Types of design services

A design project has numerous phases to it; design, planning, management, procurement, supervision etc. Each of these has its own set of challenges. As a designer, the fee you charge would be based on the combination of service you provide to the client during the course of the project. For a majority of clients, one of these three service packages will fulfill their requirements:

  • Pure design consultancy
  • Design plus management
  • Design-build (turnkey)

The main concern here is your time. You are charging the client for your time, but if there is a misunderstanding on the amount of time the client expects versus what you are offering, things can fall apart very quickly.

In my early days of running a design studio I was often confused about which type of design service to offer my clients. Often I would ask them directly, but obviously that was a bad idea. As a professional you need to be able to gauge the level of interest, involvement and capability of the client. So in this post I’ll share my thoughts on the three common types of design services and what to keep in mind when choosing between them.

  1. Design consultancy 

Just design, the client is able to execute the project without you, he just needs design ideas and a few material options before he takes the project forward. You’ll create the concepts, spec sheet and all the supporting drawings and 3D’s. You should set a limit to the number of revisions and be extremely frugal about your time on site. None of the contractors or vendors will be appointed, negotiated or managed by you. Offer three or four site visits, just to make sure things conform to the designs, but also offer a pay per visit option in case more visits are required.

This is an efficient way to work on a project, you are able to focus on the creative part of the project and leave the tedious site work to the client and his team. Overall this works out more economical for the client as well.

Be careful about the project budget here, if your designs don’t fit into the client’s budget then they are useless to him, so start with a project estimate before getting into the design process, otherwise you’ll be stuck redesigning the entire project. Also, your drawings will have to be accurate and clear, otherwise any errors in your drawings will get executed the same way and you won’t be around to make the necessary adjustments.

This works with a very limited number of clients, usually clients who have managed construction project before with offices and assistants who can take over the project management, vendor appointment, procurement, rate analysis, negotiation etc. Be careful when assessing whether a project is suited to this model. Every client thinks they can manage their own project, but when things get rough they expect their designers to step in to handle all the on-site problems, which is fine as long as the fee is high enough or the client is willing to renegotiate.

  1. Design plus management 

This is the most common model followed. You design the project, source the products, coordinate with the contractors, and are a constant presence through-out the cycle of the project. You will help the client negotiate with all the vendors but won’t get involved in payments, all bills will be raised to the client and he will make payments directly. This type of a project will take up a lot of your time and mindspace so charge accordingly.

The main difference between this model and the previous one is that you are responsible for managing the work on site, which includes appointing the contractors and vendors. The best part about this process is that you are in control of the project and its outcome.

Site visits are still tricky so be clear about how many visits you are offering, but account for about twice those many visits. You will have to explain the difference between project management and site supervision to the client; ideally it is the client who appoints a site supervisor, but if the client expects you to have the site supervised then charge him a monthly fee, to cover the cost of a daily supervisor, over and above your design fee.

Also be very clear about who gets to pick the vendors. In this model it is always best to get your own teams involved as you are comfortable with them and know their strengths and weaknesses. If the client insists on having some or all of the vendors appointed by him then make sure you still reserve the right to refuse anyone who doesn’t follow your protocols. Contractors who are appointed by the clients directly will avoid coming to your office for planning meetings, they expect you to be on site whenever they need you.

This model works best for clients who live close to the construction site and are generally available and willing to be involved but still understand that they need professional help at every step. As mentioned earlier, this is the most successful model I have come across; it allows the client to have some level of control without having to take on the burden of project management. He is involved in every step so is less likely to feel cheated, atleast not by you.

  1. Design/Build (Turnkey)

In this model the client pays you the entire project budget and leaves the design and execution completely up to you, profits come from the difference between the estimated and actual cost. On paper this sounds easy, but in fact it can be quite challenging. You will be responsible for all aspects of the project and won’t need to run minor decisions by the client. You can buy the products from wherever you want, appoint teams as you please and organize the project schedule to your convenience. The client has agreed to pay you a certain amount and in return you have agreed to handover the project by a certain date.

These kinds of projects are inherently full of hidden costs and escalations. It’s almost impossible to forecast the contingency expenses and budget overruns that might occur on site, and one has to budget for a high profit margin just to account for this. Also, you will need to be very specific about product brands for fixtures and appliances, any changes in the agreed upon brands will be viewed with suspicion. Project delays are another big concern as a lot of delays are caused by the client themselves or by situations outside your control, such as the recent lockdowns.

Be very clear about the payment schedule. Any delay in payments will throw the project off completely, so try and setup the payment schedule accordingly and insist on being paid on time. Also it’s best to have your accountant involved from day one. There will be hundreds of bills on either side and without proper accounting you might end up paying more taxes than necessary. You will also need your accountant to explain the details to the client at the time of billing.

This model works best for NRI’s or outstation clients who basically aren’t around to interfere. If the client lives in the same city and seems like they will be on site often, avoid making any hard commitments on time and budgets.


So that’s it from me, hope this was helpful. We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.