadlines, and work requirements? Do you find yourself educating clients as to what you do, or do you try not to? What have you learned about your own profession as you educate others about it?


Babauta, Leo. (2009, August 21). 14 Essential Tips For Meeting a Deadline. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from Freelance Switch’s website: http://freelanceswitch.com/freelancing-essentials/14-essential-tips-for-meeting-a-deadline/

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