Are there Universal Task Codes for Graphic Design?
January 13, 2015 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Lawyers have the Uniform Task Based Management System. Doctors have CPT Codes. But what about other industries, like marketing, advertising, and graphic design? The company I work for is developing a list of tasks so we can report our time in a meaningful way, but it's proving to be a more extensive task than anyone anticipated. Surely there's a standardized list for design or advertising professionals.

For example:

Strategic Planning
Video Editing
Graphic Design

A lot of these are ambiguous (wtf is "administration?" Is Graphic Design the same as Layout?). Instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm hoping there's a list somewhere that we can pay for one-time access to.
posted by joebakes to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Agencies and web design firms ,etc. come in a lot of shapes and sizes, mostly rather small (the "Mad Men" style agency is the exception; an awful lot of marketing, advertising, and graphic design is done by one-person shops). For this reason, there isn't going to be an "industry standard." You've already got a good start on a list; for in-house use you're going to have to do some clarifying as you go as to what, indeed, is the difference between graphic design and layout. Since this is probably being driven by accounting, I'd ask them what the important distinctions are, and sub-divide from there.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:49 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are no management codes for creative services. It would be impractical and unmanageable. The basic reason being that all creative is a collaborative process, and it would be utterly impossible to break-out who worked on what to some degree or another.

Nothing is developed in a vacuum. How, for instance, would you code for the initial creative team meeting? "Creative" is an amorphous activity. It's not very black-and-white with brightly delineated lines. And, a lot of creative work entails a fair amount of simply sitting and thinking, appearing to do nothing. A designer sitting in a coffee shop is still working things out in his head.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:23 AM on January 13, 2015

Doctors and Lawyers don't use these systems because they want to. They use them because they have no choice. There's no other way to navigate the huge bureaucracy surrounding the things they do.

And there are entire industries devoted to nothing but keeping those systems updated and helping people use them. I used to work for a company that published a $900 a year newsletter designed to keep its readers up to date on changes in medical coding.

The lesson - no, you do not want to do this. You do not want to work for a place that does this. This is literally an existential threat to a company doing the things you describe. If you can't dissuade management from doing this, start looking for another job immediately because you - along with everyone else - will eventually be out of work when the overhead of the system in terms of financial cost, time, and client responsiveness drives the company underwater.
posted by Naberius at 8:53 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Granted I've only worked for two design companies (both small boutique design/marketing companies in Chicago…each for about 7 years) but both of them did have some form of task breakdown. While I agree that the lines are and can be fuzzy, I do find them useful in budgeting and proposals and have adopted some now that I'm doing my own thing. Here's the ones that have stuck.

checking out the company and its problem. looking at other similar situations, competitive analysis, etc.

The big fuzzy one. Includes sketches, initial layouts, variations, etc. May include "round 2" if I have to go back to drawing board or do major re-works of layouts

Art Direction
Like Design, but me helping junior designers or directing a photographer or illustrator

Only if I'm really doing

Digital manipulation / illustration
Sort of fuzzy and works into design but useful to realize that a particular job's time went over budget because it took me a gazillion hours to retouch this or draw that

Client meetings
Some people need a lot of hand holding…sometimes I instead use Project Management for this…if they are sending me loads of emails.

Very useful for justifying your larger that expected bill. i.e. "we had buy off but then you changed all the copy"

Prepping files for the printer and/or going on press check etc.

There were a lot of other codes, but I rarely used them. I'd try not to splinter it down too much unless your company is okay with your tasks as being accurate-ish.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

At our agency, each position has a code (used for setting billable rate) and then we put comments in to describe what we are actually doing. Some employees have multiple codes if they span different roles depending on the job (again, mostly related to billable rate). The codes are things like Account Manager, Account Supervisor, Copywriter, Creative Director, Proofreader. We also have downtime and internal "accounts" for non-billable time.

A lot of your time is spent talking to people and problem solving, which doesn't fit into a category.
posted by dripdripdrop at 10:47 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Our small design and communication shop went through the same process. We ended up keeping this list flexible. Some people wanted to have precision. Some people wanted to keep things broad.

Put options at levels of granularity that is useful to you. How will this data be collected in the future, and to what ends? Would someone like to say "Ah, each book we designed took an average of 67.54 hours, so lets base our quote on this."? Or is your client looking at an invoice for 180 hours and wondering what it was spent doing, and you'd like to provide some categories?

But to answer the root of your question, there is no such unified task code to my knowledge. Whatever list you do develop needs to be flexible for the future too.
posted by fontophilic at 11:09 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

A narrative column is *so* much better than choose-a-category for invoicing. for bidding, no way a pick list will ever be well understood enough by everyone in the workflow to have any real value. could actually make estimates worse. a realistic set of categories: billable client work, overhead, R&D.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:15 AM on January 14, 2015

Thanks for everyone's suggestions. We definitely don't want to get too granular, and I'm sure a unified task list -- if it even existed -- would only serve as a starting point. Right now, I'm not happy with the list that management asked me to code into our time tracking program. It seems like they're not really thinking about what kind of reports they want to run with this information.

I do think it's useful to break things up into chunks like "copywriting" and "coding" or "programming." It would definitely be helpful for estimating future jobs, and for assigning resources (i.e., staff) who often have multiple roles.

Anyway, thanks for saving me more research time. I'll try to share this information with the team.
posted by joebakes at 2:01 PM on January 15, 2015

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