Tag Archives: design

Money & Design: How Much?

“How Much?”

Two words that have echoed all my professional life.

As young designers, we always knew what we were worth for a client: the value we would bring to his business, the increased brand value, the costs we would save for him but when it came to costing our own efforts to achieve this, we were hopelessly out of sync.

Years ago, I was called upon to do the product graphics and colour schemes for a tractor. A large industry with heavy spending on a research centre, it was an ideal client to have. The briefing was professional, the meetings were cordial, till the time came to discuss the quote. “ You would charge that to put just a few lines on the tractor?”, I was asked. “If it is just a few lines, you would have done it yourself, “ the young blood in me retorted. I dug my heels and got what I wanted.

But I have not been so lucky, all the time. In fact, most often I have been cajoled, requested, brow-beaten and bullied into accepting a lower fee.

“We cannot afford it now.”

“Let’s start with this, for now”

“We are not a corporate company with unlimited funds. We are an NGO.”

“We are not an NGO with foreign funding. We are an industry.”

The reasons were many. The excuses were endless. But it is rather clear: most people don’t want to pay for design. It is not like they do not have the budgets. Design is not perceived by many, as a service worth paying for.

These are the same clients, who would rather pay celebrities to endorse ordinary looking products, paying millions for the endorsements. Bag-makers are known to spend more on Bollywood stars like Kareena and John Abraham than on product designers. Appliance makers believe that paying cricket players like Dhoni a fee, is money well-spent, than spending on product development.

These are the same clients who believe that making an ad film and releasing it across all the satellite channels is a necessary investment for marketing than spending on appropriate design that will do the marketing itself.

These are the same businesses that understand stardom, more than value. It is the absence of star designers like a Karim Rashid that is also affecting the economies of the design industry.

Add to this, the fact that the design fraternity is small and fragmented. There are no stars. There are no rules. Each to his own. The professional bodies are also not making an impact, yet.

There are no minimum or maximum fees. I have had instances where designers have known to quote ridiculously low or exhorbitantly high fees. This may also be because of no minimum standards of work.

Designers, often do not have the patience to invest in a client. To give him value. To demonstrate the value created. To educate him on the profession. On why we charge the way, we charge.

When that happens, clients begin to look at you as a resource. That is when, designers will be called upon to develop new stuff when a business is set up. They would look upon you as problem solvers. And not as vendors. Or suppliers. Or contractors.

I am not surprised that clients find it easy to allocate money for vendors and contractors. There is no ambiguity in the product specs. If it meets the specs, you pay the value.

But good design itself is ambiguous. The value of good design will be felt much later than sooner. As a society that is so used to ‘making-do’, the importance of good design is hard to understand.
So, how does one get what we deserve?

  1. Spread the good word. Never lose an opportunity to disseminate the idea of good design.
  2. Discuss money with fellow designers. This will help understand if one in under-charging or over-charging.
  3. Do good work. Even for clients who pay less. This pays off in the long run.
  4. Build a design-aware constituency. When people appreciate good design, they would demand it.
  5. Get professional fees for design. Do not disguise it in implementation, publication or contracting expenses.
  6. Do not settle. Over time, people will understand why you charge the way you charge.

Till then, keep your chin up, when faced with the question: “How much?”

A Balasubramaniam is one of the early graduates of NID, (National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad) having specialised in Industrial design. He is known for his work in both the industrial sector and the crafts sector having done projects with Eicher Tractors, Eveready, Hero Motors, Usha, Crafts Counci, DC Handicrafts and the UNDP.

He has been involved in institution development as well, having headed the Fairtrade division of Oxfam, GB in India; co-ordinated setting up PRIDE, a design excellence division at NSIC; and led the design team of bamboo design and development projects in the North East for UNDP.

His foray into design education started with NIFT Delhi and he went on to teach and be a jury member in all the major design institutes, including NID, NIFT, SPA and IILM. Till March 2010, he was also heading the IILM School of Design, Gurgaon as its Dean.

He is the founder of January Design, a consultancy that works mainly with design and strategy projects for the MSME sectors of the industry, grass-root innovations and the crafts sector. He is also a consultant to the National Innovation Foundation.

He regularly writes on design issues in Times of India, Economic Times, Pool and other major design publications. His blog, Design Thoughts is popular for its cryptic commentary on the Indian design scenario.

Feel free to send him a mail.

Threads of Influence is the detailed excavation and mapping of one life, that of Tom Morin, graphic designer to corporate America for over 40 years. In this book, he assembles the defining moments and influences of his life in design to produce a lush visual landscape, a world flourishing with both personal and professional remembrances and peopled by family, teachers, clients, corporations, and contemporaries.

VSUAL got in touch with designer & writer Tom Morin to know about his upcoming book titled ‘Threads of Influence’. We discovered that his book is an indispensable resource for students, professionals and educators alike. Tom’s book walks us through his life and illustrates with real life experiences, how a designer is born.


What makes a graphic designer?

Five years ago, Tom Morin set out to answer this question. The initial catalyst was helping his aging father move from the old family home in Rochester, New York, and confronting the accumulation of his father’s 88-year life. As he sifted through his father’s effects, Morin realized that he was looking at not only his father’s life, but his own: that among the books and photographs, the scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, the letters and report cards and his own early artwork were strands that had been inextricably woven into the tapestry of his own life, making of him one of America’s most prolific graphic designers.

Unable to simply consign all of this history to the dustbin, Morin packed it up and began the long drive back to his home in Galisteo, New Mexico. At the same time, he began the much longer journey that has resulted in his new book, Threads of Influence: The Visual History of a Life in Graphic Design, to be published by the Galisteo Press in October 2011.

“Traveling back home,” Morin writes in his preface to the book, “I thought about my own years of accumulation, most of which was in the attic over my garage… Many memories had already slipped away, others were rapidly fading, and still more resided with relatives and friends…  My studio was also filled with books, samples, and mementoes from 42 years of working in the design world.”

Would it be possible, he wondered, to take all this personal and professional memorabilia and stitch it all together into a cohesive timeline—one, he writes, “that would pay homage to all the influences and adequately portray the guidance, instruction, and faith shown to me by so many people?” Gripped by the realization that he did not want a near-century of family and professional history to be lost, he set about writing it down, documenting it, photographing it, and, finally, designing a book to house it all.

The pages shown here are but a small part of Morin’s 352-page volume-plus-DVD, which begins with his grandparents arriving in central New York State. From there, the book traces key influences in Morin’s family and upbringing, his education, and his career as a graphic designer and teacher of design. Through his written memories, some 1100 color and black-and-white images, sketches describing some of the greatest figures in graphic design history, and 39 personal essays provided by some of Morin’s top-flight colleagues, Threads of Influence documents how home-life, teachers (think the likes of Paul Rand, Herbert Matter, Alvin Eisenman, and Walker Evans), colleagues (Steve Chapman, Eddie Byrd, and C. Wynn Medinger, to name a few), and students (in Boston, Rochester, and Santa Fe) continually shaped and reshaped his thinking and his life, in the end forming a graphic designer who is much more than the sum of his parts.

Introductory Chapter

His story begins with relatives migrating from France, England, Ireland, and the American Midwest to settle in Fulton, New York, where Tom was born in February of 1944. His extended family includes business entrepreneurs, inventors, architects, artists, ranchers, musicians, teachers, ministers, lumbermen, an antique dealer, and one vaudeville silent movie projectionist. Tom’s family moved to Rochester, New York, in 1954. During his youth, Tom found school difficult, but his interest in art came easy. Classes at the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery and his father’s architectural designs and constructions were his initial inspiration. But it was while summering on an aunt and uncle’s sheep ranch in St. Helena, California, as  a young teen that he was introduced to “Uncle Rudolph,” a family friend and founder of the esteemed Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design in San Francisco. His new uncle promptly offered Tom a Schaeffer School scholarship, whenever the lad was ready to attend.

Tom barely graduated from high school in 1962, but was accepted at Syracuse University as a “risk” student. There he studied advertising design with the Bauhaus-trained Dr. M. Peter Piening. Piening was “by far the most influential thread in my tapestry,” says Morin. Four years under Piening’s expert and gracious eye led to a semester at the Den Grafiske Hjskoles (Graphic College of Denmark) in Copenhagen, a sojourn that marked Tom’s pivotal shift from advertising to graphic design.

A summer internship at the Xerox Corporate Design Center, managed by Jack Hough, led to Tom’s being accepted into Yale University’s graphic design program in the fall of 1966. Two years of studying under Alvin Eisenman, Paul Rand, Herbert Matter, Bradbury Thompson, Norman Ives, and Walker Evans cemented his direction. [hr]

Tom Morin is principal and designer for Context Design Inc., Galisteo, New Mexico, U.S.A.  Mr. Morin has enjoyed a prolific career as a graphic design consultant to corporate America, working for clients such as Alcoa, Champion, General Electric, JP Morgan, Westinghouse, and Xerox. His current focus includes teaching design and typography and designing books for museums and publishers. He is the author of a new visual memoir called Threads of Influence: The Visual History of a Life in Graphic Design. This long-awaited book will be the focus of an exhibition at the Yale University Art of the Book Room Library and Collection in January 2012.

Visit Threads of Influence Website
Visit Tom Morin’s Website

I read an article on the web the other day that suggested that the Internet is making people stupid. It went along the lines of how our front cortex is changing due to the nature of our information aggregation — in essence we are doing quick dives into material and following a shallower form of reading rather than going deeper. It would seem that an evolution step change has occurred. We live in a culture of instantaneous everything, social media, blogs, texting and the way we gather from the mass of information on the web, causing us to power browse to get the bare essentials. Now I’m pretty sure it went something like that, but you know, I only had time to skim read it before facebook beckoned.

So with people getting thicker, what are the implications for our industry and designers in particular? Well, to put it bluntly I would assume that designers are indeed, a little less brighter, the majority more akin to a dim glow. It isn’t like every designer hasn’t faced such criticism before. Our natural tendency to create rather than prescribe; Solve problems as opposed to counting numbers; look at pictures rather than read the text. These nuances haven’t helped our struggle for Intelligence equality.

I’d also like to point out that calling people stupid isn’t something I like to do on a daily basis, although I’m not completely immune to doing so. What does stupid mean anyway? Look how successful Forest Gump turned out, for instance, or the ex-president of the United States of America.

So as studios and agencies become herding pens for sheep, what can our clients begin to expect? Well for a start, all their problems no matter how sophisticated, can all be neatly skinned in a visual system or look just like anything you see on a website, blog, or portfolio site. For those who have already lost the power of Google searching, that would be ffffound.com, behance.net, the dieline.com and thecoolhunter.com. It’s a wonderful solution – design in an instant, all spic and span, saving time and money, and most importantly, saving some of those brain cells from exerting any effort.

You see that’s the real problem. If designers don’t need to think anymore, then the basis for our profession, problem solving, is null and void. Increased pressures for studios over the past few years have resulted in lower fees and shorter timelines, so when backed against the wall without an idea in sight, hand someone a weapon, and they’ll no doubt use it. Do that a few times, and pretty soon you’ve got serial usage, and a reliance on other peoples work as your answers.

I was struck on the weekend by a revelation, which should have probably occurred many years earlier. As I looked back on all the designers I’ve worked with, I realized that the exceptional ones that stood out, didn’t just sit under a banner of creativity, but had something far greater. They had intelligence. Mensa IQ’s. Their ancient ancestor was probably akin to the ape with the bone in 2001: A space odyssey. I’ll go a step further and call them inquisitive and curious, the drivers of knowledge acquirement, and the keys to original design thinking.

These smart designers delve deep, search for meaning, discover hidden and lateral paths, and above all, push themselves to search further. It’s how you end up with design that is new, and not simply imitation. Chatting to Russ Meyer, the Global head of strategy for Landor Associates, he pointed out “I look for curiosity above all else in future hires. Everything else can be learned, but without this drive, I’m not interested.”

Smart designers are easy to spot. For a start they’re intrigued by words, not just pictures. This means they won’t simply use Lorem Ipsum in all their headlines with the thought that it will get written once the client has selected an idea. The copywriting will be half of the idea. They also use spell check as a normal tool in their repertoire rather than see it as a strange phrase that does not compute. Ask a designer you know, what was the last design book they read. Clarify that you mean by reading, and not just looking through a book, and you’ll be surprised, or not, at how many have yet to advance beyond mere picture books.

I guess the most obvious signs, are the stories they tell through their work. I’ve seen many a designer simply describe what’s on the page, hoping you’ll see more than they did, while the clever clogs designer will articulate the reason for its existence, not that the work will usually need explaining anyway.

The work of these designers is head and shoulders above the usual. These are the designers that have a place in the D&AD history books, and often within the writing for design section. They are the architects of engaging and original branding, the builders of emotional ties with products, organizations and corporations, with a thorough understanding of communication in all its guises. Last but not least, they are the new leaders within our industry – the next wave of designers and young creative directors, already challenging the status quo, generating ideas beyond the boundaries of today, innovating in new and emerging mediums, and always looking forward to a better way of doing things.

So the next time you’re meeting, interviewing, or working with a designer, don’t assume that what you see on the page is a clear sign of a good designer. Search beyond the immediate visual display, delve deeper, and take the time to really understand the work and the person in front of you. If you’re not willing or able spot the difference between clever design and copycat graphics, a thinker and a visualiser, the future and the past, then that’s your own stupidity. [hr]


Having served as creative director of Landor Associates in Sydney, I now lead the Paris office. Driving the overall creative vision of the studio is my focus.

My approach to design is deliberate, strategic and impactful, and ideally a bit unexpected. My commitment to the education and growth of my team, clients and the industry is unwavering.

I hold a BA in architecture from Edinburgh College of Art in the United Kingdom. My work has consistently received numerous awards including accolades from D&AD, NY Type Directors Club, Tokyo Type Directors Club, Graphis, Wolda, Communication Arts, The One Show, AIGA, AGDA and has been featured in design publications and exhibitions throughout the world.

I regularly lecture, write on design and branding related subjects and I’m also a foreign correspondent for Desktop magazine.

Article originally published in Desktop Magazine, November 2010. www.desktopmag.com.au
Contributed to VSUAL by Jason Little and republished ‘as it is’ in August 2011.

Guest Contributor: Jason Little
Creative Director, Landor Associates
Location: Paris, France
URL: www.jasonlittle.co
[twitter_follow username=”jaslittle” language=”en”]


Color is one of the strongest and most important elements in any design. Color attracts the eye and can influence emotions, moods and judgment. The right color choices help communicate a message and greatly increase a product’s and/or campaign’s chance of success. ‘Color in Design Awards’ are presented by the How & Print magazines to designers and creative agencies for outstanding use of color in design and communication.

Entries are judged on color-focused criteria, including: how the color palette (whether one or multiple colors) enhances the design and how colors used in the piece add to the impact of the design and help to communicate the intended message. Judges also look for innovative color combinations and bold use of color that add to the work’s appeal.

Winners are to be featured in both HOW and Print magazines as well as their websites, the Pantone website, and celebrated in a newly created online Color in Design Collection, which will include details about the project, a link to your website, and a brief profile. Winning designs will be seen by one of the largest audiences of creative professionals ever.


Entry Deadline: November 1, 2011
Eligibility: Any printed graphic design work, website or other interactive communication published or appearing between November 1, 2010 and November 1, 2011—including promotion, advertising, logos and symbols, packaging, book jackets and lots more.
Entry Fees: $40 for the first entry. $30 for additional entries.

[ilink url=”http://www.wizehive.com/apps/display/CIDAwards” style=”download” icon=”http://vsual.co//Resources/Icons/16×16/Load%2016×16.png”]Enter Competition[/ilink]


VSUAL showcases some of the winning entries of 2011: