Stop me if you’ve come across this kind of job posting before:
We’re looking to rebrand our business/website/product/publication, and we’re seeking a graphic designer to help us develop a new corporate identity. If interested, send us your concepts for our logos, layouts, typography and illustrations, and we’ll pick the best work and pay you handsomely for it.
In this scenario, all candidates are to do all the work, and only one will get paid. Although it’s quite common, this practice is clearly unfair to graphic designers, much like asking Target, Walmart and Sears to all send you a toaster, and promising to pay for only your favorite one.
Hire a ton, just pay one
Some websites accept as many as a hundred design submissions, and only one is purchased. The practice of “hire a ton, just pay one” would be indefensible if it weren’t for one issue: While you can evaluate several different fully-built toasters before you buy your favorite, businesses can’t evaluate or compare any design work until it’s all finished and submitted.
As a result, companies get the required variety the only fiscally viable way that they can; by asking for many designs and paying “handsomely” for one. Since logos and illustrations are usually customized for the unique purpose, It’s likely that nobody will ever buy the unchosen work. Unlike a toaster, designs are made for just one customer.
After seeing so many of these fruitless graphic designer job offers, one designer jokingly turned the concept around on its creators:
I am a graphic artist and in need of a job. I have decided to fill this need the same way many people think the can fill their graphic design needs; with a contest!
Here is how it will work;
Send me one weeks worth of salary and benefits. I will keep all of the checks that are sent to me and use all of the benefits. Whoever sends me the best salary and benefits package will win the contest and get the prize of two days of graphic design work!!!
Good Luck! I am really looking forward to receiving your payment packages!
Graphic design is not a commodity
A lot of graphic designers (like the one quoted above) insist that “graphic design is not a commodity.” Their point is that creative design, unlike copper or crude oil, varies in quality. You pay the cheapest possible price for things like gold or electricity, but the same strategy shouldn’t be employed when purchasing graphic design work. With design, the more you pay, the better the quality, right?
Designers are correct beyond any doubt; graphic design does vary in quality, and it should vary in price accordingly. But, the quality doesn’t always match the price, and as much as they hate to admit it, designers aren’t always the ones getting the short end of the stick.
The 2012 Olympics Logo
Case and point: The logo for the 2012 Olympics to be held in London. This logo cost roughly $800,000 to develop, and it is widely considered to be controversially ugly and amateurish. Many were demanding a replacement logo from the minute this one was unveiled.
(Also, the website for the firm that designed this logo seems to be over 2500 pixels wide in certain areas. Many would consider this yet another unusual design choice.)
Clearly, design is not a commodity. Maybe that’s exactly why it’s unclear how much it’s worth. A business could shortchange a group of talented artists just as easily as it could overpay tremendously for amateurish “clip art.” Have you seen a designer get underpaid? Have you seen one make a killing? Do you like the 2012 London logo, or do you picture it on a birthday cake instead of a billboard?