Why Don't People Want to Pay for Design? Designers.

So, you're meeting a potential client for the first time. Everything is going well, conversation is flowing, you've identified their requirements, and you're keen to get started on a proposal that you're sure will land you a gig, until you hear these words:

"I don't have much of a budget, but this will look great on your portfolio."

The wind has officially left your sails. After you get home you call your friend: "People just don't get design!" "People devalue our profession!" "If they'd only get educated about the benefits of design!" et cetera. You would, of course, be right, but here's the thing: It's all our fault.

How are we responsible?

Businesses don't understand the value of design because of us, not in spite of us. They have every day design related needs they're quite willing to pay for that aren't being met, and instead of visiting our sites and finding solutions, they are being met with fluff: pointless weather app redesigns that did really well on behance, disney-esque UI interactions, and (insertsitehere).com material conversions. These are all things that our clients don't want or need. It's hard to see the value of what we do when our portfolios are full of projects that create no value.

You wouldn't ask a plumber to work for free!

We designers love to compare ourselves to plumbers; "You wouldn't dare ask a plumber to work for free!" Now that's a fair point, but let's complete the comparison. Do plumbers spend their free time on plummmr.com patting themselves on the back for posting pictures of beautifully polished but ultimately pointless pipe configurations? Do they create hokey-yet-pretentious websites with three ridiculous lines of copy? (Hello. I'm Jake, brunch enthusiast and Kool-Aid sommelier. I also like to plumb things.) No. When you look up the web presence of a plumber, you almost always find an explicit list of the problems that they are going to solve for you. (I'm Jake the plumber. I fix leaky faucets, blocked pipes, and I retrieve lost jewelry from drainage ducts.) By doing this, they have immediately communicated their value; they have immediately informed you of what exactly you will be exchanging your hard earned money for. That's where we're falling short. We're not communicating the value of design. After all, we shouldn't expect our clients to care about design. That's our job. All we need our clients to recognize is that a good designer will help them appeal to their target demographic and sell more to them. If business owners don't know this, then we only have ourselves to blame. At the heart of it, we're salespeople, not artists. Every business has the time and capital for a salesperson, but not every business has the time, capital, or desire for an artist.

So, how do we fix this?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Only put meaningful work in your portfolio. If the piece doesn't solve a problem, it doesn't need to be facing people who don't understand the industry. Put it on dribbble instead.
  2. Describe the value created with each portfolio piece; describe the problem and how your work solved it.
  3. Describe your services on your website. Be clear about what you do.
  4. Clearly describe the benefits of your work. Make sure that clients understand that form is a result of function, that they are paying for more than prettiness.

If we work together as an industry, we can ensure that the value of our business is as well known as the value of a plumber. Future generations of designers will thank us.


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