Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

How much is design worth?

September 23, 2007, 5:47 PM

Or any kind of art, for that matter? (and by art I do not reffer only to the 6 or so arts, but to all human arts, from wine making, cooking, child teaching, hair cutting, client selling, football playing, anything that implies a degree of lifetime effort to be better and better at what we do).

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the woman his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, why?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

Another similar thing, this time a real fact, was James McNeill Whistler‘s (american-british painter) response to John Ruskin, a very respected art critic during the Whistler-Ruskin trial:

In 1878 Whistler sued the critic John Ruskin for libel after the critic condemned his painting Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (..)
At the trial, the lawyer for John Ruskin, cross examined Whistler, “Mr Whistler, tell me, how long did it take you to paint Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket? “Half a day.” replied Whistler. “So,” continued the lawyer, “you are charging two hundred guineas for half a day’s work?” “No.” replied Whistler. “For the experience of a life time.”

Next time you think about how much to ask for a job, for a project, for a part of your life experience, think well.
How much does a part of your life cost ? Designers are not janitors, paid by the hour for sweeping x number of hallways. Designers do not sell groceries. Even farmers (especially romanian ones) are underpaid, nobody thinks about how much effort and risk goes into growing one feeble carrot. Pulling it out of from the dirt may be worth just one buck, but how about the countless hours of care before ? Tracing a photo in 20 minutes, designing a logo in 2 hours, drawing a simple (but not simplistic) symbol in 10 seconds may look like only a ten-dollar effort, but how about the kilometers of lines drawn before, the countless tweakings of just one bezier point that doesn’t “look right”, that made that 10-second symbol possible ?

Nowadays people are fighting for the smallest price. Capitalism, they say. So hello, indian programmers, chinese workers, ukrainean web designers and so on. Just because these people can’t afford to ask for a normal price, but can afford to work for so little money because they live in cheap, under development countries, everybody rushes to use them, happy that they’ve just saved one hundred bucks. Quality is less important. Price is the supreme ruler.

Is it for free? Yes? Can I get it any cheaper than that? Then I’ll have five, please.

It’s all about respect, I think. And recognition.
Respect for the professional, for the one that chose to dedicate his/her life to doing just that, the thing you need now. Recognition for the value you receive. The value that will help you in being more succesful in your business, in being prettier, richer, stronger, healthier, happier or whatever else you wanted. You had a problem, and the professional helped you with it. That deserves compensation. Equal compensation.

You get what you pay for.
Or should I say SI/SO – shit input, shit output?
These days, “everyone’s in the design business“, as Mr. Robert Wong puts it very well.

Thanks Trick for reminding me about Picasso. And good luck in Italy ;)




good job

but there is a problem about the exemples u wrote
they were true artist! genius artist! they did’t crete for saling their work !

True, Picasso and Whistler are old school artists, from those that could be called “geniuses”. So are Liszt, Rachmaninov and so on (I didn’t name the obvious ones, Mozart, Beethoven..).

Don’t you find it odd that we don’t seem to have geniuses anymore? Starting from the 50’s we can’t say for sure who’s a genius anymore. Steve Jobs? Gates? Helmut Newton? Chanel? Hard to decide, isn’t it?

I think that we still have geniuses, but we don’t call them like that. They are the best professionals in their line of work. People from Pentagram, from Wieden+Kennedy, they can’t be called “genius”. But they sure did bring huge innovations to their fields. What about Tarkowski, Kurosawa? And so many others?

Are 100 years really necessary to pass before we can spot the genius? Or do you have to be in a art album first before you can be considered one?

I’d say “true artist” is overrated. And I bet there were many more that didn’t make it to the Louvre ;)

I’d vote your post as one of the most inspiring ones for coming designers – most of them are really confused when pricing their ‘valuables’. Some came to me for an answer – ‘how should I price a client that has ~ that much money, is ~ that big, and is ~ difficult ? Can I get ~ that amount ?. Now that’s real ballparking.

Common sense says it should all be related to one designer’s experience, talent, and (hopefully) modesty and dignity. Oh – so, so rare nowadays! Employers can confirm. Iancu, you know that already :) You seem to have all the aknlowledged ‘minerals’.



Thank you for you words, Gabi, it’s always very nice to know that people appreciate your way of thinking.

Indeed pricing is one of the biggest problems you face while freelancing, how much is too much, how little is too little :) Modesty is a great human quality, but, unfortunately, most of the times it works against you, especially when you face a hard-seller, a manager that always negotiates fiercely. And good designers can’t really be great sellers as well.

In the end, almost everything comes with time, experience and all. One must learn to be patient and follow his goals :)


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