Graphic Design: It’s Not All Puppy Dogs and Rainbows

A friend turned me onto a fantastically funny video recently that does a wonderful job of showing off the kinds of problems professional designers are faced with when their clients don’t understand what’s really involved in creating a quality print product. The video made me laugh, but it also drove home an important point: Too many people undervalue professional creative work, and too often designers just roll over and let it happen.


The first problem is that clients quite often have absolutely no idea what it takes to design a creative and unique product, nor do they have a clue about the knowledge and expertise required to design something that can actually be printed. A good designer will consider how the content balances, why target resolution matters, how trapping could change the layout’s overall appearance, when to use spot colors, how the stock will impact the finished piece, what kind of press the job will run on… You get the idea.

Many clients, on the other hand, think that anyone with a computer is a designer, and do-it-all-in-Word-so-I-can-tweak-everything-later-thank-you-very-much-oh-yeah-I-laid-everything-out-in-Excel-to-save-you-time-that-means-you’ll-charge-me-less-right? They probably also have a cousin/nephew/niece/out of work brother/neighbor that has some great design ideas you should hear. OK, that’s probably just a little over the top, but I’ve seen it happen. Even the Excel thing. Really.

The point is that the client really, truly, has absolutely no idea that graphic design is a profession — a career, not a job — that requires training, a specialized skill set, and talents that not everyone has. Sure, some people are just pricks that want to take advantage of you, but by and large I’d wager most clients are just in the dark.

Yes it’s funny. And full of f-bombs.

The trick is getting your clients to see the value in what you do, which is usually easier said than done. The idea of potentially upsetting a client and losing them — and their money — is pretty scary. But what I learned over the years is that a little fear is OK, because in the end you’ll weed out the clients that aren’t worth the time you invest and end up with quality clients that are easier to work with and pay what you’re worth.

It’s OK to charge what you’re worth, and to stand firm. The people that appreciate your talent and skills will stick around. The ones that only care about the lowest price will move on. At first, watching a problem client move on can be a freaky feeling, but they’re usually time vortexes that eat away at your availability for other projects, and they eat away at your profits, too.

Also, you know what you’re charging right now? Yeah, it’s probably too low. Too many quality designers charge far less than they’re worth because of that ever-nagging fear of not landing the client. Charge too little, and people will assume you aren’t as good as your competition.

Once the problem children are out of the way, you have more time to spend working with your quality clients. They’ll probably recommend you to other potential clients, and if they don’t it’s OK to ask them for referrals.

And another thing: If someone wants you to do a job on spec, walk away. A spec job is just another way of saying “I don’t value your skills enough to even consider paying you.” The line about being able to add more great design stuff to your portfolio is a load of crap, too. Designers never win with spec jobs.

If you are a designer, go hug your clients that treat you well and pay you what you’re worth. If you are a design client, go hug your designer and consider giving them a raise even if they don’t ask for one. Sometimes designers are a little shy and don’t know how to ask.

And don’t forget: Friends don’t let friends design in Word. Or Publisher. And especially not in Excel. OK, go design something, and let’s be careful out there.

4 thoughts on “Graphic Design: It’s Not All Puppy Dogs and Rainbows

  1. Jeff,

    Thank you for your inspired comments, they ring true in the architectural design field as much as the graphic design and print field.


  2. I think they apply to computer consultants, too. I’ve met quite a few quality consultants that charge far less than market and then discount their rates on top of that.

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