Sales? What Sales?

photo: flickr user greg habermann

photo: flickr user greg habermann

Designers, get your asses on the web, start producing valuable work, and start valuing your work! Tired of this stupidity happening. This piece describes how a company managed to cut their budget by two hundred thousand dollars, only to be sold a stolen logo from some moron at a contest site.

I don’t care that they cut their budget that much, and I’m relieved that there’s a lesson about shopping on price in there. They aren’t the target of my annoyance. Designers are.

Whoever actually made their stolen logo was probably an actual designer, albeit one with a pretty low level of skill and ethics. It’s so embarrassing that the web market is so clued out on any sort of pricing standards that these sorts of things keep happening.

Why is there so much miscommunication about our pricing that we can’t ever pigeonhole a decent, middle-of-the-road price scheme that the public knows about? Because so few of us have any business training in school—design curricula simply don’t have any business focus; which is intensely, obviously stupid. We can make beautiful things that nobody else can make, yet we can’t make a living at it without years of blundering about, learning the simplest business concepts. We don’t know how to price our work, so the prices are all over the map. Our numbers tend to be totally imaginary, varying from studio to studio and not addressing actual market valuation. We’re always on the defensive against people who do know how to price us lower than we should be.

Designers’ prices are invariably based on us being constantly told that our work is valuable and special—but the proof of that is very, very slight. None of these medium-sized businesses starting out on the web can find a decent price that makes any sense—so they throw up their hands and go to contest sites, where they can throw out arbitrary numbers, and get something in return. It’s pathetic that’s even happening.

(Initial link via Bryan Flynn over at the Twitter.)

13 thoughts on “Sales? What Sales?

  1. Pingback: Judging Clients by Their Wallets — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  2. Pingback: crowdSPRING sold us stolen property! But we still support crowdsourcing? « Shopsanity

  3. Pingback: Today's Obsession: Design is an Echo Chamber — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  4. Shopsanity

    @Amy The problem we faced is like what Patric describes.  Sure we could go somewhere else, and if it works out and we find the right person, we could pay less and get better work.  But it’s really hard to tell up front that it’s going to work out at the cost and quality advertised.  When we chatted with one freelance designer to understand work style and timeline, we were told “you’ll have to trust that I do good work and I’ll finish on time”.  Any designer, even a bad one, would say that.  When we suggested to that designer some type of partial hourly rate (to protect the designer) with a completion bonus when the work was done at high quality and on time (to protect us), the designer declined the project.  

  5. Pingback: Today's Obsession: Be Where you Want to Sell — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  6. Patric King Post author

    okay, that’s exactly the kind of garbage i’m tired of seeing thrown at companies who buy design on the cheap.
    designers always say that in response to work being undercut, and frankly: you get undercut because none of us disclose rates, there is no real way to find fair market valuation, and there’s no way to tell how well-made the work will actually be. not from coroflot, creative hotlist, or AIGA. all you see from thsoe places is that they’ve been paid to show the work (and that includes AIGA, in terms of membership dues). nobody has sat with the work on those companies’ ends and qualified it.
    what happened to shopsanity is design’s fault. not theirs. they did exactly waht i would have done as a business owner: minimized my losses for something that pretty much works.

  7. Amy

    @Shopsanity, you could easily have gone to a solo designer and gotten a quality product, all your own, for far less. Even in NYC. Search AIGA, CreativeHotlist, or Coroflot next time.  

  8. Pingback: Today's Obsession: How Much Do I Charge, Anyway? — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  9. Patric King Post author

    that’s actually an interesting thought, and one i forgot to weave into this, and i think i’ll expand into another piece today.

    the notion of borders also applies to tone. my studio’s in chicago—yet our work just doesn’t fit in here. i think we’ve worked with a chicagoan client maybe once in our entire decade. we only ever work with folks in los angeles, new york, or san francisco.

  10. Stu

    I think it’s important to address a few things here – first, the “value” of your work at a monetary level is heavily influenced by your location. A designer in California has a lot more overhead to cover than a designer in Kansas. The internet has removed the barrier of having to select from the local guy so Mr. Kansas is going to be able to charge a hell of a lot less.

    Secondly – I think your issue is not really with pricing, but borders. The internet has given the savvy business that is constantly being asked in this economy to cut costs the chance to find a designer in a market where they can achieve that goal, be it next door or half way across the country. With the advent of tools like WebEx and Skype you don’t need to physically meet anyone in person – and as a result you see the wild swings you get on crowdsourcing sites. Yes the example above is tragic (for both the design community it casts a shadow on and the company that lost out). The reality though is that stories like this one are in the minority.

    Teaching economics of design in school is a good idea, but it needs to be around what to expect, how to compete, and how to prove to a client you are worth 20 times what the guy from Kansas is – and that your 300sqft studio apt. in LA costs $2600/mo is not a valid excuse anymore.

  11. Shopsanity

    I can’t share specific quotes or names (that feels like some type of violation of confidence), but here are the details of one [what I did instead is in brackets]:

    Brand positioning & key messaging: 3 weeks, $30k [decided to work on this later, used customer interviews to try out some positioning for now]

    Naming: 4-5 weeks, $40k-50k [we used crowdsourcing. Total cost was $1500 for something with URL available.  This firm told me that I’d likely have to buy the URL after]

     Brand identity design: 4-6 weeks, $50k-70k [just postponed until I see if the software works]

    Marketing website: 6-12 weeks, $75k-120k [bought a $40 WordPress template and built myself.  Note: I also did that for the site where the blog is, but that’s not the main corporate site, which is still by invite only and looks entirely different]

    Another one told me positioning, name, and identity would be $180K – $300K, with $50K for name and logo only if I used only limited resources of the firm.

    The last one told me to expect $10K per week, with 3 weeks to get up to speed, 3 more for naming, then 10-12 for positioning, identity, and web design.  (Keep in mind, we’re a web company – we do the coding ourselves, and we don’t need help with our main product, just the corporate marketing material)

  12. Shopsanity

    I’m the guy who wrote the one you linked to, and given the brouhaha it caused, thought I should help clarify.

    First, though, I think you hit the nail on the head here in your last paragraph. We threw up our hands almost exactly like you said, and then tried crowdsourcing.  In the startup world, nothing is done as perfectly as anyone would like.  I’d love to be able to spend on well done brand identity from professionals.  Designer feedback to my post so far focuses on how I’m happy I saved  “budget” by crowdsourcing or how I don’t value brand identity.

    That misunderstands how startups, at least like ours, work.  There’s no budget – literally every dollar spent comes directly out of my savings account.  The goal of this entreprenurial spec work is to try to spend my savings on stuff that will make the company go.  This is company number 5 for me, and 4 times the spec work has paid off and once it hasn’t and I lot every dollar invested.  That’s why I’m hesitant to spend a lot on anything before I know the company is on the right track.

    There’s no question it would be better to have a professional brand identity than a non-professioal one.  But, since we’re a software company, a great brand identity backed by software that crashes your machine every time you use boot won’t get us very far.  So at this stage, we prioritize product spending, which means design of the UX and engineering.  If we can’t get that right, our brand would never do anything for us.  If we can, then we’ll be able to justify spending on a brand. In the old days, before crowdsourcing was available, if we didn’t have a friend who could design something in an evening, we would have just launched with some black arial text and no logo at all, until we saw if the product worked and early adopters adopted it.  For us, we need a path to do some very quick and dirty work before we know our product fits the market, and then when we do, we’re willing to spend heavily to build a lasting brand identity.  As we approached people, though, we were usually left with an all or nothing choice.  That’s not to say there aren’t great freelancers out there, but how would we find them?  We posted on Craigslist, posted on design sites, etc, and didn’t get much that could work for our specific objectives in the time we needed.

    I hope you’re successful at encouraging the changes you suggest to the industry.