Think before you ask the question "How much
should I charge?".
The answer is in the specific questions you need to ask yourself
about a project.
The question of pricing often comes up in online-forums,
or in face-to-face discussions between designers, as if there
is one cut-and-dried answer to all design project-pricing
issues. It’s unrealistic to expect that there is one
definitive answer to the question of what to charge for any
Many elements play into the equation resulting
in a final cost estimate for a potential client, including
some of the following:
• What is your experience in the field of graphic design
or with a specific type of project?
• What is the amount you are currently charging as a hourly/project
rate for similar projects?
• What do you feel the final project will be worth?
• What are the exact project specifications the particular
client has provided?
• What is the estimated amount of time such a project will
take for completion?
• What are the methods to be used to execute the project?
• What do you need to charge to cover your overhead cost
and expenses on such a job?
• How badly do you want the project?
• What prices will the local geographic market will bear?
• What are competitive rates in your local area for similar
• How much is the client is willing to pay? (It doesn’t
hurt to ask if they have a budget)
• What are you providing the client in the way of rights
to use the design for future purposes?
• Is the client a for-profit or nonprofit entity, and do
you price such work differently?
• And many, many more considerations…
There is just
no simple generic answer. In my own case, even after over
25 years of experience in the profession, pricing is still
a constantly evolving process. At times I’ve used some
of the following books as guides in establishing pricing
structures. I say "guides" because no one book – or
online resource – is going to be the "gospel" when
it comes to establishing pricing. Again, the many considerations
listed above, and a variety of other elements, will come
into play in establishing a price for your project.
is a list of published resources containing project pricing
information or suggestions:
• AIGA Professional Practices in Graphic Design
• Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers, by Tad
Crawford and Eva Doman Bruck (with a CD of business form
• Digital Design Business Practices: For Graphic Designers
and Their Clients, by Liane Sebastian
• Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines
• Graphic Designer’s Guide to Pricing, Estimating & Budgeting,
by Theo Stephan Williams
• The Business of Graphic Design, by Ed Gold
• The Business Side of Creativity, by Cameron Foote
• The Creative Business Guide to Running a Graphic Design
• The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients: How to Make
Clients Happy and do Great Work, Ellen Shapiro
All provide valuable information, and some formulas, to be
used in establishing your pricing structure and presenting
yourself as a professional designer. Web presences such as
CreativeBusiness.com, CreativePro.com, CreativePublic.com,
CreativeLatitude.com, HOWDesign.com, the About.com Graphic
Design site and many other Internet resources also offer
articles and columns on the issue of establishing pricing.
Don’t be afraid to ask your design peers, in your local
community or online, for input about general pricing formulas – but
don’t expect others to price your job for you. There
certainly is no harm in asking around for price ranges for
various types of design efforts. However, the answers they
give may not be exactly what you need to determine your own
specific rates. Still, the responses you obtain from others
in the professional will be helpful research in determining
the value of your own time and work, especially when combined
with information gathered from other published and online
While participating in a panel discussion at the 2003 HOW
Design Conference an individual from the audience asked for
my mantra as a designer and I told the crowd "Work less;
charge more." I do think one of the biggest mistakes
designers make is not charging enough for their efforts.
The only thing worse than a potential client who does not
value the efforts of a professional graphic designer is a
designer who doesn’t appreciate the value of their
own time and work. How many times have designers walked away
from a meeting with a potential client thinking something
like "Damn, the client was too quick to accept my estimate;
I should have asked for more?"
Over the years, each time I have raised my rates I have gotten
more, not less, work. Part of that is the perception – whether
true or not – that is something in more costly it must
be better. That perception has fueled the "designer" fashion,
fragrance and similar industries for many years. Graphic
designers can use the same tactics to their advantage – rather
than accepting situations such as "winning" low
bids of $29 to execute a logo through an online resource.
It is much better to take the "high road" in pricing,
rather than considering the "low-ballers" and "design
mills" as competition. If price is a potential client’s
only concern, in regards to their project, I would surmise
they are not the client you really want. I’m very upfront
in relaying exactly that fact to possible clients.
In presenting my estimate I don’t sheepishly ask the
client if a certain amount is going to be OK with them. I
tell the client "the project, as you have outlined,
is going to cost "X" amount." If the client
responds with "Oh, that’s much more than I have
budgeted for this project," I don’t give up and
abandon the situation feeling dejected. My comeback is "Well,
what did you budget for this project?" Often this will
lead to some negotiation to a project fee that satisfies
us both and I’m still above dollar the amount I need
to make the project worth my time and effort. Of course,
there are still those times when the client readily accepts
my initial estimate and then I leave mumbling to myself "Damn,
the client was too quick to accept my estimate, I should
have asked for more!" The first time I told a client "Your
design project is going to cost $5000" and they didn’t
even flinch, I nearly "wet" myself.
Designers also need to immediately revisit the estimated
costs if the project requirements are dramatically different
when the approved elements are received from the client.
Often the actual finalized specifications of a project may
differ a great deal from what may have been originally discussed
as a hypothetical design assignment. My own project agreement
states; "Project may be re-estimated if, upon receipt
of all project elements, the designer determines the scope
of the project has been altered dramatically from the originally
agreed upon concept." The designer should not be expected
to stick to an original estimate if the client has made major
changes to the project.
I often see Internet forum posts, or get emails, asking the
question "How much should I charge for a logo?" There
simply is no single answer to such a query. One of my common
responses is that I would much rather make $3000 on one project
than produce 20 logo designs at $150 a piece to make the
same amount of money. The time spent on client communication
and the administration of my business makes a rate of $150
for one logo unrealistic for me. At those fees I might as
well pay the clients for the "honor" of doing their
logos. It is true that not all designers can charge $3000
for a logo as they start their careers. A designer needs
to take the elements listed above (and more) into consideration
before conveying an intelligent estimate to a potential client
for such work.
Keep good records of your time and expenses throughout a
design job. Take some time to evaluate projects upon completion
to determine if you are charging what you need to be to make
a living in this profession. It may be necessary to adjust
your fees for future jobs to be earning what you wish.
The major point I wish to convey is that all designers need
to work smarter in independently determining what their talent,
skill and expertise are worth and charge the client accordingly – without
question or apology. Being smart in determining what you
should charge for your work will hopefully allow you to "work
less, charge more" in the future.
About the Author
Jeff Fisher has received over 475 regional, national and international
graphic design awards for his logo and corporate identity efforts.
His work is featured in more than 70 publications on the design
of logos, the business of graphic design, and small business
Fisher is a member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board and is also on
the 2005 HOW Design Conference Advisory Council. His first book, "The Savvy
Designer’s Guide to Success," will be released by HOW Design Books
later this year.
Additional information about Jeff Fisher LogoMotives may be accessed at the designer’s
web site at www.jfisherlogomotives.com.
* If I don’t "toot" my own horn, no one else will.