Is professional graphic design a waste of money?

Yesterday, while reading a blog that I follow regularly, I was struck by a comment that the author made in passing at the end of an otherwise unrelated post. He mentioned that he was going to be redesigning his site, but to avoid “wasting money” he would be having an artist friend help him lay it out before taking it to his designers. While I normally would have just rolled my eyes and moved on, I felt the need to comment, if not to defend my profession, than at least to prevent the author from offending any more of his readers. After our conversation in which I explained that his attitude devalued the importance of design and would most likely offend his designers, he altered his post to more accurately reflect his intended point: that he wanted to go in with an idea and some examples of what he wanted and let them take it from there (a strategy I strongly recommend to him). But the conversation got me thinking about the value of design, and whether it is really worth paying for, especially for a small or start-up business, who may have limited funds as it is.

The value of design is a question that I think a lot of new businesses (and sometimes even established businesses) struggle with, and that a lot of designers get very defensive about. And I can understand both points of view.

On the one hand, you have the business owner. Hey, you have Microsoft Paint right? How hard can it be to design a logo and slap it on a business card? You know what you like, and you know your business, so you’ll just whip something up and that will work for now. Why pay someone good money to do something you could do yourself? And as for that website, maybe you do need someone to help you get it up and running, but shouldn’t you try to save some cash by telling them exactly what you want? It will be much faster and cheaper if you just tell them what to do and they make it work, right?

On the other hand, you have the designer. No one likes someone telling them that their job is irrelevant or that that college diploma and/or years of experience were a waste of time and money because anyone with Photoshop can be a designer. We get offended when clients don’t trust our recommendations, or want to play designer (i.e. Can we make that font one point larger? I just think it will look better that way…). Not that we want to be dictators, but you wouldn’t go to a mechanic and try to tell them how you think they should fix your car, would you? As a colleague of mine puts it, we’re more than just monkey’s with Photoshop.

So what’s the answer? Is professional design worth the money? I may be biased, but I say YES! Yes, yes! And if you don’t believe me, here are some reasons why you should.

1. Your logo and website are often the very first impression that a client has of your company.

And first impressions count. If you skim over that fact, you’re doing your business a huge disservice.

2. People judge books by their covers.

How many times have you been walking down the aisle at a grocery store and picked up the brand name item, instead of the generic one? They are basically the same, but the brand name is just that: a brand. The company has spent a lot of time investing in building that brand and making sure it is going to catch a buyer’s eye- from the logo to the packaging to the website, ads and commercials, because successful companies know that appearance can be everything in a competitive market.

3. Get the most for your money.

A good designer keeps up on best practices and can help you get the most out of your marketing budget. After all, you’re going to pay to host that website, so why not make sure you have something up that’s worth hosting? If you’re paying to print those business cards, don’t you want them to impress the potential customers you’ll be handing them out to? If your marketing isn’t memorable and doesn’t convert, are you really saving money?? Which brings me to point number four.

4. Successful business professionals trust experts.

No one can be great at everything, and that’s why whether it’s law, accounting, or design, smart business owners know what skills they have and what is worth delegating and paying for. You wouldn’t try to write a legal contract just because you watch Judge Judy, so why would you try to be your own designer because you bought Photoshop? Do you really want to create the entire visual or online presence of your brand without any input from a professional? (BTW, ‘professional’ doesn’t mean your nephew who is really good at drawing…)

That’s not to say that you can’t be successful without the help of a designer. There are certainly businesses that are, but you can bet that the most successful and recognizable brands out there know the value of good design and they use it to their advantage.

So yes. I believe that graphic deign is worth paying for, and not just because I’m a designer. While an outsider might not know your business or your customer base as well as you do, designers know how to research your industry, convey your message to your target market,  and set you apart from the competition. That’s the real value in design.

So what do you think? Is good design worth paying for? Fellow designer or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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