What Is the Value of Graphic Design?

What is the value of graphic design? Why does it cost so much? These questions often pop up in forums on LinkedIn and other media. Clients often don’t understand the value of what they are getting from their designers. However, the same people likely never challenge the rates their lawyers charge. Yet both lawyers and designers can affect the future of a business.

Popular misconceptions are that design is easy, designers sit and doodle all day, or that they simply push a button and out comes a ready design – hence why do they charge so much? Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Graphic design is a large part of a marketing package which can critically affect the success of a business. Well designed communications which build awareness and compel customers to buy take a great deal of skill and effort to make. A graphic designer is a professional who provides their skills and services from a foundation of years of training and experience. Their skills have great value in the same respect as lawyers, dentists and many other professionals who are expected to have a high level of abilities. A designer usually has worked with many clients, on many campaigns and therefore, has a broad understanding of marketing strategies and tactics. A good designer knows how to communicate effectively to your market segment. They are often able to offer solutions far beyond your own ideas and abilities thus improving your chances of a successful campaign. In this light, a designer should be treated like a business owner’s best friend.

The rates a designer asks for are often reflective of the industry as a whole, of their own personal abilities and their level of experience. For the most part, designers often undervalue themselves and should in fact be charging more when considering all the facts above and knowing that their product will have a measurable impact on their client’s business.

If you’re a business owner, and you’re looking to hire a designer, ask yourself what is your business worth? People and their efforts are motivated by money. I would encourage your designer to do their best work for you by offering them a good wage. It is a worthwhile investment in a highly skilled professional who can affect your success.


20 thoughts on “What Is the Value of Graphic Design?

  1. Bob Gailen says:

    My one and only comment on the CA discussion board:

    About mid 1970 there was a movement to better define graphic design and ‘professionalize’ the business of graphic design. All manner of descriptions were thrown about from applied art to communications design . . . sounds here like nothing has changed. Unfortunately players in our extremely broad field of work often permit buyers to set the rules of engagement. It’s not surprising then that we can not achieve a dominant position as disciplined visual communication professionals.

    As far as I know no one captured the spirit of my comment.

    • osku.com says:

      @Bob, I believe you are absolutely right. Designers are as much to blame for accepting low wages as are the clients who squeeze them down. It will take a combined movement of designers to drive the value of design up to the point where it deserves to be. If only a few designers charge what they should, they will merely lose clients opting for their lower cost peers.

      • Bob Gailen says:

        It is unfortunate but this is the kind of conversation that many in our field won’t respond to. The desire to create overrides the reality of adequate compensation. It is simply easy to justify low fees to get – the chance – to work.

        For example: identity design is often defined at great length by designers in client consultations, on websites, in print as to its intrinsic value and the necessity for a professional designer to manage the brand carefully and consistently at every level of the organization. Something so valuable is then given away for practically nothing — seems like a bit of a conundrum!

        Entry level designers were not highly paid at the time I entered the design practice, mainly because we were still wet behind the ears. But there was room for professional growth, and our compensation increased exponentially. Back then, fees were much more realistic in terms of the value of what we provided. But there were not many graphic designers around, competition was intense, and designers worked hard to achieve status in the field. Most of the corporate world made hiring decisions based on a design firms reputation, expertise and the ability to handle complex assignments, rather than cost. We did not give the work away, and we did not work on spec.

        The price of creativity today has become such that our product is merely a commodity. Too bad for us. . .

      • Mus says:

        Hello Osku,
        I’m afraid the problem is, the reason why many designers, including myself, are forced to reduce our wages is because so many clients don’t want to pay for our work. It’s precisely one of the reasons you highlighted above, apparently graphic design is “easy work” that “anyone can do”, and all we do is “draw pretty pictures”. So I’m told. That is why when I try to convince potential clients of my rates, they are still not convinced, they brush you off with a “it’s ok, I don’t really need a logo” or “maybe next time”.

        I hate to say it, but the client is the judge, the jury, and executioner. Without them, we are penniless. What advise would you give?

        My question is: How do we convince the masses of businesses out there that we too have a skill set that is worth paying for?

  2. Alex says:

    The easiest argument to give a client is to ask if they would do their work/service or sell their product at a drastically low price.

    My only thinking in life is to only do the “cheap” work when you see a value in doing it (something you think would be “amazing” for your portfolio and you know the client honestly can’t pay the market rate), or when you think you can bang something out quickly that the small cost becomes worth it.

    Designers and Developers only need to start putting monetary value on services. Stop doing $5000 worth of work for $500 because you fear losing a client. Do $500 worth of work for that $500.

    • Hey Alex.

      Thank you so much for your comment. This is a huge problem that the majority of designers face. There are two kinds of clients in the world; those who really understand the true market value of great design; and those who can’t draw worth shit themselves and just want to hire a creative monkey to make up for their own creative short comings. I have always had a few “monkey hiring” clients, but I’ve always warned them ahead of time that I will work for the exact time they are willing to pay for, but it may or may not solve their visual communication problems. I will not work an extra minute beyond what they agree to pay. Some walk and others take the risk. The remaining clients are fun and rewarding to work with. They don’t question the bills and they always come back for more.

      There are tactics to work with both, you just have to be a hard-ass and unemotional to deal with both. The bottom line is for all of us, it’s just business. Don’t get emotional about accepting or firing a client. Our job is not to be nice. Our job is to provide a valuable, professional service that will help our clients get rich.

      I have fired several cheap-skate clients in the past year I thought foolishly I needed, and never felt better as a result. I have more time to focus on clients who deserve my effort.

  3. Edgardo says:

    This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me.

  4. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility problems? A handful of my blog visitors have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Firefox. Do you have any advice to help fix this problem?

    • osku.com says:

      Hi Bernard.

      I am unfortunately not a WordPress expert so I am unable to advise you on your Explorer incompatibility issue. But there may be forums on the web for discussing this or you could also Google it. WordPress is a very popular platform and I know there are a great many resources available for troubleshooting WordPress issues.

      I am not aware of any compatibility issues at this time with my site theme.

  5. Bernard,
    if your site works well in Firefox/Safari/Chrome/Opera that means it has been written with good code. Traditionally, Microsoft released bug-filled browsers, although loss of market dominance has forced them to produce less buggy browsers. So more recent versions (8 and 9) have fewer bugs, you just can’t do as much. For instance, you can’t write code to create rounded corners or gradients for IE8 even though this was part of CSS3 long before the browser was released.

    There is also a lot of exciting new stuff with transitions that, whilst possible with modern browsers, can’t be used because Microsoft hasn’t caught up.

    IE6 and IE7 is a different story. IE7 should never have been let out the lab. If you want it to work in this browser extra code needs to be written and I would charge a significant fee to write all the bug fixes or ‘IE hacks’ as they are called.

    Good news is, outside China most IE users are on version 8 or 9. I personally don’t understand Microsoft’s motivation for making browsers but that’s another topic.

  6. Osku, I am pretty sure that comment from Bernard is Spam. I would delete his comment and mine.

  7. Paige says:

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a
    friend who was doing a little homework on this.
    And he actually ordered me lunch because I stumbled upon it for him.
    .. lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!
    ! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this
    issue here on your internet site.

  8. […] from the start that does a great job in preventing client push-back. Here’s a quote from Osku Blog that will help you to articulate the type of services you offer in a way that sounds professional […]

  9. ok… I’m going to add my 2 cents:

    It comes down to your personal worth. If you think design doesn’t cost a lot, ask Landor what they got paid for BP. yes. ±$211 million.

    They are a major international leader, fair enough, but its simply about your own ability to demonstrate your worth. If you want to be in business, you need to learn how to sell. Especially if you are in the extension of a sales field.

    There are agencies getting paid a lot. Why are they getting the money and you aren’t? 3 possible reasons:

    1 » They are better designers
    2 » They have get better sales skills
    3 » They have built a name and have got credibility based on 1 and 2.

    If you are a good designer, learn how to sell it. Sell it as an investment not an expense. If you aren’t able to do that, then no, you won’t compete, because ultimately every business has to justify the value. If you can justify a $1 million logo… you’ll get it. simple.


    • osku.com says:

      Good points Gavin. It does take a variety of skills to succeed. Being a good designer is not enough. It is definitely a process of evolution or climbing a corporate ladder, but in a different sense as a freelancer. It’s taken me about a decade and I’m finally catching big fish and life is getting easier. I’ve had to pay my dues and then some to get here. But it’s worth the effort.

      • Absolutely. i’ve been in it 15 years… and i’ve realised that the problem with being a freelancer, is you are already putting yourself in a disadvantaged position in my opinion, because its hard for someone to shift the “commodity” perception. you are offering a service, not a result. and you will never be able to get around that as a freelancer. or with the perception of a freelancer. it is ALLLLL perception, as we know.

  10. I dont ofer a design service I offer a result. a result that will increase your profit margin by managing the companies perception. that is how you charge proper money. you have to be able to justify investment.

  11. osku.com says:

    In addition, I don’t call myself a “freelancer” or an “agency”. I don’t box myself in as doing so changes client perceptions and the pay rate. I’m a “design consultancy” which is ambiguous enough that it can go either way depending on the client’s needs and wallet size. So as a result I get a fair amount of volume from both small business as well as fortune 500 corporations and at different price points.

    • yes. absolutely right. also one of the biggest mistaks designers make is charging by the hour. Not only is it unethical, but it creates the wrong perception of how we work. we aren’t brick layers or construction workers. Most of the best ideas come when we ARENT working.

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