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Paying for design skills: a freelance designer’s view

This post was contributed by Mike Hadfield, a designer who wanted to highlight the value of professional design skills, particularly in light of my post about making your own website with WordPress. So here it is:


Picasso Principle title
In the digital age there are so many opportunities for us to go DIY when it comes to promoting ourselves, our work and what we do. From brand to blog, we can do it all ourselves. So…


why pay a professional?

As a junior designer at my first agency I was sent to brief a photographer on location. The photos were for the website of a retail complex and during the shoot I noticed the photographer had a digital camera. I asked if he felt there was still a need for a skilled photographer given the ease of modern equipment.

He smiled and passed me the camera saying “Let’s see. Have a shot.”

Of course, his images were vastly superior to mine, although I would have struggled to explain precisely why. But I understood his point: there is value in experience.

Time equals money graphic

There are many versions of the following story, which may be apocryphal…

Pablo Picasso sits outside a small cafe. He sketches, enjoying his espresso, the Parisian atmosphere and the way the sunlight filters geometrically through the leaves.

A young girl approaches shyly and asks if he might sketch her. Of course, she’d gladly pay the right price for his work.
Picasso is happy to oblige. As she poses he quickly converts her form into three simple but beautifully weighted, curved lines on the paper.

The girl’s eyes shine as Picasso slides the sketch over. Then he asks for ten thousand francs. The shine fades.

“But monsieur, it is only 3 lines, and took only a moment” exclaims the girl.

“No madam” says Picasso “It took me a lifetime”.

How important is design?

Is design important to people? Well, humans are visual creatures. We’ve been expressing our skills and achievements since cave people first forged tools and scratched symbols into stones.

Simple symbols

This simple form of visual language is hard-wired into us and we still use these basic ideas today. We use our eyes not just to see, but to experience and understand the world around us.

So having a corporate identity which expresses a business correctly is vital. Your logo, your brand, your business cards, your blog and your website are all communicating to people (and potential clients).

So it makes sense to send the right message.

Often the fear of high costs and unknown factors can force people to feel they have no option but to do things themselves.  Professionals can be expensive – this is true, but expertise should be seen as a commodity, an investment for years to come.

Cheap work can be a false economy, as it often requires additional work to correct it. Evolution and iteration aren’t necessarily a bad thing but getting it right first time guarantees a greater initial impact and less expense in the long term.

The corporate identity for American Airlines has not changed since it was designed in 1966. It’s designer (Massimo Vignelli) said “There is no need to change it. How can they improve it? They got the best already.

American Airlines logo

Consider hiring someone to do the job well, once.

Few businesses have the resources of American Airlines, or access to designers like Vignelli. But there are ways to work modestly, with talented local designers and creative agencies.

Disclosure: Mike designed and built

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