Is cheap design worth the cost saving?

It's really tempting to go for something quick and easy when the pennies are tight, isn't it? Keeping an eye on cost saving is critical for a new business. 

Thanks to sites that trade on money over skills like Fiverr, 99 and Upwork, logos, book covers and website design can be bought for under a tenner. I wanted to write about the ethics of this and give you some background on how these sites work so you can decide if they are right for you and why I don't offer my design services on these sites. For the purposes of this piece, I’ve used the example of a logo but the same theory can be applied to book covers, websites – any graphic design piece for any product or service.

Cost saving can mean ignoring ethics

Fiverr and People Per Hour offer what many term as a 'race to the bottom' service. You will find skilled people competing in a global market for work and offering rates as low as £5. Like any human being, designers need enough money to eat and live, and being a designer isn't cheap no matter where you live.

One cost most designers will have is Adobe Creative Suite which is the industry standard software. This starts at £49 per month for all the apps for an individual. It is possible to download old Adobe software for free or minimal costs (though Adobe are clamping down on old copies, claiming they are illegal) but old software doesn't include the latest features such as ebook production. Other free apps are out there but you’ll want the best for your logo or design project. If it’s free, you could do it yourself!

So how are these people managing to live?

Cost of living varies around the world but everyone should be paid a living wage. Low cost ‘design’ can be achieved by volume of work which means scant care and attention to your job or accepting a low wage. Often price you pay isn't the money the creator receives as all these sites charge a fee. At some point, the cheap cost pays a bigger price either to the living and working conditions of those who provide the service or their technical ability and design skills, or relevance of the software used.

Value for money and uniqueness

I've written a lot in the blog about the uniqueness of design. 

To understand what good design is, a designer has to understand what design does for the product, service, the customer and the business owner or author in order to create a solution. Your design is the face of your income. Those qualities can inspire trust, admiration, loyalty and superiority. It can portray your economic status and heritage, vivacity and your future. A good logo is part of your brand strategy and it is often the key identifier for new and future customers.

And yet hundreds of people entrust this important piece of design to cheap sites and hoping that $5 buys them something that can sums all these key factors having never met the ‘creative’ behind it. Is that really value for money? If you want to make a minor adjustment to the piece and you can't find the creator on the site, then you have to pay again for a recreation. Is that also value for money?

Design competition

One of the most compelling but worthless routes is a design contest as used by 99. As the client, you completely control the brief. This means you should know about the vision and outcome, and act as the art director as well as the client because there is a minimal collaboration with a designer and therefore no chance to problem solve as you would do with me on a discovery call and during concept proofs. Multiple ‘designers’ will respond to your brief, spend their time on designs which they submit and you judge. For free. With no guarantee of getting the work and no reassurance that their design isn't going to be copied.

Even if I was vaguely tempted to enter a competition for work,  I’d be doing the work as quickly as I can for the speedy win so it would never be my best job and that feels like a false economy to the client. 

This contest practice is unsound for many reasons. It encourages cheap design and damages the reputation of professionals. I sum it up with the analogy of going to a restaurant, ordering the whole menu and only paying for the meal you like. In any other industry, you’d never consider the practice and it’s not acceptable in design.

Design by template

Ah… the secret to speedy work. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with vectors on libraries, except that you, your neighbour, the competitor up the road – anyone, can get an account and get the same images as yours. If you want an exclusive design, invest, because it’s cheap to copy.


Canva is a great way to design and it's really easy to create a free site in Weebly or Wix. But apps do not make designers. If you are tempted to create a design then do think about running it past a designer who has experience in the product or service you need.  I encourage clients to look at mood board building using Pinterest or using apps as a way to explain their ideas and then suggesting improvements to develop the design. It's a great way to share my skills.

Beware of free fonts

What's the connection between David Bowie and Edward Johnston? Both created work that required a licence. In Bowie's case it's music and in Johnston's case it's type (notably the typeface for London Transport). We need to pay to listen to or use their creations. A designer will also know that a great font needs a license and how to find a great font in amongst the many that are free via Google. 

Takeaway: tips on hiring a pro

  • Check what you’re paying for. A strong working portfolio across a range of areas, evidence of knowledge on their website, qualifications in graphic design at undergrad, HND or Masters is a great big plus point too.

  • Remember that you’re paying for our work experience, creative wisdom and ability to steer your design through it’s revisions whilst avoiding pitfalls.

  • The price of a logo isn’t an easy question to answer. I offer a range of packages to help businesses get off the ground but also provide bespoke design too that goes deeper into the design.

  • Go with who you’re most comfortable working with. A free one hour consultation can help to alleviate worries and provide clarity, giving you the confidence to get the great design that you deserve.