Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Addison Duvall, author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.
If you’ve ever come across a client (or 20) who refuses to pay you what you know you’re worth, you might start to think that there’s no one out there who knows the value of good design. And you’re definitely not alone – so many designers compete on price that those who want to compete on quality often feel left out.
Many non-designer clients just don’t see what the big deal is about design, and they’ll often go for the cheapest, rather than the best. In this article, we’ll explore a few theories on why that is, and what designers can do about it.
Designing the Unknown
The good news is that people love design. According to the results of this design attitudes research done by MarketingWeek, people know that good design is effective and necessary, yet for some reason, they don’t personally feel it’s worth paying for.
There are several reasons why that might be, but, arguably, the most important has to do with psychology. People, at large, like to believe that they are creative on some level, even if their profession has absolutely nothing to do with design whatsoever.
As long as designers are up against this kind of overconfidence, they will always encounter non-designer clients who will not only try to intervene in the design process (the dreaded “design by committee”), but who will also insist that your services aren’t worth as much as you say they are.
The Paradox of an Awesome Design
Design isn’t like accounting or IT. There is no consensus on what constitutes a “good” design, thus we don’t really know how to objectively value it. Also, since design is a lot more creating than accounting, people are often at awe yet still skeptical of a designer’s ability. They may think ‘Wow, what a great design,’ while simultaneously thinking ‘it can’t be that hard to do, can it?’
This is the dark side of creating simple, clean and elegant designs. They look so easy, and yet a non-designer has no idea how much blood, sweat, and tears went into coming up with them.
When people think they can do your job as ‘well’ as you can, they aren’t going to value it as highly, no matter how much you explain the process. Of course, it isn’t all the clients’ fault. The design community has a well-known problem with designers undervaluing and underpricing their own work, and by consequence, decreasing the market value of design in general.
Pricing has a lot to do with how much people value something. The more designers are able to charge, the more seriously they will be taken by their clients. Unfortunately, a lot of clients simply aren’t able to pay for quality design.
Many times, the people in charge of the design budget have no idea what actually goes into creating good design. They rely on the opinion of marketers or managers (again, non-designers) and end up underfunding the design because no one has any idea what design really is. Making design less of a mystery to clients is key to explaining exactly why they should be paying your standard rates.
Stand your ground
Standing your ground as a high-value designer is essential, especially when everyone else around you is caught in a bidding war for the cheapest prices. It might seem like common sense to simply give in and start offering your services for less than they’re worth, but this is actually the worst thing you can do.
Sure, you might pick up few clients over the next few months if you charge less than your worth, but in the long run, you might pigeonhole yourself into a pay bracket that you’ll never get out of. Once people know they can get your services fairly cheap, they’ll always want to get them for cheap, even if you’d like to raise your prices in the future.
It’s virtually impossible to go from being a low-priced designer to a high-priced designer while working for a client (or a certain type of client). If you suddenly begin charging your clients your standard rate after they’ve become used to a heavy discount, they’re going to laugh in your face, and possibly stop working with you.
Low-paying clients can be some of the most difficult to deal with, and the less you charge, the more demanding they seem to become. And no client is ever going to call you – their discount designer – when they have a high-budget project they need finished. They’re going to turn to someone who’s not afraid to charge top dollar for the highest-quality work. You can avoid this sad scenario by starting out at the top, rather than the bottom.
Get Your name Out There
Designers who focus on value over price are not only competing with those who are willing to work for cheap or even free, they are also being obscured by these designers’ superior marketing skills. In a dynamic and ever-changing market for design, clients will almost always hire the designers they have heard of, versus the ones they haven’t.
If you’re a developer who design software that can boost user efficiency by more than 200%, you can still be outsold by an inferior competitor if your promotional strategy isn’t up to speed. In this case, pricing isn’t even that important – the right market for your product will probably be willing to pay a premium for what you can offer them – if only they knew you existed.
How to Increase your Worth
Ask for it – if you’re one of the many designers who are uncomfortable increasing their prices, I challenge you to try it just once. If you’re confused about how to go about it, here’s a method you can use to increase your value as a problem-solver.
First, find clients who are willing to pay for quality (no more cheapsters – you can only haggle so much with low-budget clients). Never be afraid to ask for what you know your work is worth. Next (and this part is important), check out their company backgrounds and their target audiences to find out what kinds of marketing problems they have. Interview people if you have to. The more you know about your clients’ markets, the more detailed and valuable a solution you can provide them.
Of course, this means you’ll probably have to specialize in one or two markets, but that’s a good thing. Why? Because it lets you focus only on the clients you know best, which in turn lets you advance up the client ladder and increase your salary much faster. People are always looking for a personalized solution to their specific problems; provide them with one and you’ll have more work than you’ll know what to do with.
Have you had bad experiences with skeptical or low-paying clients? What methods have you used to resolve those issues? Share your experience with us.