Insights, design

What you actually pay for when you hire a designer

200€ for a logo?!
I didn’t think the website design would cost that much…
Aw, come on, it’s just a flyer design.

If you’re a designer, these come familiar to you.

If you are a person who at some point needed/will need the services of a designer and said at least one of the statements above, you should read this.

I’m Anca and I’ve been a designer for 5 years now, I’ve heard the unheard and seen the unseen.

From just make it look pretty —  which always has me rolling my eyes -, to the client needs an app design. Is it ready by next week?, I’ve seen strong startups and great business ideas falling because of (you guessed it) lack of proper design (and design approach).

And lack of proper design comes from lack of understanding what you actually pay for when you hire a designer. As I’ll describe below, it’s about:

  • The education;
  • The continuous learning;
  • The trained eye;
  • The expert in your users.

Let me walk you through all these.

Where does the journey of a designer begin?

When I was 6 years old, I had a graphite pencil in my hand and I said to myself when I grow up, I want to be an illustrator.

I had no idea what that meant. I was thinking I’d be scribbling stuff all day and be paid.

Apparently, many friends and clients still believe that. While growing up, I understood what being a designer means. And the more I learnt, the harder it became.

What You Pay When You Get a Designer #1: EDUCATION

I graduated from an arts high-school and proceeded to the Arts and Design University where I followed the Graphics section. I wanted to go the Industrial Design, but someone scared me that one of the admission exams consisted in a Physics one. Of course I’m amazing with math, you should just ask me how much 5×7 is, and you’ll see why I backed down.

Composition, Color Study, Drawing, Engraving, the Art of Writing, Conceptual Thinking, Human and Animal Anatomy, History of Arts.

These are only a few of the classes I took. You’re wondering why I’m mentioning this? Because just like me, most of the designers I know graduated from Art School and learnt the basics of design from there. Should I say how much a year in this school costs? Between 2010 and 2013 when I did it, it was approx. 1000 euros per year. Then you need to add in every single material such as paper, pencils, coal, erasers, colors.

So what do we have so far?

  • 4 years of arts high school;
  • 3 years of arts university;
  • 5 years of working in the field.

What You Pay When You Get a Designer #2: CONTINUOUS LEARNING

Of course, during my 5 years of experience in the field, I must perfect my craft as a designer. School does not teach you everything, obviously. Books, online or offline courses, articles of research, internships, Photoshop License, all of these mean time and money.

Sure, there are designers who are self-taught, but that doesn’t mean they deserve less.

In fact, I think those who are self-taught are more open-minded and often push boundaries way further than the ones whose brain and thinking were shaped by teachers.

What You Pay When You Get a Designer #3: THE TRAINED EYE

You go to seek medical care and you say to your doctor one of the following:

a) my x hurts, give me analgesics because I’ve read on Google what’s my problem and I need a prescription from you.

b) my x hurts. What is the problem? Do I need to make more investigations? Can you make me feel better?

Now, as designers we don’t save lives. However, we improve it. And guess what: a designer’s ‘patients’ have the same kind of requests I wrote above.

If you answered a), you are the type of client who seeks someone with good Photoshop skills to put in practice what you think you know and don’t need the experience of a designer.

You basically just use Photoshop with someone else’s hands. The designer does exactly as you say, you’re proud and then receive messages from your users:
I can't find the send button!,
How do I edit this thing?,
Jesus, man, turning it on and off won’t work.

Congrats, your users are frustrated and won’t return on your website or app.

If you answered b), Congratulations!

You are the client who teamed up with the designer and aim to make the best of your idea. You chose to work together with a trained eye in design, not make it execute tasks. Your idea + the designer’s experience and skills = a memorable brand, an easy to use app, the user always finds what he’s looking for, a happy user, CASH.

In the end this is all we want, right? Our business to flourish, get more clients, hook them with us and get C A S H. This, or you can let your sister’s niece make something because ‘she has the eye of an artist’ and then start again from scratch after you officially called it quits.

What You Pay When You Get a Designer #4: AN EXPERT IN YOUR USERS

Do you like the Apple logo? Or Instagram’s logo? Do you find easy to use your Uber app? Or Tinder app? I can bet that those CEO’s didn’t start their project with I want to like the logo a lot. It starts with What do my users need? What do they like? What are their interests?

It’s all about your audience. Your users. Your business is for them. You may like sharp edges and straight lines, but your business is about a lavender-scented-soap company, therefore your users are women. Sharp edges and straight lines shouldn’t exist together in this sentence wherein the audience are women. (this is the reason I roll my eyes when I hear make it look pretty - pretty for who? you or your audience?).

Plus, behind design there’s a whole ‘engineering’ field. Without function, the design won’t work and that is not design, it’s a scribble. A good designer is also skilled in communicating with a tech team.

Bottom line

Design is expensive, but it’s more expensive to realize you have put all your energy and savings into your idea and it didn’t had the echo you imagined. Your idea might be brilliant, but you need a good designer to help you speak out and be mindful about your users. Are you ready?

Design is only one part when developing an application, if not the most important. Read some more about the Mobile App Development Process.

Author image

by Anca Pop

Star gazer. Sci-fi enthusiast. Design lover.
  • Cluj-Napoca

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