Unfortunately for me and my fellow designers, graphic design just happens to be one of those things that are starting to be considered a commodity. Which would be fine, but of course, it isn’t actually a commodity.
But what is a commodity?
I hear that word thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? A commodity is something that doesn’t vary in quality across markets, and the only difference comes down to price.
A good example would be a Nike t-shirt (I recently just bought one to work out in). I can go to five different stores where they’re selling this exact product (same brand, size, etc), but it will be sold for five different prices. But the product is the exact same across them all (doesn’t vary in quality). Thus my purchasing decision will likely be based on price alone, since that’s the only differencing factor. This is perfectly acceptable since it’s all for the same thing.
Now, it should be clear to most people that design does not fit this model, if for the very simple reason that quality alone can vary so widely across markets.
If you have five different designers design five different logos for your business, I guarantee some of them will be crap…And some might be very good.
There are many variables among designers, not just cost. Click To Tweet
Hence, the prices should differ between them all, and likely will. Each and every one of those designers brings varying degrees of creativity, expertise, skills, and experience to the table; there are many variables among designers, not just cost.
Yet it always amazes me when savvy business owners take a look at several different price quotes from designers and immediately choose the cheaper option. They mistaken that all the designers are the same quality, and thus, their designs are simple commodities, much like a t-shirt.
But there is one other big thing that separates design from commodities.
The resaleability factor.
Let’s take our t-shirt example again. I can easily purchase this product from several different stores; but for any reason at any time, go back and return my shirts for a refund.
Why is this so easy to do? Because the store can simply restock a shirt back to the shelf, where it will be sold to someone else. Because it’s a commodity.
A t-shirt, like any commodity, is interchangeable among consumers. Even though I may have no need or use for it, many others will.
You can’t do that with design.
Once a designer creates a unique solution for a client they cannot just turn around and offer… Click To Tweet
Once a designer creates a unique solution for a client, and let’s say the client hypothetically doesn’t want to use it and demands a refund, the designer cannot just turn around and offer that same design to someone else.
The reason why is because that design was specifically tailored to that unique client; it is custom, made-to-order. No one else is going to have the same unique needs, goals, audience, history, tastes, etc.
Just as if you had a car, or home, or couch, or any number of things custom ordered for you, there’s no going back for the supplier. This is why many of them do not allow refunds, because it is not a commodity and they cannot resell it to someone else.
So where does that leave you? I know graphic design is one of many professional services going down that road towards commoditization, where everyone believes it’s a commodity even though it really isn’t.
I know it may be tempting to treat design like any other commodity, but I honestly don’t believe that’s in the best interest of anyone, client or designer.
When design is treated like a commodity, everyone loses. Click To Tweet
When design is treated like a commodity, everyone loses.
Here’s why: you might initially think you’re getting a sweet deal online when you bought your company logo for $5. But do you really want the long-term identity of your business to be based on something that cost less than your lunch?
Here’s another way to think about it: how much time do you think your designer spent on that $5 logo? I can promise you, not long at all. They’ll probably busting out several “logos” an hour, just to make a decent hourly wage. 20 minutes spent on a logo is barely giving it any thought whatsoever.
Thus the quality goes down, and there’s nothing unique or creative about it. Is that really a solution?
But, what if you like your logo, and think it’s perfectly fine? Well, in that case, I’d say you won the lottery.
Because it’s just like winning the jackpot; very rare, but it does happen. But do you really want to base the future of your company on gambling? Because that’s what it is. You might have lucked out this time, but in the future you might not be so lucky.
I’ve seen far too many clients get a logo online for very cheap, and maybe at first they liked it or thought it was fine, but then their lawyer called and said they couldn’t use it because of copyright issues.
Or maybe they realized it doesn’t scale down very well. Or maybe it doesn’t end up appealing to their target audience at all.
You see, all of that and more can happen when corners are cut in design.
Because ultimately, when design is commoditized, it’s just a race to the bottom.
Do you feel that design is being commoditized? What’s the future of graphic design? Should it be a commodity? Why or why not?