Good job, fast job, cheap job — you can only have two.

Good job, fast job, cheap job — you can only have two.

The quality of creative work is much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just the hours spent on ‘the tools’ that count. High calibre brands and visual communications are built one thoughtfully crafted step at a time. Time is not just a luxury; it’s an imperative. It’s the quiet, reflective time when we step away from our computers and let our imaginations free that results in creative brio. All too often, time is a luxury we don’t have.

Over the last few years, client deadlines have noticeably shortened without any corresponding increase in budget or lower expectations of quality results. Perhaps this crunching of time is an inevitability in our always-on world. The concept of time poverty — too much to do and not enough time in which to do it — is the stark reality for many people.

This got me thinking about the project manager’s mantra, “good job, fast job, cheap job — you can only have two.” You can have good and cheap (all things are relative) if you’re prepared to wait. But if you want quick and cheap, the compromise is quality — someone has to pay the Ferryman. However, it’s probably safe to say, no one wants crap design, even if it’s fast and affordable. As another saying goes, “people forget how fast you did a job, but they remember how well you did it.”

We can, and indeed sometimes do, clear the decks to meet a tight timeline, providing the client involved understands the cost implications. We will also consider working on a fixed price to meet a modest budget, provided we can do it on our terms, particularly if it delivers a great portfolio entry.

It's the fast + cheap = inferior option that’s the real lose lose. Even if people understand and agree on the limitations in terms of what they will get, in reality, no one will be excited about something that feels like a compromise. The design risks just being a pretty picture with no real point beyond that, no depth and no meaning within the hearts and minds of the audiences it’s seeking to reach.

Well-crafted brands and visual communications are based on a deep understanding of what the organisation and its audiences are about. There are some shortcuts and different approaches we can take, depending on the budget level available, but there are limits.

Here are ways to help reduce time and cost without taking too much away from quality. 


One thing to ask yourself, is the ‘drop dead’ date immutable because there’s a time-bound event like a launch that needs to be factored in? Or is it just a line in the sand you’ve drawn because you want to get it done and dusted quickly? If speed is of the essence, do everything to oil the wheels, including:

  • Take the time to be very clear in your mind what you want to achieve. Write up a detailed creative brief — all agencies or designers will have a template to use if you don’t.  A good creative brief will cover the what, when, where, why and how of the piece and keep it from getting messy later by avoiding the potential for misunderstanding. It will also prevent the ‘I’ll know it when I see it trap”.  
  • Ask for a reverse brief, so you can be sure you and the agency are on the same page — you’ll avoid going back to the drawing block later.
  • Agree on a timeline with your agency to ensure your deadline is achievable by creating milestones that will get you there. 
  • Make sure you can do your bit. If you don’t provide content or feedback or other input when needed, the timeline will slip, so be realistic about your capacity. 


All the above actions will be factors in keeping costs contained. There are other ways to help keep the costs of a creative job down and quality up:

  • Plan your project with as long a lead time as possible.
  • Have an honest discussion about your budget and what can be achieved within it so both parties are clear and can decide if this will work or not. You may have an idea about how you see it,  but professional designers have an extensive repertoire of experience to draw on. They may be able to offer alternatives you hadn’t thought about, which will work better and put a lid on the costs.
  • If you are prepared to do some spadework, such as providing examples of relevant imagery and similar you like, it can free up the agency to focus on the creative heavy lifting.
  • Suggest a staged payment plan with equal payments throughout the project to help your cash flow. Most agencies would go with this as it’s good for theirs too.
  • Consider whether there’s any funding available to cover or contribute to the costs? Some regions offer capability grants as part of their economic development tool kit, and there is a range of grants available to charities and NGOs.


There’s no secret sauce here. Whatever your budget or timeline, careful planning and quality thought are the ingredients that will have the most impact. However, finding an agency or designer that feels like the right fit for you and your team will also significantly impact how it all goes down — magic happens when like-minded people get together and co-create. 

  • Think about your agency as honorary members of your team — a trusted partner. Building a great brand and related collateral that will capture hearts and minds is vital, and the results will be well worth your time.
  • Give your agency the full background about your brand positioning, values and culture as these need to come through in your brand and visual assets.
  • Bring your agency into your planning discussions as early as possible and let them know if this project is part of a broader work programme.
  • Be honest about any barriers or internal issues that might impact successful delivery.
  • Ask their advice — they’re bound to have angles you haven’t thought about.  
  • Enjoy the journey.