Traversing the Bermuda Triangle

Good, fast and cheap. Any project that aims to satisfy all three is as doomed as an aluminum canoe in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Perhaps you’ve been involved in such a project. It can be frustrating, stressful, uncomfortable and downright painful.

So if you are ever dealing with a client that is asking you to do all three, point them to this graphic and ask them to choose which two aspects are most important to them. Then, point out what they get when they choose those two.

Project Triangle

This whole concept is a fascinating study of give and take, human needs and communication. As designers, I’m sure most of us would want to be challenged to do great work, be well compensated and not have a ridiculous turnaround time. On the flip side, clients want a good quality product at a fair price and they want it done quick – time is money, right?

Somewhere in the middle of all this is a sweet spot. As the designer (service provider), its your job to find the balance that makes your work fulfilling and profitable, while at the same time making the client happy.

Ah, but that’s the hard part, right? Its never that easy just to get the client to “choose two”, is it? If you want to keep your sanity, that’s what you have to do. But of these three scenarios, which do we want our clients to choose? Do we have a preference? Maybe, but in each of these cases, there’s a potentially great project. Let’s explore.

Good + Fast

First, the easy one. The client wants it good and fast. Set expectations up front that it won’t be cheap. Remind them of the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” Most designers can handle this one, right? Especially if they know they can charge a premium for the work. Sure, its stressful in the short term, putting in lots of hours and effort, but its worth it in the long run.

Good + Cheap

What if the client chooses good and cheap? Shy away from that client, right? Maybe not. They’ll need to be warned not to expect a quick turnaround time. If good quality and a low budget are priorities, then the client needs to know up front that they have to be flexible on time. Set realistic expectations for yourself and stick to them. More importantly, provide a development plan for the client so they can see just how long it might take. This will help them understand your process and is much better than “I’ll work on it when I have extra time.” Explore quick and easy ways of providing some value to them in the short term, like setting them up with one of the various free blogging services. Maybe they don’t need a custom designed site right away.

Cheap + Fast

Finally, my least favorite – cheap and fast. The client needs to be warned to not expect it to look good. For me, this is where things usually break down. I have a hard time committing to a project when I know that its not going to look good and I’ll be rushed doing it. But perhaps if you’ve had a previous relationship with this client and are comfortable working with them, you’d take on a project like this. Again, its all about setting realistic expectations. Maybe for now, just getting something out there is what is really important. Maybe its just a splash page with an email collection form or a Facebook page – something with a url that the client can use. Then improve it later when there’s more money and time.

I think designers have a responsibility to educate clients regarding all these matters. If you set expectations up front honestly, speak from a position of authority and expertise, and choose your clients carefully, I’m confident your project stress meter will point down and the overall project satisfaction meter will point up.

If a client continues to insist on getting all three – good, fast and cheap – then you might want to direct them to this video. I’m sure they’ll get the point.

Putting together these thoughts is as much for myself as it is for the benefit of anyone else, but sometimes we all need a reminder. I know I can improve how I approach each of these situations. Feel free to improve the conversation by adding your suggestions and advice in the comments.

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