Our digital brethren have done it for years: at the outset of a creative assignment, they estimate the hours they will need to solve the problem. And then they solve the problem in that timeframe. It sounds simple enough, but it also sounds incredibly foreign.
As a purely kneejerk reaction, the artist in me rebels against that kind of chronological tyranny and assembly-line mentality; I’ve never worked that way and can’t imagine how I’d imagine on a timeclock. But until we get a more workable solution that properly values ideas and creative thinking, hourly billing will have to do. As retainers drop and project work rises, figuring out some way to maintain a margin will be paramount for our industry’s survival and rebirth. And we can’t be lax on this point; historically, creatives have been notorious for giving away ideas, for allowing others to exploit concepts we casually toss off without first negotiating any sort of price or value for them. I won’t venture into the whole Freudian overtones about what this says regarding the creative need for approval, but I will say that we are going to have to consciously address how we can return value to the creative contribution.