The Cost (and Value) of Professional Design

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As designers, one of the primary challenges we face is helping our clients and potential clients understand the cost and value of professional design.

Regardless of the industry you work in, all aspects of your visual communication have to appeal to potential customers as much as possible, as fast as possible. It’s no coincidence that the brands that invest the most in design, brand research and adherence to strict brand guidelines are also the most successful (think Apple, Ford, Nike).

The modern consumer makes immediate assumptions about your business based on the way it’s presented visually - your logo, website, business card, and other materials instantly communicate the quality and standards of your business, and you have only a matter of seconds to make that first impression. 

So what’s the problem with cheap design? Well, there’s nothing wrong with trying to save some money, but the problem arises when the cost savings comes at the expense of communicating effectively to potential customers.

Are you an accountant with hand-cut business cards printed on your inkjet on flimsy copy paper? You’re not handling my books. Are you a _________ without a website? Good luck.

Sure, a college student can probably bang out a quick logo for you in photoshop for $100, but you have to be conscious of the fact that consumers today are more design-savvy than ever, and the average person can tell the difference between generic clip art from MS Word and a custom, well thought out, professional brand identity.

 Are you going to buy your coffee here if there’s a Starbucks around the corner? We doubt it.

Are you going to buy your coffee here if there’s a Starbucks around the corner? We doubt it.

The design game is cut-throat, and vendors now range from 12 year old computer wizards to outsourced design wholesalers to crowdsourced websites where hundreds of poor designers literally fight over each other for the chance to execute a $200 logo project... It’s messy, and it can be difficult for a customer to make the right choice for their business.

What we try to convey to our clients is that design needs to be thought of not as an expense, but as an investment. The money you invest in your brand - the foundation of your business - isn’t money lost, unless you pay someone to do poor work for you. It’s another situation where you almost always get what you pay for.

With that said, it’s still tremendously difficult for graphic designers to justify their prices to clients. Thankfully, GDC (Graphic Designers of Canada) and RGD (the Association of Registered Graphic Designers) conduct a biennial national survey on project fees and billing practices in the Canadian graphic design industry. The results of the survey are always helpful in demonstrating the cost of high quality, professional design.

Below are just a few examples of common projects and what the average project fees are for each (just FYI; our rates fall below the national averages).

Stand Alone Corporate Identity Design 
Average Project Fee: $5,620.00
Number of Responding Firms: 321
Includes research and design of primary logo identity; presentation of 2 to 3 concepts, design of stationery set (business cards, letterhead, envelopes) and client consultation regarding other applications to corporate materials

Magazine Design
Average Project Fees: $19,530
Number of Responding Firms: 254
Initial design of a new general interest 4-colour consumer magazine of 40 to 50 pages. Includes 2 to 3 concepts showing layout of major design elements and consultations with editors/publishers to establish creative and workable design solutions for the publication.

Brochure Design
Average Project Fees: $5,560
Number of Responding Firms: 318
Design of a 4 to 10 page corporate brochure. Includes 2 to 3 concepts for a 4-colour design with art direction and coordination of illustration and/or photography, comprehensive layout, final art and supervision of production.

Website Design
Average Project Fees: $11,830
Number of Responding Firms: 274
Includes presentation of 2 to 3 concepts, art direction and coordination of illustration and/or photography, comprehensive layout, final art, and production of a static corporate site.

Annual Report Design
Average Project Fees: $21,980
Number of Responding Firms: 251
Design of an annual report of 30 to 40 pages including 10 pages of financial information, photographs and text. Includes presentation of 2 to 3 concepts, art direction and coordination of illustration and/or photography, comprehensive layout, final art and supervision of production.