Under promising and over delivering correctly; Advice for design students/new designers

silver platter

When discussing a design project with clients, the old saying “under promise, over deliver” is a sound philosophy. Unfortunately, it’s also a widely misunderstood and abused saying, often being thrown around by self proclaimed business “gurus”, without clarification or explanation.

I’ll admit that, on the surface, it can sound like one of the many generic ‘business tips’ that are spouted over and over again in a useless fashion, but bear with me…

Given the above, some say that the concept is wrong, that it shouldn’t be done. Some go as far as saying that it is fatal to your business.

One argument against the saying is that it encourages weak offerings from designers, that you will promise subpar design work so that clients are happier with the end result than expected.

Another is that it creates unrealistic expectations from clients, and that by constantly completing projects sooner than expected they will expect work from you in less and less time, eventually creating poor working conditions and making the quality of your work suffer as your are forced to rush projects.

Both these arguments demonstrate a misunderstanding of the philosophy.

It’s not about promising a lower standard of work than you’re capable of. A strong offering is essential in landing clients, if your portfolio is lack-lustre or you can’t promise to deliver what they need, they simply won’t hire you.

It’s not about promising a deadline of a month, then working furiously into the wee hours of the night to complete the project in a week. Over extending yourself and making promises you can’t keep is obviously a recipe for disaster.

It’s about delivering everything the client deserves and expects, and delivering it better and/or sooner than they expected it.

Under promising and over delivering is about the final result, not the sale or the process.

To receive exactly what you expected and receive it on time is merely satisfactory. To receive something better than expected and sooner than expected is exciting!

People talk about 2 things: Bad experiences and good experiences.

Nobody talks about the satisfactory ones.

Over-deliver, and make your clients experience more than satisfactory.