Negotiating Design Services in a Product-oriented Market

Faced with an overwhelming array of products, suppliers and prices, consumers are turning to designers to help them select the best product at the best price. In many cases, design services are an afterthought or not even on the table. Once they have their shopping list, the clients will make the purchases themselves and arrange with a contractor to handle whatever installation is needed.

Clients clearly respect designers for their product knowledge and design sensibilities. Yet, they want their design services on the cheap. If they are not doing it themselves, then they are turning to online services that will provide them with turnkey designs for less. What’s a designer to do? I say, stand your ground.

Fortunately, there are still clients out there that need, want and appreciate professional design services. It’s more important than ever that you spend a sufficient amount of time qualifying prospective clients before agreeing to work with them. Unless you’re willing to serve as a specifier and nothing more, make clear to the client that you research and recommend products only as part of a holistic service that includes proper programming, design and installation. Help them to understand that the products are only part of the overall design, which you will customize to suit their tastes and lifestyle and enhance their quality of life. If that’s more than they want to commit to, they are not a good client for you.

These days it helps to allow some flexibility if the client expresses concern about overpaying for products. Depending on the item, you can give them the option to do some of the purchasing themselves. For items you research and purchase, you can either explain your policy and rationale on markups or decide on a flat hourly fee to cover your time and liability. Whatever works best for you, it helps to offer the client a menu of services and fees. They are likely to have more confidence in your recommendations if they come with some range of choice.

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