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The Value of Design

The Value of Design — How we price
By James O’Leary | Partner

In the entire history of art, I doubt there’s been one creative thinker who could consistently manifest great ideas on the spot. Speak to any artist, musician, or designer you know and all of them will have experienced a creative slump at some point. All of them will have spent weeks, months even, obsessing over tiny details; determined to get it right without actually knowing what “right” is. I’ve experienced this occupational hazard many times, but one of my most recent concepts came to fruition over casual drinks in a bar. One conversation was all it took and job done, we were on our way, a few hours art-working and were had completed a very nice piece of work. There have been other designs that I’m equally proud of that have taken ten times as long!

So if that’s all it takes – a couple of pints and one great idea – then what are design agencies really charging for? The originality of their thoughts? Their artistic licence? Their time?

This is one thing that the creative industries tend to avoid talking about, because the truth is: nobody really knows. Different people price in different ways. Art is subjective. A beautiful water-colour painting, painstakingly worked on for days by a freelance artist, could cost under £200; but a plain canvas with a few coloured squares on it, one that has taken a famous artist only a few hours to complete, could set you back thousands. Here, art isn’t priced by time, effort, or even skill, it’s the degree of expertise of the artist and the value it holds in the eyes of the buyer and/or customer.

The design industry differs in many ways but upholds these values in others. Our artwork is bespoke, personal, commissioned, considered. Our medium is often digital and our artwork serves purpose. The execution of this purpose can hinder or elevate a design, meaning there are additional components to consider. Nonetheless, the value our work holds for the buyer is a key defining attribute.

If Tesco approached me for a logo design, I’d charge them more than a start-up grocery store trying to establish themselves. Price here isn’t dictated by what the company can afford (although you should always try to establish this to some extent in order to get an idea of the size of the organisation), but rather the impact the design will have on the company. If Tesco did a rebranding, we’d need focus groups with their target demographic; we’d need to assess how the designs would work from signage to packaging; we’d research the brand’s history; we’d analyse recognisability, competitors, replicability, everything. If a designer were to get these wrong, the results for Tesco would be catastrophic and the cost to correct it would be astronomical. If Chris down the road wants to sell jumpers he’s knitted and needs a logo for his business card and Facebook page, the risk is minuscule, and the cost reflects this.

Is price then dictated by the mitigation of risk? Yes, but that’s not all. We’re also selling the convenience: the freedom to have someone else with specific expertise in this area draft up good ideas that work. Our service saves the company (client) the time and effort it would need to expend to obtain similar results which, for most, is exponential without prior experience. Your company could decide to sketch up ideas on a notepad and watch some YouTube tutorials on how to use the Adobe Suite, and they might come up with something okay. Alternatively, they could save themselves the hassle and the time by commissioning a professional to do it for them and, invariably, achieve better results.

So risk mitigation and convenience then? Is that how we price the value of design? Maybe for some, but maybe not for others. I’m interested to hear what other people think. How do you price or, if you’re a company employing a design agency, how would you expect them to price? Translating the value of design into a monetary figure will always be a difficult thing to do, but having open conversations about this dilemma could benefit the industry profoundly.

Contact me directly if you would like to discuss this article in more detail jim@unitedagency.co.uk

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