After working as a senior designer at leading ad agencies like Havas Worldwide, Anthony Wood transitioned into teaching design. Today, he is the Global Managing Director of Shillington Education.
If you’ve taken mass transit in a major city lately — or simply watched buses or billboards go by — you’ve seen them.
Glossy, expansive, black-and-white images feature wan-faced men and women — ambition, drive, and insomnia etched into their features. Brows furrowed in determination, their faces are perched above action-oriented headlines that range from bold (“Do first. Ask forgiveness later.”) to downright masochistic (“You eat a coffee for lunch … sleep deprivation is your drug of choice…you might be a doer.”).
Actually, it’s none of the above. Instead, this is a new ad campaign for Fiverr, the website where every service begins at the base price of $5. That’s right: for the starting price of $5, clients can hire Fiverr freelancers to sing birthday songs, make videos–and yes, design layouts, ads, logos, and even entire products.
Ethical concerns aside, my goal isn’t to knock the hardworking men and women who are simply trying to make a living in the gig economy. Instead, I just want to explain the difference between a $5 logo and one from a top-notch designer, which comes down to the following:
You get what you pay for.
Design is a critical part of your brand, and not something you want to skimp on.
Qualified, experienced designers have certain standards (and expenses).
Quality Costs Money
Yes, you can get a design on the cheap. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The fundamental problem of a cheap design centers around quality: $5 doesn’t go very far, and because it’s difficult to stretch their dollars, low-cost freelancers are likely to cut corners — drastically.
Take this revealing experiment, from Osaka-based designer and entrepreneur Sacha Greif. Curious to see what $5 could buy, Greif posed as a burgeoning SaaS startup and contacted three logo designers on Fiverr. Unfortunately, Greif noticed a recurring theme: though the first few pages of the portfolio had snazzy, eye-catching designs, the quality soon dropped drastically as he clicked through.
Puzzled by this discrepancy, Greif realized that these designers were copying other designers’ work — and claiming it as their own. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident; even the designers he chose — all of whom had relatively original work in their portfolios, and some of whom were paid more than Fiverr’s $5 base fee — copied their designs from stock templates. Of the three, only one designer created original work — which Greif found lacking.
But this experiment raises an interesting question: at such a low rate, should designers even be expected to create original, mind-blowing work? After all, at this price point, margins are incredibly thin; clearly, a designer on Fiverr has to rely on volume to make money, hoping to rush out as many designs as quickly as possible.
And unfortunately, when prices are this low (and work volume is this high), clients simply can’t expect quality. By the very nature of a low-cost model (of which Fiverr is only one example), designers can’t spend too much time on any individual gig. Websites like Upwork (one of the largest freelancer sites) aren’t much better. Not only do they take massive fees from freelancers, they also encourage a race to the bottom as clients seek out the cheapest (and most desperate) freelancers.
The point is, serious freelancers avoid online marketplaces. And if you’re a serious client with an actual business to run, you will too.
Don’t Skimp On Design
In almost any industry, design is your brand: the voice of your product, the personality of your company, and most importantly, the face your company presents to consumers.
To use an extreme example of high-end design, take Apple’s product. Though the tech conglomerate has fallen behind in recent years, Apple rose to prominence in large part because of Steve Jobs’ love of design and simplicity – drawn from eclectic sources ranging from sleek, Eichler architecture to his passion for calligraphy. From this, Jobs pushed his engineers and designers to incorporate a series of groundbreaking features, which granted Apple products a unique, immediately recognizable personality. For instance, the iPhone 4 is a glossy masterstroke of fit and finish, balancing form and function with its sleek, rounded edges and high-performance hardware.
Granted, not all companies can match Apple, in either market share or products. But Apple’s case yields some very telling lessons about how personality and brand are expressed by design. In a nutshell, colors, shapes, and layouts (as well as the interplay between them) breathe life and lend flair to your brand.
And given that companies are entities, rather than people, design serves as their voice. Are you edgy and forward-thinking, like Vietnam-based studio Rice? Relentlessly futuristic, like Nike’s transparent-soled sneakers? Or a streamlined masterpiece of altruism, like charity: water?
Ultimately, Atlanta-based designer Jesscreatives says it best: do you want a Walmart logo, or an Oakley logo? After all, as a business owner, the choice really is yours. Given all that, why would you cut costs (and corners) for your brand?
Much like the disparity between someone with a camera and a professional photographer, the difference between a Fiverr “designer” and a working designer lies in skill, training, experience, and an eye for aesthetics.
First, design equipment is not cheap. Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Indesign), is one of the industry standard-programs, priced on a subscription-only model that can run for anywhere from $30-50 per month, depending on the programs you choose (with nonprofit, student, and teacher discounts). Of course, you need a computer that can run the software in the first place; given the long history of Apple products playing a leading role in graphic design, it’s more likely than not that said computer will be a Mac.
Though some effective designers are self-taught, the vast majority of working designers have some sort of training under their belt. True, there are some valid critiques of traditional design education, but the benefits of a proper design education are numerous: a structured learning environment, a logical curriculum, instructors with real-world agency experience, and like-minded peers. Critics may say that the measure of any designer is a portfolio, and not GPA — which is true — but building a portfolio, even for experienced designers, isn’t exactly easy. This is doubly true for those without a formal design education.
In the end, all this reinforces one point: great design, especially that worthy of your brand, is not cheap. To patronize the lowest possible bidder isn’t just fueling the race to the bottom — it also shortchanges your own business, making it harder for you to succeed.