On Thursday, our sister site PC Advisor published an article about 'crowdsourced' design market 99designs. We tweeted this to the design community for response, and Tom Actman, creative director at London-based design company, Mat Dolphin, contacted PC Advisor directly, wanting to set the record straight. We've republished Tom's piece here – which was written for the general public rather than just the design community we serve – though it's a very good read for next time you need to explain to a client why your services are worth what you're charging.
UPDATE 4/12/12: Following the reply from 99designs's Jason Aiken in the comments below, we invited 99designs to debate the issues raised here with Tom in a traditional 'back-and-forth' article. They declined.
"How to hire a graphic-design pro on the cheap" – I think it's fair to say you now know 10 words that when used together will rile every graphic designer across the land and make them all shifty and uncomfortable on an otherwise cold and brisk Friday morning. What I wanted to try and offer was a balanced response as to why every creative is currently hunched like a sinister cat, snarling in your general direction.
I came across the article and shared it via our @MatDolphin twitter account, knowing full well the witch-hunt that would ensue. Us creatives are well versed in this topic of conversation as it's something that keeps cropping up in the industry. Crowdsourcing sites have been popping up since the recession kicked in because demand equaled supply. People wanted what they felt was a safer and cheaper solution in looking the part, and as your article pointed out, the preconception is that 'pro' designers are expensive, and not always right. There's a bit more to it, and as always two sides to every tale.
At the beginning of the year we were thinking the end was near, spotting a company offering to create a logo for $42. And that included x2 rounds of amends! To get a better understanding of what a logo company like 99designs might deliver, we dug deep and coughed up the cash and commissioned one of them. We wanted to find out what the end result might be and what we'd get for our hard earned cash. In our 'How LO can you GO' review we covered our findings and the results. We never expected the result to be amazing, because what really can you expect to get for £25? Our findings were fairly obvious. The results weren't great; they'd missed some of our feedback; and we wouldn't have been able to use the files they supplied as they hadn't supplied them correctly. But we had a logo. And for some people that would have been fine.
Having been through the mill we stopped panicking as we knew this situation wasn't a problem we needed to worry about. Any designer of their worth reading your 'cheap' article would have, and should have just brushed it off. Anyone with any creative talent isn't in competition with 99designs and the like, because let's be frank, if they are then they may want to reconsider whether they're doing what they're best at. The same too can probably said for clients and we shouldn't be fearful of their eyes getting sidetracked by low cost offerings. Clients who value and realise the benefits of great design and communication won't be calling this type of service. They already know design is an investment for them and their customers.
Looking back at your article, the points which probably got everyone's backs up were the suggestions that using crowdsourced type services is a win win situation for the client and designer/s, and the fact that you can get pro skills 'on the cheap'. I won't even comment on 'such is the artist's life' that doing work and not getting paid for it is to be expected, as we're not talking about artists – we're talking about designers who provide a service. Overall the article was a damming view of our industry at a time we're supposed to be nurturing home grown talent and investing in our country's future.
If you want value, you have to pay money
The only thing us designers are really selling is our time and creativity. Time to think of great ideas and the know-how to execute them beautifully. The ability to use this time effectively requires some resources – an appropriate place to do the thinking/executing and the tools to assist the process. These things need to be paid for and we – the people doing it – need to live in paid-for accommodation, wear clothes, eat and occasionally sleep. So alongside the mechanics of the job itself, there are external factors we need to consider. However much we consider these factors, the truth of the matter is that most of the time, people want to pay less. And why wouldn't they? I want to pay less for things because, frankly, I want to keep as much of my own money as possible to spend on other things which I find too expensive.
We've long used the phrase: 'Good, fast or cheap. Pick any two.' Far from an ultimatum, this simple message conveys a few important things. Our time is one of our most valuable commodities. Our creativity is one of the reasons people choose to work with us. There may be certain compromises which have to be made on both sides of the designer/client relationship. We have a number of clients who all deserve our attention and we need a reason to allow 'queue jumping'. Much more than a witty soundbite that allows us to charge more money (because it certainly doesn't do that), the phrase is an incredibly useful tool in explaining the value of what we're selling.
At the end of the day (and when it comes to design and all manner of things in life) you get out what you put in. And that goes for investment or interest. Design is a collaboration. A collaboration to solve a problem visually. How can you best do that if you don't ever meet the person you're working with? How can you expect a designer to solve something correctly unless you let them immerse themselves into your world? Free pitching and the idea of working for a common goal just goes out the window if you let designers compete for your money.
Cheap logo services will always exist, because someone will always want a cheap logo. But if you want the job done properly, and to have a lasting working relationship with a creative individual who understands your needs and business, and is trained in solving a problem that you can't, then it's time to invest a little deeper and work out what value you put on the problem. You get what you pay for. If you're a creative then the thing to remember is concentrate on what you're doing and producing outstanding work. Cream always rises to the top, and you and your work will always get noticed.
'Finding a qualified designer was a huge chore" — and well it should be. Because when you find the right one you'll never want to let them go. Especially on cold mornings.