Design is like magic, stop giving it away for pennies

I’ve been a professional designer for almost 10 years; I’ve freelanced for a few small businesses, worked as an in house designer for medium sized businesses and have also worked within the advertising agency circuit, which is where I currently reside on a full time basis.

When I started out there weren’t many websites going around that allowed designers to openly sell items such as icons and themes which are the things that make designers really valuable to employers and businesses. Things are a bit different now though; we have a huge range of sites where we (designers) can create assets and sell them, which is awesome – everyone wants a way to earn some passive income, right?

So here’s the point of this little ‘ranticle’.

With so many of these services now readily available, designers are competing with each other to get as many micro sales as possible. It’s not uncommon to see packs of painstakingly handcrafted icon sets containing 200 plus original icons for sale for an unbelievable £1.95, or even completely free, or expertly developed WordPress themes that use multiple technologies and that are put together through years of learning and experience for, lets say ooooh about £15. The list of amazing products goes on…

Independent Traders

These prices are, in my opinion completely degrading and are devaluing our trade.

Look at the common supermarket as an example; years ago I’d have had to go to a hardware shop to buy a hammer (strange example I know, must be the rage). These hammers were expensive but it was of bloody good quality and the guy in the shop would even have a conversation with me and he might have even known my name. Fast forward to modern day, I can nip down to a cheap supermarket at 1am and pick a pack of hammers for next to nothing on a random Sunday sale, sweet! I didn’t even have to talk to the cashier – which was a bonus, as they looked miserable anyway… unlucky for the independent quality goods hardware shop owner though huh? Oh wait – there’s not many of them left now are there?

Still – at least the supermarkets are making loads of money from all these small sales.

Quantity over Quality?

If we keep flooding the market with our all-you-can-eat buffet style design, we’re going to price ourselves out of our own market, not just competitors. It’s already happening actually – web sites already exist and have done for a while where users can pay a one off fee and get a brand spanking new website out of it, fully customisable with their own logo, brand colours and everything (sense the sarcasm).

I recently ran into this when I had an electrician round to my house (an expert you might say). He came in and fixed my issue within 30 minutes and I paid him £25 – I felt it was value for money because he did something I didn’t know how to do so I was happy. He asked what I did for a living and I told him I “designed web sites” (keeping it simple here), and his response made me want to throw him out…

“oh, we just got our web site from that [insert web site that sells templates for pennies] – we got a web site person to do our current one and it’s not very good”

He was right, it was terrible and broken, clearly done by someone who was not an expert.

Justifying your costs

The electrician went on to ask how much I charge and I told him my day rate (my rate varies, but knowing my audience I told him £300 per day expecting to be knocked down if we started negotiating) along with a ballpark cost, I backed my rate and credentials up by dropping a few well-known client web sites i’ve worked on over the years. The shock in his face was a picture and I pointed out his hourly rate was £50 based on the £25 I just paid him.

I then ranted that he can charge what he charges because he’s an expert and similarly so am I yet my hourly rate was less than his. He still couldn’t understand my rates as he had just paid under a quarter of that for what he saw as exactly the same thing. I was fighting a lost cause from the outset so I didn’t continue the conversation for long.

People hire us because we’re experts and to become an expert in something takes years of practice, as well as money, time investment etc. When I hire an expert I expect to pay for their expertise, yet we’re selling our expertise for pennies on these sites, and all we’re doing is lining the pockets of the supermarkets. We wouldn’t get out of bed for less than £1 an hour so why are selling our work for less? To get noticed? Maybe… to sell lots of small things to make a lot of money? Obviously.

Once the market is flooded with free icon sets (oh wait, it already is), free high quality website templates (oh wait, it already is) and we can’t sell products at a good profit margin, just remember that it was us, who don’t know their own value, looking for a quick sale, that caused it.

By all means, sell your work – why the hell shouldn’t you?! But please value your work appropriately, you don’t have to be 99p shop to sell good quality products. There’s a reason I can’t hire an electrician for £1 per hour; the trade would die a slow and painful death which is why costs are, knowingly or unknowingly regulated by the experts themselves, people who know the value in what they do. Somehow designers don’t live by this seemingly common sense way of thinking and I’m genuinely concerned for our trade in the coming years.

If we keep going down this path there will be no room for everyday designers, just people selling their soul for 99p and super agencies who are simply required to exist for big companies and the workload they bring. Us folk in-between won’t be able to compete in a market that simply doesn’t value itself.


These “markets” aren’t going to go away, nor do I want them to – for all the bad they are great for exposure for independent designers, as well as a great source of passive income which clearly people are making money from – some designers and developers are even making a full time living from them but I’d love to see these markets start to govern the prices more sensibly. Should the prices within our industry become regulated, similarly to my electrician friend’s prices, we will make better margins and/or percentages and ultimately so will our trade. If everyone is charging the same; cheaper is cheaper and whether it’s 50% cheaper or 99% cheaper people will still pay for the service as long as it remains top quality.


Never forget that what we do day in day out, is like magic to regular people and consumers who come to us with a problem because we’re the experts. They’re happy because we solved their problem and they will come back to us next time for as long as the relationship blossoms and doesn’t get too expensive.

Subscribe to our mailing list