Combating the Stigma of the Overpriced Designer

Show your clients why it’s the designer who sits in front of the monitor

At some point in your career a client (or two) will question why they should pay exorbitant fees for designs that on the surface look pretty simple to produce. Let’s face facts, people who are “outside of the loop” of this industry lack an appreciation for the effort that goes into producing a clean, well executed layout or identity. After all, why would they? All they really end up seeing are the polished ideas. They aren’t included in on the oodles of hours spent brainstorming concepts, research and rounds of sketches that can fill a small coffee table book. More often than not, they only see an attractive and deceptively simple looking final result of all that labor and development.

To complicate matters further, the widespread attainability of “do it yourself” design software and logo mill infrastructures reinforce the fable that Creatives are the one push button “George Jetsons” to the “super computer” that does all the real work. I suppose when one is looking to negotiate for “bargain basement” rates, ignorance is better left bliss.

I’m trying to counter the general public’s innocently flawed perception via my site (eventually, but I digress) and I suggest that other professionals consider doing the same to promote an awareness of the value behind seasoned training and experience.

Showcasing one’s progression promotes the conceptual–and intangible– development of design.

Stephen, an online design colleague of Stephen Glasgow Design introduced me to a novel link that he was
including in his site called “Featured Projects.” Basically you select about five or so client projects from your archives and briefly document an overview of its development. You can see how he arranged his summarized projects in his web site.

Showcasing one’s progression has several advantages:

1. It’s a better solution than inundating your portfolio site with tons of work. Many of us for various reasons can’t do that anyway, either because they don’t have enough clients, or are in-house and unable to get a release for promoting their efforts via their own site. I also believe that like a physical portfolio, you should only have a small number of your best pieces (no more than 15 or so overall was once the rule of thumb) to showcase your dexterity—after all, isn’t that what a portfolio is really for; not to show how much work you’ve done and by how many clients, but how good you are at what you do. A separate link can list your clients to reinforce your experience. Every so often you can also rotate clients on your page as your base grows, refreshing your site’s contents at the same time.

2. It promotes the conceptual–and intangible–development of design. Good design is one-third execution and two-thirds creative development. As visual communicators we rely on our education to tailor a design that meets the client’s promotional criteria. It will also help them appreciate that we are specialists, much like doctors, lawyers and other experts who are an authority in their field and are a deserving investment because they draw upon the wealth of knowledge they possess to get the job done. They’ll see that not everyone with some acquired software and a manual can apparently be equally as competent. A well-rounded education can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

3. By outlining your progression you also prepare potential clients for a taste of what they should expect when you’re commissioned by them. Although the unrealistic expectations of, “we need thirty pages of revisions by tonight” deadlines are often an unavoidable part of the business, clients can learn to appreciate that changes aren’t often just a mouse click away. Regrettably many still believe in the ridiculous notion of the “magic box”—click a button and instantaneous results occur because you know, the machine does all the work for you. It’ll also make it easier to justify estimate revisions that reflect the time that was unaccounted for.

Although there is no formal guideline in outlining your creative process, I recommend that you keep it informatively concise. You want to give them a glimpse into the labor involved, not over burden them with too many details.

When the non-designing populace begin to understand that the true benefit lies not in the final product but how well it was developed, our industry professionals will be all the more respected for it.

©2006, Dagmar Jeffrey

Dagmar Jeffrey of Archetype Design Studioâ„¢ has accumulated over ten years of print advertising and graphic communication arts experience through independent design contracting and prepress production; both through her business and via well established enterprises.

You can normally find Dagmar actively participating and generally hobnobbing in some of the most well regarded design forums, contributing her expertise in such forums as HOW, About Graphic Design and About Desktop Publishing among others. She is also a member of the Brainstorming Team at NO!SPEC and is presently collaborating on other projects pertinent to the industry.

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