Sasha’s Soapbox: ASAP is not a deadline

I’m trying to be more positive these days. But let’s be realistic, I wouldn’t have to try so hard if there weren’t so many things that rub me completely the wrong way. Clearly that can only mean one thing: I must tell you about these things, for only by sharing them will I ever be rid of them. So it is with encouragement akin to: “I’m surprised it took you this long” from those who know me best (my friends) that I embark on this journey to illuminate the deepest grumbles of my professional life. Please allow me to serenade you from my soapbox…

ASAP is not a deadline

I realize that we all find ourselves in this situation from time to time: you need something done as soon as possible (ASAP). When it comes to an overflowing toilet, what I would call a real emergency, the term ASAP does not seem out of place. But if we’re talking about a graphic or web design project using this term seems, at the very least, dramatic. Personally, I hate it when a prospective client tells me that their website needs to be done ASAP because what it really means is “let’s make this cheap and fast”.

quality speed price venn diagram


We’ve all seen this diagram before, and once a project needs to be done fast there are only two ways to go: either it will be great and will cost accordingly, or it will be total crap but won’t break the bank. I always vote for quality but, most of the time, I’m not going to work overtime out of the goodness of my heart. And even though that makes sense, it is rare that a client with a rush project will have the budget for a rush fee.

Now, there are some people in my field who maintain that “every client’s deadline is ASAP”. Designers who say this usually laugh it off like it’s just a part of the job, like it just comes with the territory of running a design business. It’s just to be expected that clients suck at planning projects and that the designer will fulfil unreasonable expectations on a daily basis at no extra charge. Obviously I have a serious problem with this mindset. I don’t work with people who don’t respect me and whom I don’t respect back. When a project is based on mutual respect, unreasonable expectations are unintentional and therefore easily converted into reasonable ones.

The term ASAP conveys a degree of emergency that is completely unreasonable in a field where lives are not saved or lost. A heart surgeon has to deal with emergencies, a plumber has to deal with emergencies, a firefighter has to deal with emergencies. Web designers aren’t savings lives, graphic designers aren’t preventing deaths, at least not directly. Yes, websites I create help my clients pay their bills, and pamphlets I design help young girls educate themselves about their rights. This is important stuff. But cases where actual lives are at stake cannot be solved with a pamphlet they generally require physical help from another human being, like a doctor, or a law enforcement officer, or even a friend. There is no superhero with the power to pump out websites as the speed of light.

you get a website everyone gets a website and you get a website


What I’ve noticed is that most clients with an ASAP deadline actually just meant to say that they’d like their project done at your earliest convenience and without taking too long to complete it. Now, I know I have pretty high standards (pretty much when it comes to everything), but I operate on the assumption that everyone does their job on those terms. That unless someone expressly states a project deadline far off in the future, estimates and scheduling will be based on a reasonable turnaround time. I make a point of asking all prospective clients for their project deadlines and in my experience their answers always fall into one of three categories:

  1. no set deadline – not in a hurry,
  2. no set deadline – but would like to get started and finished at my earliest availability,
  3. a vague season/month deadline,
  4. a set deadline corresponding with an event.

Only in the last case does the ASAP scenario even vaguely make sense. But here is why it actually gets used and what it actually means:

  1. I have no clue how long this kind of project takes, I haven’t done any research on my end, and I’m just not sure how these things work. I’m afraid that you’ll take advantage of me if you are aware that I don’t know these things so instead of asking you about these things I’m going to assume that if I present it as an emergency then you’ll give my project priority and I’ll get quick service.
  2. I have no actual deadline, but I’m stressed out and want this off of my back, give my project priority.
  3. I have an actual deadline, I know how long this kind of project takes to complete, but I mismanaged my time and now want to pass the buck to you.
  4. I have an actual deadline, things were on track when my previous designer dropped the ball and now I’m screwed.

If you want to get the best out of your designer you need to tell him/her what’s your actual situation, because each of the situations above requires a different approach. If you haven’t worked with a designer before then it might be confusing to deal with new terms and procedures – if your designer knows that you’re new to the process then he/she is more likely to explain things in simpler terms and make sure that you aren’t getting overwhelmed. If you had a bad experience with another designer, your new designer needs to know what happened. A lot of designers consider it a red flag – remember the client isn’t the only one who can be potentially taking on a risk here. The fear is that if something went wrong with a different designer then maybe things will go badly when you work with them too. Personally, I consider each situation separately and do my best.

And that’s exactly it, each situation is different. The beauty of working with a freelancer (as opposed to say an agency) is that you get one-on-one attention throughout the project so it only makes sense to provide the specifics of your project, your unique situation, as early on as possible. This is what enables a freelancer to have a clear idea of everything involved and give you the personalized service you’re looking for.

Let me know what you think!

Do you think there’s such a thing as an emergency in graphic or web design? Am I overlooking a scenario when ASAP actually makes sense as a scenario? Did I miss anything?