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Design should not be a commodity.

I recently saw a conversation in a Facebook group discussing price lists on design websites. The consensus was that including fixed or package prices on your site diminishes the value of your services as a designer. This got me thinking. Are designers who include price lists positioning themselves as a commodity?

What is a commodity?

Let me share three definitions of a commodity that I found online.

  1. A commodity is a physical substance, which is interchangeable with another product of the same type.
  2. A commodity is a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors other than price.
  3. A commodity is a good for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.

Do any of those pertain to design? Are the designs you create easily interchangeable with designs from other designers? Are the services you offer so widely available from other designers that it diminishes the importance of your skills on every level other than price? Are the services you provide without qualitative differentiation from those of other designers?

If you answered yes to any of those questions then maybe you’ve positioned yourself as a commodity. If you have, I’m telling you right now that you need to change the way you think about your skills and your services. Especially if you offer your services as “package deals” or fixed prices based on the services you provide because all that does is diminish the value you bring to your clients.

What is Design?

Without getting too philosophical, design is simply a solution to a problem.

Clients come to you because they have a problem to solve. They need an identity for their business. They have a product they need to market. They need to generate leads, they need to increase awareness for their brand, they need to convert sales. These are all problems your clients face. Your job as a designer is finding the most appropriate solution to those problems.

You know the saying “think outside the box”? That’s where you are, and it's why clients hire you. Because you are “outside their box”. You have a different perspective then they do about their business, and they are looking to you for solutions to their problems.

There’s a catch. When it comes to design, there is no one solution. Every designer out there will come up with their unique solution to any giving problem. That means that the solutions vary in quality and price depending on what designer a client chooses. It’s a case of “you get what you pay for”.

Back in episode 71 of the podcast, I talked about Good Design, Quick Design or Cheap design and how you can only offer two at a time to a client. How are you supposed to provide solutions to your client’s unique problems if you limit yourself to the cost of a predefined design package? When you do, you’ve already chosen one of the three options, cheap design.

Design should be a consultancy process. As a designer, your job is not to do what the client asks you to do. Your job is to get to know your client, understand their business, find out what their goals are, study their products, learn their process. Once you know everything you need to know about your client, your job then shifts to providing designs to your client that specifically addresses their problem.

Making a visually pleasing website that’s also user-friendly, or making a brochure that stands out amongst the rest is icing on the cake. It’s a byproduct of everything you do for your clients. Your primary job should always be to help your clients succeed in their goals, whether that’s generating leads, or generating conversions. You do that by using your skills as a designer to help your clients.

Clients are not hiring you for a logo, a brochure or a website. They may think that’s why they are hiring you. But in fact, they are hiring you for your knowledge, your experience and your ability to help them with their problem through the use of proper design. Your design skills are merely the tool you use to complement those goals.

When you start thinking about yourself and your business in this way. You’ll realise that

  1. Fixed pricing or package deals are not a way to grow a successful design business
  2. You are worth more than you give yourself credit.

Design is like a fine dining experience.

Think of going to a nice restaurant. The cost of your meal is more than merely the food you eat. You are also paying for everything from the time it took to prepare, to the skills of the chef or cook, to the presentation of the plate, to the atmosphere of the restaurant, to the service and experience they provide you from before you walk in their door to long after you leave.

The same applies to your designs. Your client isn’t just paying for a logo. They’re paying for everything that goes into the designing of that logo and everything they will get out of that logo design.

Continuing with the analogy, fixed pricing, package deals, cheap design, or crowdsourced designs are akin to fast food restaurants. The meals are fast and cheap, and yes they fill an immediate hole by satisfying one’s hunger. But what’s missing when you get fast and cheap? You're missing the GOOD.

There is no long-term benefit to fast food. In fact, there are many proven negative impacts to eating fast food. The same goes for any time design decisions are based on price and price alone. The designs may fill an immediate hole, but they will fail to satisfy long-term growth for a business.

Clients who make their design purchases based on price have no idea about the process that goes into good design, or it’s potential contribution to their business strategy. They see design as a commodity.

What is Creativity?

Here are two definitions of creativity that I found online.

  1. Creativity is the ability to generate innovative ideas and manifest them from thought into reality. The process involves original thinking and then producing.
  2. Creativity is the ability to produce something new through imaginative skill, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.

Do you hear those words? Innovative, Original, New, Imaginative, Artistic. These are not words that associate with a commodity.

Creativity and Design allow every designer to create qualitative differences between their works. It’s inevitable. That’s the exact opposite of the definition of a commodity. The challenge facing you is how to teach that to your clients.

Unfortunately, clients often don’t know what good design is. Therefore, how can they understand the value in it?

Here’s the issue, bad designs stands out like a sore thumb to the point where even non-designers take notice and recognise what bad design is. However, when something is designed well, it becomes so seamless that it often goes unnoticed. In other words, the better your designs are, the more natural they will feel, and the more natural they feel, the more they will go unappreciated.

Take a well-designed website for example. People who visit the site don’t often notice the aesthetics or user experience. That’s because a lot of thought and design went into those sites to make them feel natural to the user.

What visitors will remember is how easy the site was to navigate and how they felt while visiting it. But they don’t attribute that to design.

Visit a poorly designed site on the other hand, and visitors will notice every little thing that bothers them. Only when design gets in their way will people take notice of it. That’s why it’s so hard to explain to clients the value of good design. They’re not used to seeing the value in good design because when it’s done correctly, it goes unnoticed.

When a client fails to see the value of your services, when they can’t see the difference in what you can offer them compared to the next designer, then to them, design becomes about price. It becomes a commodity.

As a designer, you need to find a way to point out this flawed logic to your clients. You need to make them understand the value you’re offering them.

We live in a world where it is so easy to get a decent design. Not necessarily good design but at least decent design. Sites that offer design contests, crowdsourced design or easy DIY designs are popping up everywhere. Almost every part of the design process can now be outsourced or done cheaper. Like it or not, there will always be someone, somewhere that charges less than what you charge for design.

To most clients, who don’t understand the value of good design, paying less for a decent design sounds like a great way to save money. Once again, They are viewing design as a commodity.

Don’t people often judge things by the packages they come in? Doesn’t the perception of something being better often lead to the belief that it is better? Have you ever chosen something a bit more expensive from the grocery store shelf just because the packaging made it look like it was better quality than the other similar items? That’s proof that design does matter, which means that it’s outside the realm of commodity status.

As more and more design sources become available to clients, many of them will make their decisions based on cost. This will lead many designers to compromise their skills, their experience, their knowledge, and compete based on price alone.

Believe it or not, that’s a good thing for you. Let those designers fight over who can do it cheaper. Let them diminish what they do and compete as a commodity.

As they do, you position yourself as a designer that does more than produce pretty pictures for a small fee. Position yourself as the expert designer that you are. As the solution to your client’s problems. Show clients how good well thought out designs outperform bad designs every time. Show them the value it delivers, and they will become loyal clients for life.

Charge appropriately for that value you provide them. Even if you charge more than the other designers around you.

When you show your clients that design is an investment in their business and not just an expense like the paper in the copier, the lamps on their desks or the coffee maker in the break room. When they view it as an investment, that’s when you will find them investing in you, regardless of the cost.

Have you ever thought of design as a commodity?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Meg

I'm thinking about taking a fast track graphic design course this summer. The course teaches Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and illustrator as well as printing and publishing. Once completed you're given a certificate of achievement.

The course sounds really good  to me because I enjoyed using Adobe during school.

But I worry once I complete the course, I won't be able to find a job in graphic design.

Or if I do find a job, I worry that I'll be stressed or anxious under pressure!

Do you think it's possible for a graphic designer to be successful if they can't come up with a design without inspiration first?

To find out what I told Meg you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Brandmark Tools

This week's resource is a suite of tools by Brandmark. Their free AI-powered design tools help you with colour and font ideas and a few other things.

Logo Rank

The Logo Rank Tool allows you to analyse any logo and gives you a rating based on uniqueness, legibility, colour/contrast as well as an overall score.It’s also useful for telling you how close it matches to any stock icon or image.

Font Generator

The Font Generator Tool shows you font pairings for Google Fonts. Find a font to match the one you already have or find pairs that work well together.

Logo Crunch

The Logo Crunch Tool lets you shrink a logo for use as a favicon or App icon while doing some impressive “fixes” to it.

AI Color Wheel

The AI Color Wheel tool automatically colour your graphics for you, allowing you to test out various colour pallets.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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