The Retrospective

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Hustle for Blood or Money? The Designer’s Dilemma

February 20th, 2009 by

“If you are good at something, never do it for free, ” opines the Joker in a memorable scene from the  The Dark Knight. That kind of freelance gravitas is easy to throw around when you have differentiated yourself from the marketplace with a niche skillset: killing, terror, and cackling. What about the rest of us hustlers? I’m talking about the ones who bring joy and hope into the world–the ones where villain isn’t in our job description. I’m talking about graphic designers. Just ’cause we don’t kill fools, does that mean we should give away our services for free?

You may have heard of the big uproar in our community when Forbes decided to publish this article.  Companies like CrowdSpring demoralize what graphic design is all about. They take a thoughtful, creative process and turn it into a disconnected, cheap product.

There are not many jobs out there that will give you something for nothing up front. Why should graphic designers even be subject to the idea? It’s tough. As someone who is still fairly new to business, the idea of getting “recognition” or “experience” outweighs the money factor. However, I do not believe the client should be cheated of satisfaction, just as I do not believe the designer be cheated out of compensation. CrowdSpring, in my opinion, masks their obvious thievery by making it into a “contest”, “simple logo”, or whatever else. And unfortunately, sites like CrowdSpring manage to do that and they perpetuate the idea in the community that spec work is okay.

It may be difficult to convince some people of design’s value. I see companies that clearly have no money issues and understand that they need design for their business (whether it is branding, a user interface, etc), but are still not willing to pay what it is worth OR pay upfront. Lucky for us educated/experienced designers, it doesn’t appear we will be pushed aside yet with the photoshopped clipart results the companies produce:

160over90’s experiment
Underconsideration’s experiment

And I guess that is the bottomline: You get what you pay for. Thank yah, lordy!

If your designer or even if your not a designer, tell us what you think about this issue.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Caitlin Feb 20, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I’ve found that the vast majority of clients have no concept as to the kind of thought, inspiration, and grueling drafting and redrafting that defines a designer’s job. Because of their unfamiliarity with the creative process, clients can’t grasp that those web comps they see mocked on foamboard, those three million iterations of their logo, or even their brand guide are undergirded by hours of mindful labor. Because they don’t understand, they’re less willing to shell out the buckaroonies for all of your hard work.

    I am not a designer, but I’m a writer who works at a design firm. Until I worked here, I certainly never appreciated how much heavy strategic and creative mental lifting goes on in a designer’s brain throughout the birthing of a design. I came to realize that the design process is EXACTLY the same as the writing process. First, the artist must identify the issue, explore it thoroughly (which often involves research), decide upon the best angle of attack, and build an experience out of separate content elements to make a convincing, resonant whole that tells a story. A designer has to be at once a visionary and a war general–he or she’s got to create something beautiful WHILE keeping victory in mind. This is by NO means easy work, so heck yes there should be money in it up front. I admire what designers do. Y’all keep fighting the good fight–and hope you get some money up front for all of that effort. 🙂

  • 2 Chris Piascik Feb 25, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    As a working graphic designer, I hate the idea of a design “contest.” It completely devalues our profession. I had not seen that article in Forbes, and I wish I didn’t just read it! (haha) The headline, “democratize a snooty business,” is ridiculous. Is getting paid for a service snooty? Can I have a bunch of mechanics fix my car and then choose to pay one?

  • 3 Charles West Feb 27, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I absolutely respect your feelings on this issue of being unappreciated as an artist in the world of graphics. I must say personally I am both envious and amazed in people who have this gift of gab – far as freelance artistry is concerned. Do I believe the client shouldn’t be cheated of satisfaction, just as the designer shouldn’t be cheated out of compensation, absolutely (that’s called capitalism). In saying all of those things, I must include the flip side which is the small up start business owner (I’ve been here) who doesn’t have the asking price that many designers demand. Their are lots of “bad apples” in this market who are unreasonable and unrealistic with jacked up prices that don’t meet their resume (or lack of) nor skill set. The bad apples are ruining it for lots of good, reasonable, and honest designers.

    -“Remember it takes one rotten to ruin a bunch”.

  • 4 Gitamba Saila-Ngita Feb 27, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    To quote one of my favorite bands Cursive, “Art is Hard”. I think it’s even worse when you make art that is in a commercial space. To be undervalued by anyone in respect to your work is just unacceptable.

  • 5 Shane…MSGD UTI Mar 14, 2009 at 12:48 am

    I am not graphic designer, but I am currently looking for one. I do know how much hard work and dedication goes into designing a logo or anything for that matter. The problem I’m have is that I paid a few designers up front who were supposedly experienced designers and the work looked terrible. So I’m very skeptical about paying up front for another design job. Oh, by the way having a design contest shouldn’t even be possible and these designers should take that as a form of disrespect. How the hell can u have a design contest. That doesn’t even make sense.