Why Design is a service NOT a hobby!


I realise that I, and hopefully other web designers, are almost certainly in the minority of workers that can say say “I like my job” but I’d like to point out one thing (that to me at least) is really obvious, we might be artsy, alternative, creative, and a few other words that fit into most web designers styles, but we are in a service industry, although judging from most clients we must be doing a poor job of showing this as they don’t seem to think so!

Not quite following me? Well let me give you an example, a little while back my car developed a small problem so I took it into a garage for them to take a look at. I picked it up at the end of the day only to be told it was simply something that was just a cause of the cars age and as such was unrepairable and I’d have to live with it! The garage then promptly handed me a £37 bill for the time a basic service had taken and that was the end of it. I was satisfied with the process as having someone with the experience and relevant skills giving the car a look over and telling me what the problem was is exactly what I had wanted the garage to do, weather I ended up needing to buy a new car or not.

I was chatting with one of my other web designer friends and she was telling me about how the company she works for have had a few clients who think they can just not pay their invoice if they don’t use the provided designs and I know Love Creative UK (the company which I work for) have had some “issues” with un-paying clients in the past, so I’m guessing it is (sadly) a common problem across the sector! My answer to any client saying this would be “You can have a refund of your money when I can have a full refund on all the time I spent on your project!

My attitude towards clients who decide that it’s “fine” to ask for a deposit refund because “they” don’t want/aren’t using the design anymore can be summed up by a quote from Steve Jobs about working with legendary designer Paul Rand:

“I asked him if he would come up with a few options. And he said, “No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how. And you use it or not. That’s up to you. You’re the client. But you pay me.” And there was a clarity about the relationship that was refreshing.

Steve Jobs on working with designer Paul Rand on the NeXT logo
Graphic Designer - Paul Rand
Graphic Designer - Paul Rand

So how has this negative attitude crept into the design industry and why, when it’s accepted in other service industries, is it so hard for design clients to accept our time is just as valuable? In-fact I can think of a few industries that are worse than ours – solicitors to name one as they will normally charge per email/letter as well as for their time and service!

How can we make this point crystal clear to design clients so that they don’t expect to only pay for the designs themselves? It’s our (the designers) time, and time spent working on projects that they ask us to do, is time that us designers can’t spend on another project and our invoices should always reflect this. Sounds simple yes? So what is the design industry doing wrong that means our clients are thinking differently?

Let’s get this sorted out!