Home > Creative > Designers’ Math, and Client Budgets

Designers’ Math, and Client Budgets


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I think everyone remembers at least one Math teacher from their school days, one who’s outlook on the subject was not unlike a street preacher, proclaiming the joys and necessities of Math to your overall well-being and health as a future decision-maker of the world.

You should have seen the look on my High School Trigonometry teacher’s face when I dropped his class for another Journalism course, telling him I was going to be a Graphic Artist, and didn’t need advanced algebra to make an impact in the world. Not only did I render him stutteringly speechless, I had a smile on my face while doing it.

Little did I know that Math would indeed play an important part in my future as a Graphic Designer.

Now, I’m not saying designers need to know how to formulate advanced algebraic equations, thank goodness, but we do need to know how to crunch numbers for a variety of reasons, from print and live areas, to figuring out radii of curves in a booth. This time, however, I’m specifically talking about client budgets.

…Don’t give me that blank stare. I realize that some readers may already realize this and understand it, however some may not. You have no idea how many times as a designer, I’ve asked for a budget and have been told “Why do you need the budget, can’t you just design something?” Yes, Designers need to understand, and be able to design to client budget expectations. Why? Okay, fine, here’s an example:

Client A has a Budget of $30,000 for a 20×20 Island Display. How much of that Budget does the exhibit designer get to use for the design? Let me give you a hint: You don’t know yet, you don’t have enough information. Let’s ask a basic series of questions to better formulate our equation.

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How much is show labor?
How much electrical is needed?
Will there be internet access needed?
How much is shipping?

I realize that you can’t put the chicken before the egg, as the design of the booth will dictate much of the answers to the above questions, however you need to keep them in mind when designing. Why? Aren’t they the salesperson’s and project manager’s responsibility? If you don’t think about, and ask those questions before you design, you could potentially blow your client’s budget out of the water and at the least waste your valuable time to do a complete redesign, or at the worst, lose the project, that’s why.

As designers, we need to be aware of a little bit of everything that is involved in the projects we design. How tight of a radius can one profile of extrusion bend compared to another, what fabrics are better backlit versus others, and are we matching colors across various materials because of this, height restrictions, the cost of labor when not rigging something to the ceiling, versus using rigging in the design, etc. If at any point we either don’t ask the budget questions, and get answers, we are setting ourselves up to disappoint our clients. Last time I checked, successful designers aren’t in the business of disappointing their clients.

So even if it gets you some weird stares, talk to your salesperson, your project manager, or your client, and get the answers you need to your budget questions. It will save you headaches, stress and time, and has a direct effect on your bottom line.

All just because of a little math.

About the Author
Tim Toolen is a Senior Designer at Optima Graphics, and has been in the Trade Show industry for over 15 years. He also runs a successful blog about the Tabletop Miniatures hobby at miniaturetim.blogspot.com

  1. Gary Camarato
    October 11, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Great Post Tim! I still can’t do simple math – it’s all Greek to me.

    • Tim Toolen
      October 14, 2013 at 10:25 am

      Math still isn’t my favorite subject in the world, don’t get me wrong! More of a…necessary evil! Thanks Gary!

  2. October 11, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I had one of those Math teachers as well…great article…

    • Tim Toolen
      October 14, 2013 at 10:26 am

      I think every school has at least one of those teachers, right? Funny how it seems that the math teachers seem to feel they have more to prove in that area than other subjects! Always happy to write an article that someone finds to be a good read!

  3. October 11, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Fantastic article – we ask for budget up front and design to it. Our designers are math wizards. Have to be when engineering complicated displays that fit specific spaces and budgets.

    • Tim Toolen
      October 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Exactly, Jill! It’s like nails on a chalkboard when someone tells me “We don’t have a budget yet”, or “You don’t need to worry abotu it, just design something cool”. I can design alot of cool things. but I promise you when the COST of those cool things come to light, the client sure as heck has a budget then!

  4. October 11, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I think this is an under appreciated area of expertise, good post. I remember my first brush with this. I was working on a custom 20 x 50 and there was a cylindrical conference room in the center and an estimator came up and said “you know, if you make this about 3” less in diameter, we won’t have to seam the laminate on each panel. It is good of you to remind us. Knowing that the diagonal of a square booth space is 1.44 x the side or the significance of 1.61803399 is are important tools.

    • Tim Toolen
      October 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

      While there’s a few too many decimal places for me to be comfortable with, without a calculator in hand, I agree 100% with you. The more we can account for the hard questions like budget with designing, the easier our engineers and sales staff will have it!

  1. October 11, 2013 at 11:46 am

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