Pamela Wilson

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Why I Don’t Hate Graphic Designers

I got my first piece of hate mail from a graphic designer this past weekend.

Hate mail

To be honest, I expected the angry emails to start rolling in as soon as I started this blog back on January 2, 2010. I’m grateful it has taken this long.

The person who wrote didn’t sign his/her name, and didn’t leave a return email address (they used my email address instead).

That’s a shame, because I would have liked to have had a civilized discussion with him/her.

So I’m going to reply here to set the record straight, just in case he/she is not the only person confused about what I’m doing here at Big Brand System.

I don’t hate designers — I am one

The email opens with the accusation that I “hate designers.” That would be tough: I have been a designer and marketing consultant for over 25 years.

I don’t hate designers, I am one.

The experience of working with clients of all sizes over all these years has taught me one important lesson: good design can transform your business.

How?

When your marketing materials are well designed, it has a ripple effect:

  • You feel better about sharing them, so you get out there and market your business with more energy.
  • Your prospects find your materials easy to understand, and easy on the eyes, so you convert more of them to customers.
  • Your customers trust your business and refer others to it because of its perceived quality.

I’ve learned something else, too. Not everyone can afford to hire a designer. Especially at first.

Everyone deserves to benefit from good design, even when they need to do it themselves

The truth is, not everyone can hire a graphic designer. There are lots of reasons:

  • They may be starting out, and they simply can’t afford it.
  • Some of their materials need to look good and do the job, but don’t need to be professionally designed.
  • They may not understand the first thing about working with a designer, including how to ask for what they want.

That’s why I believe every small business owner should understand the basics of good design. It empowers them to do some of their own work.

And when they do hire a designer, it makes them a more informed (and easier to work with) client.

The professional design process isn’t right for every project

My letter writer’s beef was with the wording in the Ultimate eBook Kickstart webinar I created.

In that webinar, we talk about how working with a designer to create your ebook can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, take more time than you may have to spend on it, and result in files that you most likely can’t modify yourself.

That is the truth. My letter writer might not like it, but that’s the way it is.

That being said, there are times that working with a designer for your ebook might be a perfect fit.

  • If you have a healthy budget and don’t want to bother putting together pages yourself, hire a designer.
  • If you have time to communicate what you’re looking for, approve layouts and review the final draft carefully, hire a designer.
  • If your ebook is targeting a discerning audience (like designers or artists), hire a designer.

It’s important to recognize, though, that a good-sized portion of small business owners aren’t in a position to hire a designer.

Does that mean they don’t deserve to benefit from well-designed marketing materials?

Of course not.

And that, dear readers, is exactly why I do what I do here at Big Brand System.

I empower you so you can do some of this work by yourself. I inspire you to get design and marketing working together to grow your business.

A good client is an informed client

Over the years I have been approached by many small business owners who needed my help, and couldn’t afford to hire me.

They wouldn’t have made good clients. And it wasn’t because they didn’t have a budget.

When you’re a designer, working with someone who has never worked with a professional designer before can be frustrating. Here’s why:

  • You have to educate them about what design can do for their business.
  • They don’t understand why things cost what they do.
  • They often have difficulty expressing what they want, which results in the designer having to generate idea after idea because “they’ll know it when they see it.”

When a client has learned the basics of design, they’re easier to work with. They know a good idea when they see it, because they understand what makes a well-designed piece.

And they also know how valuable design is, which means they understand the benefits a professional designer brings to a project.

One of my “secret” goals here at Big Brand System is for small business owners to “graduate” to a point that they can afford to hire a professional.

When they do, they make great clients.

Many Big Brand System readers are designers

A significant portion of Big Brand System readers are graphic designers.

If you had told me designers would read this blog when I first started writing it, I wouldn’t have believed you. (Remember, I expected hate mail from designers by the end of the first week.)

It turns out that designers enjoy reading what I write because I talk about marketing basics as well.

I’ve spoken to some of my designer readers, and they tell me that they like reading the marketing articles, because they know I’m writing from a designer’s perspective. And they enjoy reading the design articles, because “it’s always good to remember the basics.”

Welcome one and all

This post is my official “rolling out of the welcome mat” to graphic designers everywhere.

When those small business owners with no budget and no experience working with a designer approach you for help, let them know they’re welcome here.

I’ll show them the basics, and educate them so they become awesome clients for your studio someday.

And maybe you’ll stick around and join the other designers who read Big Brand System, too. 🙂

PS: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, but I want to say one thing up front: I’m not upset about the email at all. I think the writer was confused. This post was written to clear things up.

So share your thoughts, but let’s keep the tone respectful, OK?

Many thanks to mdanys via Compfight (cc) for sharing the photo used in this post.

Pamela Wilson

I want to help you take the next step. Pick your free workshop topic and let’s do this!

29 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Hate Graphic Designers”

  1. Yes! This is exactly why I (secretly) dread friends asking me to help them out with websites. They don’t know what’s involved in the design process and think something can be magically slapped together based on vague ideas of what they don’t want.

    I love what you’re doing with Big Brand System. Most people don’t have huge startup funds and are growing their business on a shoestring budget. That means rolling up your sleeves and learning how to things yourself. Like you said, this empowers small business owners to do some initial work themselves, while simultaneously educating and preparing them for when they’re ready to take that leap and hire a designer.

    • You know, I’ve been holding my breath since I wrote this post (OK, figuratively ;-)), because I wasn’t sure how people would take it.

      When I read your comment, Julia, I finally exhaled. Thank you!

  2. Nice comeback Pamela;

    Not only is this a great way to make a plus out of criticism, but it also got me thinking. I’m a copywriter, and reading the article noticed that you could pretty much substitute ‘copywriting’ for ‘graphic design’ throughout, and it’d still be relevant.

    The same probably goes for most service providers – we’re all in the business of selling our services to clients, but if they/we’re not the right fit, it’s helpful to do what Big Brand System does and educate small biz owners so they can roll up their sleeves and get it done.

    That way they learn the importance of good design/copy/whatever, and actually become more suited to a client/customer relationship further along.

    Thanks for helping the little guy get a foothold,

    Pete

    • Interesting, Pete. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

      I know after doing this for many years that an educated client is a better client. But the client has a better experience when they understand the basics, too. They become informed consumers, and that helps them choose and work with service providers more successfully.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Pamela, your motto could be ‘I help people to help themselves’. You are absolutely right about clients who have never designed not knowing what is involved. As in most things in life one does not really understand the process, pain, joy etc until one has experienced something.
    Keep up the good work you are doing a stupendous job.
    Davina

  4. Pamela – I know many small business owners find website designers/graphic designers intimidating, as they do graphics editing software. I think you are providing a great service, delivered in way that isn’t patronising or complex.
    As Pete says, you are levelling the playing field for small business owners, and anyway if you are receiving criticism then you are on the right path 😉

  5. Keep on keepin’ on, Pamela.

    As a daily reader and a client, I continue to learn. I agree with Pete’s comment in that this post could have been written for any small business endeavor.

  6. Pamela, bravo. I’ve always had the utmost respect for you and your work, and the resources you provide are excellent. I love what you’re doing to help educate people, and I am one of those designers who looks forward to reading your posts.

    Keep it up. 🙂

  7. I enjoy your blog, and positive, productive spin on design in general. I am always looking to learn and see something new.

    Yeah, keep in it coming!

    Thanks,

  8. An educated client is the best kind to have. I’ve spent years educating clients on the importance of good design and many times they just don’t get it. The more you (meaning YOU) teach them about importance of good design the better results they will get then they can decide when it’s time, when it’s profitable, to hire their very own designer to take that task off their plate so they can concentrate on what they do best. I have followed you since the beginning. Your letter writer didn’t do his or her homework. I think you are doing a great job.

  9. If this had been a presentation, I’d be standing up applauding. This needed to be said. Badly.

    Having been a design industry insider I’ll be the first one to say how disconnected studios and some professional designer can be when it comes to the –quickly changing– market for all things creative and the realities of the small business world.

    What you have done here is bold beyond what is comprehensible for people outside the design industry. How you handle the criticism is wise beyond compare.

    Kudos.

    • Thanks so much, Nando.

      A lot has changed since I started. The biggest difference is the easy accessibility of tools that were once only in the hands of the professionals.

      It’s a very good time to DIY your marketing, and I feel like my job is to provide the guidance that’s needed to use the tools right.

  10. This is a great answer to criticism I have received from other web designers as well. I like to teach people to use WordPress because it empowers them to do their own websites. A friend of mine used to think I was taking work away from other web designers, but that’s not true! You can’t teach someone to be a designer overnight and the people that have the money (the kinds of clients you WANT anyways!) are willing to pay a professional to do it for them.

    The rest can’t afford to like you said and have to dig in and figure out how to DIY. Web and graphic designers should know that clients who know nothing about the design process, and don’t have much money are the WORST clients to have! They are very difficult, want everything for nothing and have no idea how much work is involved in the process, just like Julia said above. The best clients you can have are the ones that aren’t counting every penny and also trust that you know what you’re doing and leave you to do it.

    I like what you’re doing. There will always be DIY’ers in EVERY field (cupcake baking, home improvements, car repair, etc) and there will always be other people who are willing to pay someone to do it for them.

  11. Thank goodness you’re doing what you’re doing Pamela. As a sixty-five year-old woman just starting to transfer my offline Christian guidance business to an online one, I wouldn’t be able to hire a designer. But when I start to realize profits, I’d be only too happy to buy a designer’s professional services. Everyone wins that way! Keep up the good work!

  12. I wanted to chime in and say that you made excellent and very practical points Pamela. I’m an entrepreneur myself and I definitely couldn’t afford a professional designer in the beginning, let alone even discuss design and branding from an equal footing. I was lucky that I had a little design sense but my own designs were pale and amateur in comparison to the one I have now, after I could afford to pay $2500 for a website design, landing pages and branding. And that was just for design, the PSD had to be converted into a theme as well. I think you offer a valuable service and if you’re getting hate mail, it means you’re doing something right!

  13. OMG….. Stand up and take a bow… I have been following you for over a year now and LOVE it! You have helped me with so many questions that I would dare not ask…. mostly because I’m a small business owner with no insight into the marketing world, and no budget for a graphic designer. At the moment it’s a DIY job. So when a friend told me about your Big Brand System site…. I tried it and was totally hooked…. It has helped me understand how I can make a difference. I’m better at communicating to my IT guy on what I want… the expression, color, fonts etc. I love color… lots of it… and Pamela showed me how and why to keep it simple….
    My respect for you doubled when I read this post and saw how you made Lemon Meringue Pie from a lemon… Keep up the good work….

  14. Thank you Pamela! For all that you do and this website. I’m one of those people that even if I had loads of money lying around would likely never hire a designer. I like creating and I enjoy the control over my projects.

    There are DIY people and there are people who can afford to and will pay a designer. It’s just like for myself in the beauty business people always ask me if I’m worried about all the DIY nail kits that are being released. The answer to that is no. There are enough people no matter how simple the kits are that would never dream of doing their own nails. Thinking that you’re stealing the market from designers comes from a lack mentality. There’s an abundance of business out there for everyone that understands this principal.

    • Rashida,

      I’m a big believer in this outlook as well. I believe there’s enough business to go around for all of us! And people have different needs at different times as they build their businesses. A lot of people go through a DIY stage at some point, and that’s what I’m here to help them with.

  15. I agree with what you’re doing Pamela. Great service to folks from all walks of life without unlimited funds. I have a friend, on a budget, looking for a source for ebook design for a conversion project (print to digital) Do you have anyone to recommend?

  16. Your body of work and the resources & tools you provide clearly show your insightful understanding of people’s different needs at different times along the novice to expert designer continuum. ~ Keep on educating and inspiring!

  17. Bravo! Pamela. The only loser here is the writer of that hate mail letter. I’d bet he/she is struggling to build their career or business as a graphic designer and tries to compete with the “biggies” by offering low prices. Oh, the horror, that he/she feels when you offer so much quality free and at affordable fees. The truth hurts. But he/she has the opportunity to see the reality and grow from the challenges.

  18. While I think educating people about design is great, I think it does hurt the graphic design profession to lead everyone to think they can be a designer. That is one of the reasons anyone thinks that just by making a website and offering bad logos for $30 that they are suddenly a designer. Yes, an educated client is a better client, but acting like design is easy and anyone with a computer and a design program can do it hurts everyone in the creative industry, like how anyone with a camera thinks they can be a pro photographer. And acting like design is easy also devalues the work designers do. It’s a constant uphill battle fighting to make a living in this profession. I think your blog is great and you should continue to educate people, but at least put some focus on how much really goes into the design process and how difficult it can be to rack one’s brain for unique and interesting concepts.
    “Design is easy.All you do is stare at the screen until drops of blood form on your forehead.” — Marty Neumeier

  19. Pamela,

    I think you’re actually doing a great favor to other designers by promoting the value of good design. This will lead to more clients seeking out and paying for quality design. Many of the people who try to do it themselves will ultimately realize that they’re better off sticking to what they do best, and then hire a designer to help them with their design, branding and marketing programs.

    Those clients who decide to do it themselves are getting great advice from you. But they wouldn’t be a good fit for a serious designer anyway.

    Keep up the good work—it’s creating work for the rest of us. Any designer who believes otherwise is insecure about the value of what they offer.

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