Understanding the Value of Graphic Design

Posted By Nathan Hoernig

Updated September 25, 2015

Why Are Some Designers so Expensive?

Pricing is one of the most difficult things to do in graphic design, whether you’re buying or selling it. Do a search on the web and you’ll find thousands of confused graphic designers out there wondering how they should price their work in a way that’s accommodating to the customer yet provides them with some sustenance! Every situation is different, every client is different. How can a customer get a logo for the price that they want to pay? How can a designer provide such service with respect to themselves as individuals/organizations that have bills to pay?

This article will relate pricing not so much to money, but to it’s real underlying issue…

Value

Plain and simple.

What is value? Do you know? Really?

We’re going to state something completely obvious, please bear with us:

The designer-customer relationship is a trade of goods. A designer offers a product and the customer offers money. A product for money. Money for a product.

Which is more valuable, the product or the money? The correct and ideal answer in any client-vendor situation is: neither.

The fee and a designer’s work should be of equal value. In saying this, there needs to be a balance. Just as easy as it may be for a designer to say, “Hey, my work is worth THIS much money,” it’s also just as easy for a customer to say, “Hey, THAT’s too expensive.”

That’s because each party’s sense of “value” for the product is different.

For a designer, there are two primary hurdles in the “value” battle. Design “tangibility” is how a client can understand the full impact of a certain project on their company or business. The second hurdle focuses on a designer to determine the “relative” impact of that piece in a way that respects who the customer is and what they need.

The Tangibility of “Value” in Design

The design industry, as compared to other industries, has one major, challenging flaw—there’s no finite model of comparison, no global understanding of “value” when it comes to design work.

To give an example: the college kid a couple doors down will make a logo for you for 200 dollars. The major studio downtown will make you a logo for 4,000 dollars. What’s the difference?

Some people would say that 200 dollars is too expensive. Others would say that 4,000 dollars is a steal! Still others would have no idea! The point is, the value of design (in this case, a logo) is too abstruse, distant. Many have no idea how much design runs for.

Why?

Because many people have trouble “imagining” the value of design in terms of dollars or yen. There is no tangible day-to-day value relationship between design and most individuals. Because most people don’t have everyday experience with design-related transactions.

A new pair of jeans will cost you between $30 and $200. In this example, what do you think about the pricing?

Yeah, $30 is cheap! Most people will agree.

In general, we have a solid understanding of the value of a pair of jeans—because everyone wears them!

Ask someone the same question about good design and what will you get? Most likely a blank stare.

To reiterate the point, many clients/customers don’t have a tangible understanding of the value of design like we do with jeans. Because of that, design carries different value for different people. This is a common issue in many creative industries where value is completely subjective. Often times, the ideas of value are based only on an individual’s “idea” of how long it will take to draw something in Illustrator or Photoshop. Any customer who requests a logo design, understands the value of a logo internally and to themselves, It’s a designer’s job to turn the customer’s perceived value into not only a price, but what it’s true value is as a business with a brand to build.

The truth of the matter is, that $200 pair of jeans didn’t take that much longer to draw up than the $30 pair, but what you get in return (for spending the extra bucks), is recognition for wearing something “brand”. You also get a better fitting product, something that will last you longer, something more tailored and also a bit more confidence because you know you invested in something worthwhile.

Our question, if you haven’t already asked yourself: How different is that from design?

Before someone can finally find a pair of jeans that fit just right, they need to spend time researching. Learning about their body, sizes, fabrics, cuts. They then have to compare that to the price of the jeans and make a decision. Is there value to be found at that price point? Does the price of the product equal the satisfaction and value felt as a customer.

Really and truly, design is no different. The only problem is, unlike jeans, customers can’t learn through experience with design, especially when they’ve never ordered design work before. So this information has to come from somewhere!

Ask your designer for industry rates. A designer should be able to get past this whole “tangibility” misconception by telling you what the market usually charges. Just like when you buy jeans, the prices could be all over the place, but at least you’ll have a general idea.

The designer has to also say and share the information, “Your project will have this result on your brand/business/image/profit/etc.”

Sounds easy, but before a designer can explain a product’s value, they must first understand how it relates to your business

The “Relativity” of Value in Design

As if the situation about understanding the value of good design wasn’t hard enough, now we have to look at the relativity of value. How “valuable” is that design to one company relative to another.

A multi-million dollar international corporation needs a new logo. The impact will be widespread, and the effect on the company’s image will be drastic. It represents their brand and is the corner stone for their business. The value of such a logo is immense. Big companies understand that and are often willing to pay huge amounts of money for a well-done, memorable and appropriate logo.

On the other hand, the mother of three next door, happens to love scrapbooking—and she’s damn good at it. She wants people to know that’s her passion. She wants to make a card that shows that, but only plans to distribute it at social events in her neighborhood, she’s come to you asking for a simple logo to put on her “business” card.

If a design company charges $3,500 for a logo, that’s a good value for the multi-billion dollar company, but how about for that mother of three? Is she going to drop that much money on a logo? More-so, does the “tangibility” of value argument (which we went through above) even matter to her? The answer, in both situations, is “no”

But who’s to say that she doesn’t deserve just as awesome a logo?

In this situation, a designer should keep “relativity” in mind. Pushing the “value” of a logo as a vital step towards the global success of the company, is wasted breath for a client like the scrapbooking mother next door.

Moreover, it’s rude.

What designer, who claims to be the “key” to graphically understanding and communicating with a target audience, can uphold such a reputation when they don’t understand their own clients’ needs and can’t cater to those requiring their services?

What’s the point?

Designers, listen to your clients. If you don’t already have a list of in-depth questions geared towards “how” the client intends to use the design, close your browser now, and make a list.

Find out what the relevant level of value is, and cater to it.

Establish your minimum, just to keep your company alive, perhaps adjust your creative process to accommodate (less hours invested, for example), but don’t try to pitch the “key” to marketing success to someone who doesn’t need to market.

That’s like trying to sell snowboarding equipment in Fiji.

Tip to the Customer:

Are you thinking about ordering some design? Did you already request a quote? Does the price seem a bit high? Ask them why: “Why is the rate so high?” Your designer should be able to give you an honest and straightforward answer about how it’s going to impact your cause.

Never be afraid to ask. We have yet to meet a designer who doesn’t love to talk up design and explain their viewpoint on its importance!

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