Time for me to rant on one of my favorite topics. Despite being an emerging designer, I've already latched onto this topic with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. One of the illustrators I follow made a recent post that I know myself and many others can relate to:
A favorite move of business owners everywhere, who wouldn't want to save a couple of bucks on something as seemingly-arbitrary as design? After all, it's clearly affordable, what with all those $5 logo ads I've seen proverbially-plastered all over the internet. I even found a website that will help you build your own logo from a database of stock symbols and imagery for free (then pay $40 to download the resulting files). Of course, someone else could still use the same imagery, unless you choose to pay $99 to have the file removed from the database. But who knows how many people have already used it up to that point? If you think it's embarrassing to show up to a party in the same dress as someone else, imagine swapping business cards with someone who opted for the same cookie-cutter symbol. At least you'll know you have a few things in common.
So? Who cares? you may think. It's his or her own fault for not valuing design. Right?
Only partially right. The other hard truth is that we, as designers, are part of the problem.
Whether it's an illustrator creating a commissioned piece of artwork, or a graphic designer making a logo, we need to stop low-balling ourselves. It's obvious that not every single designer charges dirt-cheap prices for their work, but for every $5 (or even $50) logo you design, you contribute to the devaluing of graphic design as a skill and integral part of successful business practice. Design skills are more valuable than many people believe, and I'm not the only one who thinks so: check out these thoughts from other designers on the topic.
I know it's difficult to find clients willing to invest, and the ones who fall victim to this practice most (as far as the U.S. is concerned) are design students, recent grads, or uninformed people trying to start up a freelance business on their own. Part of the issue is that America seems to have gone outsourcing-happy: businesses are finding easier ways to get work done outside of the country for far less money. This applies to online services as well. Why help pay off some American college student's loan debt when you could check the block and get the design work done for a fraction of the price overseas?
The flip side of this is that any educated consumer and business owner should understand the notion of "you get what you pay for." So if you're on one of those five-dollar-logo websites, your "uniquely commissioned logo" will probably be the result of a generic template that someone has already built with a selection of iterations from which to choose. These designers are likely more interested in strictly the specs: business name and type, how soon you need it, and what you'll pay. They'd be missing out on personalized interviews, discussing core ideals of their organization, and specialized attention on their project, some of the many things a trained designer can provide with their expertise and knowledge.
Even worse than those who perpetuate dirt-cheap design are the people who deliberately take advantage of these industry green-thumbs. They tout the ability to gain "valuable experience and exposure" by designing a logo (or whatever) for them as being equal to--if not better than--actual pay. I've fallen victim to it myself, seeing payment of any amount as better than nothing. I thought my position (at the time) as a design student meant my abilities were worth less, and while this is technically true given the value of a degree, I'd had more actual training in design than most people with a coffee pot and a pirated copy of Photoshop. Pricing should correlate with skills and experience (why a senior designer makes more than a junior designer), but that's no reason to feel like pro bono is your only option or all you're worth.
Internships are also a hot topic. AIGA put out an op-ed article called The Cost of Free Labor that set some guidelines for what an internship should entail. If the internship responsibilities step outside those guidelines (i.e. the intern turns into a production monkey for 8 hours, essentially operating as a free employee), they should be compensated monetarily. It's pretty eye-opening to read through that list and compare my own internship experiences, and realize while I gained valuable experience, I was likely also a victim of business budgeting bureaucracy.
My caveat to pro bono work: I don't believe it's always the source of all evil. If something is a passion project and you feel strongly about it, do it. There's this thing called "intrinsic reward" where you get paid in warm fuzzies by knowing you served a greater cause via design activism. That was how I felt about my time at Make-A-Wish Minnesota. I wasn't getting paid, but I loved that what I was doing benefitted kids with life-threatening illnesses. So if you want to do something for free because it's a dream project or it'll make the world a better place, by all means.
Caveat to my caveat: If your dream project involves a multi-million-dollar organization with paid employees and they're approaching you, they better pay you. Last I checked my energy company didn't accept warm fuzzies as legal tender, and my Macbook isn't going to charge itself.
The chief concern, for me at least, was the risk of scaring away the client. Let's be honest, if they've been Googling graphic design options, and ads started populating and assaulting them with catchy phrases like GIT UR LOGO FER A PENNY, they might have a bit of sticker shock when they get your invoice.
"That's WAY MORE than a penny!"
But think about it: if they aren't willing to pay what you're worth, then do you want them as a client anyway? There will always be options out there that are cheaper, and these barrel-bottom-scrapers are happy to seek them out. Many educated business owners understand the cost of design, or should be willing to have an open conversation about it so you can talk it through with them.
So, where to even start with pricing? It wasn't until a year or two ago that I was introduced to the Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. It's updated and published every three years and gives you an idea of where to set the bar for pricing, helping to ensure we're all keeping prices in the same ballpark a la photographers. Most major libraries have a copy from what I've seen, and the contents are varied and get fairly specific. In a pinch, there's also this online pricing applet from nuSchool to give you a very generalized idea of what they recommend charging based on project type, client, your hourly rate and expected number of project hours, and other factors.
Bottom line: Professional designers provide quality work, expertise, and customer service that's worth the price tag. It's going to take a team effort to educate the business-minded masses that design IS valuable, unless they don't mind ending up with something like one of these unforgettable and unforgivable logo disasters. Looking for some design and don't know where to get it? Fortunately you're already on the website of a graphic designer and I'd be more than happy to help; check out my work and shoot me a line and I'll be in touch shortly.
I'll close this out with a link to an episode of one of my favorite graphic design podcasts where they talk about pricing in fixed vs. hourly rates. I recommend checking out their other episodes as well as they have lots of great tips for designers of all levels.
Now go out there and GET PAID!