Charging for Design

It may surprise many of our friends and clients to discover that when DPM first began in 1999 we were affectionately known as the business card people. For years this was a stigma we tried very hard to shake off and the years in Surry Hills did help to a great extent but finally a realization that a passion for production was in fact a good thing and widely missing in the graphic design community led us to back flip on this and embrace it! The issue of course was that there simply weren’t enough conceptual projects running at any one time and this shifted the dynamic and mindsets of all involved. In house design positions are also very similar to production houses of this nature and it’s no wonder they too hold a certain stigma.

While a design fee was often wrapped up in the total cost, most jobs were print projects and we did not separate the two. A very bad idea and we did learn the hard way. In 2001 we introduced an $88 an hour design fee to help clarify the difference between conceptual and non conceptual work. In other words there were a heap of non conceptual ‘publishing’ projects that still weren’t being charged for design. You could hand over a press ready PDF of a DL and pay $395 or you could have us ‘design’ one from a pre-existing template for the same price. Of course the latter took a lot more and was way more open to scrutiny and potential issues down the line.

By the time we won the Wittner account in 2006 we were well and truly on the way to establishing the design front of the agency as dedicated and legitimate. The tricky bit was deciding how to deal with an existing client based who relied on quality design work on a monthly if not weekly basis being rolled out almost for free. The short answer was nothing. You have to shift the dynamic with the new clients, increase value for money through a rigorous reevaluation of how conceptual work is handled and quote accordingly. Not as easy as it sounds but still possible if all involved agree.

While there’s a lot more to be said on the matter, we’ll leave it at that for the moment. It’s a fun and engaging matter that we’re sure every graphic designer and design agency consider and reconsider regularly. In 2009 we did charge our hourly rate to $132 and always look and re-look at ways to add value to our services and time. A design project benefits from many things but if you take it for granted that you have great people working on it and communication between client and studio is good, then the most important thing is taking the time to get it right. When designers under quote inevitably tension is created and no one benefits least of all the design project itself. Studios and designers alike need to be more comfortable and confidant in estimating rather than quoting and also openly discussing the process. Taking an extra two hours to make something sing instead of being just okay is always worthwhile.


by Radi Safi

Radi Safi is the Creative Director at IYBI. In 2012 he launched Happy, a music blog and media company.
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