Post 305 – by Gautam Shah
Relationship between a client and a design professional depends how they are introduced to each other, the status of client and design professional, and if it is fresh or renewed contact.
Relationship between a design professional and a client develops very gradually. The Client and professional usually have had some rapport, or social introduction even before a job is discussed. Any premature attempt to formalize the relationship disturbs the rapport. Difficulties occur at both, the client’s end, and the professional’s end, so they need to proceed carefully.
It takes few meetings to formalize any level of relationship. Delays in relationship occur due to both the parties.
A client wants to delay because:
- The client is unsure, if a design professional is needed.
- The client is also not certain if the (introduced) design professional is the right person for the job.
- The client, as an official, may not have the authorization to initiate the retention process for a professional.
- The client may not have clear land ownership, adequate funds, or capacity to own-operate a project once it is delivered.
- A shrewd client may wish to negotiate with other professionals.
- A client may wish to collect many freebies (design ideas), and than perhaps carry on the job on own.
A design professional is in a different setting.
- A fresh starter -professional, is always very eager to get on with the job, yet such a professional avoids the formalized relationship, so as not to disturb the budding but fragile relationship with the client.
- An established design professional, on the other hand is not in a hurry to formalize the relationship so early, till all facts about the client are known (status, land entitlement, funding, etc.).
Design professional desire, an early resolution to the dilemma. A relationship can be construed to have occurred when a formal commitment is available. For a design professional, securing a formal commitment (consent) from a client, for a job, is one of the most difficult of tasks. Consent commits a client to pay the design professional for the services to be rendered. The professional also becomes obligated to deliver the expected services.
For a design professional the job has already begun the day the idea of a project is discussed. The design grows to a concept (sketch, doodle or ideation sketch) with investments in labour, stationary, materials, and most importantly the intellectual skills. All this process the client invests in time, remaining worried, if the design professional will at all deliver. When a professional fails to deliver, (even if any advance that may be fully refunded) client’s time and effort are wasted. (both non calculable entities).
On discussion of feasibility of a project, if a client refuses to appreciate the design professional’s work, not only calculable inputs are lost, but abstract cost of intellectual skills, go uncovered.
Ideally two parties must initiate their relationship with a contract, according to the laws of the land. A contract, is a very formal expression of intent. It is too much to expect a contract level relationship in the initial stage of a job, when the client and the professional hardly know each other, or have fully formed a project. Just the same, even without a contract a relationship must be nurtured. Normally this is not very difficult, when both the parties are willing, enthusiastic and have a mutual faith. A memorandum of understandings (MoU) is a less formal tool, frequently used as a step towards a full legal contract.
At a later stage when problems arise, either of the parties may refuse to even acknowledge the relationship between them. An informal relationship could turn very vicious. The design professional and client, both lose calculable and abstract costs.
It is very natural for clients and professional to be extremely careful about things they say and do in the initial stages of a job. For a design professional who is often operating without formal consent, securing a proof that his involvement has a tacit approval of the client, is very important. The evidence in such a case is usually circumstantial, and generally not tenable in a court of law, unless corroborated by other circumstantial or real evidences.
The best commitment, next only to a legal contract or a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), is payment of a Retainer fee. A retainer fee, however small, signifies establishment of a relationship, between the client and the design professional. Ideally the quantum of a retainer fee should be large enough to cover the labour, stationary, and the cost of patent (original or exclusive) ideas, required to generate a schematic design (or similar a stage, when the first fee becomes due). The cost of patent or unique idea is collected at first go, because a unique idea or a concept once exposed to an outsider like a client loses its originality, and so the value.