The Cost Of Design…

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Art, Personal, Rant, Work

Recently, I have encountered a rather unpleasant trend, which unfortunately seems to be catching on.

You may remember an earlier post of mine, where I was talking about a client who refused to pay for works already completed ( Look here for a refresher )

Well, this seems to be an upcoming trend. I have faced 5 clients who I have designed for in the past 6 months, all have refused to pay. Various excuses have been used, including “I am not happy with the design”, “I can’t afford to pay you now”, “Stop demanding payment, it’s rude and unprofessional” (this was after 3 months of no payment, I simply asked twice in a month…) and even “Why should I pay? You enjoy doing art, so you shouldn’t expect money for doing it!”. These are my favourite excuses, out of a growing list of garbage.

I wish to address each of these excuses on their own, because, quite simply, they are ridiculous.

#1. “I am not happy with the design.”
At each stage of the design process with each client, I am always conscious of the fact that I might be going off in the wrong direction. To address this, I contact the client regularly, showing them Low-Res JPGs, a PDF, or some other form of “Where I am up to” with the opportunity to question, comment and direct me back on track, if I am indeed ‘going off the track’. I usually write a long, descriptive email to accompany these images, explaining what is happening, why they are the way they are etc (Sometimes they are simple pencil drawings, so a descriptive paragraph can help with colours, digital effects etc)
I usually ask in the emails that, if they are unhappy with the designs, or have any input or advice to add to the discussion, to please feel free to do so. My feelings don’t get hurt if I am told that ‘They are all crap!’ or similar.
In the end, you are paying for something, for a company that you know lots about. I am flying relatively blind, I don’t know much about your company except what you have told me. You understand the requirements of any designs done, I can only help with the artwork and the technical requirements.
For example; you own and run a legal firm, and need a new logo / identity. You know your target market (age group, type of clientelle, ethnicity, gender, income etc) and you also know what you want the artwork for (letterhead, envelopes, business cards etc). If I ask you these questions (and I always do!) and you answer them with simple answers like “oh, you know… all people, all ages, all incomes, blah blah blah” then I can only work with what I am told.
When I show you the concept sketches at each stage, don’t say “I love them all, keep going with them all”, it is not helpful. As a company, it is not feasible to operate with 5-10 different logos, so one needs to be chosen. The quicker you give direction at the beginning of the process, the less money is spent by yourself, as I can target one specific area. We can always revisit sketches from previous stages.
Simply nodding and agreeing all the way through the process will only deliver you something you are not 100% happy with and a huge invoice. Telling the designer at the final stage “I am not happy with it, now” is not constructive.
If this was used in a different setting, a house being built for example, you would still be expected to pay for the house, the labour and all costs incurred. Graphic Design works the same.

#2. “I can’t afford to pay you now”
I am sorry, but as a business owner / CEO, you need to know how to do some simple budgeting. You were aware that I have been designing on this project for the past 3 months, and I expect to be paid at the completion of it. Perhaps I cannot afford to get to work in the morning, as I haven’t been paid in 3 months? Perhaps I have costs to meet myself, like food, rent, bills and petrol. Not to mention art supplies.
This excuse is usually quickly followed by a mixture of several excuses, for example: “I can’t pay you, because I am not happy with the design. Stop demanding payment, it is rude”. See above.
As a designer, I often work as a casual, floating from job to job. I don’t get benefits like Health Plans, Company Car, Sick Leave, Holiday Pay, or any of these luxuries. I live from pay to pay, and if the pays are sporadic and far apart, it plays havoc on my bills and rent. Yet I have never been disconnected, evicted or blacklisted.
If I can manage to budget despite all of this, you can manage to pay me for works completed.

#3. “Stop demanding payment, it’s rude and unprofessional”
Oh I am sorry, how rude of me. To demand payment for work that I have completed for your company, often for you to make even more money on… what was I thinking.
I would have thought that not paying an employee and refusing to return their emails and calls, even hiding in the back room when the employee comes into the office, simply to avoid a confrontation was a little unprofessional?
Also, I usually start with a simple email of my invoice. Following this, I mail a copy to the office, in case the I.T. boffins have some how eaten the email… After about 2-4 weeks of not hearing anything, I call the office and ask to speak to accounts. Once these avenues have been addressed, I visit the office to speak directly with the person in charge, or to someone in accounts. After these steps have been exhausted, yes, I will probably start demanding payment. Who wouldn’t? Be glad I don’t sit outside you home as you sleep at night in a parked car… or perhaps I do?

#4. “Why should I pay? You enjoy doing art, so you shouldn’t expect money for doing it!”
Although true, I usually enjoy doing artwork, It is usually artwork for myself. As with any job, I do my work to get paid, not because I enjoy it. Yes, I usually enjoy it, but I still expect to be paid for services rendered, you know, to pay those pesky bills and that other small thing called “rent”…
If you ask a Chef if they enjoy their job, they will no doubt say that they do, however ask them to work for free, and you will discover how surly a Chef can be. People may enjoy their jobs, but most would not do it without pay. People have responsibilities and costs to meet. People need to eat.
Perhaps paying me will make me enjoy my job just a little bit more, knowing that I will have a meal and a house waiting when I get home.

I have encountered a few other excuses, but they usually stem from these root excuses. As I hear of more, I will be posting them here.

I am usually rather professional, polite and approachable when I am working (and sometimes even outside of work!) and hearing these excuses after I have completed the work, and spent so much of my time on their assignments, it’s a wonder I don’t explode in a tirade of nasty, however I like to think that for the most part, I contain myself and remain professional.

If anyone reading this blog ever has dealings with me as a designer, please, feel free to communicate with me, talk with me, discuss the designs with me. I don’t bite… unless you don’t pay me…



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