Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Pricing Wormhole

As the market of available designers continues to inflate, many desperate professionals begin to work for pennies on the dollar. They’re shorting themselves, and they’re eroding the industry.

Not too long ago, when I was freelancing full time, I received a call from a medium-sized real estate company in Florida. Having produced a lot of work in the Realtor industry in the beginning of my graphic design career, they got my name and number from a former client. This new company wanted a new website with Flash and buzzwords and scrolling things. Needless to say, their existing site was lacking, so I drew up an estimate and comp detailing a complete overhaul.

Days went by and I never heard back. After about a week, I called the head of marketing to “make sure they received everything.” Our conversation was brief.

Me: “Hello, Mr. Marketing, this is Kevin. I am just calling to make sure you received my estimate.”

Him: “Yes we did.”

Me: “Would you like to discuss them?”

Him: “Actually, no. We found someone else.”

Me (surprised): “Really? Was my design with the Flash and buzzwords and scrolling things not what you wanted?”

Him: “Oh, it was perfect, but we found someone who is much more in line with our budget.”

It went on, and I discovered they posted the job to Elance, and the winning bidder “more in line with their budget” undercut my price by about 75%. My price was fair, better than normal in fact since it was a new client, but the other designer’s was ludicrous. Unfortunately, this has happened more than once, and over the past several years, similar stories have filtered in from colleagues.

Design Chernobyl

The residual effects of the dotcom meltdown still pollute the design industry. New start-ups have much tighter purse strings and are wary of exorbitant spending on design. The massive layoffs that shook the industry left thousands of designers — both print and web — jobless with very few options. And while the economy continues to level out to its current lethargic state, design schools churn out new graduates in unprecedented numbers.

But this isn’t a diatribe against students wanting to excel in the arts. Rather, it’s a statement against bad business practices that have appeared in the wake of the bubble burst.

There are more graphic designers, web developers, art directors and programmers than ever before. But there are not fewer companies, only fewer (read: none) companies with millions budgeted for superfluous funding. New start-ups guard their cash tightly and look for deals; companies that survived the downturn learned from their mistakes and no longer contract ridiculous promotional pieces and gaudy, expensive websites.

Radiation Sickness

Because of the swollen talent pool and perceived lack of work, designers and developers have begun to work for a fraction of their value. This practice has accelerated for several years and shows little sign of abating.

Look no further than (“The Better Way to Buy and Manage Services”) and (“Exceeding Excellence is the Standard”), two sites that offer an online marketplace for finding and supplying freelance services. Here, a full-color tri-fold brochure costs $125. A full website runs $400. An illustration can be had for $75. A corporate logo design with lots of first round drafts and “unlimited revisions” can be contracted for less than $100.

Read that again. $100 for a logo design. Untold hours of work and creativity compressed into a sickeningly low sale tag more suitable for a third world sweatshop than a “design professional.” What makes the situation even more depressing is the shameless modes in which designers and design companies whore themselves out, some claiming they have been in business for years, others claiming they work in shifts around the clock, others throwing around a useless eBay-style “feedback rating” as if that somehow justified their cutthroat tactics.

These sites and the unabashed devices they promote are trivializing the design industry.

And it’s easy to pretend that this alternate-universe of design pricing exists only online. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. More and more, clients expect these lower prices, and more and more, designers are giving in. New generation patrons consider the pricing schemes of the dotcom boom as inflated, when in fact the current pricing model is deflated.

Take the price of a logo design by a freelance designer. For arguments sake, we’ll say the average price is $2,000, depending on market, client, experience, etc. Take the average price of an Elance logo design: $125, which takes none of those things into consideration. That’s an unapologetic 94% discount.

Finger Pointing

There are several moving targets to point fingers at. First, the flood of new designers has upset the balance of supply and demand in the industry. Every graduate is looking for a job, either full-time or freelance. To get a job, they need to build their portfolio. To build the portfolio, they go onto Elance and slave away at a few design jobs for pennies on the dollar.

Second, the economy in general. The recently laid-off designer that has experience but can’t get a job. Desperate to eat, she creates an account at ContractedWork and becomes exploited talent, developing a killer website or brochure or identity program for a fraction of her usual price.

Third, globalization. Visit either site and you’ll notice one thing: the majority of the suppliers are from India or Eastern Europe. The recent trend of offshore outsourcing has come to roost in the design industry, and the lower cost of living outside the United States and Western Europe allows these companies to offer prices previously unheard of.

Unfortunately, none of these problems — if they can judiciously be called “problems” — are easily solvable. It is easier for a graduate to build a portfolio through Elance than intern at an ad agency or development company. For the out-of-work designer, these sites offer an easy means of meager cash flow and client leads. And for globalization, that is a simple fact of the changing world. As the planet shrinks, adjustments in service pricing are to be expected.

Rehabilitation and Clean Up

One means of retaining a proper pricing model is through client education. While some clients expect these lower prices, they also expect to receive a second-rate product. They accept the work as suitable, as presentable, and some — delusional as it sounds — as professional.

Designers have a responsibility to show the value of good design, just as a car dealer sells the highlights of a new model automobile. Cite branding campaigns that were a success because of professional logo and identity design. Or a well-designed catalog that generates more sales than its shoddy brethren. Or a website redesign that holds customers longer through intelligent navigation and better usability in the shopping cart. Clients must understand the differences between a Lexus-class design and a used Saturn design, and how that value can affect their bottom line.

Designers, especially new designers recently out of school, must be shown the value of a structured pricing model. Designers must charge what they are worth. Working ten hours on a $100 logo is a paltry $10/hour. If you think that sounds like good money, you’re better off working at the Gap.

The client comes to you as the expert in design, just as they go to a lawyer for knowledge in copyright laws, or an accountant for expertise in business taxes. You are a service professional, so bill like one. Resorting to drastic price cuts, exorbitant promises and flashy references are the tactics of a desperate salesperson. And if that’s the position you’ve been put in as a designer, perhaps its time to reevaluate your career.

An experienced designer or design group that resorts to cutthroat schemes is as bad as a designer out of school that doesn’t know what to charge for freelance work. It cheapens the industry as a whole. It tarnishes the professional image, and no other service industry allows for such nonsense.

Charge as a professional, not a hack. Get off Elance and ContractedWork and get real clients, because buyers on those sites routinely select the cheapest price anyway, and there will always be someone cheaper than you. Think like a lawyer. Bill like an accountant. Use your talent to live. Don’t try to scrape out a living by dragging your talent through every scrappy $100 logo job.

Design is what we do. It’s our business, our life, and at times, a reward unto itself. Talent should not be taken for granted, especially by ourselves.

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commentary + criticism

Sanna Wilkinson

wrote the following on Monday October 17, 2005

Thanks for this great article that much describes me, at least in the beginning of my career. I understand more than ever that I not only undercut myself, but as you point out, the industry itself. The way I charged (and cheated myself), however was somewhat different, but the outcome was the same – a paultry hourly wage. I simply cut the hours on my time sheet, thus “appearing” to have designed at a much faster, more “professional rate”.
Oh well, I am a little tougher today, but not much. And I still don’t have a good formula of what to charge, or how to charge, for e.g a logo. What would be a reasonable price to ask for. Let’s say I include x number of comps with x nr changes allowed.


wrote the following on Saturday December 10, 2005


I appreciate the insight revealed in your article. I am a student in an interactive design program and will be entering the work force as soon as this summer. I am concerned about the issues you addressed and wondered if you have any further advice as to how to start my career.


-Would you recommend looking for employment in a design/development firm before attemtpting freelance.

-Becoming extrememly speacialized in a certain area of design/development (Flash for instance)

I have looked at those contracted work sites before with interest, however, after learning more about corporate tactics, cheap labour and automation, I am disgusted by their presence.

Thanks, for your time.

It's Unfortunate

wrote the following on Monday December 12, 2005

You have to look at it from the Companies who are looking for design point of view. They want good design for the cheapest possible. You have alot of people who are not professional designers, but know enough to do your basic logo design or site design etc. who are willing to work for $10/ hour doing design. Of course, their design will be nothing compared to a professional designer but these companies don’t really care. They saved 94% by using someone who knows a little about design, instead of paying the full ”$2000” for a professional. Most small businesses just don’t have it in their budget to shell out that much money for something like a design, $100 looks alot better to them. It all makes sense.


wrote the following on Monday December 12, 2005

To answer your question, I would say “both.”

Definitely get experience in the real world before doing any sort of serious freelancing … it will teach you more in two weeks than four years in school. In regards to specialization, I have mixed feelings. It is very important to be uber-geek knowledgeable in at least one area, but always try to learn about other technologies and techniques so you don’t become ignorant of the industry.

Hope this helps a bit.

Al aka Drill Sergeant

wrote the following on Tuesday December 20, 2005

I agree! Great article. This may sound redundant but it’s how I seperate myself from the (hack) bunch.

I think the mix up is in the hat you wear. The client is searching for a solution, of course at a cheap price. Your so desprate to make money that you bend at the first huff and puff. WRONG! Empahsize that you get what you pay for. You are the expert Regardless of who contacted who remember that. Whether it is a big company or mom and pop shop, you are their solution and people can see desperation. Education is a strong weapon in getting your worth. Learn about your audience. Research the pricing trend in your area. Internet prices are like blind dates. You get hypnotised by all the beauty and when it’s all said and done you say “It could have been better”.

Look! If your prospects knew ‘’What and How’’ they needed their design work, they wouldn’t bother with you. I am guilty of lowering my prices at times, but the key to justifying my crime is follow-up. I create the ongoing need of my services to my clients. I educate them and I explain every technical detail. This overwhelming wealth of information makes the client realize that they can not do it alone. They need someone who can see the entire project through without bothering or wasting there time. Stand out and reward yourself with consistency as being professional. On that note, if your a lone designer, network with people who have skills you need like accountants, financial advisors and most importanly other Designers.

Don’t be Desperate! Be a Designer! Regardless of experience level.

I really am a Drill Sgt
That’s another story!


wrote the following on Tuesday December 20, 2005

This is a great article. I appreciate the wealth of information which will help me greatly in not only getting what I’m worth, but thus supporting the design industry. Here’s to good designers who educate their clients!

Olajide Olaolorun

wrote the following on Saturday December 24, 2005

I won’t even lie, i used to charge less before, then i got mid range and now i am charging what i am worth. But back then, i had to charge less cause of competition and i had no other way to make money. I remember doing this site about 3 years or so ago for just $100 because i was desprate and another one for $150 and think about it, they were both eCommerce site, took a lot of my time and energy and i even knew the people which added much further into it.

You are probably thinking the sites aren’t anything professional, but they are… took my about 2-3 months for both of them and after that one of them was killed by an attack on the host and the owner was up my neck for it and since there was no backup i told them to go @#$% themselves cause thats not my problem… (i did however keep a backup of the site but not the store) :)

You cannot blame those who charge those amount, but in time they will get to see what they are doing and how they are silently killing themselves. Friend, family or not, if you do not have the $500+ base price for anything i’m doing for you, don’t even think about asking me for anything.. thats mine…

Since a price can’t be fixed on anything, there will always be people willing to charge less. For my greatest client, i charged $0 cause its my church, but for others, its $500 for the base web design and addtional prices for backend and whatever else is needed. Either from flash to graphic design.


wrote the following on Monday July 24, 2006

Elance is not only a scam company they will steal your money.

I have me self registered under my private name and posted a simple sql installation. Job was done fast and professional from a romanien developer. After I think is time to outsource other complex jobs with coldfusion component, I wired money (2000CHF) and try to post other job. I come back two days later to my elance account but with my big surprise my account was “expired” I try to contact service and marketmaker but nobody give me feedback about this issue, I try to call customer phone number but anyone take the phone up. I send other email but they remain without answer. I think is the biggest organized fraud in internet in today marketplace that profit from self relevance, positioning, from ads disguised as editorial and from thousend of blogs that speack about in bona fide.


jim lemons

wrote the following on Tuesday July 25, 2006

I am still tyring to find work after ‘the fall’ so to speak. I can’t get work because people think I will want too much money and hire newly graduated designers at 8 bucks an hour. My 15 years of work is useless and I can’t even sell an illustration for 100 dollars. So as an ex-illustrator and designer(the DISH network logo amoung others)I now work as a underpaid laborer doing lawn and garden work and getting assistance from the gov’t to feed my son. I would love to make money with the skills I worked hard for many years to earn and develop, but when I send out resumes I never even get a note back saying Hey U, FO even!

Gabe Goodwill

wrote the following on Tuesday July 25, 2006

Great article and it pretty much sums up my feelings about Elance (esp. globalization).

Jim, you have mad illustration and print design skills, don’t give up. It could just be you’re applying in the wrong industry or area and may have better luck elsewhere. Illustration skills like yours could be applied to many, many things.

I’m most likely going back to school, probably focusing on an in demand game industry position. Luckily I have the luxury of doing this. After being laid off 4 times in the last 5 years from all my design/print/web/very-loosely-related-to design/print jobs I think I should take it as a sign.

Matt Collins

wrote the following on Tuesday July 25, 2006

This is all very true and only seems to be worsenening over time. I graduated about a year ago with a BS of multimedia w/ an emphasis in Digital Art and Design… Now I find myself running a Xerox IGen3 for ridiculous wages… I also do some freelance graphic design work that I have previously grossly undercharged for. I am absolutely SICK of people looking for high end design for insanely low prices. It also seems that when you charge low prices, people expect to get what they would normally have to pay thousands of dollars for. They just do not appreciate anything you do, because it seems they think they are getting cheap design. I haven’t had a chance yet to charge full price yet, but I Imagine that the people who will pay, know what you go through and will RESPECT your work.

Also, I don’t want to get out of the design industry at all. I love it but the whole pricing wormhole thing is really pissing me off. I am working to correct this and I think that what the Drill Sgt. said above is some excellent advice. Though the real difficulty in that for my area is finding those clients that will truly pay that… So many people I find don’t give a *#@% what their designs look like and just want it cheap (and won’t have it any other way). I suppose that some advertising will be necessary in very oversaturated markets.

If any designers who read this live in the Denver-Boulder Metro area or in Colorado, please e-mail me. I am looking into starting a design collaborative project. I don’t care wether you’ve just graduated or have been in the industry for many years. I’d just like to get to know some people that could work with me on this collaborative effort. I know you’re out there and probably undercharging right now.

If you want to take a look at my resume/portfolio, the password for the pdf is open.

-Matt Collins

Matt Collins

wrote the following on Tuesday July 25, 2006

Forgive me, I had entered my email in the form and I thought that it would post it. Anyway, it is for those who wish to contact me.

-Matt Collins

Gabe Goodwill

wrote the following on Tuesday July 25, 2006

Oh, I forgot my initial reason for writing. I thought it was so ironic that there’s a Google ad for $199 websites at the bottom of this article. LOL. I know they’re targeted ads but still…

Jill C

wrote the following on Wednesday July 26, 2006

This article and comments apply equally to writers. eLance, Freelance Work Exchange, Guru, et al are full of writers who are willing to professionally prostitute themselves and drag down the market for the rest of us. And don’t forget Craigslist. It’s full of advertisers who want free or ultra-cheap labor – like one so-called ‘Christian’ publisher who wanted inspirational articles with the only compensation being ‘spreading the word.’ Oh please. Presumably the publisher intended to sell and profit from others’ work. Wake up, creatives. It’s time to stop working for McWages and get some self-respect. You’ll be glad you did.

Patrick Mallek

wrote the following on Thursday July 27, 2006

Companies who are looking for a $100 logo aren’t going to be around in five years anyways, so don’t bother with them. Successful businesses understand the power of good branding and know it is an investment into the future of their company. Real clients invest in their websites and logos because they know the return wil be 10,000 fold.

People used to go to the local “quick print shop” for cheap logos and business cards, now they go online. Control your clients and you will control your wage.

Drixon Sparks

wrote the following on Saturday July 29, 2006

Thanks for posting this article, I hope more designers find this article. One thing that I wish to add is that I have seen this practice accepted and handed down to students at my College (4 year school). I’m not sure if this article is including non-graduate students, but this event gave me and my fellow students the impression that it is okay to do free work. Basically, in one of my Junior/Senor level classes we had a branding assignment with a real client and I’m not just talking a logo with a few swatches. It was to include the whole spankin’ Identity with letterhead, website layout, and branding book for $0. To top it off they got to pick from 24 students which one they wanted.

It actually made it hard to work on the project, it just seemed wrong, they should have given us something for our efforts, or told us that this was not to be done outside school. Who knows, maybe I’m just greedy since we had to do a project anyway. The gist of it is that this gave the impression that free work was okay, forgetting in the background that it hurts the entire design field by devaluing there work. It probably made it worse that previous to attending this class I listened to a podcast by Be A Design Cast, that also discussed this matter. (

My instructor was great. I just felt it was a bad example for the already very limited business education we recieve.


wrote the following on Saturday July 29, 2006

Drixon — that is very disappointing to hear. Even in my school there was no thought toward the business side of design. This clear defect in design education is really hurting the industry. Too many designers enter the market as freelancers with no clue how to conduct themselves in a business situation.


wrote the following on Sunday July 30, 2006

I can’t even get a job for $8/hr. You need years of experience just to land the most paltry jobs. Maybe if the industry would loosen up a little and go by a persons portfolio instead of how much time you’ve spent in a design firm, you wouldn’t have people taking jobs for $100. Until then I gotta eat.


wrote the following on Monday July 2, 2007

** THANK YOU! **
There is not enough written on this topic. I was beginning to wonder if I was being foolish by upholding my prices to cover my overhead, my education, and use of my talents…I’m really disappointed that AIGA and GAG haven’t seriously addressed this issue. It becomes harder to charge as more designers fall prey to the so-called easy money these sites promise. I am saddened to see some good work on these sites. Seeing that hurts us all.

I think by using these sites you also risk seriously devaluing your work to yourself. Once you tell yourself you’re only (worth) X…well, its all over, isn’t it?

Please: don’t use these sites!

Kayle Simon

wrote the following on Thursday April 3, 2008

I only heard of elance recently, when a client forwarded an email about what he should be paying for web and logo design and suggested using it. I found it very hard to search in, pretty hit or miss, and most of the work graphically terrible, but that is the case with most web work out there…they call themselves designers but they are more programmers with little design experience. However, I needed an illustrator to create a certain kind of vintage engraving look, and as i didn’t know one in my area, I posted the job on elance….but am perfectly willing to pay a fair price for talent, and not take the lowest bidder, as this artwork will be for my personal use and I want it high end. Some of the talent there does seem to price high…and they are making the most dollars on the site and seem to be worth their fees, just as I am worth mine. So perhaps it’s not just eLance itself we should “never” use, but we should always use talent respectfully and pay according to it’s actual value. I have no interest in competing with the low-end designers willing to do a logo for $100…there will always be clients who want something for nothing, you will never change that. When someone asks me why I have a $2,500 base price for logo work, I just tell them, because I’m not interested in working for companies who do not put at least that much thought and value into their brand. If you want a quick logo that will add very little value to your company, that’s perfectly fine, but that is not a service I offer.

These comments do make me value my market in the Baltimore Washington corridor…lots of clients, lots of work. I did not realize just how lucky I am. Hang in there, fellow designers…it’s still the best job on the planet, or at least the best job that doesn’t involve actually saving lives.

Adrian | Rubiqube

wrote the following on Thursday April 10, 2008

One of the AdSense links points to GetAFreelancer. This is why I think AdSense can be bad for business. No real control.

Here you are making a great argument and AdSense stabs you in the back. ;)

Your Boss

wrote the following on Monday April 28, 2008

Here’s a point of view from someone who started out as a wide-eyed designer back in the salad days of the dot-com boom, and then went on to start a couple of companies.

Regrettably, I have almost NO respect for “designers” these days. Why? Because of the sickening sense of entitlement most carried over from the dot-com boom. Thousands of designers are nothing more than stay-at-home, part-timers with very little talent. Back in the days, if you could fog a mirror, you could be a designer. NO, NO, NO!! The market will pay for good design. And for all the mediocre talents out there, go back to a real job. You never truly were a designer.

We hire from craigslist, elance, and guru, and I can’t tell you the amount of bad design we sift through. Maybe 2 people out of 100 have what it takes (to be deserving of making REAL MONEY). The rest are pretenders. In fact, we recently started doing the design creative in-house. That way, we can just hire code monkeys from india or pakistan to implement html, flash, php, etc. It’s much more time efficient and less frustrating.

You have this same cyclical phenomenon in Real Estate (as the bubble moved from clicks to bricks). With the prospect of new easy money to be made, all the stay-at-home, part-timer designers ran out and became realtors.

The days of easy money are done for those less talented. Get a real job. It’s called free market capitalism. It’s not an entitlement program. It may be harsh, but it’s reality. And you wonder why company’s demand full performance at half pay? Because they are paying REAL MONEY. The cost of your time (in reality) is FREE. Sure, anyone can turn lead into gold during boom times, but during lean times, get a real job. The sad reality is, you never were a real designer. You just played one on TV.

Remember, I used to be one of you. Then, I became a businessman. Now I understand both sides, and guess what? Design is worth what the market is will to pay. And most designers are talentless. Money is real. The fine hardworking young man mowing my lawn works 10Xs harder than that at-home designer punching computer keys in their underwear.

As a designer, I too encountered that feeling of entitlement. I designed a few websites back in the day. And that was a time when people were willing to pay 100k to a work-at-home hack. And after slaving for months, I would begin to resent it. I was infected with a sense of entitlement. It turned out, I enjoyed spinning my FREE time into GOLD, but I HATED actually doing the web design work for other people. So, I designed a couple of websites for my own interest, launched the companies, and sold them within a couple years. I hinted to family and friends to stop using me as their in-house tech support. So, if you’re unhappy with the state of being a designer today, go out and start a business. A real business. The salad days of the dot-com boom are long gone. The pay will not get better unless you are a rockstar (and if you are, this post is not directed at you, since you’re in the top 1%). Web design has been reduced to a commodity. Hoping things will get better is like Dell hoping the price of computers will skyrocket again. Or AOL hoping dial-up access will make a comeback.

Anne Stewart

wrote the following on Tuesday April 29, 2008

Wow, only after reading this post did I notice it was written five years ago. It could have been written yesterday, as me and my colleagues still sit around and gripe about the exact same thing.

The truth, though, is that the the bust has given rise to the rebirth of the small business, and hence the small business service industry. In a time when everyone wants design, everyone can be a designer.

And re: comments posted by “Your Boss” – even “rockstars” these days aren’t what they used to be. Maybe we are all making less, but at least more of us are making it.

Nathan Thompson

wrote the following on Thursday February 12, 2009

As a designer, I have to say that the world is changing. Between 99designs and elance, our skills and business models are changing.

It seems to me though, that all of this may not be a bad thing. Competition is always good, and it brings out the best, and worst in people. The reality, as I see it, is that all of this competition will force people to either improve their skills or fall behind. Sure there are people in India who will be willing to do logos for the price of a pair of jeans, but companies who use that logo will be getting what they pay for.

Let’s assume that there’s a designer in India who actually is talented. Let’s say he’s as good as someone over here who works full time in a design studio. Let’s assume that because of the market in India, his best use of his talent and exposure to the market is doing sweat shop design online. Because he’s good, he ends up being successful. After a while, based on his success, he will be able to increase his rate and charge more for his services. Assuming he continues down this road, his relative rate has no limits. As his portfolio improves, he is able to find clients who are willing to pay more for better work. After a few years, he might be able to open up a design studio and start charging what the rest of us do.

Just because he started on the bottom doesn’t mean that he’s going to stay there. It really is up to him and his skill and the market to decide. The only thing that would happen to slow his progress would be a lack of businesses needing his services. So long as there exist businesses who see the value in good design, there is no need for concern.

In addition, those other designers in India who aren’t any good and don’t improve stay right where they’re at. And there will always be plumbers and community organizations that will need design for nothing. But real designers have had a hard time living off them anyway, even before the internet.

Sure there will be those corporations that try to cut corners by hiring designers on the cheap. But those kind of businesses are most likely making similar cost cutting moves that will eventually bring the business down. They skimp on safety or other services and pretty sure their reputation is down the tubes. And in a capitalistic free market, if one business buys a cheap logo, the next business will probably spend a little more to beat that logo. And so on.

So while I understand how scary this can be, I do think that it simply means that designers need to find where there skills really are and be good at them and the market will do the rest. The good ones will be rewarded, the bad ones will go away. That’s all there is to it.

The only other option, which I know still goes around, is to turn the design profession into a guild or union, in which the industry regulates itself. I think this would be a huge mistake, especially if it ever tries to go so far as the legal profession and makes it against the law to practice without a ‘license’ from the ‘board’.

As for the saturation of talent, again I think the market model works here as well. If there are too many designers and no enough work, then people will stop being designers. Why would people want to work in a field doesn’t pay? If the price drops too low, they will seek employment in another industry and, like magic, those who stay get to charge more. It’s all supply and demand.

And good work will always be in demand.

Peter B.

wrote the following on Thursday July 2, 2009

In my opinion and after reading some of the comments here, this problem is not about educating our customers or stay competitive but a conflict between different world economies.

Time brings the world closer… but too close can be a problem. So Graphic Designer Imran from India can make a logo for $100.00, and so is Hung from China and outbid a proposal for $350 -$2,000 as in the article above.

The problem is that many years ago business would go overseas to develop their products at a fraction of a cost if they would manufactured at home. I will get back on this thought in a moment…

So, Imran and Hung don’t live in the US and $100.00 for a logo is a decent (if not lucrative) business and can earn a good living if they are talent and responsible. Peter in the other hand leaves in the US and can’t keep up with his expenses if were to have same income as Imran and Hung.

Now let me go back to the overseas thought… Our communication specially the internet had somehow brought the world together. The problem is that we are experience the same as when the US business began shift their manufacturing needs overseas, but now we are talking about our services too.

As Us government began their concern with the shifting jobs overseas situation they will eventually need to have a look at these new form of competition that is presenting as if Imran and Hung were our next door design studio.

Carl Greco

wrote the following on Monday November 16, 2009

Great Article!
This is a big problem. I created an entire branding identity for a client who has a chain of restaurants. The other day he sent me an e-mail attachment of a sign he created using my elements. Of course it was done horribly. I told him not do do that again because it undermines everything I’ve been trying to do for him. I had to actually re-do it to show him how much better it could be.(of course on my own dollar, but I thought it was worth it to show him the difference and if he asks for it, then I will charge him). His response was that he was over budget for the year and he was trying to save money.

I’ve worked freelance for the last 4 years, prior to that at a bunch of agencies. Another problem I’ve experienced is full-time employees being mad that as a freelancer you’re getting paid more then them.
I had this one woman make comments like “You freelancers get paid to much” One day I took her aside and said, “Don’t you understand that you want me to get paid as much as possible?” She looked dumbfounded. I said, “If you get fired from here, don’t you want to know that you could go out there and make the same? Wouldn’t you rather come up to my pay instead of me coming down to yours? It’s stupid that you make those comments. I we supposed to undercut each other until we’re all making 5 bucks an hour.”

Professional sports has the right idea. Don’t get mad. Get even.(compensation-wise)

On another note, a couple of years ago I got a freelance gig that I couldn’t do because I already had a full-time freelance gig. I sent it to a friend and told him that I would give him the gig on the condition that he charge at least $75 per hour. He said that he couldn’t do it because the most he ever charged was $35. He said he was uncomfortable charging that much. I told him that if I found out he was charging less, I would never send anything his way. He went in and asked for it and got it. A month later he couldn’t be happier when he was pulling $5,000 checks out of his mailbox.

I think we need a union or agents!
“You want me to do it for how much? Yeah, you’re going to have to talk to my agent” Ha!


wrote the following on Tuesday February 23, 2010

You’re finally starting to learn design isn’t nearly as valuable as many other services. Congrats burning money money getting educated in a joke field of study.

As an engineer I laugh heartily at your rant.


wrote the following on Wednesday March 3, 2010

It’s true that clients approaching a designer for professional design is like going to a lawyer for legal advice.

But considering that to be ‘accredited’ in design, a person can simply attend a 6 month course for less than $10,000. To become a certified lawyer, one has to go through 4+ years of university and regional certifications costing $100,000+.

Thus, $10/h seems like a fair amount from such ‘education.’ Ultimately, it is unfortunate that clients don’t see the true value of creative works.


wrote the following on Friday March 19, 2010

I’m all for unionizing the profession. This, to me, is the only way to force both clients and professionals to be more ethical.

The question of $10/hr being fair or not is ridiculous. Babysitters and housekeepers get that much with no training at all.

Actors and writers have been unionized for quite some time and I’ve never heard complaints from them about being undercut to the point of absurdity. It might happen, but it’s not defining the field in the way graphic design is suffering.

The value of the service is determined by the quality of the product and the return a client receives on investing in the product. You wouldn’t see a multinational company getting their logo done for $100 because they have skilled marketing people who understand the money-making power of good design, and are willing to pay for it.

When the pirates are removed from the equation by having a union watch our backs, the balance will be regained.

Joel Urbina

wrote the following on Saturday July 17, 2010

Great article! It’s a tough subject, but every new design graduate should have to sit down and read it!

Jessica Port

wrote the following on Saturday September 4, 2010

To “Anonymous”:

Regarding your statement about design being “a joke field of study“– you are incredibly ignorant of how much of your day-to-day life is effected by design.

Take a bit of time to learn about the design field (it is a hell of a lot more than just mastering the tools of the trade [i.e. adobe software]). If we devalued the role that engineers play in our world, things around us would fall apart and not function properly. The same goes for designers’ effect on our environment, marketplace, culture, knowledge / information, etc. Not important, eh?

To the author:
Thank you for the blog post. The topic is still relevant, perhaps even more so now in 2010.

I am a soon-to-be graduate from Rhode Island School of Design, and am thinking about my potential future as a freelancer in today’s down economy. I cringed at the hourly pay for design internships, and hate to recall that I made more money as an uneducated office worker previous to my life as a designer.

Still a relavant discussion.

wrote the following on Friday February 24, 2012

2012 and this post still is relevant. It hasn’t changed for the better. Our profession has been downgraded to a $10 and hour job. The fashion industry is notorious for paying very little to graphic designers. Its the industry you look for steady work in when you get desperate, but for some reason the pay is awful but they want top quality work for their wares.

Another thought on this was how design education is still expensive if not more so, per year to gain a degree in design, but our profession, our salaries are taking enormous hits.

At this point design schools are still functioning with the expectation that you will work in a steady design firm or company competing with local talent for jobs.

But they are not preparing students for globalization, what is a degree worth then. Its starting to be a con.

I got my design education at an art school back when globalization and downgrade rates were not even thought of. The worst part of a design school is that they do NOT prepare you for best business practices so you can be a true professional right out of college. Its an imbalance – higher education costs are not at par with whats going on in our field anymore.

Which leads me to think that they are afraid to discuss it with students. We’re competing with non-designer designers. And students are entering a design field very green and thus that lack of professional business world training is what is allowing graduates to take Elance or Freelancer dot con sweatshop-like jobs.

And AIGA doesn’t speak about it or the Art Directors Guild. You won’t read about this crisis in any big name design magazine or publication.

What can we do about it. We have to demand our worth. The solution is in the problem, but I am not really seeing it. All I can do is continue to seek companies and organizations, clients that understand the value of a designer.

But the more and more new companies are created, maybe even new industries, they will only have Elance/Freelancer as a point of reference as to the value of our profession.

(Sorry if my grammar is a bit off, I’m stream-writing and have no time to edit, thanks)


wrote the following on Monday April 21, 2014

Reading the comments on this page is like looking through a time capsule (and here I am making a time stamp in 2014). Some things have gotten better, at least since 2005. Due to the still remaining aftermath of the “Great Recession” (which ironically, was influenced by globalism discussed here), the market still doesn’t pay big, but it doesn’t look quite as dire as some lamenting I’ve seen here from the early 2000s!
Through our adaptation to the times, of course , and I have a feeling that game design and some forms of programming will take the next hit (programming already has started, technically), absorbing some of our frustrations. Elance is still around, but some other pages here aren’t around anymore. Globalization is still here, however, and I’m wondering how this will further influence the economy, and if the whole world will actually equal out pricing in different countries (If Americans and Indians will be getting paid the same) in the next few decades or centuries. This thread on this old blog post has really got me thinking about some things!