When to Say No to Design and Branding Projects

Mark Busse – No Comments

We all want to grow our businesses and do great design work, right? So what happens when your gut tells you to decline work? What guidelines do we have to reference as the potential client dangles the almighty dollar bill in front of us? 

Influential Canadian designer Bruce Mau who brought us his Incomplete Manifesto suggests saying no to a client if design opportunities fail to pass his “Four Ps” checklist:

1. People: “Every project boils down to spending time with the client. If its people are good, you can overcome any problem. If they’re bad, every problem will seem twice as big.”
2. Project: “Is the project adventurous? Would it provide new opportunities for learning?” BMD doesn’t do any marketing, so its body of work attracts new clients. Knowing that, Mau and his team are reluctant to do work in industries or domains that they think are creative dead ends.
3. Profit: “We need to make money on everything that we do in order to sustain the business, whether it’s a project for an art gallery or a multinational corporation.”
4. Plate: “How much do we have on our plate?” BMD has only 20 full-time employees, and a tight network of freelancers and contractors. Mau is wary of trying to expand the size of his firm too quickly; he thinks carefully about how new work will affect the group.

At IBC we searched for the right words to express our own values and beliefs and came across a quote from advertising legend Dick Lord:

Be honest. Do good work. And remember’ you’re defined by your clients. Be as discriminating about clients as clients are about agencies. Work with people you respect, on products you believe in. Great work, great clients and honest relationships; that’s the secret…

Of course in practise, this is not always as easy as it seems. We recently experienced this first hand and had to say “no thanks” to a good sized project perfectly suited to our team. It feels good to practise what we preach, taking an active part in choosing who we want to partner with and ultimately be defined by. Thanks Bruce and Dick.
Copyright 2005 Industrial Brand Creative