No doubt, whether you design for an agency or whether you design as a freelancer, you have had to deal with the aggravation of “rush” work. Usually, rush work is a product of a client’s poor time management, over-eagerness, or lack of understanding of what exactly goes in to a proper design job. It could also be the fault of the novice designer, promising completed work byre an unrealistic date. Regardless of what effects caused the “need” for this rush work, one staple remains true in pretty much all rush work cases: the end result will be, at best, average.
When you have an overly cramped timeline to complete a design project, corners have to be cut. One of the first to be cut is the planning & research stage: essentially, the foundation of the project. Good design is effective design, and discovering what will be effective is a product of logical planning and research – both of which take time.
When we cut corners on the planning & research stage, we are laying a foundation that is already weak.
Generally speaking, if a project’s deadline is too soon, fewer concepts will be explored by the designer & other project members. It’s a simple time issue; there really isn’t enough time to fill up your artboard with various concepts, playing around with some, fleshing some out, and so on. The designer’s process, which he or she has honed over the years if they are an effective designer, will be compromised. When compromising the process, we compromise the result.
While I’m not a proponent of quantity over quality, I do believe that some of the best ideas come later in the drafting process. I know I’ve been multiple hours deep in a logo design project, with multiple design concepts that aren’t quite there yet, only to finally come across the winner much later. Had these projects been on an overly tight timeline, chances are I would never have gotten to that point – leading to a final design that isn’t quite what it could have been.
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When everyone’s rushed, the members of the project are constantly dividing their time between their true responsibilities – be that project management, design, or other – and clock-watching. When we’re constantly diverting our attention, we are much more prone to errors. Simple things like missing kerning errors you normally would have caught, or missing a dead link on a website, become the norm in rush jobs. Not only does this ultimately slow down the project and create more rework, it put us designers in poor light. Multiple errors are not the hallmark of the professional designer, but they are near impossible to avoid when rushing to complete a job.
These errors compound, too, because rush work also leads to little or no testing time. This is mainly when we’re designing in an interactive medium, like a website. All of a sudden, that time you normally have slotted into your project management workflow is cut short, and next thing you know you’re launching a site with dead links, incorrect paths and the like. All these things should be caught in the testing phase; however, if the testing phase is cut short in order to meet a deadline, chances are they’ll be missed.
All this – less planning & research time, less time to explore concepts, more errors – will inevitably lead to an average design (if you’re lucky). A lot of the time, it leads to below average work; it is rare that the rush project ever results in a great design. Remember, great design is a process that requires thought; time for thought is usually the first thing to go in a rush job.
And the absolute worst thing about rush work and the subpar results? It’s rare that the client recognizes if they were the cause; more often than not, you will be the one to blame for the subpar work (and this isn’t great for client-designer relationships, either). And perhaps that’s fair; it’s up to you to refuse rush work if you feel the end result will not be up to your standards. Remember, the proof is in the pudding: if you start releasing a bunch of average to below average work, your reputation will take on that light, then you are going to need online reputation management to clean it up. That’s poison for your career.
If you want to have a solid portfolio, a long career and all of your hair, it’s best to learn how & when to avoid rush work. First off, most designers will tell you that most work that clients deem “rush” does not actually need to be rushed. It might be an issue where your client is getting pressure from their boss; it might be an issue where they are just really excited to launch a new website; it might be an issue where they just have no idea how long it takes to complete the project they are commissioning you for.
If this is the case, put on your communicator’s hat (which should always be on, really) and let them know that their deadline does not need to be so tight. Let them know the downfalls of rushed design work; in the end, the work will be there for a long time, so the quality will be remembered far more than the fact that it was completed in 8 days.
If your client refuses to budge on the deadline, you have two options: take on the job, or pass on it. If you take it on, make sure you communicate very clearly to the client that corners will have to be cut. They will get fewer revisions and fewer concepts. If you have other projects on the go, which I imagine you do, consider a rush fee. You have multiple clients you have to keep happy, and taking on a rush job will bump their project down the ladder and risk upsetting your client- some think that it’s reasonable to demand a higher cost in order to take this risk, but that’s in your hands.
If you refuse the job – and saying no isn’t a bad thing – let them know why. When Paper Leaf refuses rush work, we let the client know that we’d love to work on their project, but not under the circumstances outlined. We want our work to be strong & memorable, and rush jobs generally don’t allow for that.
Keep in mind: the payment for a rush job is immediate, but the effects of a below-average design with your name on it are much longer lasting and wider-reaching. What are your experiences with rush jobs?