how to save money on your next design project

how to save on your next design project

smart spending and saving is one of my favorite topics, so i figured i’d kick off the year by pairing it with my area of expertise in design to deliver an insider’s view of where to look for savings in your design projects. in the current economic climate, i’m hearing a lot of requests to keep things as cost-effective as possible, which is something i do with every project i get, come feast or famine. the fact of the matter is there is a lot that can be done on the client’s end, and knowing those things ahead of time puts you in a lot more control of how much you’ll spend. in my 15+ years doing design, both in-house and freelance, here are the most common areas where clients can control their savings.

plan ahead
sounds like a vague no-brainer, but there’s a lot that goes into getting the most out of your next project, and that starts with putting a plan together. source your designer down to a few favorite choices before you have a project on your calendar. ask them about how long it will take to produce a project like yours so nobody is rushed and charging rush charges for it. if you have an idea of the scope of your year’s projects, talk to your designer about how they might be combined, produced and printed together to save money. if you’re not sure what your year will entail, plan that out with your marketing specialist so you can tell your designer your goals and they can advise you on the best approach [clue: many designers are also marketing specialists]. it might mean working harder to plan a campaign all at once rather than 1 piece at a time, but it saves work, time & money down the road. we’re always happy to save you money when it’s a true savings of time and effort as well.

proofread first
it happens all the time, i get “final” copy for a project, and as i’m putting it into the layout, i’m catching typos that would have been caught by a simple run of spell check. i include 2 rounds of revisions with every project, but there have been many times where clients exceed these and end up paying for 3rd and 4th rounds. other designers don’t include them and simply charge individually for every round, which rewards the organized client and charges the one who says “i just need to see it in the layout.” if that’s you and you’re looking to save money, take the extra time to proofread your copy. run the free spell check in your word processor. trade free favors with a colleague and proofread for each other. compare the cost of hiring a copyeditor with an additional round of revisions from your designer, and consider hiring the copyeditor, who can make smart editorial suggestions to improve your copy. when you’re distracted by catching spelling and grammar, you don’t catch other things you’d like to change, generating extra revisions and additional costs. and at its worst, you don’t catch it all, and end up with the wrong information in your printed piece, and that’s a sad, sad day.

ask about processes and materials
once your project is ready to go to press, there are a few options of what print process to use, and what paper to print on. printers will store a selection of standard papers, called “house stocks” on site, and using one of these always costs less than ordering something specific. many clients think the quantity of output is the main determinant factor in the cost, but it’s actually the cost of the setup fee [converting your digital layout to printing plates], press time, and cost of the paper stock, running an extra thousand pieces is often negligible next to the difference between a house stock and a high-end specialty paper. i love specialty papers, and it’s any client’s choice on where they want to save and where they prefer to spend, so my advice on paper is, ask your designer to help you choose what is appropriate to the piece, and ask if it’s a house stock or special order. as for printing, based on your quantity needed, a printer can choose between a digital press for shorter runs, or offset lithography for longer runs [and web presses for really huge runs]. as i mentioned in the plan ahead section, if you’re able to combine projects and print them together, you can turn several short runs into a single cost-effective long run, which not only saves money, but in some cases can allow you to use a process that would have been otherwise unaffordable. there is also the option of gang printing, which uses offset lithography, but rather than dedicating the sheet of paper to your job alone, the printer gangs several together and keeps the press running constantly. this process is often cheaper than the alternatives, but the quality you sacrifice is that you only get to choose from among a couple papers, and you don’t get to approve the color, so it can be slightly off. if these factors aren’t a problem for you, gang printing can be another way to save.

when not to go cheap
i think there’s always a line that should be drawn to avoid the penny wise pound foolish scenario. one thing i’d advise against is trying to find the cheapest designer possible to do your project. the lowest priced designers on the market are also the least experienced, and that often costs more down the line. this lack of experience usually also means they can’t advise you on all the factors and processes that might be best for your project or your bottom line. i also advise against using print processes that are wasteful, excessively toxic, or using a shop whose practices allow them to get around the cost of compliance with environmental standards. being sustainable does imply higher costs, but the benefits are important enough that i think other cost-cutting strategies are in order.

what it comes down to is plan, proof & ask questions about the cost factors that affect your budget. instead of thinking along the lines of “how can you make this cheaper for me” think more about “what can i do to bring the cost of this work down?” sometimes, the little things you do add up in a big way, not only for your wallet, but you’ll have a great relationship with your designer, who will appreciate a client that understands the process.

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