Bungalow.

One of the really lovely things about running your own business is the fact that, to an extent, you can make your own hours and spend some quality time* with your family when others who work for THE MAN can’t.

So, with this in mind, I’d like to share with you an experience I had last week when I took my 4 year old daughter, Thalia, to her play school:

IMG_1628Picture the scene: A bright sunny morning, a little nip in the air, but the sort of day that makes you glad to be alive. From the moment Thalia left the house, she started to do her usual routine of looking everywhere, running about and asking questions. So. Many. Questions.

“Daddy, why is that leaf on the floor?” (Because it fell there).

“Daddy, what is that man doing?” (He’s sitting in the cab of his digger).

“Daddy, is that a car?” (Yes, Thalia. Yes, so is that one. No, that’s a bus).

“Daddy, can we get a doggy?” (No.)

“Daddy, why can’t we get a doggy?” (Your mummy is allergic, and I don’t want to clear up after one. I have enough of that with you and your sister. And your mummy, come to that.)

“Daddy, why do we have to look both ways when we cross a road?” (So we don’t get hit by a car.)

“Daddy, I really want a doggy. Pleeeeeassssse can we get a doggy?” (No.)

And so on. Anyway, at a certain part of the walk to school, we go down a road that has both houses and those dwellings that are only one storey tall. Thalia finds these inexplicably fascinating.

“Daddy, why are those houses so, um, small?”

“They’re not small, sweetie, they just only have one floor.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Well, because some people like houses that only have one floor. They are called Bungalows.”

“Bungas?”

“No, bungalows. It’s a funny word isn’t it?”

“Do those bungas have any stairs, Daddy?”

“No, sweetie. They only have one floor.”

“Why?”

“Well, as I said, some people like to have everything in their house on the same floor…”

“What, like their toilet and bed and TV and everything?”

“Well, yes. Sometimes older people and people who can’t get up and down stairs live in them.”

“Do those people have legs, Daddy?”

“Um, yeah, most of them I think.”

“Oh. I like bungas. Are those bluebells, Daddy?”

“Looks like it, sweetie. Aren’t they pretty?”

“Yes, daddy. Daddy?”

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Can we get a bunga? And a doggy?”

“No, sweetie.”

“Oh. Is that a bunga, Daddy?”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“Does it only have one floor?”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“Does a doggy live there, Daddy?”

“I have no idea, Thalia…”

“Can we get a doggy, Daddy? And some bluebells?”

And so on ad infinitum. I love these moments.

 

*I’m sorry for using this horrible phrase.

Why we work the way we do, Part 4: Spec work

Firstly, it’s important to answer the question “what is spec work?”

Spec work, also known as free pitching, is where, to create ‘goodwill’ and for no upfront remuneration, designers produce ideas and mock up projects to show a client, or potential clients what their logo, brochure etc might look like if they went with that designer.

no spec logo
You can find out more about spec work by going to http://www.nospec.com/

We don’t do spec work.

You may wonder why? Well, we’re a business based on our ideas. As an example, some years ago when we were just starting out in West London, and against our better judgement, we came up with some ideas on spec for a potential new wine merchant client who seemed very keen to engage our services. We duly produced the designs according to his wishes, at which point, he stopped returning our calls and emails. Imagine our (lack of) surprise, when several months later, we were leafleted by that very same company—and their logo was exactly the same as the one we had designed. It had the same typeface, colours and even logomark. Exactly the same.

Basically, this chap had taken our designs (the ideas are our business—they are our intellectual property and the basis on which we trade) and asked another designer to artwork them (the easy bit). Now, some of you will be thinking ‘but that’s intellectual property theft, you should be able to sue’. Well, in theory, yes we can. If we can spare the time and legal fees, that is. So we, like so many, let it drop. He won. He got his designs for free – although by not listening to our advice, he also wasted lots of money by leafleting a predominantly non-alcohol drinking area.

So, we don’t do spec work. Oh, we’ve been asked a lot, usually along the lines of ‘how will I know if I like what you’ve done until I see it?’

Our answer to that is that we kind of expect you to have done your due diligence in choosing a designer. You wouldn’t choose a builder by randomly picking a name out of a telephone directory, and choosing a designer should have at least as much care and attention paid to it. Look at the work on our website, talk to people who know us and our work, and give us a call and chat to us. If you decide to proceed in using us, then you can be confident that we will do our utmost to provide you with the best solution to your particular design problem. We’re not selling high print run postcards that you can choose on impulse; we’re presenting your business brand. You have to pay an architect to draw up plans for you and that is a cost people accept up front. It’s no different with a designer. When you employ a designer, you’re not only paying for their time in working on your project, you’re also paying for their expertise and years of experience. It’s only partly about what we actually do or the time it takes, it’s much more about what we know. After all, that’s what allows us to ‘just design’ a solution that works for our clients in a much shorter time than they could manage themselves.

Besides, if you’ve seen a variety of our work and like it, or someone has recommended us, why wouldn’t we equally be able to produce something that you love for you? By negotiating a contract (clients are entitled to query contracts/ask for amendments if they so wish), signing it off and agreeing to pay us for our ideas, you’re valuing what we do and entering into a viable and hopefully long-term working relationship with us. The people who work with us most happily are the ones who appreciate the value of ideas. With a good brief and clear communication, everyone should be able to reach a happy conclusion in sensible timescales.

Of course, some people don’t like to engage a designer this way, but that is their choice. And ours.

There’s a very good talk to a group of designers by Mike Monteiro that you can watch here if you don’t mind some strong language and a bit of talk about legal stuff.

Why we work the way we do, Part 3: Sign off

What do we mean by ‘sign off’?

Well, when we work on something, we need to know that our clients are completely happy, or preferably delighted, with everything we’ve done. Their signature means we have their confirmation that they are ok for the world to see the work we’ve done; without it, the job’s just not finished. That includes the content as well as the design. We also need to know that a job bag and the final admin and invoicing associated with a project can be tidied up and closed down.

More importantly, it’s part of handing title of the artwork or website from us to our clients. This is the more serious reason too: Imagine we were working on a job for you that involved the printing of £10,000 worth of glossy brochures. And there was a typo inside – or worse, on the cover. It’s often the titles and headings that are most mistake-laden because everyone concentrates on the body text.

At this point, the question of who owns the title on a project becomes critical because the printer will expect to be paid regardless. He’s done nothing wrong, so there’s no reason not to pay him. If we have sent those brochures to print without your permission to do so (sign off), we’re responsible, so we have to pay him. If you’ve agreed that the job is good to go and signed it off, unfortunately, because it’s part of our terms and conditions, you’re still liable. That is why we ask everyone to check everything ever so carefully and only sign off when they are completely happy. If proofreading isn’t your bag, then please, please, please ask us or someone you know to proofread it. You’ll still be responsible at sign off, but you’ll be more comfortable with your signature on the paperwork.

We posted on our Facebook page an extreme example of nobody checking anything on an advert a couple of weeks ago and would like to state for the record, that we would NEVER allow such a poor piece to leave our desks. BUT, if the client had been ours and we had had sign off, we could have done so without any comeback (apart from a huge dent in our professional reputation and pride).

You may think it doesn’t happen, but we’ve seen many sets of Annual Reports and Accounts with an Erratum page. It’s pretty common to see spelling and grammar mistakes in websites, emails and documents these days. One of our favourites was a well known stationery company that appeared to be selling inanimate (stationary) objects. We’ve even picked up on a typo on a product label from one of the country’s most well-known consumer brands. That was probably in a batch of 30,000 or more and the consumer helpline was unaware of how long their proofreading fail had been on their bottles…

Our last blog post on deadlines relates to this. Often, mistakes are missed because there just isn’t time for another round of proofreading. Fresh eyes are necessary and the more time between the last two final checks, the better. If you are able to get a proof from the printer, then that’s even better…

So, when scheduling a job, please do make sure there’s enough time for enough people to look at the artwork properly and only sign it off when you are certain you are all happy there are no mistakes. We hate our clients to be unhappy and losing that sort of money is a surefire way of heading that way…

Why we work the way we do. Part 2: Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. Douglas Adams
English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)

Ah, the deadline… love it, or loathe it, we all need deadlines from time to time. Unless you’re a designer of course, in which case you need them ALL the time…

Some of the more laid back might say that they’re a little bit arbitrary anyway – but where would we be without them? Let’s be honest, would anyone actually finish anything if they didn’t have someone waiting for it? Think Sagrada Familia – 133 years and counting… Ok, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the picture (with scaffolding)…

So, why do we have them?

Well, everyone likes to know where they stand and deadlines are a good measure of progress. A client quite rightly is paying for a service and they want to know they will get what they’ve paid for. For bigger jobs like websites, deadlines are equally as helpful to a designer though, because they help with scheduling. Reflection, review and sign off times make it possible to quickly turn around other clients’ small urgent jobs during the natural pauses in a larger project – but only if everyone knows what to expect and when.

How can a client be truly delighted with their website, book or branding if it wasn’t even ready for the launch party?

Now, there aren’t many environments that are immune to slippage, so scheduling ‘wiggle room’ is crucial. Before a contract is even drafted, it’s good to look at when the finished article needs to be ready by – and work backwards. If this timescale just isn’t going to be possible, the client has three main choices: revise spec, push back launch date or find another designer. Where possible, compromise is a good friend here.

What are the main causes of slipped deadlines?

In our experience, there are a few main reasons why things don’t always go to plan:

  • delays in starting due to late signing off of previous projects
  • lack of clarity/communication around brief
  • delays in signing of contract/deposit payments
  • non receipt of content
  • Scope creep
  • misinterpretation of brief
  • unexpected absence (client or designer)
  • major change of specification or additional/new client project team members
  • unavailability of clients to review progress at key stages or sign them off (see first bullet above)

Usually, the quickest way to keep a project on target is to speak openly at the start. It’s no use a client being so in awe* (*scared) of the ‘creative’ that they don’t ask for clarification of a concept they are struggling to grasp. We’ve said many times before that a design job is only as great as the confusion it doesn’t cause – to the end user or to the integrity of their brand. Other things that can help:

  • designers: cut the jargon and observe clients’ non-verbal communication signs
  • clients: say what you think (nicely please!)
  • if you say you’re going to do something by Friday, do it – clients too! (there we go with deadlines again!)
  • spend plenty of time working out the remit of a job at the beginning; it saves time in the long run
  • clients: make sure all your colleagues who need a say are included as early on as possible, especially if they have the right to veto your project. Saying ‘but we’re too far along the line’ does not always work…
  • restrict who has admin rights to websites and keep backups (oh yes…)
  • designers: prepare a comprehensive questionnaire covering every possible aspect of a job – it’s easier to skip a question than to remember something important when in discussion
  • sharing of likes, dislikes and snippets of a desired look and feel, however trivial it may seem, speeds things up – as will notifications of holidays and business trips
  • scheduling regular review meetings/chats/calls to keep everyone on the same page means any difference of perspective can be rectified quickly

If everyone knows what is wanted/expected from the outset, key dates can be factored into a realistic schedule. When that happens and everyone sticks to it (barring any unforeseeable circumstances), it should be possible to deliver an end result that exceeds a client’s expectations: more jam for tea!

Why we work the way we do. Part 1: Contracts

Some of our clients are still surprised when we follow a few ‘formalities’ around projects. By formalities, we mean things like estimates, contracts, agreed timescales and sign off sheets.

We’re a relatively informal and flexible team and we like to make sure that our clients are delighted with everything we do, which is why we have these processes in place. It means we all know where we stand and we can all relax within the agreed remit of a job. In this post, we focus on contracts and why we always work with them.

Why do I need a contract?

Well, if you were to ask us to create a small leaflet for you, it’s reasonably simple: you ask us to quote; you agree our price and give us your brief and deadline; we work on it; you approve it; we send the artwork to you or to a printer and then we send an invoice for the work completed. This seems reasonably fair and straightforward.

But you’d be surprised at the number of times we’ve been asked to create 3 designs (often in several colour schemes or formats) on the basis of “if I like one of them, I’ll go with it”. This is called ‘spec work’. Helpful as we like to be, we do have to say no for a few reasons: the biggest reason is that back in the early days when we wanted to build goodwill, we came up with some new branding designs for a potential client, only to find he went to another agency with ‘his’ ideas and just asked them to artwork them. We had spent a long time researching and coming up with those ideas, and then artworking them for presentation to the client. In order for us not to be caught out like that again, our ideas have to remain our intellectual property until paid for in full or licensed for a fixed term. That’s part of the terms and conditions of most designers’ contracts and we’re no different.

We know some people might think it sounds a bit off, but would you expect to ask a solicitor for advice and not pay (even if you didn’t like the advice)? We like to work in partnership with clients so that we come up with an end result that they’re over the moon with. They are able to specify timescales and add in other clauses that matter to them too.

Likewise, when it comes to building a website, where our time involved can be much greater (1-2 months typically), we can’t really be expected to develop a site on spec. That’s why we never start work until we have a contract signed by both parties. We also ask for additional commitment from our clients in the form of a first installment towards the final invoice on signing of contract and an interim payment when the design and structure is agreed.

Again, some might think that it shows we’re not very trusting, but in actual fact, if we turn down other work for 2 months while we complete a massive project, not only does it affect our immediate cashflow, but if our client were to decide for whatever reason not to pay that single invoice, we are in a bit of a deep rut. And we get a bit grumpy when we’re hungry!

What our contract tends to mean is that everyone knows where they stand, costs are spread and we work with people who value our expertise and commitment. We feel valued, our clients feel listened to and there’s jam for tea.

Seeing this selfie toaster just reminded me of a conversation at 10 am this morning…

selfietoaster

“I’m hungry. Were you making breakfast earlier?”

“Yeah [pause] about 7am.”

“Oh…”

The selfie toaster

Welcome!

It’s good to talk, as an old advertising campaign put it, and while there’s a countless number of blogs devoted to design out there, we wanted a space to have our say about the wide world of design. We thought about having a blog on Tumblr or Medium, and while we might well have a presence on both of those fine venues, we thought it would be more appropriate to have our own place on the internet alongside our main site.

We’ll be regularly pointing out stuff that excites us and makes us think, as well as sharing our own case studies and bits & bobs from the studio. It’ll be informative, interesting and eclectic, and never, ever boring.