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The Value of Great Design - Why Design Costs Vary

In today's world, you could pay $5, $1000, or more than $10,000 for something as small as a logo and still end up with something that looks good. So why are the costs so vastly different and why does it matter? The difference in price is very much the difference between poor design and great design.

Understanding the difference between poor, good and great design

At the root of it, design is all about problem solving, regardless of whether it's graphic design, web design or interior design. The value of design in essence boils down to the level of complexity does that design solve your problem.

Using the example of a logo design, the immediate problem is to find a piece of imagery that will help your business visually identify itself.

Poor design solves for only the immediate question

A poor logo is like that $5 logo you purchased on Fiverr. Generally you'll get a single image that you can use as you will. However, in order to create a $5 logo and maintain a level of profitability for the designer, they would have to generate a logo that is in some ways templated, so there is very little thought given to it in regards to your context. That may very well be all you need, and it might even look visually appealing. However, does it take into account the different use cases of the logo? What does it look like when you print it on a t-shirt? When you blow it up on a poster? Sometimes, one image may not scale nicely and you would require different variations or visual systems depending on context.

Good design solves for outside of the immediate question

A good logo answers the immediate question of does it help you visually identify your business. It goes a step further by understanding where this logo might be used, for example, will you print it on a business card? What will it look like when it's on a website? It takes into account context and provides solutions for that, all while making sure it looks visually appealing.

However, a good logo may answer the question incompletely. Think of it as naming your child John. Perhaps in a class of 20 people, your child will be the only John there. However, if you expand your pool to 100, 200, 3000, 1 million -- your child might end up being 1 out of thousands of Johns, Jon, Jonny, Johnny. In this case, is your business still identifiable? And if so, does it stand out?

Great design not only solves your immediate question but it solves for all the adjunct questions

A great logo will help:

  • Visually identify your business while look aesthetically appropriate
  • Will look good in various settings, whether it's printed on top of a bottle cap, displayed on your website, or splattered across a billboard

But it also goes a step further, by solving for additional questions:

  • Does this logo help you stand out from your competitors?
  • Will it help your business visually connect with the audience you're trying to speak to?
  • Will it tie your story and take into account your personal preferences?

All of these questions would have been answered and solved for so that when applying the logo in itself, you and your customer as end users would have very little thinking left to do, whether it's from logistical application or risk management.

In order to achieve all of this, it takes a lot of time and experience to conduct good market research and to prototype and create the collaterals and documentation that help stakeholders align. This is why great design is costly, but usually well worth the investment.

Great design matters because it helps increase revenue

Design is a people-centric practice. Plugging in a USB three times in a row, trying to turn a round door knob with slippery hands, unfortunate phallic-shaped buildings -- when it's bad design, people notice and focus highly on it. Great designs are generally more subtle, like ballpoint pens, Ikea's shopping flow and back-up cameras on cars -- they just work. Great design allows your customers to focus on the more important actions you want them to take, leading to more conversions.

In 2018, Mckinsey published a report on the business value of design that shows that good leadership, paired with great design thinking can increase your revenue significantly.

Having worked at a digital marketing agency in both a design and development capacity over the last two years, I've seen this in practice. I've worked on and with over 30+ different e-commerces and the ones I've seen perform best over time are the businesses with a well thought-out product design, well thought-out messaging and well thought-out visual design applied consistently across channels. It's the difference between getting 15k in traffic during your first month of launch alone and still struggling with 4k per month 1-2 years after launch, all with the same advertising budget.

Invest in what you value (and need)

One of the most common question is how much should you pay for design? While some designers might tell you as much as possible, in all honesty, I believe you should source for a designer based on your needs.

For example, if you're a freelance copywriter just looking for a logo for your portfolio, there is no need to invest thousands of dollars on a logo, when a $20 logo from Etsy will do the trick.

If you're a local family business without immediate or future needs to expand outside of your area, invest enough to make you stand out from your neighboring competitors, but don't worry about paying tens of thousands of dollars to design your branding. Keep in mind, design is an iterative process, and you can always start a brand refresh later on once you start to expand your business.

If you're looking to build a successful e-commerce and grow it, definitely save up to invest in hiring a smaller, boutique design agency to help you build your brand or it will likely be costing you in the long run. This can run you up in over $20k in fees, but is generally more than worth it.

If you're a larger company looking to make massive changes to your office space, design collateral, etc., definitely invest in a large, reputable design agency to help you execute since the changes affect multiple channels and have a lot of risk.


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