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  • The Value of Design

    Posted by Gary Austin on August 22, 2023 at 8:28 am

    How much value and focus do you put on design in your company?

    I’ve always thought it was an undervalued side of our trade, from both us and customers, and yet design agency-level outcomes are expected for a fraction of their costs. Since the dawn of time, customers come in willing to pay £500+ to have their van sign written, yet quibble over spending more than £50 to design a logo and lay it up. It’s an attitude we’re trying to turn around, putting a higher focus on the customer’s brand identity, with (varying) levels of success that have allowed us to charge more for design work.

    So I wanted to know your approach:

    1. What level of design are you educated at?
    2. Do you hire designers/outsource work?
    3. What is the balance of your work between design and production?
    4. Do you base pricing on the cost of time or value to the customer?
    David Hammond replied 6 months, 2 weeks ago 10 Members · 21 Replies
  • 21 Replies
  • Colin Crabb

    August 22, 2023 at 4:37 pm

    We place high value on designwork, and this wins us new clients. So, Okay we do deal with large clients and multinationals, so they will pay more than a ‘small logo on my van mate’ client, but at the same time except more, and you will have to work within there Branding Guidelines, use there official resources and approved images etc.

    So each attracts a different price, but we always try to help our smaller clients.

    As for our experience, we only use our in-house team, myself I’m degree level and Adobe certified, along with waaaay to many years experience (yet still learning).

  • David Hammond

    August 22, 2023 at 7:49 pm

    We put a lot of emphasis on the design aspect. Making a conscious switch to do so back during covid.

    Nobody looks at van, and goes “wow they’ve used Avery supreme”, quality of course matters, but it’s the design that sells your business, and promotes their business.

    That said I am not a graphic designer, I can put together a half decent livery, but when it comes to logos, branding, I lack creativity.

    You’re right though, some designers charge a fortune, some are very good, others obviously have not clue how a logo will be used in the real world, signs, vehicles, embroidery etc

  • Jamie Wood

    August 24, 2023 at 7:14 am

    We don’t really do design in house, as I ‘m not a designer, and I don’t employ one. I do charge for recifying client artwork and preparing files for print, if there is a lot of time invloved. Otherwise, as we are mainly trade printers, I ask for print ready artwork.

  • Mark Johnston

    August 24, 2023 at 11:33 am

    We are not designers as such.
    we include a bit for the design work when we quote but if something looks very design involved we just add something to cover the costs.

  • Pane Talev

    August 24, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    Good vehicle graphics designs cannot be done in 1 hour.

    Try and separate “design of vehicle graphics” and actual “signwriting cost of a vehicle” and your income will increase, you will become more optimised.

    I don’t offer complicated designs, mainly wraps.

    I don’t charge for designs – logo on the sides and telephone number on the doors.

    Anything else is charged by the hour.

  • RobertLambie

    August 24, 2023 at 11:51 pm
    1. I am not graphic design-qualified by a college or the like. However, with 33+ years of day-to-day designing. I regard myself as a decent self-taught graphic designer.

    2. We do employ a full-time graphic designer with college qualifications, that does around 85-90% of the design work. However, I do look over 50% of his work to make sure I am happy with certain jobs, with around 10% being done myself if and when required. This can be because of our workload or the type of job being designed.

      We do not outsource design work. I really do not rate most Design Houses when it comes to artwork that has to be manufactured into a sign or a wrap. I prefer to leave them to design posters, brochures, Business cards etc. 😉 I am not being flippant when I say that. I fully appreciate there are a great many excellent design houses out there, I just don’t have the time to massage their egos for Joe Average work that often has issues I need to address myself.
      This is NOT because I have used design house services, this is because we have multiple large customers that employ design houses that send us the artwork to produce and find we waste a lot of time educating them why their designs won’t work, and often we fix/alter them just to get the job out the door.

    3. We sell the full spectrum of signs and vehicle graphics. But we do not offer a design service as such, other than as an “extra” should it be required.

    4. Basic signs and vehicle graphics can quickly be put together if you template your work.
      This will still require, let’s say 30-60 minutes of setup time. You just lose this hour in the price of your van/sign by pricing accordingly.

      However, If the customer wants to be specific about how something should look, then a standard hourly graphic design rate would apply.

      Additionally, fees would be added for the likes of the following:
      – Logo design
      – Raster to vector artwork service.
      – Sourcing fonts, or artwork from stock websites.
      – Colour matching service

  • Gary Austin

    August 31, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks all, quite a variety of responses, which is very interesting. I guess we’re trying to figure out where to place ourselves in the market, which seems to range from trade printers that will tweak artwork if necessary, to design agencies that will offer print services as a side dish.

    For those that don’t offer much of a design service, do you think you miss out on certain jobs or do customers regularly sort it out themselves and return for the printing?

    For those that do, do you sperate the price of production/design so show the value of each, or does hiding the price of design in the job bring you more success?

    I’m pretty much a wholey self-taught graphic designer that has learned the production side of things, my job is pretty much 50/50 between the two. When we’ve looked to expand and hire staff, its been hard to know which area to focus on. I’ve always believed its easier to take a creative person with relevant software experience and teach them the production side, than to do the reverse. However, staff retention has been a problem. Management are keen to have all-rounders and I wonder if people with a design background will always favour a job purely in that.

    In terms of pricing design, I’ve been following Chris Do at The Futur for a while now, has a great insight into brand identity and in particular the sales side of it, would highly recommend checking out.

  • Jeff

    September 1, 2023 at 7:46 am

    The thing that really annoys me these days is when you quote for a van or a sign and they ask where the design example is.

    • David Hammond

      September 1, 2023 at 6:01 pm

      I refer them to our social media, or attach examples of previous styles of what we’ve quoted.

      Don’t do artwork until 50% is paid

  • Pane Talev

    September 1, 2023 at 8:21 am

    Yesterday I had new client walking in the workshop.

    No logo, no website, nothing prepared for the business.

    Client wanted to have simple van sign writing with two services and a phone number. All though I was confident I will prepare the mock up in 15min, it took 30min.

    Then client asked if he can take a picture of my screen to send to wife.

    I said, no. At the moment you are not paying me, no obligation to have a business commitment with me, and I cannot give away free artwork. Pay me 30 minutes and the artwork is yours in vector format.

    30 seconds later he signed the artwork and I did the job, it was no need to check with the wife…

    In reality I’m not as tough as I say. I should of guaranteed my time/ money before hand, just like a plumber or electrician will do. Client could of left and I have 30min unpaid work.

    • David Hammond

      September 1, 2023 at 9:48 am

      Unfortunately I let a van leave the workshop without getting the balance paid, and now I’m left chasing what’s mine… It happens.

  • Karen White

    September 7, 2023 at 9:31 am

    sorry for being a bit off subject but relevant i think.
    I have a good customer of a few years and i have been working on their van graphics for the past 2 or 3 weeks. it will be the first van of 3 maybe 4. Yesterday i was sitting at traffic lights and the new van passed with its new graphics. 😳 it was not exactly the same but it was at least 90% of what i had done for them. (passed me quickly and hard to tell) i am sat here now trying to think of the best way to approach this other than screaming down the phone. 🙄

    rant over 😥

    • Jamie Wood

      September 7, 2023 at 10:21 am

      Bill them for design & artwork time. Did you send them an editable PDF proof?

    • David Hammond

      September 7, 2023 at 10:24 am

      You can bill them, take them court etc…

      Personally chalk it up to experience and get a deposit before you do any artwork. If they want to see something before hand, direct them to your social media pages, that’s how I work and very rarely get a complaint.

    • Peter Cassidy

      September 7, 2023 at 9:41 pm

      I am with jamie and david.
      bill them. it doesnt matter if you expect them to pay. and you may be surprised and get paid something or a call with an explanation or apology at least!
      i have been in your shoes multiple times, it is not a good feeling thinking you have been played.

  • RobertLambie

    September 8, 2023 at 12:34 am


    I agree with the others, Karen.

    No matter what, be professional about it and send an absolute ape-sized man around with a baseball bat and smash the hell out of their van! 🤠

    Joking aside, I would send them a polite friendly email “worded carefully” just saying that…
    Further to ex-amount of Van graphics artwork revisions/proposals that you have sent, have they managed to come to an agreement on which one they prefer or would they like you to continue “working on designs” for them, or are they happy for you to move whichever design to production? If so, you can slot them in Next Thursday morning!”

    At this point, they will want to tell you…
    “No, stop working on them, we have gone elsewhere!”
    they may give you a reason, “the boss’s wife knows a lass down at the bingo and got it done on the cheap!”

    Whatever it is, good or bad, you get an answer and can decide which way to handle it from there.
    If you are sure the design is yours or close, get a photo of it and send your artwork draft side by side and state that you want to be compensated for them using your artwork and ex-amount of drafts you provided blah blah blah… enclose an invoice and see what happens next.
    I definetly wouldnt just ignore it, but as has been said, learn from it and dont let it happen to you again.

    For the record, I have the T-shirt for it being done to us numerous times back in the day.

  • Karen White

    September 17, 2023 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks everyone for the advice.

    i emailed the company asking if they have made a decision on the design options that i had given them.
    i received a reply from someone saying that unfortunately, their colleague had also contacted a sign company and gave them approval to do the job. so i have invoiced them for my design work, but i havent had a reply yet. that was over a week ago now.
    i have seen the van again and it is very close to my designs but not exact. 😟

    thanks again.

    • Mark Johnston

      September 18, 2023 at 11:34 am

      i think this has happened to everyone at some point karen. 🙄

    • Pane Talev

      September 18, 2023 at 12:53 pm

      I have a feeling they will pay your invoice.

      “their colleague had also contacted a sign company…” – very unlikely.

      “very close to my designs but not exact.” – here the case is not 100% on your side.

  • Karen White

    October 5, 2023 at 8:38 pm

    I sent a payment reminder for the invoice that i sent to my customer for artwork and i had another reply.
    again, they apologised and repeated that it was their colleague who had given the job to someone else. but they went on to say that they had been dealing with 3 different sign companies and all were sending them designs and none were paid for, nor did they expect to be charged for them. they felt that the only reason i was invoicing them was because i did not win the work. which in a way is correct. 🤔

    Well i will learn by mistake on this one. 😕

    • David Hammond

      October 6, 2023 at 4:27 am

      If they have used your design you are not billing them for your time.

      You are billing them for the intellectual property of the design a licence or release fee for them to use it.

      You, or your company has automatic rights over that, see first author.

      Even if you charge for the design time, you have not necessarily given over the rights to the design, despite what others say.

      I have taken someone to court and won for using a photo I took on of a customers van, used that case to do what you’re doing now, get a customer to pay for my design when they went elsewhere.

      All that said, don’t waste your time, stop doing prospective design work.

      I’ll put this quite bluntly but with the best intentions as I’m quite passionate about this.

      You may as well go and work for the competition for free. We can assume your design was better as they used it. We could assume the other company was cheaper, closer, did weekends or evenings, something for them to go there (I would guess cheaper)

      What this company now has is lots of lovely pictures of YOUR design on THEIR social media, and THEIR portfolio.

      Most potential customers don’t look at their images and go ” thwar they’ve used Avery Supreme Carmine Red, that’s the right material”… they look and go “that looks cool, I want that”.

      YOUR designs are different to everyone else’s repetitive crap… but now they’re looking at the competitors thinking that when it was you. Plus the competition might have used any old crap material and in 6 months your design looks terrible.

      With more and more of the supply only companies appearing, dishing out free designs you’re effectively working for the competition.

      Stop it!

      I take 50% before I even open a template, that may not work for all, but at least take something, £30, £50, for the design and set number of revisions.

      Very few customers query it with me, it’s spelt out from the initial reply this is how we work.

      You’ll also find, once they have paid they’re a little more attentive, they’re invested, you’ll probably be more enthusiastic too because it’s practically a guaranteed job, and with set revisions they can’t be sending millions of emails.

      Value your time, if you don’t the customer won’t. It might only take 30mins, but that’s because you know to do it.

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