left: a $350 logotype from a contest site. right: a "real" logotype from VSA partners.pop quiz: explain the difference in quality and therefore price to potential clients.
Day before yesterday, Stu made a really important comment about the changing ways we have to charge for our work:
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.
This is true, and this is the single most important aspect in why our industry is becoming so much more tumultuous to work in. The immediate perception could be that the industry is shrinking, but it’s not—it’s expanding. This is causing such an enormous host of problems as a new space for lower-priced work for smaller companies develops on the web.
There are a few different ways of thinking about what design should actually mean to the potential buyer:
Design is a special snowflake—fine, handmade items to be created individually for each client, consumed one by one (and wildly expensive).
Design is a pre-set to be adapted from a common set of rules for each client.
Design is a product to be designed once and adapted for several clients with minimal changes.
The problem is that nobody seems to be talking to either designers or purchasers of designers about these differences. A buyer just calls a designer, and we just portray ourselves as a designer. There’s no declared difference from party to party, and we sure as hell don’t disclose pricing.
This is where Stu’s comment about borders comes into play: the average businessperson doesn’t have the visual education to know that J. Oswald Designer actually creates his special snowflake letterforms character by character for a $35,000 logotype while Miss Coroflot Portfolio buys pre-made typefaces and charges $10,000 for a logo and Mr. I-Got-A-Graphic-Design-Certification-From-FullSail enters contest after contest to win $500 a pop. There is sometimes absolutely no way to tell these people apart based on portfolio, and they could be physically anywhere.
There’s a pretty good chance the dude entering the contests is in a situation where he can afford to do work like this, like living in Nowhere, Wyoming. Miss Coroflot may live in Middlin’, Ohio. And you can be sure J. Oswald has a great house, wherever he is.
In this changing marketplace, you need to tune your sales to what you want to be seen as. If you want to end up super-frigging-rich, you can’t just plop a portfolio on Coroflot and wait for a little leprechaun to deposit a black kettle of gold on your doorstep, stolen from New York’s Upper East Side. You need to go to the Upper East Side, find out where they work, play and shop, and put yourself into their line of sight in those venues, making sure you look like you belong there in some way.
If you wanna work in San Francisco, you need to find out where VCs and business founders play squash, and be there. If you want to work in Los Angeles, you need to find out where the studios buy their art from for film posters, and act that way.
Very little of the design market is based on how good your work is or where you actually are; limitless if you let it be. Your success is all sales.