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19th August 2015

#Branding #Design

If I cast my mind way, way, way back to Economics lectures at University, I vaguely remember the Karl Marx theory on value. A quick google search refreshes my memory and simply put, “the value of a commodity can be objectively measured by the average number of labour hours required to produce that commodity”.

As a design agency, we hope that with good design far more value is added than just the time taken to design something… although that’s typically how jobs are quoted for. We hope however that the work created and added value that goes into the design whether it’s a website, brand, brochure will reap far more than the initial investment across its lifetime.

We all know that a well designed house will increase in value and sell quicker, well designed airports provide a better experience and well designed offices make for more productive employees. There’s no finite method for valuing design and there’s certainly no coherent or consistent understanding of value that design creates. It’s intangible. You can buy a logo design for £199 or you can spend £4,000 and even at the £199 you’ll find people say phaw!

You’re not buying a pair of jeans (or a car) so it’s hard to understand that price difference.

Design Value Experiment

We recently had an enquiry for a logo design and we bravely did a risky little experiment…

It was for a start up business, a ‘one man band’ service provider. I do not want to go further into details as I do not want to potentially embarrass the individual should they stumble across this blog. Anyway, we were approached for a logo design and the work was needed very quickly on a tight turnaround. Having asked a few questions, we were well underway in a matter of hours and turned the job around in two days. Amazing. They were very pleased with the final logo and chuffed it was done so quickly and painlessly….

I then did something very risky, I wanted to do an experiment to see how value is placed on design. I said to this individual, instead of sending an invoice for our normal price (which to be fair, the client did not know), we said, we are going to provide our bank details and we want you to pay us what you think this job was worth.

Included in that email we listed everything we did from start to finish as well as a break down of man hours of what it took to come up with ideas, put the logo designs onto screen for presentation, develop the chosen logo and then make necessary adjustments according to the client’s feedback in order to supply the final logo and files. We then sat back and waited patiently.

At first we had radio silence but then we got a payment… it turned out that the amount we got paid amounted to less than half of minimum wage, £2.20 per hour actually. The funny thing is that after the payment arrived, the client seemed to be apologetic and is now quite shy in asking for further work to be done. I wonder if this stems from an understanding that they have undervalued the work…. I wonder what rate of pay they deem acceptable to get out of bed in the morning for.

Maybe I should call this blog “how to lose designer friends and alienate people?

How do people place value on value design?

That is such a loaded question and there are so many factors that affect this. We can ask a few questions to help get us closer to the answer.

  • Have they commissioned design before and had an insight into the design industry and how some of it’s participants play the game?
  • It depends on who is buying the logo, a start up business or a national company where the stakes are higher.
  • Who is doing the work, a freelancer with no overheads or an agency backed by a team with experience. Is the client aware of this difference, it’s your £50 jeans versus your £150 jeans.
  • How much time is going to be invested in the project? Is it a straightforward, very simple company or proposition or it is going to be a complex brand development for international markets where the brand needs to adapt to varying levels of brand application from way finding to packaging and so on.

It keeps boiling down to time… whether that’s time invested on the project or time invested in building up years of experience. So Mr Karl Marx, maybe your theory extends to service based businesses too.

If you’re in the process of buying design services and you have questions about how a price has been quoted, always ask your designer as I’m sure they won’t bite. If they do then maybe you haven’t quite found the right fit.