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What Money Can’t Buy



Let’s face it.  Designers are an anal bunch of perfectionists who want nothing more than to be adequately valued for their work.

Of course, that being said, there are many kinds of people out there who call themselves designers.  But I will leave that topic for another day, when I feel a little bit more pissed off than usual about this term that has been overused without being true to its meaning.

I’m going to talk about design sense today.  Sense cannot be seen, but can only be made evident through someone’s work.  For example, if you have that engineering sense, then your product will achieve its main objective which is to make one’s life as convenient as possible.  Like the ever-efficient commuting system in Japan, even that elevator at your place that requires the least waiting time or that cup you’re using that comes with a handle.

Unlike engineering sense, there is one type of sense (apart from common sense) that is sadly undervalued.

And that is the sense of design.

What’s that?  It’s that cover of the book you’re reading that prompted you to flip its pages in the first place (yes, a book is still, like it or not, judged by its cover), that mouse you’re using right now where the scroll button is nicely fitted in the middle for ergonomics purposes, that infamous Google page where it’s so straightforward it delivers your search in two steps or that fat yellow man whom you’d recognize instantly on TV or the streets.

But most people don’t get that.  They cannot see what good design does to their brain.  It’s like slurping a bowl of delicious, silky noodles that slithers right down to your throat with ease.  It’s such a smooth process that it is often taken for granted.

Design is hard work.  Design sense is what makes your hard work, work.

Sometimes people don’t get how design is priced, even designers themselves.  Dealing with different people, I have often come across comments like, “But this designer I know only charge me RMxxx leh… why yours is higher?” And more often than not, when I ask them what is the process involved or what the objective of their project is, they stumble.  They also tell me, “I don’t know lah, I just tell them what I do and they automatically settle for me.”

Sure.  If they gave me a chunk of text and a bundle of photos to be chucked as I please and add all the miscellaneous “features” onto their site that they don’t need, I might as well create some sort of template and charge them 50 dollars a site.  Every single one of them.

No.  A good designer listens to what you want and advises you on what you need.  And then, draws a balanced line between both.  A designer with a sense of design puts himself in the shoes of a client’s client and distinguishes between their own design ego and a viewer’s mindset.  He sits with a blank sheet of paper and brainstorms for you to put the value into your project that he hopes you and your clients will see.

If you’re a client with a business venture, your design should help you sell.
If you want to start a personal site/blog, your design should reflect you and not what your designer can do.

Doesn’t matter what kind of agenda you have in mind.  A designer with design sense will be able to convey the message you want to send across in a language everybody understands.  He makes your viewers feel smart because of how easy it is to interpret and use your product.

I can turn this site of mine into a full-fledge Flash site with fancy buttons to play with.  But I didn’t.  Because I don’t need to.  And you won’t like it either because you’d have to wait a darn long time for it to load and then forget why you were here in the first place.

So the next time your designer charges you what you consider as an exorbitant fee, weigh your judgement.  Have a look at his/her portfolio and get to know your designer more. Find out about the process he/she goes through and the methods used in order to execute your project.  Are they efficient or are they using cheap shortcuts that will cause you even more hassle in the future?

Designs can be dirt cheap.  But designs that come with that invaluable sense which combine hard work, style, function and practicality, should be due its price.

About the author


Fueled by coffee and thrives on kindness. Generally pleasant.


  • Or, you do, most of the time, get what you pay for.

    Good post, Vern. For good designers though, design isn’t just hard work, it’s great FUN! So the ideal situation = good designer + good client = some design magic! 🙂

  • Vern – absolutely spot-on. Those people who take other people’s money and then do whatever the people ask, they aren’t DESIGNERS. They’re software users. They can fire up Dreamweaver, fire up Photoshop, fire up (name your software here) and start doing whatever the client asks. These software designers cannot think, don’t know theory, don’t know the difference between classy and ugly (OK, they don’t even know what’s awful ugly) and then think it’s cool.

  • That’s so true, Vern. I’ve seen how designers work using all sorts of sophisticated software to come out with good and quality work and they really sacrifice the time to do it all day. Sometimes worse still, they have to sacrifice their sleeping time to finish it due to demand from client and in the end still being nego for cheaper price.

    But on the other hand, I think it is a natural thing for a customer to try nego for cheaper price. You know ppl loves discount or cheaper pricing. ahah but yes, many do not know how all the behind-the-scenes work and just request for this and that, making changes here and there.

    Good post, btw =)

  • haha… I think the reason it’s so difficult to put a value to design is because good design is subjective. Like a piece of art, one can value it whichever they want. From the business standpoint, If the design do not command the desired traffic or pull, can it be the design’s fault, content or that the product is not desirable in the first place? Saving up for your creation, Vern. Been happy so far!!!

  • I already know who to ask to design my future Dr aLexis Dental website, or my future Hope Hospital website, or my …. or my….. etc etc =)

  • I just think we should give people the credit where credit is due. Just a little sad that designers aren’t valued as much as they are overseas. But it’s also partly our fault, especially those who copy+paste other people’s work so often they make it look almost too easy. And thanks to those who appreciate what I do – means a lot and it keeps me going. 🙂

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