THE TURN OF THE DIGITAL SCREW
Is it getting harder to find work or to find the right clients?
February 6, 2020
Curated brand identity sites regularly post new work while endless Instagram feeds showcase examples of branding from around the world giving the impression that everyone is busy and doing great work. But how many of us have email inboxes full of inquiries or docket lists full of exciting new projects?
David Thorne is principal at Thorne Branding & Design and an instructor at OCAD University.
A few creatives may be so blessed, but in my experience and those of my peers (especially sole proprietors) it is the opposite. There is a feeling that the graphic design business is contracting. As a leading indicator of this perception, The Future of Jobs Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum notes that the hiring trend for the role of graphic designer Western Europe is in decline.
As a brand identity designer, it is more challenging today to earn a living. There are a number of reasons for this decline.
At the beginning of my career, designing a logo was the most prestigious type of work. Logos were made to last and there was a high degree of skill and craft that went into their creation. Today, it’s about a lot more than creating a symbol for print. Because people experience a brand in many different media, our job can encompass an array of other specialised skills. For example, we need to program websites that include the latest techniques in search engine optimization, and we need to understand the best strategies for attracting followers if we are handling our client's Instagram feed.
While designers have always expanded their skills into adjacent disciplines like exhibit design or signage, the web and social media have overtaken print as the dominant methods of communication. These media are highly technologically driven and change rapidly. Keeping up has become a necessity to survive, so some of us more senior practitioners enlist the help of younger entrepreneurs who easily navigate and adapt to the changes.
The crowd-sourcing site 99 Designs hosts contests where clients submit a brief, and hundreds of designers do finished work competing for very meagre prize money.
Ten years ago, my strategy was to focus on art directing projects to ensure they followed my design vision and to outsource tasks like programming. But clients who were approaching me didn’t have the budget for both my fees and a programmer, while other younger designers offered website development as part of their services. To compete, I started to learn code. But that wasn’t the only competition.
Brand identity designers have been hit with a barrage of disruptive changes that have devalued creating a logo. Creativemarket.com has 49,000 logo templates between $19-39 (all prices in USD). Tailorbrands.com automates the process and gives you lots of options that can be customized and downloaded all for less than $50. The crowd-sourcing site 99 Designs hosts contests where clients submit a brief, and hundreds of designers do finished work competing for very meagre prize money. What’s the average price for a logo? $250. Finally, there are sites like Fiverr.com or Upwork, where you hire a designer from around the world whose fees are based on hourly rates. A simple logo design can range from $50-100.
You would think these target the lowest end of the market, not affecting clients in the mid to higher range, but awareness of cheaper options can push industry pricing down. Business cards are an example. Cheap digital printing sites like Vistaprint sell 100 cards starting at $16.00. One of my new prospects asked for an estimate to design cards for their winery. The quote included design options, changes and preparing the final art. The client was so shocked by the price he asked if the estimate included printing.
Designers Rhodi Iliadou and Peter Ha, of Equal Parts Studio, don’t find technology or competing with websites like 99 Designs the problem. It is finding clients who want imaginative work, have the budgets to create something unique, and are committed to work with the studio for the long term.
Others are more pessimistic. Gary Ludwig of Hark Ideas says, “We are the typesetters of our generation.” If you are too young to know what he means, the craft of typesetting was made redundant in late 1980s by desktop publishing on Mac computers. He feels there are so many online DIY resources such as WIX, the website builder, that clients don’t need us anymore.
But clients do need us. We take the time to understand their requirements and conduct research that provides valuable insight. We brainstorm original, innovative ideas, and execute them with exceptional craft. And we deliver a product that makes them stand out from their competitors, something generic templates or websites that automate the process never will.
The challenge is to find those sophisticated clients who understand this and see the real value of what you offer as a designer. But in this extremely competitive, rapidly changing, highly technological business of graphic design, it is a constant battle. After twenty-five years, I have had the pleasure of working with some of those great clients, but the search for the next one never ends.
This story originally appeared in Applied Arts magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.99 a year, click here.