#45: 4 Ways to Kill Your Design Soul

Have you ever finished a project for a client and felt dirty? Not like “Man, I did a ton of pencil sketches and boy are my hands dirty!” More like you hand over the project, they pay you, and you feel used. Have you resented a client and start to think you hate doing design?  In my experience you will always feel this way when a few things happen; you let the client determine your worth, you keep lowering your prices, you don’t know your worth so you give out a random prices and fail to put together a contact, and last, but definitely not least, you sign up to be one of a million other desperate designers who throw their names in a hat to “win” work on a spec job. These four things are a surefire way to hate your life as a graphic designer. Here’s some help on what they really are and how to combat them.

1.Do Spec work

What’s the big deal about spec work? Besides the fact that it ruins everything, spec work is the worst way to devalue our work as professional designers. Spec work can be a few different things. It can be some kind of logo contest, it could be submitting a fully fledged logo to a “client” who found you online and is giving you the “opportunity to win their business”, or it can be someone who offers to (in the words of SeanWes) pay you in exposure (“if you do it for free people will see your work and hire you”).
Spec work is any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees (nospec.com). It is a completely unethical way to do business. 
There are so many websites who are profiting from the desperation, inexperience, and frankly the ignorance of young designers. I won’t even reference the websites that peddle the $5 logo and use designers like cheap labor. Spec work is an insult to the craft that took me (and most professionals) thousands of dollars and years to learn to do right. Cheap logos sites are the graphic design equivalent of a sweat shop. If it took 25 hours (just an example) for a designer to create a logo, paying $5 for it equates to two cents an hour. This should not be acceptable. Designers should not be “rewarded” for their work if the client so chooses, they should be paid for their work and their time.
A client will pay for the things that they find value in, and if they don’t value  their brand presence and are fine with a logo that looks like clip art, then frankly, they should just make it themselves and not insult designers by dragging down the value of what we [professionals] do.
No industry works this way. No one tells a plumber to come and compete with another plumber to fix the plumbing and when they both do, the client decides which one will get paid, even though they both did the work. But this happens to designers all of the time people. People would think you’re crazy for trying to do this to a carpenter or plumber or mechanic.
Many young designers gravitate towards these sites because they think that it will give them a chance to have work for their portfolio.
The problem with this is that every single thing in that portfolio will be uninspired and tasteless. If you want your portfolio to be a bunch of mush then by all means do 99 logos for five dollars; but continue to do this and you will never be a valued designer.
As James Victore says, “You’ll never be a quality designer catering to a capricious client. One that says ‘Oh, I’ll know it when I see it.’ No, you will know it when I give it to you. The client is not always right.” It is our job as the designer to solve their problem, not give them a logo. If you are a young designer who needs work for their portfolio, do work for free, do work for friends or charge a decent rate for yourself, but NEVER do spec work. It is a “shortsighted, unvisionary way to work” ( James Victore). Unless you want the quickest way to graphic design hell, I beg you, avoid spec work at all costs.

2.Sell your work for $25

One of the biggest problems with our industry is not just that people expect to get great design quickly and for cheap, but that so many of us designers let it happen. We let it happen by not having confidence in our skills and convincing ourselves that no one will pay what we know we are worth. Often times it’s people in our lives who think we are just design snobs and scoff at the mere idea of paying more than they believe is reasonable. These negative opinions effect us more than we realize and they become our inner voice tearing down our sense of design and self worth.
There’s more “designers” than can be numbered that are selling themselves short. Maybe this is you, maybe you believe that you will get more work if you sell your logos for less. Maybe you only charge $100 for a logo, or $50, or less (God help you). I’m sure that you get more clients than I do, since I charge anywhere from $1,000-$5,000 for a branding/identity design.
But quantity does not ever equal quality. It will take you 20 clients paying $50/logo to make what I do on one quality client; a client that actually values what I do.  
The idea of quantity instead of quality does not make for a professional or a professional product. I can spend an appropriate amount of time going through my entire design process for that one client and have something I can be proud of. The right client will pay what you are asking and the only way to get these clients is to know your own worth.
Don’t think in terms of how many clients you can get but how many great relationships you can have. Not every client is a good client just because they will pay you.
If you take every client that has the nerve to only pay you $25 bucks for a logo it diminishes the respect that you will get. Your worth to the client is basically nothing.
Don’t sell  your services, your talents, your UNIQUE gifts, for less than a pair of jeans. People only value things they have to invest in.
Maybe you decide that you need the work/money/experience and you’ll increase your prices when you’re “more established”. Here’s the thing: how are you going to be paid a worthwhile price for your work in the future if all your clients have already passed the word around that you charge less than a decent outfit at Target? It’s going to be a hard sell to get people to pay you more than that.
I have little to no respect for a designer who charges low prices for a logo with no thought to the quality. The only way to find the best clients for you is to weed them out via a process and insist that each viable client prospect follow that process. Then stick to your guns, because if you say no to all the clients who only want the cheapest product, you will have the time and energy to devote to the few clients who will respect and pay you and will be a joy to work with for years to come. I assure you, they do exist.

3. Let your client determine your worth

What we do and what our work is worth is not and should not be shaped by what our client thinks. If a patron goes to an art gallery and sees a piece that they like, they don’t tell the owner or artist, “I know the sticker says $500 but I really only think it’s worth $200, if you want me to buy it, I’ll pay you $200.” No way, the owner of the gallery/the artist will wait until someone walks in and buys it at the price listed. This person is your client, the one that won’t haggle or hassle you or question why it costs so much. Although it is important that the client understand what they are paying for, once you have told them what the price is and what they are getting, they can either accept it or not. Your worth is not determined by your client.
Graphic design services are not something you barter for like something at a flea market or yard sale. 
There should be no bartering, your prices are yours to determine. When you let your client determine your worth, you stop caring about how great the design can be and you start caring about how quick you can get it done.
Recently I had a client ask me to reformat a design I did for them for a magazine ad. I told them I would be happy to do it and told them my price. They argued that the magazines ad department would “throw it in for free” but that they couldn’t do it without the original files (which I don’t give clients unless they pay extra for them) and proceeded to tell me that they didn’t think that what I was charging was fair. I very professionally told them that I will not discount my prices based on their assessment of what my work is worth. I charge what I charge and if they didn’t accept it and couldn’t work with me then I was sorry. I did not hear back from them. But honestly, I’m kind of glad; although they gave me some fun projects, with each project they were getting more and more demanding and kept trying to get me to lower my prices. Clients like this are not worth my time, and they shouldn’t be worth yours.
You may “lose” clients in the short term when this happens, but in the end you will be glad they aren’t taking up your precious time and causing you to doubt your value. Don’t be a pushover.

4.Don’t use contracts or accurate estimates

Another way to ensure you will hate your life as a graphic designer is to never use contracts or accurate estimates. This is a huge problem for designers. One reason it’s an issue is because of #1 and #2 on today’s list which both stem from not knowing your worth.
Estimates hinge on you having a clear and confident understanding of what your work is valued at to a client now and in the future.
If you don’t carefully calculate and you just send over an arbitrary cost assessment you will end up frustrated with the client, your project, and eventually yourself. It is absolutely crucial that you really take a close look at your experience, the time it will take, the value to the client, and any other extras like stock art, etc. Remember to also build in a bit of margin for error because almost all projects have kinks and issues.
Clients will absolutely (whether they do it intentionally or not) take advantage of you if you don’t have a solid agreement. There are so many times my relatively simple contracts have saved me heartache. Not using a contract in the business of graphic design is like not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle. It will be enjoyable and exhilarating, just creating amazing things and getting paid with the wind in your hair; until the one day you wreck without the helmet. In the same way you need to protect yourself on a motorcycle, you need to protect yourself as a designer. It ensures that both you and your client know without a doubt what is expected of both of you and when deadlines and payments are. It protects you and the client and defines all the project details for future reference.
If you’d like an example of what I send to clients, email me and I will send you a copy of the agreement that I use (brandi@brandisea.com). I’m in the process of doing some minor revisions but I think it will give you a good idea of something that isn’t too full of legal jargon and is very clear.
I don’t even start thinking about a client’s project until I have a signed agreement in my possession (along with their deposit). If you want to continue loving your work as a designer, please, use protection-use contracts.

So think really seriously about these four things and consider how much more enjoyable your life as a designer can be. My goal here at BrandiSea Design Matters is to make the world of designers better; better at design thinking, better at client relations, better at the business of design, and better at knowing why they do what they do and having the confidence to do it. Let me know if you’ve had issues in these areas or if you have any questions on any of them, I would love to hear from you. Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.

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