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How graphic designers should tackle difficult clients

There is a misconception about graphic designing; people think it to be as easy as a pie. Is it really so? For one, my mother makes great pies but doesn’t know a thing about graphic design :-D. On a serious note, graphic designing is a professional field and requires specialization to perform. Working as a professional, one expects premium payment as well. Consider the case of doctors…why are they highly paid? It is because they are specialist of their respective field. If you catch a cold or a fever, you won’t be consulting a mechanic…would you?

Similarly, when you want a graphic design related work done, you would look for a skilled designer. However, when it comes to pay the graphic designers for a job well done, the clients become too finicky and start bargaining. Due to the lack of knowledge and statistics available about graphic designing, many people think it to be inexpensive.

a) Graphic Designers – Underestimated!

The plight of graphic designers is somewhat dissimilar to other specialists and professionals when it comes to payments. In majority of the cases, clients tend to be fussy over payment matters. Thinking of graphic designing as an undemanding field, most of the clients undervalue the work of graphic designers. This makes me think… Are graphic designers correctly valued and paid? Since clients don’t really understand the effort and cost incurred in a design project, they mostly underestimate the value of designers.

b) Quality vs Money – A silly notion!

The sad truth is that most clients prefer money over quality when it comes to graphic designing. Consider this… when you visit the doctor with an ailment, you wouldn’t compromise on the quality of the treatment he recommends you. Then why compromise on the graphic design quality for a few dollars? Unfortunately, when clients are selecting a graphic designer, they are looking for the cheapest way out irrespective of the quality. When designers state their salary or remuneration for the project, they face client rebuttals. In order to keep the payments at a bare minimum, clients come up with silly statements to support their cause.

c) The high road for designers – No compromise!

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned how graphic designers should tackle difficult clients. Although pesky clients are not easy to handle, graphic designers can limit the extent of arguments. One must always bear in mind that before assuming any design project, one must be clear of the terms and conditions of the venture. Clients should be told beforehand that good quality design comes with a price tag. The best way to persuade clients on charges is to make them comprehend the overhead expenses to be borne in the project. The last resort that the graphic designers can take, if the client isn’t willing to compromise on payment, is to inform the client that low price will only yield low-quality design. This could provoke the client into rethinking the fees. However, there is one principle that clients should also remember…“In order to gain something you have to lose something.”
Have you ever enountered a situation where your client has subdued money over quality? What do you think is the solution for such a situation?

  1. Lisa Kalandjian On May 12th, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I’ve encountered the situation before but not too much thankfully, there was only one client that consistently put money over quality and I eventually fired her :) If client’s can be discerning over which designer they use then designers have the right to be equally discerning over which clients they work for.

  1. Daniel On May 13th, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I was once asked to design a flyer for an individual that specialized in repairing car headlights. On my way out of the initial meeting (where he tried to lower the price of the project as much as he could) we both came out to the parking lot, and as I was leaving he took a very close look at my cars headlights and made a serious offer to repair a cracked glass headlight in exchange for the flyer.

    I just told him I was going to let this project go so he can give it to somebody else, otherwise that project would’ve become later on an expense on my side.

    The last statement on this article should be true for both sides, the client and most importantly the designer.

  1. Bryan On May 13th, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Check this out:

    I think graphic designers are underpaid. But on the other hand few designers are doing a great job in educating/explaining the value, process and breaking down the costs. Product designers, ad agencies and architects are much more professional in this…

  1. Stan @ Sonic Print & Direct Mail On May 14th, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Every designer who works at our print shop in Tampa got into the industry with visions of a graphic design utopia where everyone they designed for would desire the expertise and direction of the designer. In the real world, most of our clients have their own ideas and it tends to frustrate the designers. After time, the designers learn to compromise in order to achieve customer satisfaction.

    Maybe because we’re a printer not a ad agency, but our graphic design services seem to be less valued than they were 10 years ago. It’s like photography, anyone can buy a Digital SLR and call themselves a photographer, or download photoshop and call themselves a designer.

    Just because I buy a microscope doesn’t make me a scientist…

    But I digress.

    Stan @SonicPrint

  1. matin On May 14th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I think there’s one big problem with graphic designing. It’s something that not everyone can understand it’s value. I mean not a lot of people can chose a good design from a bad one. and it’s also something that a lot of people pretent to have. For example I know a lot of people in my country that were never educated in the feild or anything but they call themselves graphic designers by only having the ability to work with some designing softwares.

  1. Thelma Johnson On May 14th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Hi, I want to letting you I think you wrote a good blog about clients not wanting to pay graphic designers the money they are worth. I am a graphic design student taking a class called Professional for Graphic Design, and I have learn from the guest speakers my professor has coming to talk to us that some times graphic designers clients won’t pay them the money they are worth.

  1. charly On May 14th, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I always considered that the final 20% are the most important of a design project, details that will make the difference between an acceptable design and a good design.
    Those 20% represent 80% of the designer work load and time. Unfortunately, customers are often not willing to pay more for better design.
    They will tend to prefer good value for money…

    I think the most important is not to spend to much time on a project we are not rewarded for. Do not spend time with picky customer. Loss of time and energy does not worth few more bucks.

  1. Matty On May 17th, 2010 at 1:29 am

    It’s a tough situation to navigate. I think one of the reasons this is an issue in our field is that there are so many amateurs with access to the software. I remember after giving a potential client a quote on a logo project I got a response back that read “That’s a lot higher than I expected. My nephew has Photoshop and said he’d do it for $50. Thanks anyways.”

    It’s one thing to have a corporate client who knows the value of design, but I find that the small business owners with no marketing background don’t understand the concept of quality design and perceived value. And in those cases, it’s the designers’ job to go through the grueling, tedious, and sometimes pointless process of educating them.

  1. webquick On May 17th, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    For me quality of design or quality of work is important for client and does that quality of design will give more money for them

  1. Cynthia Prada On May 17th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    You all have some really great things to say.

    I must say that YES, we as designers are not paid well because certain clients think that designing is easy. They don’t understand however, that it’s an exhausting process. Taking true interest in learning the programs alone is a binding commitment. Not to mention nurturing that intuitive spark and FEEDING your wealth of knowledge with everything you see and learn! Knowing what to put where, what treatments to use, typefaces, their families and what each and every element signifies.

    At the end of the day it is truly interactive… this beloved process of designing, pouring everything you have ever learned into each and every piece, while learning new and beneficial tid-bits. I always thought that the love of Graphic Design within the artist really stemmed from stored information. Little factoids you pick up along the way like Imagery, shapes, colors, textures and experiences of emotion from the sensory overload. That is after all, what we as designers wish to evoke in our pieces right? Emotion!

    It is difficult to hold back my emotion however, when I com across many a people that are like “Yeah… Illustrator, I can ‘do’ that”. I simply nod. They don’t love it as much as a REAL designer does. They don’t own it the way a dedicated designer does. and lastly… I would almost put my life when saying… They don’t understand it… and that my friends is why it’s a highly underpaid profession. People don’t “get” it.


  1. charly On May 17th, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    I don’t remember which famous designer said:
    “It took me 5 minutes and 20 years to design this logo”

  1. Jennifer @ Web Graphics On May 18th, 2010 at 4:45 am

    i visited a huge amount of graphic designing blogs discussing almost every aspect of this designing field but people usually do not talk about this brutal fact, i really admire ur effort for discussing the value of designer people take this field of granted and this feeling many times grabs my brain that we designer are not correctly valued and paid.. people really prefer money as compare to quality of a design and this thing leads towards destructive turn….

  1. Stockport SEO On May 18th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Designers get too little respect. I’ve had people ask me at a party ‘so what do you do?’

    I answer: ‘I design websites and print…’

    The response I normally get, is like I’m saying ‘I use crayons and color things in’

    At least I stay between the lines… :)

  1. Cynthia Prada On May 19th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Today I was getting my glasses adjusted and the person helping me asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a Graphic Designer/Copywriter. He said that his daughter was about to graduate college and wanted to be an AD exec. Suddenly I was bombarded with questions about the pay, the chances of growth and a some misconceptions about the field. Before I could respond a girl behind the counter jumped in and said “ugh! Graphic Design. Yeah I went to school fa dat. Dat shit was hard so I quit and the competition was too much so yeah UGH!”. ooookay I turned away and continued by saying.

    “I say tell your daughter to GO FOR IT! But, ONLY if she has a passion for it! I must say that it’s all a very glamourous idea…being an AD exec. BUT, it takes YEARS to build up the experience and only with LONG HOURS and that LIVE IT, BE IT attitude, will you really make it. I love my job. It’s incredibly fulfilling!

    You have to have a hunger for it. You haaaave to have an appreciation for it and lastly YOU HAVE to be WILLLLLING to NEVER GIVE UP! As far as the pay… You MUST specialize in areas that interest you! Nail down that area in your field and learn everything there is to learn about it. That way when you are approached by a prospective client or questioned at an interview, you have the RIGHT to say…I CAN TAKE THIS SPECIFIC AREA OF YOUR BUSINESS to the next level…I specialize in…..and then list the areas in which you’ve mastered.

    The pay is great if you’re willing to put in the time to look for companies that VALUE their designers enough to know that A) It’s NOT easy, B)There are long hours, endless revisions C) Requires a level of intellect that is not inherent!

    What diminishes our value are people who feel the need to un-rightfully label themselves as Graphic Designers. It’s a shame that now-a-days anyone that downloads design software from limewire is a self proclaimed Designer. Clients, and Companies facing hard times then go to these “Designers” for freelance work. THEY CHARGE PEANUTS, so when a client is consulted by a PROFESSIONAL Designer, they feel like they’re being robbed!

    With a Professional Designer comes GREAT Design which goes hand in hand with higher prices. The message conveyed by a professional will yield higher outcomes than with a, sad to say it …Poser, pretending to KNOW what they are doing!

    Any thoughts!?

    P.s: As honest and humble as I tried to come across, that girl behind the counter gave me the look of death as I left. I turned back and said, “have a great day guys, thanks for your help. and tell your daughter that nothing GREAT comes easy!”—Then I winked at the “Giver-uper” with the stink eye! It was awesome! :)

  1. Cynthia Prada On May 19th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    error… That gentleman’s daughter was graduating from H.S not College.

  1. Outsource Web Design On May 22nd, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Good question and subsequent elaboration. I would say Quality and Money both walk hand in hand. Quality works do deserve a good payment as the particular designer has gone through a long learning process and experiences. So she must deserve the expected rent. In that case agencies must put thrust on the quality to the clients and then negotiate with the expected remuneration. Quality increases the brand value of the agency which in turn is beneficial.

  1. Creative Entrepreneur On May 25th, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Great topic. I guess it shall depends on how you measure the value of your artwork - Money or Quality. Moreover, does more money means better quality? How design is measured? This are some of the burining questions in my head too.

  1. Henna On May 26th, 2010 at 3:12 am

    i think some clients go for money and ignore quality in trying to save nmoney, the realize it later but in the end they do understand when they suffer because of their haste and lack of spending more money for quality logo design!!

  1. Steven Tinnon On May 28th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Nowadays my clients care way more about money then anything else, It didn’t use to be that way but I would say that with current economics people take price over quality. The need for the product is still there but people aren’t willing to pay what they used to

    Steven Tinnon,

  1. Graphic Designer NYC On May 29th, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I think most clients simply don’t understand what is quality design.

  1. Atlanta Graphic Designer On June 2nd, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    This is a really great post.

    A lot of people I’ve come in contact with have also underestimated graphic designers. For some reason people think everyone can design and that really reduces the value of our profession.

    I find that it’s really important, when starting a new project, to educate clients on the importance of design, the process that goes into it, etc, and start breaking that belief that they have that design is easy and that we just “throw things together”…and on top of it, we enjoy it…so it should be cheap.

    Honestly, if it gets to a point with a client where they’re blatantly think they know better and can’t respect my experience and expertise, I’d rather drop the project.


  1. MiDesigns On July 7th, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    I enjoy reading all this interesting and new information that experienced designers can share, but there’s always one type of information that is always hard to come across. How much to charge a client when you’re first starting out as a freelancer… Can someone help me out? In this particular case I need to give a quote on a 24 page layout.. I would really appreciate any tip. Please and thank you!

  1. Carl Sandy Tolores On November 22nd, 2010 at 3:08 am

    here i see myself far behind…having to encounter different sort of clients, some who values quality and gives a good price to designs and many who values their cash more than designs, but requires more and some are willing to even risk their design for the price they have in mind. In the end, i still think it is most important that you find yourself valuable after every each project and there you find your true value.
    But i strongly agree that designers nowadays are really valued less than their tag price and expected more like a bargained goods.

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