1 – 5 : : DesignSpeak : :


: : DesignSpeak : :

We finished our meeting with my promise to develop some detailed costing projections so we could establish a global budget for the project.
This was on a Wednesday – about 10 days prior to Christmas. Immediately, I continued design development for a rather unique modular rooms
furniture system – one that would provide all the different room types with a completely consistent design signature and style……..

I was really pumped at this point….there’s nothing I love better than solving problems…..it’s how I know I’m still alive.
Got back to my computer, fired up AutoCAD. Already had the spark of an idea as to how to design/develop a, maybe,
novel approach to modularity in hotel rooms furniture. It was really, a case of sympathetic geometry, right?

I must have spent the balance of the day testing the theory – drawing this, tweaking that…..it was coming – it was just – right there.

After many hours, and the day was ending, my thoughts turned to the administrative realities of what was going on.
I felt I was on the brink of something special – that this whole train of thought might just be a new ‘invention’.

Why not?  No reason why not……
So I realised, the time had come, to  give consideration to my efforts, and the practical aspect of just rewards.
I expected to be paid –  to be compensated. Rightly so. The rewards part I was already, in a philosophical sense,
collecting on – the intellectual satisfaction of producing an interesting design solution.

Time to get serious about this project – time to touch the right and proper business bases……time to sit down
and formulate a Letter of Agreement.

In 40+ years in this design profession, I have executed maybe, a dozen such instruments between myself and clients.
Typically, what I had found, that given the ‘always urgency’  role we played as designers, if we stopped development work
and efforts until a contract was signed the job would, quite simply not get done as per the required deadline. It was always
a ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’ kind of dilemma. It generally came down to trust, and the big question,
‘How do I protect myself on this project and ensure that I will get paid…. in a timely and fair manner?’
The trust part was always huge – and the implication of trust was generally propelled by the need to ‘get on with it.’
So – in most cases, a contract never saw the light of day. I remember at one point, wherein I had been in serious competition
to design the global ticket offices for Canadian Airlines, with all the associated timelines, deadlines, urgencies, etc., that the Client
insisted that we could not proceed until their contract was signed. We forwarded their contract to our attorney. He reviewed it and sent it
back to me for comment. I changed it – it went back to him – he changed it. It was sent to Canadian – they changed it and sent it back.
We found compromise, and changed it again……this went on for about a month. Finally, we seemed to have the basis for a contract
we could all live with. I signed it, Canadian signed it – although the project had been running live all this time, and was actually
finished and handed over to the client the day before we  formally received our signed contracts.

I never forgot that. What might have happened, if at a certain point, all communication between us had irretrievably broken down?
Who knows? I found it, actually, funny. But the experience of it guided me for most of my following career.

Nontheless……here I was faced with a client who had expressed dramatic and unwavering urgency – to move on, to get detailed
costing (which of course cannot be gotten without detail design drawings) – to meet the deadline as set by him, some 10 weeks hence.
So – I sat and I wrote the Letter of Agreement…..you know how it goes –

Letter of Agreement


XXX Corporation (hereinafter referred to as the Client)


ZZZ DesignGroup (hereinafter referred to as the Designer)

Whereby the Client wishes to retain the Designer to perform the following services:

Detailed list of all anticipated activities and services

The client hereby agrees to compensate the Designer for the aforesaid services
according to the following fee schedule:

the following fee schedule

The Designer herein agrees to provide expertise and professional services
in respect to this undertaking such that:

Detailed listing of Scope of Work, Dates, Deliverables

Ya da Ya da Ya da…….

Near the end of the agreement one includes a series of provisos which are intended to embrace the heart of the intention.
One attempts to anticipate events, probabilities, ‘what-if’s’.

One does what one can to be professionally thorough and detailed, and to protect one’s own exposure and liability in the event
that the Client, does not live up to the intent.

Insurance, kinda…..

So – after a great deal of thought and analysis – after doing complex time/effort projections of time required to produce the desired
results, to the mutually agreed upon timeline, a number of man-hours, and a fee, was arrived at.

Not surprisingly, the fee projection was almost bang on to the ‘ballpark’ number I had already stated in conversation with
the Client earlier in the day.

Reviewing it one final time, I tweaked a few things – simplified some of the wording, made it gentler.
And, with a covering letter, e-mailed it to him.

It felt good to have that out of the way – to know that the core necessities of money, being paid, etc., was now in a formal
channel of an approval process – one that was expected to be signed-off on in a timely fashion.

And the next morning I threw myself back into the design development. As soon as I had produced a matrix that was applicable
across all rooms and room types – as soon as I had polished the modular design drawings – I sent it all off by e-mail to
my associate and long-time  resource. We had collaborated on numerous projects over 25 years. Thorough to a fault, detailed –
incredibly resourceful, he was ‘the man’ for this project – the supply chain magician who could ensure manufacture and delivery
as required.

He sent it off to the fabricator he considered to be the best suited for this project. Following a couple of phone calls directly with the
manufacturer, he promised budget pricing as soon as possible.

I waited – nothing much else to do on that job until I had some tangible feedback. Which I received the next morning.
The preliminary pricing was fantastic…….the comprehensive projection, for all rooms, for all case goods furniture,
exactly as per my design, was not much over $100K. I was thrilled. I felt gratified and vindicated both. The gamble had
paid off. For, in my meeting with the Client two days previously, when I probed for an indication of an acceptable
budget number, his response had been, in an off-hand kind of manner, ‘Heck….I’ve figured it will probably need about
half a million for rooms furniture. It could go higher, for sure, maybe even by another 50%….but I won’t be happy
if it starts to get up to those numbers.’

I was actually somewhat, giddy. Here we were, about 20% of his downside budget – and I had the satisfaction of knowing
that the numbers were based on hard drawings – not hypothetical maybes.

I called – he was, busy. I left a message.

I did not get a return phone call that day. Nor not the next morning. In my message to him I had made some remark,
like, ‘I have some really good news regarding costing.’

No reply, no response. My twitchies started working……I figured I’d give it another day. Didn’t want to send the
good news in an e-mail. Wanted to give it to him first-hand. And also wanted to schedule a follow-up meeting.
One wherein we would move to the next tangible steps in the process…..agreements, authority to proceed….
and of course, the Letter of Agreement signed.

After 3 days, he returned my call. By this time, my twitchies were in open rebellion – I knew, I sensed……
something’s wrong here. But I couldn’t figure it. Of course, he’s a busy guy – he’s president. President’s are
busy guys doing president things. And clearly, the president had other priorities. Different priorities from the
one which had been indicated to me as being most urgent.

Odd, I thought.

In any event, he did call back. I was eager to share the good news – he received it very coolly.
Odd – most clients, when presented with a potential savings of 80% of what they had willing to commit to
would be dancing. No dancing. No excitement – no enthusiasm. Something was clearly amiss.
His comments were, more or less, ‘Send it on to me by e-mail. I’ll study it and get back to you.’

‘Shouldn’t we set up a meeting for next week?’, I asked. ‘After all – next week is the last week before Christmas….
and as you’ve already  told me you’ll be in Florida for ten days from Christmas onwards.’

‘Let me take a look at it and I’ll get back to you. Thank you.’

End of conversation.



I did not like this one little bit. I had reacted, as required – or so I felt – with the utmost of diligence, perseverance
and professionalism. Literally, dropping everything pretty much to make this a priority.  After all, if we had any hope
of meeting the target dates, I would have to coordinate a return trip to the property even as soon as the week between
Christmas and New Year. Which, I could have arranged…..

Failing that, the week after – the first week of January.

I heard nothing on the following Monday – nor the Tuesday. Wednesday, nada.

Now, I figured, somethin’ ain’t right in the state of Denmark.

Thursday, mid-afternnon, the call comes in.

After a somewhat brusque greeting, the first thing I am hit with, is, ‘Look, Michael…..I don’t like you pressuring
me on this thing.  You’re starting to sound a little desperate. I don’t like desperate. [To myself, I’m saying, ‘WHAT?
You’re the one who set the timetable here.’]

Plus, I’ve got your Letter of Agreement here. I’m not at all happy with it. You seem to be far more concerned with
you getting paid than anything else. Besides, I think your fees are way out of whack. Why, I can get an architect
who can do this whole job for 4% of the cost….and he’ll provide job supervision. ‘

I am floored! Flabberghasted, truly. Where was this coming from? Was this negotiation? Or was this him
thinking it’s negotiation? More than unreasonable it was rude! It was insulting, it was uncalled for.

Before I could reply, he went on. ‘This so-called deadline you are quoting in your contract isn’t such a serious
thing. We don’t have to ship on the date you’ve indicated.’  He went on about a few other points – all of which
had been noted previously to be important, and unchangeable – now all of a sudden, were pliable.

I still couldn’t frame a response that I felt right about. I was really stunned. I actually had been under the impression
that to successfully pursue a project such as this, that it is a collaborative partnership. This didn’t feel in any
way like a partnership.

He continued,  ‘I’m not back until the first Tuesday in January. I’d like you to break down your time projections
in greater detail – sharpen your pencil – and re-submit the whole thing to me so it’s on my desk when I
get back to the office. Can you do that and are you  prepared to do that?’

Finally, I had untied my tongue. ‘Hey – no problem. Listen, I have conducted every effort I’ve made so
far based on your timeline definitions. Certainly if there is more time to research, and develop a comprehensive
design and specification, there will probably be some cost saving opportunities. I will do my best to complete
a secondary analysis and have it to you for when you get back.’

‘Thank you’, he said. ‘And Merry Christmas. ‘

Well – I felt as if I’d just had my own personal visitation from Scrooge as the ghost of Christmas past.

He had been frighteningly rude and impolite. And not a word about the ‘good news’ about the pricing.

In my gut – way down deep, I knew what the deal was. I knew, I was being screwed out of the deal.
Not that, to that point, I had all that much at risk……but it all felt so bizarre, so un-businesslike.

Well – I’m going to stop here…..there’s one last installment which I’ll issue in next week’s post.

2 Responses to “1 – 5 : : DesignSpeak : :”
  1. MJ says:

    Ouch. Yes, I think we’ve all been on that mouth agape ‘what??’ side of the conversation – with the sickening, stunned feeling. I finally came to believe that to understand this sort of behaviour means (to me) that I must think like the one doing the dishonest action…which is why I fail to understand how professionals can behave this way (let alone when it is in a personal setting). At least, that’s what I say to myself, while biting my bloody tongue.

  2. I can’t wait for the last part of your designspeak… have been reading it and you are putting quite a suspense in this story…
    Also wanted to let you know that I love your logo, it seemed to be slightly changing in the first few weeks, but it’s a very clever design!

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