Window-shopping: the Future of Design?

image by Chor Ip

Graphic design is a fast-moving industry, and one of the biggest trends in recent times has been the emergence of “try-before-you-buy”: crowd-sourcing companies and ready-made design retailers. These companies allow prospective buyers to view designs before paying any money, and the asking price is almost always low.

That’s very attractive to a particular type of business owner who wants to cut costs and will be satisfied with a design which is a step up from what they could create (with no design training) themselves. When a major player like iStockphoto starts selling logos it undoubtedly upsets the design community, but the reality is that iStockphoto is catering to a market which has emerged in recent years.

This has created a seismic shift in the design industry: where clients once used to shop around for a designer to meet their needs, now it’s the design they’re shopping for, if they choose. Or (as a friend recently described it), some people would simply prefer to browse than create.

With the competition for design services intensifying, ultimately the strongest operators are the ones who will survive. Some of the cut-price operators won’t be able to sustain the low margins for long, but their existence and growth in numbers means that for many business customers, the expectations of a design studio have changed.

I haven’t mentioned the question about the quality of the designs on offer: there is plenty of debate taking place about that elsewhere. The fact that this segment of the design industry has flourished is evidence that, for the time being at least, price is more important than quality to a significant number of people.

Does this sound the death knell for traditional custom graphic design? I believe the answer is no, for these reasons:

Dealing Direct

Many in business would prefer to work with professional they can deal with face to face.

The Power of Client Referrals

People will always be drawn to a design firm (or any service provider) which generates good word-of-mouth, either in their local area or via social media.

Services that Complement Yours

Designers who build good relationships with linked businesses (printers, marketing, publishing, developers) will continue to pick up client leads from those avenues.

All of which come back to the same thing: Networking.

By maintaining good business networks, you stand to learn a great deal about the type of clients who are prepared to invest in your calibre of design services. And the more you understand them, the better you can target this group with your marketing activities, which means less time wasted chasing people who think window-shopping for a $60 logo is a reasonable investment of their time and money.

What do you think? Do you believe that this trend poses a serious threat to graphic designers and design studios?

More on iStockphoto’s decision to sell logos:

Designer Cannibalism? at littleblackmask

iStock Opens Can of Nasty Worms at Logo Design Love

iStockphoto Now Selling Logos ….. Your Thoughts? at Design O’Blog

Designing in a vacuum: Spec Work hurts the client, too at Sparky Firepants

My Idealistic Opinion on : iStock Selling Logos at imjustcreative


  • Jake Bartholomew

    September 24, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Tracey –

    Great post. I can’t agree more. I think Networking is an area of design where a lot of client contact and possible work is missed. I know for myself I’ve driven 6 and 8 hours before to go meet a client for a 2 hour meeting. Because of the work they needed done was out side of my skill set I did not get that client. However I did advise them on where they could go to get what they needed done and because of that, I have made contact with other business threw this client.

    I’m not saying you have to do that all the time, but I think networking and meeting people face to face is an area that we as designers forget about sometimes and in my mind could be one of the biggest selling point of our work.

    Thanks again Tracey.

  • Tracey Grady

    September 24, 2009 at 8:58 am

    I’m glad to hear you found a way to turn that potentially frustrating situation into an opportunity for the prospective client, and for yourself.
    As for networking, I think it’s important at a challenging time like this to take a good hard look at what the strengths of a professional designer are and how they can stand out compared with the crowd-sourcers and the off-the-shelf logo (and other design) sellers.

  • Anthony Hortin

    September 24, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Great post Tracey. Unfortunately, I think there’s always going to be sites that sell cheap logo designs, whether it’s iStockPhoto, Crowdspring or someone else. We’ve just gotta hope that people will see the benefits in having custom designs tailored specifically for their business, as opposed to some generic off-the-shelf mark.

  • Guy Arceneaux

    September 24, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Great post Tracey! Like the level-headed non-hysterical approach you take and the underlining of the value that a designer brings to his client relationships.

    I feel very strongly about crowdsourcing and know that what fuels it is the ownership of the means of production. It’s a rather Marxist philosophy, this crowdsourcing, and our philosophy as designers has to elevate our value above the cheap and generic.

  • iStock opens can of nasty worms | Logo Design Love

    September 28, 2009 at 3:22 am

    […] Window-shopping: the Future of Design? […]

  • David

    October 1, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    “And the more you understand them, the better you can target this group with your marketing activities, which means less time wasted chasing people who think window-shopping for a $60 logo is a reasonable investment of their time and money.”

    I love your thought process here, Tracey. This sentence really strikes a chord for me.

    It’s true that there are people out there who actually seek out these kinds of deals and actively window shop for the bargains. Those people aren’t worth marketing to, no doubt.

    I’ve been thinking lately that there is a kind of mid-level client prospect who simply follows the crowd to the bargain bin and just doesn’t know any better.

    One of my bigger goals is to find and educate those people before they make terrible mistakes for their businesses by using “used car scratch and dent” type logos and graphics.

    Crazy, I know. I’m setting myself up for a lot of strife, but it will be interesting.

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