Infographic Design – Selling Your Soul

Source: sxc.hu (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/299111)

It’s funny that the main topic of my post is Infographic (IG) design, and I’m writing all of this post with no graphics. I want to speak on the topic of selling your soul because with every hot trend, companies and businesses will jump at the chance to become apart of the hype, and by any means necessary keep up with the trends even at the cost of others.

I started designing IGs about a year and a half ago and have a serious passion for them. Having a mother as a librarian, I stayed in libraries and actually like visiting them for fun, it’s a world of fun, a chance to double your knowledge and tickle the itch to know something you didn’t know. When I stumble across a world that allowed me to utilize my passion for information and design I became ecstatic. Being an independent freelancer, however, I wasn’t able to just jump into the scene and start designing. Instead I designed one myself and started advertising myself to design agencies. While I did get a couple geeks, little did I know I would be selling my soul.

I hate to speak about the business practices of others, but I think it’s relevant in determining whats wrong with the freelancing community. It hurts as a designer to sign contracts in which I know I won’t ever get to show my work publicly, or be in direct touch with the client. The first time I saw my IG on Forbes.com, I was heartbroken. My IG was viral, but was being claimed by someone else. Somehow this is okay in the community, I had literally signed my life away, and I had no other choice BUT to be okay with it. As I learned, I realized that I had a choice, I could say no, but risk steady work, and a chance to develop my skills.

But I can really develop them when I am getting paid below industry rate? The steps of designing an IG is pretty intense. You must first decide what you want to research (this takes forever!), then do the research (which can take from 3 hours to 3 months depending upon the complexity), then layout the information found (about 2-10 hours), then choose your type and your color palate (about 3 hours), then choose graphic elements that are royally free or design your own (about 2-10 hours). A well though out IG takes a LONG time. Which is why I don’t understand why my work is valued at $250 an IG.

This is probably something that shouldn’t be and is never discussed. The rates that are paid to some talented designer to do the work for other agencies in this economy is beyond insulting. I have been offered $15/hr, $20/hr, $200 and IG, and at the highest $250. While I am not sure how much companies are getting charged for this, I know that it’s probably a 75% markup, and it’s beyond disgusting. Some of those notable design firms are paying others to do their work, and it’s not just design but also copywriting, the research as well as visual design, and do it in a 2 week time period.

I’m frustrated. I want to make a change, but like anything you have to get angry enough and demand respect. Companies deserve to work with agencies that respect them, and are able to really represent their company and give them the respect they deserve to produce a smart IG and not just hire anyone to put words and clip art together and call it an INFOGRAPHIC. Business who entrust their marketing strategies with agencies deserve to be treated with respect and work with those who treat their employees, contractors, freelancers, etc… with respect. Otherwise it’s as bad as working with a child abuser in my opinion.

So what’s the solution? I believe it’s time to stand up for your beliefs and your design and not take no for an answer. Just like we all presented a united front for spec work, it should be similar against agencies paying their freelancers pennies. I understand a profit needs to be made, but there is a thin line between taking advantage and providing opportunity. I just hope the former gets called out more often and agencies, as well as business prospects, will see this and support independent freelancers.

Please weigh in on this topic below. Am I wrong? Can a change be made? Please share!

Comments (2)
  • Dylan opet

    March 22, 2012

    Haha! This is such a wonderful post!

    I can more than relate to exactly what you’re saying, I certainly agree on your view and definitely see it as the same especially when you were explaining the thin line of one being taking advantage of and actually providing a great opportunity.

    • mariekyle

      March 22, 2012

      Dylan, what do you think about the school of thought which says that the problem is really not the fact that you aren’t getting recognition for the work you are doing, the problem is that you are not identifying yourself as a team member? Take for instance Nike shoes. Nike (the company) doesn’t design the shoes it promotes and sells, their shoes are created and designed by individuals (shoe designers and architects). Does that make Nike evil for advertising that they created a new shoe while leaving the names of the designers completely out of the picture? No. It makes Nike smart because they recognize that branding is important to the growth of their company and that no one individual can be bigger than their brand.

      Let me put it a different way – how many less shoes would Nike as a company sell if in all their advertising (instead of having a hyper focus on the product and their brand) they listed all the names of the people involved with making their products? How many people would actually pay attention to them? How recognizable would their brand then if their ads were overshadowed by a sea of acknowledgements to their designers? My guess is at that point Nike ads would not be distinguishable from a newspaper classified.

      My point is that while what Chanelle spoke about in this article is absolutely true – their are companies out their who completely take advantage of designers (*cough*), what most designers fail to realize if that these companies are doing what they need to do in order to promote and strengthen their brand. If you as a designer are ever in a situation where you feel like you are being taken advantage of or that you are being undervalued in most cases it’s because your loyalty was to the money, not to the company that you ended up working with.

      Rarely will you ever see Nike designers hold a million designer march against Nike even though their names are never advertised on Nike products, and the reason is that their loyalty to the company trumps all. As a designer, when you get to a point where you look at the company you work with, and you feel good about the work you do with that company, it is no longer you vs them – you are part of the company. When people ask you what you do, you will proudly say ‘I work at Nike’, and people respect that.

      I hope and pray for the day that all freelance designers wake up and realize that like any company, you are your own brand, and if you want to be successful as a freelance brand then you are going to have to make decisions based on whether or not the work you take on will strengthen your brand. Sometimes that means doing work that you can’t claim, but that will give you invaluable skills. Sometimes that means turning down work because the lack or recognition will hurt your brand.

      Chanelle and I riff about this from time to time, but I really believe that it’s freelancers who need to change their attitudes and perspectives about they type of work you commit to. Imagine if all freelancers stopped being ruled by their bank accounts and started thinking about the impact of their work on their careers? Any successful freelance will tell you it wasn’t until they began to recognize they they needed to actively take control of their brand and turn down work that didn’t align with where they were trying to go in their careers that they truly began to be successful. And often you find that while many successful freelancers have done ‘spec work’, or work that they couldn’t claim, it wasn’t something that they made a career out of. They took those jobs on only when they knew they would gain something from it (be it skills, contact, or insider information).

      I didn’t mean to write a novel, lol, but the topic of freelancing really does interest me a great deal. Keep in touch Dylan, I’d love to know where you are in your freelance career and what steps you are taking to get where you want to go! (get@mariekyle.com)

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