Why you should NOT Under Promise and Over Deliver as a Designer!

Be honest and estimate a reasonable timeline based on your experience and enable your client to go live earlier than other designers' estimations. That’s what will prove your value as a Designer, not a surprise early delivery.

Why you should NOT Under Promise and Over Deliver as a Designer!

There is one bad common piece of advice in our industry that designers need to be careful with.

Under promise and over deliver to delight your clients”.

This is commonly used as "Delivering ahead of schedule", and my problem is specifically about this part because I believe this is creating a wrong kind of culture in our industry based on my observation, experience and personal opinion.

Delivering design work is not like making an unexpected nice surprise for your partner, this is business and businesses need to plan their further actions and these chain-actions are dependent on various timelines.

Let me explain it with a simple scenario;

  1. You are a freelancer hired to design branding for a new clothing company.
  2. You’ve given a timeline of 5 weeks to hand over the branding assets.
  3. The client makes further arrangements accordingly,
    - Agrees with a manufacturer to place the logo on t-shirt labels 6 weeks from your starting date.
    - Agrees with a bank to make necessary money transactions accordingly.
    - Agrees with marketing agency to promote the product accordingly.
    - the list of chains goes on...

You deliver your work 3 weeks earlier and hope the client is going to be delighted. Well, actually it creates a series of difficulties for the arrangements your client did based on your initial estimation. In this case, the client has 3 options:

  1. Rearranges all the coming actions. (unlikely)
  2. Accepts the assets and leaves on a hard drive for 4 weeks. (unlikely)
  3. Thinks that he has everything arranged for later, and has your service agreed for the next 3 weeks and keeps asking you to try new ideas, tweak here there... (likely)
  4. Realises that they could go to market earlier if they knew you could deliver earlier which means starting to make revenue earlier as a business.

However, if you have estimated 2-3 weeks at first while other designers did for 5-6 weeks, and you delivered your work on time as promised, then your client would be truly delighted!


  • You estimated earlier delivery compared to other designers which enables your client's business to go live sooner
  • You delivered your high-quality work on time.
  • The client is ready to go to production in 3 weeks instead of 6.
  • Happy, Happy

Another quick example;
You are working on a website design, then your client most likely made arrangements with developers based on your initial timeline estimation (even though I believe development and design need to run in parallel), and further arrangements with marketing agencies based on development handover, and further arrangements with product servicing... The chain goes on and on... You see where I'm going with this.

Ps, if you have been charging hourly, which you should not as I explained in my previous article "Stop charging hourly! Start charging for the Value!", you are putting your client and yourself in an uncomfortable situation of paying less than what you have agreed earlier because you finished your work earlier.

PPs, even if it may look like it is a good practice for short period, you are setting wrong expectations for longer-term with your client. Later you may be asked to work on web design for that fashion brand, or a magazine cover design, or .... Client would expect you to deliver early. So all of your wow-factor will backfire, it will stress you with unrealistic timelines in some cases.

If you are working in a corporation with other people,

It is even worse then.

By underpromising and over overdelivering, you are creating a culture where everyone is expected to deliver large amount of work in short time.

everybody may not be in the same conditions as you’re. The more people practises this approach in an organization, the worse stakeholders’ expectations are going to be.

OK, so is there a better approach?

It is more important to develop the skill for estimating timelines well, giving realistic promises and delivering on time.

Be honest,
Develop the skills to estimate well,
Keep promises,
Deliver on time.

Then clients will love you because they know that they can rely on your promises and plan their business actions accordingly.

What about securing myself for any unexpected problems though?

Of course, it is important to leave some room for unexpected problems. For anything extreme, I find Honesty the best approach.

  • Has your computer crashed?
  • Have you had an accident?
  • Did you get sick?

Just be honest and talk to your client. You will be surprised by how understanding people can be.

Tip: I usually leave 20% flexibility. This covers the most common problems I may be facing from technical issues to personal or creativity related problems. And it is okay to deliver your work a few days earlier. Even better practise than delivering at the very last moment. It gives you and your client peace of mind knowing it is ready soon before taking further actions with that work.

To sum up;

You do not need to “surprise” your client with early delivery to prove your value as a designer and delight your client.
You need to be honest and estimate a reasonable timeline based on your experience and enable your client's business to go live earlier than other designers' estimations.
That’s what will prove your value as a Designer.

If you have any comments or questions about this article, you can write me at Twitter @oykun or email me at hello[at]oykun.com.

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