The Price List

There is a graphic designer joke going around that lists the prices starting from “We design everything: 500 EUR,” “We design, you watch: 800 EUR,” “We design, you advise: 1000 EUR,” and ending in “You design everything: 8000 EUR.” In other words, the more clients are involved, the more expensive it is.

Is graphic design a service or a product? This is a question many graphic designers struggle with, even if they do not verbalize it. If you are a novelist or a fine artist, the answer is clear: You are selling a product, not a service. In a way, the price list reflects the spectrum from product to service. “If I’m offering a pure product, the price is 500 EUR, but if I’m offering a pure service, the price is 8000 EUR.” Many designers (or creatives in general) can relate to the list because they want to sell products, not services. The joke wouldn’t hold for designers who love working with clients.

Graphic design can never be a pure product or service. It is necessarily both a product and a service. All commercial artists must live with this contradiction, although how much weight they put on each varies. Sadly, the more they care about the products, the more frustrating their careers will be. Because what they care about is subjective, disagreements are unavoidable, which is why clients get the lowest price if they agree not to disagree.

Although this is unacceptable for most clients, they wouldn’t want designers who do not care about their products either. “You design everything” is a situation where the client dictates everything, and the designer works simply as an extension of the client’s hands. Technically, she would be an operator, not a designer. A responsible designer should sometimes fight with clients. One of the greatest challenges of being a designer is knowing where the appropriate balance is.

If “We design everything” is your ultimate dream, you probably shouldn’t be a commercial artist. It’s not fair to expect your clients to finance your career as a fine artist.

On the other hand, I’ve had a client who literally stood behind me and dictated what I needed to do. It was apparent that she wanted to be a designer but didn’t dare to switch careers. It was a strange situation, as if she wanted to masturbate with my hand because she didn’t have a hand.

I call the tension between service and product a contradiction because there is a fundamental conflict of interest between the two. We, humans, cannot create anything without expressing who we are. Assembling something according to precise instructions is not “creating.” Creation implies that you put something of yourself into the product, but as a commercial artist, you also have to put something of your client into the same product. Unless you are the client, the two will conflict. You must be capable of resolving these conflicts. You can’t avoid or quash them.

So, a proper price list for a graphic designer would contain only the ones in the middle.