Fast, Good, Cheap. Pick Two.

This is going to be somewhat of a rant about some of the outrageous requests I receive as a graphic designer, and I’m also going to underscore a core principle you should always remember when going about your freelancing endeavors. Please bear in mind that the majority of work that is presented to me is reasonable and fair, and the people proposing these jobs are some of the most dignified and pleasant people you could ever work with. However, not everyone is a saint.

Some people are demanding. Some people are ruthless opportunists who take advantage of everyone they possibly can. And some people are just outright delusional. Allow me to paraphrase a request I received recently.

For the sake of not publicly ousting anyone, I’m going to exclude their name and change a few variables in what they requested from me, but the message and lesson to be learned are still there.

I need a logo made. It has to be a world-class logo, as good as Chanel or Louis Vuitton. I need it done for $20 and it shouldn’t take more than an hour if you know what you’re doing.

I wish I were making this up.

So, this particular individual wants a logo that is going to be comparable to Chanel or Louis Vuitton – two global, iconic brands and status symbols – but they don’t want to pay more than $20 for it? That’s like trying to impress people at a car show with a used car you got for $400 from Craigslist. Not very likely.

I don’t know the story behind the Chanel logo, but I’m sure they didn’t pay $20 for it. I’m sure as a brand aspiring to be an iconic symbol of style and status, they realized that they need to hire the best of the best if they want a logo that resonates with their target audience.

Not only that, but I’d be willing to bets that the logo took more than an hour to develop. The designers probably spent countless hours researching the market, the target audience, what appeals to them and how they can communicate that through design. Then, they spent countless hours brainstorming ideas, then going back and forth with revisions. And once the design was finished, the designer than had to package up and produce all of the necessary files for delivery to the client.

This is standard practice for any logo design process (let alone a big name like Chanel,) and it takes much longer than an hour.

The most offensive part of this request, though, is the fact that this person is implying that they know my profession better than I do. It shouldn’t cost more than $20, and it should take more than an hour “if I know what I’m doing”? Really, you’re going to tell me?

That’s like if I, knowing nothing about cars, were to take my broken down car to a mechanic and tell him, “Hey, car’s broke. Don’t know what’s wrong, but it doesn’t work. Fix it. And I’m not paying more than $20, and it shouldn’t take more than an hour.” How the hell would I know? I’m coming to him for his expertise; not vice versa.

Some people want the sun, the moon and all the stars for the price of a twinkle. Not only that, but they go about it in an obnoxious way that suggests they’re somehow entitled to it. This brings me to the main point I’d like to drive home in this posting…

Fast, good, cheap. Pick two.


I like to consider myself a versatile designer who can help a wide range of people with a wide range of needs with varying budget constraints and deadlines. However, there are limitations.

Fast + Good = Not Cheap

If you want fast and good, I can give you that. I can create good work, and I can create it fast, but it’s not going to be cheap. In order for it to be fast, I have to dedicate all of my time to your project – time that I could otherwise break up between several projects for the sake of time efficiency, answering emails, taking Skype calls, creating content for Youtube and the web, etc. – which is going to be costly. If I’m required to neglect everything going on and go full on tunnel vision with your project to give you great work in a tight deadline, I need it to be worth my time.

Fast + Cheap = Not Good

If you want fast and cheap, I can do that too. Don’t expect it to be the hottest thing you’ve ever seen, though. If you’re in a bind, need this done ASAP and have no budget, from a business standpoint it won’t be practical for me to invest a lot of time into your project.

Good + Cheap = Not Fast

If you want good and cheap, sure, let’s do it. Don’t expect it any time soon, though. I’ll likely have to work on it in fragmented time slots when feasible. Higher paying clients will have to take priority at all other times.

I cannot, however, provide fast, good and cheap. Nobody can. You can go north-west, you can go south-east, but you can’t go north-south. You’ll have to sacrifice one for the other.

Designers: keep that in mind. I know when you’re just starting out and struggling to find work, you’ll feel enticed to promise people the world. Don’t think this is a rule you can bypass, because you can’t. You may think you’ve reached the mythical trifecta, but you’ve likely sacrificed something, whether you realize it or not.

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6 thoughts on “Fast, Good, Cheap. Pick Two.

  1. Verry good article!! The info graphic included in this article should be presented to those super demanding and unrealistic clients! And be used as a standard by all designers so that everybody looking for graphical work know what to expect!

  2. Ain’t that the truth. I notice quite often, people on the other end of services can be pretty unreasonable; they just want what they want with little respect to the person providing it. My manager/fiddler, Jan gets that a lot with his business, and one of my fans of my music I went out for tea n’ donuts with says the same. It’s even worse for them poor souls in retail….T_T

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