The Value of Design
Seth Godin on pricing power:
The goal, no matter what you sell, is to be seen as irreplaceable, essential and priceless. If you are all three, then you have pricing power. When the price charged is up to you, when you have the power to set the price, there is a line out the door and you can use pricing as a signaling mechanism, not merely a way to make a living.
I’ve been thinking about the value of design lately. What is it exactly that clients pay us for? What exactly are we selling?
I was a guest speaker in a portfolio class at Northampton Community College last week. I talked about building a quality portfolio, networking, and how to get into freelancing. There were a lot of questions about how to charge for your work and how to deal with those clients who try to push their aesthetic into the design trying to make you, more or less, a production artist just doing the grunt work while someone else (less skilled in design) directs the aesthetic. You know these types of clients. I think I answered them fairly well but I kept thinking about them day later and realized some things I said helped me answer some of the questions I had been thinking about.
If you really (REALLY) simplify the design process down, there are two basic steps: thinking and execution. The thinking involves the problem solving, the concept development, the organization while the execution is getting into the Photoshop and actually executing those things. There is a disconnect here between designer and client. Designers usually think their value lies in the thinking, the problem solving; but clients tend to think they are paying us for the execution. It’s interesting that as communication designers, we can’t clearly communicate what it is we are paid for.
But for our work to be truly irreplaceable, essential, and priceless, I think it needs to given as a gift. As I wrote a few months ago:
Gifts do something for both the giver and receiver. Gifts are given in the hope of enriching someone’s life, and finding our life has been enriched too. Gifts are given with the intent to change someone, and finding we’ve been changed.
Perhaps the real value in what we do isn’t in the thinking or the execution, but in the experiences we create after the work is complete and out in the world. Maybe the value of design is in the gifts we get to give, when we change someone and add something lasting in the world. If that’s the case, the true value of design only emerges after the money has exchanged hands. And you can’t put a price on that.
“If I were living in NYC in the ’50s, I’d be a modernist painter, in the ’60s I would have been a documentary filmmaker, in the ’70s I would have been in a punk band, in the ’80s I would have made music videos. Today it’s all about having a social-media presence…and that’s just lame.”
—Richard Blakeley, editor-in-cheif of Gawker.TV, as quoted in “Is Social Media Bad for NYC?”
I think the questions posed here can be applied to anyone living anywhere, not just New York City. The question is: is our obsession with tweeting, status updates, TwitPics, Gowalla-ing, etc. preventing us from actually experiencing life? Again, I think it’s too early to answer these sorts of questions but it’s something we seriously need to be asking. I do think, however, that Kevin Balktick, an art-events producer, has the right idea:
I get a hard time about not being on Facebook, but my reputation doesn’t come from virtual social networking, it comes from the actual time I have spent with people and the personal experiences I create for others to enjoy.”
As a side note, I think what’s more interesting is the narcissism that comes with it all. Like the article states, these platforms allow us to be the star of our own story and we expect people to be paying attention.
I practically demolished this article on beauty from Arthur Krystal. It sort of a half review of Umberto Eco’s book History of Beauty and half rumination on what beauty means. The history part, of course, was interesting, but it was the second half of the article that really got me excited. The definition of beauty proposed here is about a perfect a description I’ve read:
“Beauty” seems suited to those experiences that stop us in our tracks. Whether it’s a painting called Broadway Boogie-Woogie or a scherzo by Paganini, the beautiful is conducive to stillness. It doesn’t excite us, or necessarily instill in us the desire to replicate it; it simply makes us exist as though we’re existing for that very experience.
I like that a lot. Beauty stops us in our tracks. I’m not sure if it doesn’t excite us, I’d like to think it does, but I think we are often too overwhelmed by what we are experiencing that maybe we can’t even process emotion. All we can do is stop and admire and take a deep breath.
Beauty is everywhere; it’s just not omnipresent. One can find it in the line of poetry, in a line of prose; it may be in the faces of people we see for an instant, and it forever in the face of Charlie Chaplin at the end of City Lights. And yet when we try to account for moments like these, words seem a poor choice for language. Perhaps this vulnerability to beauty, as well as our inadequacy in explaining it, stems from the fact that beauty is fleeting.
Again, brilliant. Stanley Kubrick said “The test of work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to describe why it’s good.” I love that. My favorite art, movies, books are my favorite not because of technical proficiency but because I experienced beauty. Because it affected me on a deeper level. It stopped me in my tracks and I just sat there. Deep breath.
Trying to describe beauty with words just doesn’t seem sufficient. Critiquing and dissecting robs it of what made it beautiful in the first place.
None of us exists in a state of perpetual delight or wonder, and even the most exalted works of art and nature do not always affect us with the same intensity. Indeed, the paradoxical question arises: If beauty were not temporary, would it last? Beauty may, in fact, exist only because it disappears, because it offers a glimpse of redemption in a world where such redemption is just an idea. That’s why we spend so much time talking about it. (If we existed in a state of grace, talking about grace would be irrelevant.)
Holy wow. Read that again: “Beauty exists because it disappears. It offers a glimpse of redemption.” Beauty brings light to dark world. Beauty provides hope amidst a broken world. It’s in those moments where we are stopped in our tracks when we are reminded that we just might be okay.