Where does the cost estimate and quote fit into our design process?

We discuss the importance of understanding the difference between a cost estimate and a quote and why it’s something that will affect your experience with a designer.

There’s a variety of ways designers can charge for the type of work they do, but it’s important that your clients are aware of your costs and design process beforehand.

According to the Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences, “accurately forecasting the cost of future projects is vital to the survival of any business or organization contemplating future construction. Cost estimators develop the cost information that business owners or managers, professional design team members, and construction contractors need to make budgetary and feasibility determinations.

Introducing the cost estimate

Have you ever wondered how costs are determined for any interior design project? Some might believe an interior project process starts with “design”, but before the design process can begin, it needs a proper framework and structure to work within.

To create the framework, the client brief is the starting and most critical point of the entire process. A main section of the brief is the project budget, which further enhances the project framework and will determine how far the design boundaries can be pushed within these limits.

Read post: Is it time for an office redesign? [Checklist]


The Digital Project Manager, a digital project management inspiration blog believes: “Project budgets are usually the overriding factor that trumps all else on a project, and sadly are often the cause of conflict between agencies and clients. There’s a lot of pressure too – cost estimation process can be stressful and scary – when creating a project budget there’s always guesswork involved (hence why it’s a cost estimate, not an accurate forecast) and if you get the project budget wrong, as the project manager, you can find yourself in the firing line.”

Project budgets may be discussed by the client internally, but as this process is not a daily occurrence and it may have taken some time since this process was last undertaken, the client will look to the interior designer to assist in this regard. The cost estimate thus plays a big role even before the design process has started.

The estimation of project costs is determined by the brief overview and the client’s “wish list”. The cost estimate is then used as a tool to help set the budget parameters of a project, which in turn gives the designer direction in achieving and fine tuning the wish list.

Why does a cost estimate matter?

This extract from Digital Project Manager further explains why you need a cost estimate and create a project budget:

  • Estimates provide a price – you need to know what you’re going to charge the clients, (and when) so the client can decide whether it’s worth the investment to proceed with the project
  • Estimates provide clarity – when you know how much budget a client has, the process of producing a cost estimate helps define the approach as the team will need to work together to define the overall approach, roles, responsibilities, deliverables, process, and resourcing plan.
  • Estimates provide milestones – by breaking a project into phases and tasks, with a level of effort assigned to each, cost estimation provides an opportunity to ‘pulse check’ a project so you can know whether it’s on track or not.
  • Estimates dictate a resource plan – in defining the approach and estimate, it also defines the level of effort you can apply to the project sometimes requiring the timeboxing of activities or limiting the amount of senior oversight.

In summary,  the cost estimate is an educated guess of project costs based on the project brief and our experience, at the outset of an interior design project.

Formulating the quote

Moss Paper says: “for any interior designer, being able to provide accurate and effective sales quotes to your clients can be one of the best ways to drum up recurring business. When you are able to give your clients something that they can actually understand and feel comfortable with paying, you give off a far more professional approach and style.”

Once the design process has run its course and comes to an end, it’s time to formulate the quote. The final quote total may vary somewhat to the original cost estimate value, if changes are made to the initial brief and wish list through the design process.

In summary, the quote is an exact science based on all approved plans, layouts and specifications of all the design elements for the project.

We advise that you should be as honest and open about any costs as it will build a great relationship with your clients and make them trust you and your services much more.

Need help with your next design project? Contact us and find out how we can help you with your unique needs:

Contact Us

Want some more tips on improving your office space design? Download our guide: You guide to improving office design.

Download the Guide

Derek Stedman

Author Derek Stedman

More posts by Derek Stedman