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Pricing Picasso

Billy Fasig

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

"It's you -- Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist."

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the woman his work of art.

"It's perfect!" she gushed. "You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?"

"Five thousand dollars," the artist replied.

"B-b-but, what?" the woman sputtered. "How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!"

To which Picasso responded, "Madame, it took me my entire life."

Throughout college one of my main questions about graphic design was how much to charge clients. Do the research and you'll get the same answers... it depends on the client/company, the project, the timescale. And then of course you wonder whether or not you should charge someone per hour, or by base price. Even better, sometimes you get the friends who expect you to spend time designing something for free. Let them know how much you'd typically charge someone and they'll ask something like, "why so much?!" with a seemingly altered persona because they are apparently offended that you'd charge "so much" for a friend.

Many people wonder why design is priced how it is because "they can do it themselves, but they just don't have time to." Alright, then find time and get it done for free. Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't do pro-bono work occasionally or that you should never give friends discounts... that's all personal decisions based on your preferences. Then there are the people (typically high schoolers) who advertise themselves at $10 per subpar logo design, which always gets people wanting them at those prices because now they've seen it for that price.

Now why am I even saying all of this?  I don't really know. I saw the excerpt on David Airey's blog and thought it was an interesting concept. As a graphic designer, it's not just the hours of work you put into a project. It's a lifetime of experience. It's every college course, every client interaction, every struggle, and every triumph. It's an entire knowledge base. Look at the story above. Picasso was going to charge $5,000 for a single stroke of a pencil. The client loved the result, but was dumbfounded by the pricing. I'm not the expert on pricing. I've dealt with numerous clients myself, but the majority of them were through my internship.  The company I worked for had prices decided ahead of time. When it came to clients who were asking me about pricing for projects, I was never sure of what price to give them.

The fact of the matter is, pricing is a grey area. It's difficult to figure out. You shouldn't gouge your clients, but you shouldn't under charge either. It's a process that takes time to figure out. Just take a second to think about it.