Working for Free

By Brian Welch

A catchy blog title indeed! But every designer hopes to find this in a client and vice versa. Sometimes, it’s figurative, and at other times, quite literal. Recently, some members of our team were invited to a concert at a client’s current facility while we were in the process of constructing their new one. Though a work event, it felt like an evening spent with friends, not a contractual obligation. The reason? We had already completed our design work and received our payment. There were no strings attached, no obligatory attendance, just the joy of being together.

The best kind of relationship

Clients and design teams come in all shapes and sizes. Friendships don’t always blossom. But for me, the epitome of a perfect project is one that goes beyond the transactional, where I feel emotionally invested in the client. While this may seem simple, the alignment of the right project, design collaboration, and ownership structure is a rare feat. Once in a while, these pieces come together, and the project doesn’t feel like work; it feels like an honor to be part of the process. Even the tricky aspects of the project, such as billings, fees, change orders, ASIs, and other discussions, become simple conversations when the connection is strong.

We strive to be consistent on the design side, aiming not to be a variable that hinders success. Of course, we’re all human. Mistakes happen. Effective communication and the willingness to rectify errors becomes pivotal. Of course, this, paired with an understanding ownership team with realistic expectations and fair fees. A collaborative spirit and understanding between all parties involved pave the way for smooth resolutions.

We all have diverse personalities, levels of investment in our work, work-life balance preferences, and project goals.  For us, the ultimate project is one where respect, appreciation, and genuine emotional connections define the relationship between the client and the design team. In these moments, financial considerations take a back seat. What remains is the shared enjoyment of the project, turning professional collaboration into a memorable social event where everyone present savors the experience as friends, leaving thoughts of finances far behind.


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