Understanding Estimates

Pricing A Project

Pricing in the graphic design industry tends to be either calculated hourly or as a package price. Personally I believe in the former, because I feel that it is the most fair for both parties. The designer gets paid for the hours that he/she has worked on the project for, and the client does not pay anything extra, or anything less. Package pricing on the other hand, will likely cost more than the hourly rate since it would have to include any additional hours it may require to complete the project. However, since it is almost impossible to accurately estimate each project’s hours on the dot, the designer will likely get paid more, or less than they have put into the project. Although package pricing does have its benefits, such as giving the designer more time for creative freedom (when the pricing includes extra hours) which will likely result in creating quality design executions. This will likely compensate for the higher pricing, but there’s also a chance that they will be losing money, if the project ends up being more time consuming. To me, this sounds like somewhat of a gamble, whereas pricing projects by the hour sounds much more fair for both parties.

My Process

The way I handle this method of pricing, is that I create an estimate based on the project tasks and outline how long each part of the project will take to complete. This way the client will have a good understanding of the project workflow, timeline and pricing. For large projects I usually require a down payment before commencing, but either way I track all the hours spent on each project in 15 minute increments, and add it to an invoice. At the end of the project, the client will only have to pay for the amount of time spent on the project. If more time is required than estimated, then those additional hours will be requested and approved before moving forward. This way there are no surprises.

What Does Each Hour Encompass?

Depending on the type of project, the estimated hours will vary. However, it is easy to misinterpret how long it may take a designer to complete a certain task. For instance, I often receive messages telling me that a project is”… very easy, it shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes”, or “This shouldn’t take much of your time, can you send this back over the next half hour”. Sometimes this might be true, perhaps all you want to do is to add a comma to your poster, but what I want to elaborate on today, are the different steps it takes to complete a certain task. If we use the same example of adding a comma, which definitely is a simple task which anyone should be able to do in the blink of an eye, we also need to think about the extra steps that is required for the final product. Let’s say your poster was already finalized for print production, that means that a series of processes have already been completed to make your design file “Print Ready”. In that case, your designer will have to go back into the original working file, add the comma and redo that process. If we look at it this way, then the revision will likely take longer than the blink of an eye. In the same scenario, perhaps adding the comma will cause a certain word to hyphenate, and maybe there are no other hyphenations in the poster, or maybe the hyphenation is in the title. In that case, the typographic layout may need to change to accommodate for the extra comma to fit into the current layout. Although sometimes the task really does only take 5 minutes, it is important to know that your designer may have other tasks they need to complete prior to jumping into your project. I know that the comma situation is a very simple and straight forward revision, but I wanted to give you a general idea of how a small change can take longer than you think if you don’t have a graphic design background.

With revisions aside, let’s talk about estimating for a project that is about to begin. Let’s say a designer is hired to create a logo design, then the estimate will obviously estimate how long it will take to create a design concept (this is a given, no explanation needed). But what we need to keep in mind is that the designer is not just illustrating a logo immediately right off the bat. They may need to do research on your company, your industry, your competitors and they may take the time to get to know you before starting. They will likely also go through a brainstorming process to think of a variety of ideas before they select the best ideas to present to you. Once that portion of the project is done, they will probably need some time to figure out a good font to go with your logo, and the colors that best match your brand personality. More importantly, we need to consider the variables: How many different logos does the client want to see? Is the logo in full color or just black and white? Are there any restrictions that have been set on this project that will make it more difficult? Will I be showing them a mockup of their logo on an image to show them how the logo will look in real life? How long will it take me to create that image? Will I be writing a rationale to explain my design? Or are they not interested in that? Do they already have a concept in mind? How developed is it? Do I have an idea for this project right now? If not how long will it take me to think of one? Will that be enough time to come up with something good? As you can see, there are many variables that can affect the cost of a project.

Estimates For Branding

For a majority of my branding proposals I include a page of written rationale to explain a concept, the logo on its own, the logo in a different orientation or different background/image, supporting graphic elements, a mockup, and anything that will help explain what the brand will be like if it were to live in the real world. Knowing my own process and how long each section will take me, definitely helps me create more accurate estimates for my clients. However, I also cater my services according to different budgets if that is needed. So for projects that have a limited timeframe, different elements can be removed to compensate for the lack of time, leaving behind only the core elements, such as the logo graphic itself. Although this definitely benefits those who are on a budget, it unquestionably restrains the ability to fully understand the brand concept to its full potential. This can cause misunderstandings on why the graphics were made a certain way. With that being said, It is clear that creating estimates can give one the ability to adapt a project to suit someone’s needs and clearly outline the tasks involved.

Things Keep In Mind

As stated above, the amount of time spent on a project can be adapted to suit different needs. However, there are some things to keep in mind when trying to figure out budgets for a project: If hours are limited, then it is possible that the quality of your product may suffer. The same goes for projects that are rushed. It is true that a certain task may be estimated to take one hour, but what’s important to note is that your designer may not have the time to begin that project immediately. They may have other projects on hand or other obligations to fulfill prior to beginning. I think that it is important to plan ahead and understand that creating good design takes time, and show your designer respect for his or her contributions to your company.

What I like to do is to allocate a weeks time for every project, but to send them out immediately when they are completed. Of course this will also depend on the project, if it is simply adding a comma to a poster, I doubt that it will take a week to complete. But over the course of that week, whether I begin the project immediately or not, I start thinking about possible design solutions for the project, so that when I do begin, I am ready to lay down as many ideas as I can and select the best ones for review. This also allows me to plan my work schedule properly and eliminate any unexpected project overlaps, meaning I can carefully allocate hours for different parts of various projects throughout the course of the week so that everyone gets everything on time, or sooner than expected. Requests for immediate turnovers aren’t impossible, but it also means that other people who have put in the time and effort to start their projects early will have their priorities put on hold, or that time will be taken out of your designers meal times and sleep times. Like all people, designers have a regular life where they eat and spend time with family, this is why most rushed projects require a rushed fee. However, if all projects are planned ahead of time and assigned to your designer at least a week before they are needed, it will guarantee quality results. Planning ahead will also allow time for additional revisions and polishing so that your project outcome is the best that it can be.


For a quick recap, all project tasks will likely require more time than you think to complete (if you do not have a graphic design background) because of the time it takes to think of a high quality idea, the time it takes to execute the idea, and the time it will take to present it in a way that best explains the thought behind the graphic. Although certain tasks may take a short time to complete, keep in mind that there may be other things taking place that may delay when the project begins. Planning ahead and allocating time for thought and revisions instead of requesting last minute project turnovers can help create quality design solutions. Not only do estimates tell you how much a project may cost, but it can also be a tool to understand what you are getting for your money, and how the project timeline will unfold. I hope that this explanation of the different variables that go into an estimate will help you plan your projects better in the future, and gain a better understanding of the design process.

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