Wednesday, September 09, 2009

We have become cheap whores.

For those of you that have been following me, you may have noticed that I haven’t written in months. I’ve been extremely busy. Not so much in the industry (and workwise), but with life.

I have traveled extensively this year. I had family affairs on 2 different sides of the world, I got sponsored and played against the top pros in the World Series of Poker (and made a final table in a large casino tournament while I was there), and I was a guide to 8 men on a canoe trip to North Ontario.

The list goes on.

My point to this is that I had a LOT of time to think. About my place in this industry, about the future of this industry, about what I want to do for the next 10 years.

This week, I turned 40. A milestone. The age where I’m (supposedly) going into my top income bracket yet here we are in the middle of a deep recession. Work has been relatively slow. Friends in this industry have been crying to me. Clients have feared spending money, and all the unemployed have been whoring their services as freelancers.

Yes, that’s right. I said it. Never in all my years have I seen the competition so fierce. Never have I seen people give their services away for so little.

I recently had a client tell me that they found someone to do their monthly direct mail/postcards for $20. The worst part is that this client asked me if I could beat that price (and this is a client that makes over $20k+ in commission per sale).

Are you seriously kidding me? Can I beat $20? Needless to say, I walked away. Quickly.

Our profession has become tainted in the eyes of many thanks to $20 designers who pump out crap with pirated versions of design software.

To an uneducated client, we are all simply Mac Monkeys. To their understanding, what we do is relatively easy. Crowd-sourcing sites, $99 logos for sale, and design/advertising "contests" have quickly cheapened this once-great artistic profession. “I don’t need to pay for one professional, I can hold a contest, and pick a winner from thousands of entry submissions”.

I got into this profession after growing up with Mad Men. I’m not talking about the hit TV show but those same people they portray. I wanted the single-malt scotch in my hand at 4:00pm while I wristed up a concept at my drafting table (and believe me, I experienced this at more than one agency). I sketched naked models for years just so I could nail a pose correctly. I then went to art school for 4 long years and did it some more. You had to be a trained artist to get into this business. I penned an article years ago about my ode to my dying craft entitled “I love the smell of rubber cement in the morning”.

Times changed when the computer came into play. For better and worse. It did however, allow me to land where I am at this very moment, working from a home office.

With the Blackberry, my business changed even more.

I have taken advantage of all the freedom freelancing has to offer. I walk my kids to school in the mornings, I take vacations whenever I want, I go grocery shopping in the afternoon, and all the while, I’m connected to clients, potential clients, project notifications, and my entire virtual office thanks to the little mobile device attached to my belt.

Looking for work and pitching for projects has become a little too easy.

Many design schools became businesses. It’s not so much about the craft anymore, it’s about how many “professionals” they can churn out. Once these “pros” come out, they look for work. Any work. Competing like rabid stray dogs over scraps on a bone.

Name me one single industry where somebody can simply buy some software, hang up a sign, and call themselves a professional without any prior training or work experience? I see it in our industry every single day. And to many businesses and their owners in today’s economy, we are a dime a dozen.

Recently, I got notified from a freelance work site regarding this listing…


The graphic designer will be responsible for the conceptual and creative design for a variety of marketing pieces including: permanent and temporary display renderings and concepts, posters, POP material, on-line advertising, tradeshows, newspaper and magazine advertising, among other printed applications. The graphic designer will also be responsible for some project management responsibilities.

Skills Required:

•Develop and design concepts and renderings ( 2D & 3D) as per client request

•Manage multiple ongoing projects with frequent and tight deadlines.

•Work closely with various personnel to complete and manage a project through to completion.

•Strong at conceptualizing, a problem-solver, and creative presenter, coupled with excellent written and oral communication skills.

•Superior understanding of print processes, pre-flight management, and burning files for archiving and distribution

•Must be a quick-thinking, decisive and resourceful team player with the ability to distinguish good design from mediocre.

•Strong organizational/time management skills and ability to understand client needs.

•Succeed and thrive in a highly business/creative environment and take constructive/corrective criticism well


•University degree/College diploma in graphic/industrial design

•1-3 years of design experience

•Proficient in a MAC and PC environment

•Proficient in 3D software a MUST.

•Strong knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite - Illustrator, In-Design, Acrobat/Distiller, Photoshop

Okay, are you ready for this?

Seriously, are you ready?

You may want to brace yourself.

Pay is $2.00 an hour.

No, there aren’t any zeros missing.

Once again, a University degree, 1-3 years of experience, all those requirements (including extensive knowledge in 3D software), and this complete asshole believes that $2.00 an hour is an acceptable pay rate.

I could make more than that by humming into a kazoo in the subway station for 10 minutes.

This job is not in India, it’s not in some third world country. It’s right here, smack dab in Toronto, Canada.

I was furious. I answered the employer in the project question board with the following...

“I believe you have entered the pay field incorrectly as $2/hour is an illegal wage in the province of Ontario”.

What happened next made my blood boil. I was immediately banned from the question board on the website for “derogatory and/or sarcastic comments”.

I wrote an email asking the site how I could be banned for bringing up the legalities of the situation? They responded with the following…

“Regarding the amount posted for this project - as this is a global marketplace, there may be professionals willing to complete this project. Cost of living, and therefore pricing, varies across the globe. While project amounts of $250 or $300 may not seem like much to you, it may be the equivalent of $1000 or more in another country. Also, someone just starting their freelance career may be willing to complete this project. As long as there are professionals willing to complete the project, we do not intend to deny them the work. We certainly cannot force the entire community to abide by the standards of one group or another.”

Seeing as this is a job which appears to be on-site work in Toronto, I replied back, stating the legalities again and that it appears the site has no problem making money on illegal business practices and slave labour.

I quickly got my privileges back.

It is time to take a stand to save this industry. How? I don’t know. We never had standards or set pricing guidelines. We never had a union and for the most part, we have too many out there that are hungry.

The first step would be to stop contributing to Crowdsourcing sites and “Contests” promising us fame and fortune based on our winning designs. They are simply taking advantage of us, our talent, our thousands of dollars in software and equipment, and they de-value what we do for a living.

As the site replied, “As long as there are professionals willing to complete the project, we do not intend to deny them the work”.

We must stop being willing to do the work.

The next step is to start educating our clients. Make them understand that conducting research on their company, conceptualizing and producing an effective look/brand for it (and all the other associated materials etc.) should not cost less than the 2 uneducated guys nailing new shingles on the roof of their house.

Branding a new business and unleashing it into the marketplace should not cost less than a new set of brakes on one’s car.

Until we can get this through their head, we are going to see many more ads seeking trained professionals for these pitiful wages. We are going to see the profession we love become something that just isn’t worth doing anymore.

Going back to my beginning, what do I want to do in the next 10 years? Besides working creatively, I want to make some changes. Stay on top of these things. I want to see all of us getting paid what we are worth.

I don’t know how to go about doing this, I don’t even think it can be done. I just know it HAS to be done.

Because as I type this last sentence, there are now 5 proposals from qualified designers for the $2.00/hour position.


Anonymous said...

Right on. ~ heidi

Katy K said...

BRAVO Ronnie!...great post! This has been bothering me for quite some time now (main struggle these days (when I'm working on non-NASA work) has been having to compete with the "cheap whoring designers" and, unfortunately these days, clients go for the cheaper route. :( (I'm seeing a lot of desperate designers out there doing jobs for next to nothing because they are afraid they won't make their mortgage payments if they don't! sigghhh!)..very sad state of things I have to say! It IS also a downright shame how little companies are paying now (but yet the skill set required for these jobs is outrageous!) ...I'm seriously considering more and more each year that it's time to branch off into something more specialized where there won't be as much of this craziness any longer (I don't see it changing anytime soon). :(

Anonymous said...

Good to know I'm not the only one to notice this dire trend

James L said...

I just read your blog. I have been encountering this bullshit for too long now as well. I thought I was going insane. And every time I see a post like that on a job site or craigslist or whatever, I almost have a fit. I've been in this industry over 10 years (web). And you're right. These "design schools" and the like just keep churning out "professionals" -- and they keep on taking jobs for less and less pay. The competition is rabid.

On a daily basis I can go to a job site and find several postings demanding free work and/or equity and/or piss poor wages. You'll have to excuse my choice of words but this sort of thing has been going on for the last 4 or so years, that i've kept track of. Things like NAFTA have put us in a race to the bottom. There is NO WAY we can compete with people from India and China the like without suffering. Our manufacturing sector has already taken the brunt of that hit and all but decimated that potential in this country. It's all in China now. Offshored.

I commented to some friends and family that if I were to work at McDonalds i'd probably be making more, or at least more consistant money than I am now. And it's because of people both taking advantage of the labor pool available in this country and by gullible new comers who simply do not understand their worth and dilute the entire industry as a result. I once heard a very similar case for the professionals who used to create Business Cards and Stationery. When cheap software became available on the computer, those people were made irrelevant. Everybody became an "expert." And another branch of the industry went into the trash bin.

Ronnie, you hit the nail on the head with that posting. And even though right now times are tough, desperate even. I'm going to stick to my guns and charge and demand what i've struggled for 10 years to charge. I started on the bottom and now I think i've put in my time. As i'm sure you have as well. I'm glad you responded to me with a link to your blog. Stuff like that infuriates me. Makes me lose hope in all the potential and prosperity the technology industry promised us back in the late 90's (The IT/Dot-Com Boom). When I get a call from some guy in India every now and again, asking me if i'd like to outsource my company, I calmly reply there's no business to outsource at the moment.

Hang in there man. Hopefully things will turn around for those in the know and let these want-to-be's and scammers go back into the pits of hell where they came from.

Anonymous said...

Great read. Thanks for taking the time to write that wonderful article.

Anonymous said...

Holy Shit!!!

The most refreshing read of truth in decades!!

I've been doing this Art Director dribble since The School of Visual Arts..I Studied with all the giants.. Giraldi, etc..

I worked at all the big and small creative shops--BBD&O, Bates USA, HBO, Y&R, LINTAS, etc etc. and I have a kick ass book in Tv and print..Mac pro also..yet the offers today are so sad for this industry..I can cry!.

"WE GIVE IT AWAY!!! That's right...for nothing..Look at a baseball player... Multi millions to hit a friggin ball..they don't work for two bucks an hour!

Many in this field are Prostitutes..and will do shit for the money..real shit..just look at the print and TV...
Most spots are dreadful -- with No concept of a product advantage....It's just fun entertainment with a ten year old wit! So sad I can cry!

Time to move on out of this limited box..
Real creative people will all leave in due time..only the retarded -- and whores will remain!

I can cry...because i seen a time of great work...
The sixties was the most creative time of all!!

Daniel DeNapoli
Creative Director
Ads2go New York Inc. said...

Wow, $2 an hour. That's sad. I think a lot of this stuff and outsourcing is to blame...

People get desperate when money gets low. Don't worry, the real clients that you want are going to be the ones that realize what they're paying for - actual quality.

Mark Laporta said...

As long as there are employers willing to use questionable hiring practices--including opportunistic outsourcing--there will be employees willing to work for them.
Some people simply lack self-esteem.

At the same time, you should take comfort from the fact that no reputable client will settle for the "cranked out" work they receive. In the end, they'll pay again to have it done properly.

Meanwhile, all those who sell themselves short will learn the hard way--when the last minute "revisions" (AKA unpaid campaign spinoffs) mount up and the check is always in the mail.

That, of course, is aside from the inevitable emotional abuse that "whores" of all stripes continually suffer. After all, there's no more petty tyrant than a cheapskate.

Anonymous said...

True stuff. Very sad. Thank you for saying what so many have been thinking about their/our own industries.

Unknown said...

You took the words right out of my mouth .. not to mention the corruption in the business

Karen Toms said...

I have been having similar conversations with friends and associates constantly over the past few weeks. I get frustrated that so many brilliant creatives are having to operate in such an awful market. One fantastic designer I know told me that her hairdresser has just set herself up as a web designer. Aaaargh!

So many companies are simply going for cheap without appreciating what a huge difference the work of talented, trained designers can make to the growth of their business.

Keep the true design faith

Unknown said...

Excellent post ronnie, well done and well said.

As for me, I'm starting to look around at other avenues. After 20+ years in the business I'm not interested in fighting this fight only to be looking for work 5 years from now and watching it all go to some kid in Vietnam for $2 an hour.

Sadly, this is starting to happen in other industries as well. I recently heard of radiology readings being outsourced to offshore radiologists for a fraction of the amount a local radiologist would charge.

It's a global problem, and personally I don't think it's going to change. It's up to us to face the future and figure out how we are going to handle it.

And... I miss the rubber cement days soooooooo much. As you say, days when there was real skill required in our craft.

Unknown said...

I'm not quite sure whether that is horribly sad, horribly disgusting, or horribly desperate.

Whatever it is, it's horrible.

And ther eyou go, like I said on FB, so much for accreditation solving our problems. It's naive to think that will make all this blow away.

Ronnie LEBOW said...

Are you ready for the next piece of information?

The one Canadian proposal for the $2/hour job belongs to a designer who is a recognized member of both RGD (Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario) and a Professional Member of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.

Anonymous said...

Go, Ronnie, go.

I have been as a voice in the wilderness all over LinkedIn shouting that we have become the galley slaves of the 21st century.

Those big ships couldn't move with the slaves they treated so poorly, and commerce cannot move without communications. So naturally we're treated poorly.

Anonymous said...

I read once that production is the basis of morale. I know that I am happier when I am working. I could see where an out of work designer would want the chance.

martina said...

Hi Ronnie,

Excellent post, many people agree.

I have one question for you. What are we --- YOUNG DESIGNERS --- that came out of the 4-5 year --- long schools supposed to do? It is such a huge battle.
I can't find a place to work because I don't have any "real" experience, and yet if I don't do such competitions -- what will I live out of?
I am not doing them yet, but since I lost my job couple of months ago due to recession I really don't know what to do.
And, really, yes, it seems better to work at McDonalds as someone said than this.

Hope you can give me a thought,


Andrea J. Stenberg said...

It's not just designers. The same happens in the writing field. In some cases it's worse because many people hiring writings "think" they could do it themselves just because they graduated high school and can (almost) write a grammatically correct paragraph.

Or worse, they think because I can type 60 words per minute, that it should only take me ten minutes to write a 600 word article. Less for ad copy.

There are tons of job boards asking for 300-500 word articles for $5 each. Oh, and did I mention that they must be original content? Give me a break.

The only thing that gives me hope is the people taking the $2/hour jobs will either die out because they can't live on that or they'll do such a piss-poor job that the companies hiring them will die off from lack of business.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is so very sad. It is the same with journalism: Writers wanted, experienced, proficiency with language, bilingual preferred, knowledge of AP style, multi-tasker, who can write five articles per day at 500 words. Compensation, no pay. Or TBD, depending on output.

Ronnie said...

Dear Martina,

Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you. I know people that have been in the business for 25 years, that have won every award known to the industry, that were making 200k annually, and are now borrowing grocery money.

Unknown said...

Ciao Ronnie, ciao everybody.
I've just read yor post - actually I've read through all related post.

It's insulting.
The situation you describe is totally insulting.

I can't find any "writeable" word to refer not only to the employer you wrote about, but also to the thousands of "employers" who just like him/her are willing to give anybody a "chance" to work.

In my poor country - Italy :), reality distortion is well practiced by our current government - as you may be aware of, therefore to me the reply you got from these people is somehow no surprize.
Still, what makes me go berserk is the right these people believe to hold in telling these huge amount of... bullshits (sorrysorrysorry for that) and get away with it.
Time for a big change, then.

Don't know how, don't know when. But, just like you, I'm not willing to compete with professionals willing to work for anything. And I have already dropped a lot of jobs because of this "new global market order".

And I'm still here, so this makes a point to me.

It's a real passion for me - after 21 years of work in this field plus 12 spent in studying.


It's my living; sometimes it's also a hobby, but in this case it's my decision to consider it like that.
And I won't let no dumbass employer consider me anything less than what I'm worth.


Karen Kaffenberger said...

Fantastic post. I'm not in Canada, but it's the same thing here in the United States. I've had clueless, well-meaning friends recommend these sites, because they perceive them as being legitimate avenues for freelancers. (They now know better.) I agree, perceptions need to be changed.

Anonymous said...



People charging $20-25/hr for crap.Im a professional audio engineer my rate is $75/hr.The average studio in the area is 50/hr. My rate is justified due to my talent and skill level.

But when you have inexperienced freelancers working at dirt cheap rates with a
horrible sound quality, It's hard sell to someone that's uneducated about a good sound vs a bad one. Similar to a client not knowing a good image to a bad image.

it's sickening to say the least.

i agree 100%

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great piece.

It's an industry-wide problem. Who ever thought we'd get to a point where media commissions would dwindle to 5-7%?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a well written and passionate piece. You are clearly dead on. Dead being the key word.

As I see it, and began to see it 15 years ago, agencies never took the time to re-invent themselves in the face of change. Mainly technology. Whether is be editing on your desktop, Macs, type-setting skills D.O.A., you name it, the people who ran the shops, who faced clients, sloughed it off and ignored the effect it would most certainly have on a future just around the corner. The focus, totally misplaced, was on service. And whenever you cave to that strategy, you become a total whore. You make excuses WHY you have to do this or that, and thus, the devaluation of the art form begins. If you say you can get me that done in one day for only this much just to keep my business or please me, you have totally negated ANY argument over the "cost of falling to such tactics in the long run," and you quickly prove that the monkeys back at the shop churning out this work are simply that, monkeys. Not artists.

It is the job of the leaders of this industry to protect the value of our profession, and they simply caved and thumbed their collective noses at the thought of having to possibly re-invent themselves to match an ever-changing landscape that was largely driven by improvements in technology. Hell, I can remember trying desperately to keep my clients at Coke away from the post house so they wouldn't see how easy editing had become with Avid! So, where to now? Unfortunately, it is survival of the smartest I'm afraid. Those that did in fact see the writing on the wall, and built a business model to support the changed needs of the marketplace. Namely the client. Sad? Absolutely. A damn shame.

Thanks again for your great post, now go do something really meaningful with your life. The great thing is, all of us artists and craftsmen have a leg up on the rest of the world. We have our creativity to fall back on. And I'll bet each of you has a solid idea that could turn into a business and the best move of your lives! Go for it!

Unknown said...

Oh, P.S. I saw a website offering pre-produced TV commercials (Insert your company name here) for $150 a shot. They aren't too crappy, and for a small business, they're probably good enough. What costs money is the media buy, which I imagine this company will be all too happy to arrange.

Unknown said...

Fantastic post. Everytime I work in a coffee shop (shich I do quite a bit with a 2 year old at home) I get the "I dabbled in GD a few years back" speech.

TempestStudios said...

Right on the money Ronnie.
That is why I jumped ship and got my B.Ed. so I can teach what I've learned over 20 years in the business to high school seniors so they will be a bit more prepared for the real world. Plus the pay is steady :-)

Rongen said...

This new really made me feel of changing my career. The earth is getting dirty.

Many businessmen only think of how much money they will earn.

Sigrid Albert said...

This is a great post, thank you! I stumbled upon this blog post because someone, I don't know who, posted it on the iStockphoto website. There is a big discussion going on over there because iStock, which is owned by the very profitable Getty Images corporation, is announcing a new logo crowdsourcing product which will come to their site. I made a comment there which you can read on my blog if you go to my website (I don't want to post the link here because I am not a spammer, but my post is completely a propos.)

I have been in this business for 20 years, 7 as an employee, 13 self-employed, and I feel some of your pain. The 90s were pretty good with decent budgets. Still, running a design business has always been hard work. But now it is even harder. Longer hours for less money than 15 years ago. Never mind inflation.

I am still picky about choosing my clients, but I had to cut back on staff this year, unfortunately, because I will not do $500 logos. I use time tracking software and make sure my billable rate is one that can support this business. Otherwise, I may as well realize the dreams I have and just paint. It won't make me money either, but it's much more enjoyable than haggling over $50 increments with clients.

Things could be worse, but they could also be a whole lot better. My frustration level this year went so far as to design and post some guerilla art all over Main Street in Vancouver. I created a poster with the title "F%^& Graphic Design" and slapped on there some they'd-be-funny-if-they-weren't-dead-serious quotes by past, present and potential clients. Things said and written that are so ignorant, they are hilarious.

By the way, whipping up that poster took me 15 minutes. It was just pouring out of me. And it felt damn good.

PERUCHO said...

I´m from Peru, but I live in Argentina for the past 6 year working in advertising, and i gotta tell you it´s the same story here...great post!

Anonymous said...

Preach on brother. Well put.

Unknown said...

You're so right. I see the devaluing of the design profession every day. Makes me want to cry or kill something. I'm glad that I got out of design as a profession years ago.

Anonymous said...

Globalisation is about the distribution of skills. If someone can do something just as good, for less, then it's the right thing for them to do it, letting the other person do something else, that they do better. If they can't do better, it's only their fault. This is harsh - I understand - but it's simple economics. The only way to stop it is through legal means, and history shows unequivocally that this is damages a nation, and its people, to the benefit solely of those protected. Get on with it and stop moaning.

Brent said...

Right on -

I completed a BA in graphic design last year and I am going back to school in October for a job in the medical field. Design is a profession that has lost tremendous value; the guys who drive forklifts around in the warehouse get paid more than the designers at my workplace. Freshly out of school with 4 years worth of college classes to pay for on minimum wage, many of my classmates are in the same position.

deborahwolfe said...

And this is why, after 20+ long, dedicated years of learning, studying and perfecting my craft of photography, I no longer run a successful photography studio. The photography industry has been raped and brutalized.

I have had to find a way to make peace with it, because my bitterness and anger was about to consume me.

Like someone else said, I am happiest when working, creating etc.

I'm not sure what the answer is.

I have transferred my considerable skill set behind my iMac into....drum roll please.....web design work. It is actually paying the bills at this point. Ironic, huh?

My father, a very successful self-employed entrepreneur who weathered several recessions along the way, always said "the cream rises to the top, so stay the course". I wonder....

Anonymous said...

Bravo. Well said!

Oguzhan Ocalan said...

Why are all designers not getting together in one big platform? "Revolution of the Designers". Let's face it, we are just talking, criticizing but we are not acting.

As the Internet is growing faster and faster, all the designers should come together at one website. Here potential clients could be informed and educated about what's right and what's wrong in this industry.

Charlene said...

Nice read. It is a sad trend, hopefully enough people will be burned by bad results from it that they will see the wisdom in spending a little more to get results. Perhaps there just needs to be more high profile failures to highlight the pitfalls of crowdsourcing etc.

Will Palumbo said...

As someone newly entering the field I can understand and appreciate the comments. However, I was disappointed in the no practical solution was offered. New designers need experience and credentials. How then are they to go about getting it? What was not discussed, and what I feel is integral to this discussion, is that if a client can get someone with little experience and pirated software to produce product that he is happy with, then why should the business owner spend the big bucks to hire a 'professional?' Answer that and you'll likely go a long way toard solving the problem (IMHO)

LEBOW said...

Dear Designer,
Of course I can answer that. And the clients that use me understand it.

There's a big difference between having a happy client and having a highly SUCCESSFUL client thanks to your work.

Kaimere said...

awesome read and eloquently put

Anonymous said...

We have to stop accepting $2.00 jobs. Once we do that, the $2.00 jobs will stop coming to us. It's plain and simple. However, more and more designers accept $2.00 jobs, so I decided to quit the profession and become an HVAC installer. Now I work four days a week, make more money then I ever made as designer and spend more time with my family.

Ginny Shope Fowler said...

I think we could help the industry by creating an atmosphere of comraderie and healthy competition. Where I am (in the States) people are so concerned about competition that they act like everyone is out to steal clients/undercut them, and so that's what happens. When I started freelancing, I couldn't get anybody to talk to me about money so it was trial and error for a few years. I'm sure my bids were too low on lots of jobs just because I didn't know better.

We bitch about web standards, but we have no industry standards. We need a licensing board or something. The AIGA is great but anybody can pay their money and join, and most clients don't know what is anyway.

I also wish we required internships in graphics programs. School can't teach you what you need to know to do my job.

Anonymous said...

At Designer-

Internships were the way to go back in the day.

But with most internships being non-paid or for college credit only now a days it's tough. And the ones that do pay seem to always be uber-competitive...

Unfortunately, student loans don't pay themselves...As someone who graduated fairly recently,as much as I'd love to pick up any internship for experience, there's still bills to pay and I can't afford to skimp out on it.

Anonymous said...

Get a job in production art. It pays the bills and you will learn so much. Yes, I know the competition for those jobs is almost as fierce, but at least those jobs are not being marginalized. Print shops of various types and media will always be around. I did production art for almost ten years and learned more than I could have ever learned in school (and I got two degrees back then). I love you guys straight out of design school, but you don't usually have any idea how to design for production (reality). I clean up newbies' work all the time to this day. Getting a production job is not slumming!

My other recommendation is to pound the pavement. I know the internet makes it easy to sit on your ass and let Monster or CareerBuilder do all the work, but getting out into your community is the best thing for you and your community. If you think the startup down the street could use a logo, walk in and present yourself. Charge whatever you think they can handle. You'll probably pick up a stable of clients this way. Get in the door by offering to design a flyer, ad or logo, and they'll probably use you for other jobs. AND, you may get some referrals as well!

Also some local pro bono work for locally run charities or non-profits flexes your design muscles and adds greatly to your portfolio and resume. Big companies love this kind of thing. And some non-profits can pay you!

Excellent post, by the way. I'm twittering and facebooking and emailing and whatever I can do to get the word out that our industry is in trouble. This blog post explains it the best so far. Hope you don't mind I'm spreading it around!

Thank you.

Javier Romero said...

thanks Ronnie. Your post is right on!

Casey Hrynkow said...

Excellent post, Ronnie. Good for you for calling them on it!


john lund said...


Remember Typesetters? Man did they disappear in a flash! There is a new reality that all of us in creative pursuits have to deal with (I am a photographer shooting stock and assignments for the last thirty years).

In photography there has been the same lament and concerns ever since royalty free hit the marketplace...and exacerbated with the advent of microstock. The same calls to not work for peanuts and to educate the clients. It doesn't work.

I do believe there will always be a demand for the truly excellent, and so on an individual basis the answer is to be truly excellent.

Thanks for you insights!


Jonathan Gold said...

Hi Ronnie, great post and it certainly rings true across the Atlantic.

With respect to your years of experience (I’m still in uni) I’d like to think there’s something more than a copy of Illustrator that makes us designers. I’ve worked in a print shop churning out shit for local businesses and I’ve worked at some really cool studios working on great projects for high-end brands.

It’s not just us who are suffering though - the more you work at a print shop the more you can appreciate the hardships faced by new shops & business - and the value we can give them.

Throwing in artwork for £40 with their ‘stationery package’ that cost several hundred pounds doesn’t do anything for them and it is our job to educate them on the value of investing in design.

If they want to become the next Coca Cola then fine, if not I have no qualms in directing them to eLance.

If we have more skills than just ‘doing a logo’ then let’s sell those skills to our clients rather than being artworkers for their talented 14 year old daughter’s logo idea.

Anonymous said...

I check out the design contests out of a morbid interest. I am a student with a day job wondering whether my investment of time and money is worth it.

What annoys me most is the number of 'industry' people posting jobs to the contests.

Can't we all rise up and post dodgy submissions with 'Shame on You' in a big, red, exceptionally well-designed typeface??? We will need plenty of fake hotmail/gmail accounts to do so but I think it's worth it. Who's with me?

Unknown said...

That's nuts man. After having gone to University for like 4-5 years and doing some freelance web programming for like 1 1/2 years sometimes I think I'd rather go work at a restaurant as a cook or flip burgers. It seems less stressful, has a steady flow of work, you work your solid 8 hours and make more money than the pitiful $2.00/hr. HA HA !

I always had this suspicion that doing what you love for money would suck the life out of it and now I'm beginning to believe that I'm correct.

Now, instead of doing what you love you'll hold out for more money and play hardball? Am I correct? And if you should happen to 'whore out' as you put it, you might be doing your profession, yet, it's tainted with frustration and the feeling that you're worthless.

Anyways, great article and it's sad but true.

Gamer_world14 said...

I completely agree with your situation. I actually have been sucked into designing logos on a contest site, but it is just for starting out because I am a student. I actually have one a contest recently worth $550 and I was overly surprised. I wish to help out in the process of rebuilding the careers of freelance designers, and I also have no idea on how to accomplish it. But I hope this issue gets resolved very soon. ;)

OilyCoyote said...

I agree with your post, but... It wont happen.

As you said, and I recall here, we are in the middle (begginings?) of a deep recession.

Remember, most of the world is not made up of first world countries.

Poverty, in terms of money, is defined by ONGs as LESS THAN 1 DOLLAR PER DAY OF COST LIVING. That means, 0.25cents of dollar for a day. My country is a third world country, and about 1/4 of the people is poor. That means, there are about 18 million people willing to take that job of 2usd per hour and buy a bread to eat.

Make the math, and guess...

Im not arguing what the industry is doing is right. No way. They are taking advantage of the situation, and that is not acceptable.

Well... welcome to the new globalized world. Things wont go correctly, until this new order stabilizes a bit.

Anyway. I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ronnie,

It took me about 10 minutes to finish up reading your story. I have to agreed with you totally as it has always been an uphill battle in service industry. It does not matter what profession you do as long as you fall under the service industry, it SUCKS!

I am from Malaysia and when I started event management industry, I believe there were only a handsful of event management company in my country. After spending 19 years working for people and make them a rich man now, they have decided to let me handle my own company (nicely said). Well, it hadn't been a great year for me as I was saying about the handsful of companies has evolved to 10,000 now! Its exactly the same thing you are saying, it's no longere about your creativity, idea's and professionalism... coz they invite 5-10 companies to come and pitch for the project and the guy who provides the best deal (lowest price & still can nego) gets the job. Then your idea will be shared with this lowest price guy and he will do it at cost coz its the client idea now! It use to be a great industry, but today, it really sucks! sad to say that.

Most of all, we can't do anything about it as there are no law here saying that the client can't use your idea coz we can't be registering all our ideas and it doesn't make sense anyway.

So I can understand how you feel coz I feel the same over here. We really need to do something to first educate the people who are competing among ourselves in the industry that we dont do cheap stuffs. Then the client can't be squeezing us as everything we do (like you mentioned) probably had to have a standard guideline rate! It's easy to be said than done! Its sad but true!

I too don't know what I will be doing in the next 10 years. If you are planning to start something like an association to protect servicing industry, do keep me inform as I would love to be involved.

Cheers mate and we had to be strong to survive in this crazy world!


Drew said...

Top Notch.

Well said...I wish these young designers and students really realized what they are doing to their own futures....

especially if they plan to make design their career. There won't be much left, and the next crop will surely undercut them even worse...with some new tech on the horizon.

I like the idea of the (GAG) Graphic Artists Guild...and an official member guild, but I don't think they have enough backers.

...but maybe there needs to be a vigilantism on the internet...

a thumbs down or old school blacklist to artists and companies who knowingly degrade the industry.

Anonymous said...


I've been out of school for one years and after cumulating way too many of those bullshit job, I'm seriously considering a change of direction in my life. It's a bit sad to do that at 21, but better now than later no?

What really frustrated me was how the teachers at my school would encourage us to take jobs from "good clients" at a ridiculous price to "make our names" I think our teachers weren't aware that it didn't work like that anymore. Clients don't care about you if you can't give them what they want and for cheap. And yes, I get the whole idea that as a beginner I can't expect to make as much money as a 10 year + design veteran but knowing that I can have a "crap" job that is a lot less stressing for almost the same amount of money per hour doesn't motivate me much.

I'm just glad to see profesional finally speaking up! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Though you and lots of other designers are all bitching about the same thing. I agree that if you want good design you have to pay for it. I've just looked at your site and you have some real quality work.
But hells bells you whinge about designers selling stuff for nothing yet you use images from iStockphoto in your work. Surely if you were true to your philosophy you would pay a professional photographer to take you images for you and pay them a 'fair wage' instead of getting 'cheap shots' off iStock

I say this all a bit tongue in cheek. (I use iStock and contribute there... and make a very good wage there too)

LEBOW said...

In response.
Although I use ISTOCK for certain clients, I have also worked with many professional photographers over the years and have also purchased many photos from higher end stock sites in the $2,000+ range.
I use whatever I can find that is best suited towards the work and the client's budget.

Jodi Salisbury said...

Well stated, to say the least. Thanks for the assurance that it isn't just me. Good luck to you.

Unknown said...

We do need to organize. Does anyone know if HOW or any other publication has written on topic? How about the Graphic Artist Guild? I'm not a member, but it seems like something they should support our efforts in.

If you're a freelancer you might have come across this article on hourly rates...which shows the national average (U.S.) rate for freelance designers is between $65-74 p/h. I also saw somewhere else that $65 is the national average overall.

I don't know if it's by petitioning or writing letters, that we can get something done to protect our industry. (You'd think publications like HOW would be on-board. If their readers can't afford to buy their subscriptions – because they work for $2 p/h – it could be a huge loss for them.)

I really don't understand clients who would like to work with someone overseas. Aren't we all fed-up with dealing with any company's tech support that has been farmed out to a foreign land?

We need to educate our newbie designers (and ALL DESIGNERS) not to participate in crowd-sourcing, and not to work for anything less than $65 (give or take a slight percentage). This includes those "get-a-freelancer-type-websites."

Let's save our jobs. If anyone out there has experience in writing petitions, (I don't even know who to address a petition to for this) I would recommend going on (or something) and get one going!

Anonymous said...

Bravo, the excellent message

Anonymous said...

Let's consider how and why it got so bad. It is a sad situation for sure and I feel we are all to blame. This problem is not exclusive to the design industry. Greed has put the world into the economic state it's in. Perhaps greed has turned us all into snob designers charging exorbitant rates which in turn has brought about $2/hr designers and crowd-sourcing websites.

Tanya said...

I have so much to say and so little time. But thank you, THANK YOU, for writing this!!


Mark said...

Pretty much everyone's a whore for the right amount of money; but $2/hour shouldn't be the right amount.

Bryan Morris said...

I feel your pain, I'm facing the same giant and from time to time I question if I should stay or leave. I'm still here for the love of the trade, in my case photography but I don't like to feel raped either so I just don't get as much work as the other picture takers because they will work for peanuts.

Mr. Jimmy said...

People get what they pay for. Some people just want any ol' logo or design done. Historically, however, new offerings like the computer and internet (email) have threatened typesetters and post offices respectively, but there have been other opportunities that became apparent afterwards that were hard to predict, much less imagine. For example, though email may have caused a steep drop in physical letters, the internet provided eBay which offered a lot of parcels for the working postman. I don't know what these logo sellers will do, but hey, it's a changing world and there will be positive and negative outcomes

Unknown said...

YES, dear designer's.. stay AWAY from CROWDSOURCING sites. Partly it's the designer's fault, many of us are educated in design, but very very few has any business knowledge.

I believe one of the solutions is to educate the designer's with proper business practices. Nobody in other industry eg."accounting" will respond to such request, why?

Because nobody ever touch on the business practice of design, schools just simply brush them off, pretending it's not necessary. Each of us need to spread the word, to other designers, to every junior designers, promote NOSPEC! articles. If everybody do their part, no matter how long it is, things will turn around.

ilangeva said...

Sad but true.
Since you are only 40 (bless you!) you have missed some earlier recessions, where the situation was similar. Except for the lack of Mac...
I firmly believe that it is time to make our profession a certified occupation. Without qualifying to be an accredited designer, no Mac Monkey should be allowed to work in the business.Who certifies, and who legalizes this procedure, I will leave it to the authorities, but smart business people know that leaving the fate of their brands in the hands of a monkey, is a serious risk.
That is one of the reasons why 9 out of 10 new businesses fail.
Enjoy your next 40 years, cheers, Ilan

Heidi Graf said...

I remember when I first started out in the industry, the person interviewing me stated, "we are all whores in this industry". That stuck with me for all the years I spent in the industry in various functions.

Part of the problem is that the majority of clients have never or no longer see agencies as a real business. As such, the services are being treated as a commodity buy vs. a firm providing professional services. And yes, people who have been laid off, or entry level people to build their experience are falling into the trap of giving it away.

We need to keep in mind, no business-minded whore will give away their services.

Unknown said...

Right on, Ronnie! It's infuriating to see some clients don't value education and experience. Moreover, it is truly remarkable that some decision makers in the hiring process lack understanding of the value of brand development and how it impacts the bottom line, especially in hard economic times.
however, it is also very important to understand that the same financial hardships that some use as the rationale behind a stupid decision is also put so many great talent on the street. While I agree we must stop being willing to do the work for less than what it's worth, what can we do to help those in need to support their families and are trying to make ends meet?
Let's not only stop accepting the work but care for and support each other so as a group we can improve the situation the industry is going through. I am willing to fight for the future of this industry I've loved since the first day at work.

Unknown said...

Just have to stay away from the lowest common denominator mentality. Why do you think Apple is so successful? People will pay for brilliance. Don't waste your time looking for work from online 'Job' sites. It's a bidding war without the client having ANY idea what they are buying EXCEPT they want to get the lowest price for what they are receiving. They haven't a clue about the value of a strong marketing campaign because YOU are not there to tell them. WHO makes money on this transaction? The ONLINE JOB SITE! It is SET UP AGAINST YOU. STAY AWAY!!!! It is one of the worst ways to look for business if you are interested in actually serving your customer. No one wins with the lowest common denominator.

There is more work than you can handle within a square mile of any town. Connect with business people in person. Show them how your service is vital to their business. Keep bringing up Apple. People will listen and people will pay you very well.

And Remember to have fun! - Rico

monvicluc said...

Refreshing indeed!
So, why aren't the Ad organizations we belong to rallying behind this cause?

Beyond motivating our advertisers to roll out their marketing plans and budgets, Why are we not being organized as a unified front to face our clients with the facts and demand what is just plain fair?

Can we agree on a standard base for fees and rates?
Would we consider penalties on those who infringe these?

Beyond integrating the technological and sociological advances that are now reshaping our industry, Are we ready to evolve in the way we develop compensation structures?

Anonymous said...

Standard base fees? Penalties for those who don't conform? Great. Another labor union. Next we'll see bad attitudes, disdain for the customer, and threatening to break the kneecaps of any scab who dares to compete.

Its a simple law of economics: you get paid more for work that other people can not or will not do. Sitting in front of a computer in an air conditioned office must seem better than crawling around in someone's basement replacing the HVAC system.

Since none of us wants to repair HVAC, their techs get paid more.

Can you show a customer why your work is worth much more than $2 per hour? Well, can you? Then do it. If you can't, I understand HVAC is one of the more popular distance learning programs.

Shauna said...

Thank you! I'm currently working on a website as a student (close to graduation) for a "friend" who contacted me to basically say that he doesn't trust that I'm keep track of the hours I'm working on his website and that he'd rather pay me a flat fee of $200 for his 9 page website than pay me $15/hour. Now I can get a mediocre site up and running in about 15-20 hours, but since he is an "up and coming musician" and more than likely he's going to have a lot of people see his site it would have taken me (and still will take me) minimum 30 hours to get it working. Let's add in here that I have asked him for his content about four times now and he has yet to give it to me. He also wanted me to teach him how to update it. As payback for way underpaying me for this website (I am selling myself so short on this job) I'm going to make sure that should he give my name to someone looking for a site that it will be his head if he says he got the website for $200 and no way in hell will he ever get the files for his website, if he wants his gigs updated he can email me and I will update it. I am also going to threaten that if he somehow figures out how to get a hold of the files and messes up the html at all, it will be $200 for me to fix it for him.

He believed that it would only take 10-15 hours to get the website up and running. I wanted to smack him in the face. People seem to think that because we use programs such as photoshop that all the work is done for us and that it's an easy feat to get things done. They don't realize all the planning and brainstorming done prior to building said website/logo/printwork what have you.

It angers me when I see people saying "LOOK WHAT I DESIGNED!" and it's a piece of crap clip art thing they pulled together in microsoft paint.

Anonymous said...

Wow how to tackle this,

Having graduated in the middle of 2009 in the midst of the world turning upside down. (This is stemming from a BA in illustration)

Random Points of Observation:

1. Each artist in its respective field can't seem to get along in a group to begin with...

2. If by chance some of us form groups they quickly become sing-alongs, and nobody pays attention because they either have no teeth in informing people or applying an actual standard to the public, they are too busy earning money off of membership fees.

3. Catering to a business crowd has always been a risk ever since businesses thought it best to turn us into freelancers when they threw us out of their in-house studios, as a cost cutting measure way back. If you think they (being businesses) will somehow find a heart and play ball, when a competitor can find the same level or close to it elsewhere your mistaken.

4. Market share has a tendency to rise and fall...for instance photography has taken allot of illustration work away due to the sheer speed at which work can be turned out...sort of what were seeing now with Adobe hacked spin-offs running rampant through graphic design work and illustrations alike. Same concept different form. What Illustration has had to do to combat this is to diversify itself in style and concept to still be a form people are willing to pay money for.

5. Art schools ave been turning out art students with the notion they have to make it at any cost, often with no business backgrounds at all. They're in turn told a bleak (ever-changing) scenario, which it's expected to take another 5-7 yrs to get established in your field all the while working a day job to survive.

Anonymous said...

--Part 2--

6. This mentality of society to get something for nothing is going to come back to bite us, it's bad enough that the world seems to have 30 year trend cycles. Watch that number drop until we're all bored out our minds.

7. Allot of people in the industry have no real right to be there..they never got a clue to get out or just decided to rape a dead artist from the past and hope nobody would notice and follow a formula in photoshop to get by. Being influenced by another artist is one thing, but you have to also show respect for them...

( I hope this is still on track but ill continue all my thoughts )

9 Art directors are overworked and stretched, not blaming them but I could see it as tempting for them to reach for lower bids. Sadly allot of responsibility falls on them to keep respectable clients in the loop with professional artists, graphic designers, and photographers alike.

Here in lies a huge grey zone...
10. I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned shitty contracts handed out looking for artists to sign away their lives to labour over cheap work. Ad agencies they will try and rape you so be mindful they exist to only pay the artists which look out for their interests properly. IE reads the fine print and actually understands it, and who is willing NOT to just take the lowest bid....which is what they love..

11. Know and understand your rights, and only offer short term or fixed terms on how your work will be shown and how you will be compensated.

12. Sadly people can or art societies, guilds groups, whatever you would like to call them....will from time to time endorse or even project expected wages for different professions. Often these figures are just pulled out of the air, or published once or twice in a book, and people think that these prices or gospel, or will not change over time or with experience and years spent in the industry. INFLATION its not getting any BETTER, so don't think for a second we need to settle for less.

I wish this rant could be summed up with a band-aid and a cold beverage of your choosing, but it won't. Far too long creative talent has been deemed expendable , we have to apply a lifelong commitment to our craft and develop our own armor to defend against exploitations such as this. Every day builds on this principle.

Hopefully I can take that journey, and use some of this advice, once i get enough money from my mindless day job... to build the job i really want. I should be almost 40 by then!


Anonymous said...

This is so true. Well, let's hang in, things are much better by now.

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Anonymous said...

You asked if there were other "professions" where some slob can simply hang a shingle and call themselves a professional?

Web site design and coding. And the music business (especially local bands that play live in venues like bars).

it's not the same as being a graphic designer (although some of the skill sets overlap).

I got into many of these discussions on the eLance forum a few years ago - and when you are competing for virtual work in a global marketplace you are competing with people in countries where a person can feed a family of 5 on $150/week.

There are clients out there that know what good design is worth and are willing to pay for it. It's just harder to find, and it's not on the freelance boards, that's for sure.

Carl said...

I am a Graphic Design student at a city college. I have a huge passion for print design and identity branding. I've even set up a small screen/intaglio printshop in our garage. My dad was a journeyman printer, making 60k a year two years out of high school. I seem to be following in his footsteps.

Except for the 60k.

I work my a$$ off every day bettering myself as an artist. I take freelance jobs and kick a$$ at it. EVERY client I've ever worked for has raved about my work.

But if I tell a client that their logo is going to take 20 hours at 50 bucks an hour, they'll fkin call security.

I hate having to work a three week project for 300 bucks. But I can't help it; I can't land a "real" job, so all I have to rely on is my skill set. So, like a single mother who can't afford to feed her kids, I end up whoring my work out. There's no other way for me to exist.

Being an Eagle Scout and active community member, I have a small idea how to organize people. In my opinion, the only way for this industry to be treated with respect is;

1) Wait for the economic storm to pass. Once businesses can afford to pay for both overhead and decent branding, we can demand more.

2) Then we form a NPO. If we can get a non-profit off the ground, we can educate ALL clients as to the benefits of quality design, and why it isn't cheap.

3) Get the word out. Design annuals, community college classrooms, blogs. Let freelancers know they don't have to work for shit.

Of course, none of this can come about until the US (and global) economies recuperate.

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Anonymous said...

I just happened upon this blog and these comments. I am not in the design industry but nonetheless I was fascinated and horrified to read what is happening to those within the creative industry. I used to run a business and when I started it, I had high hopes and aspirations. I spent many thousands on graphic and web designers. I thought their work was excellent and was proud of my logos. Then, my business ran into hard times. My profits dwindled to almost nothing and my creative expenditures were cut. Using my computer, stock photos and software, I created my own brochures, advertising and posters. I did what I had to do to get the information out. I am not saying it was great design was not but it was what I could afford. I think that situation is the reality of many small businesses. My business almost crashed a number of times and only survived because I kept focusing on those areas where I made money and stopped doing any work in areas where I did not make money. IMHO, there is no doubt that the situation many of you are facing is terrible, but it seems to be the new reality. As one anonymous poster suggested, apply your creative skills to yourselves, stopping doing something just because you love it, figure out something else you can do to make some money so that you do not need to work at McDonald's. Good luck.