There are numerous ways to find a graphic designer. From friendly references and freelancing platforms used to connect individuals with designers to good ol’ fashioned Google searches, you can find a large pool of designers relatively quickly. These days there really is no limit.
You’re looking to hire a designer. Once you get going in your search you’ll probably reach out to a few designers to find out their rates. Just pick the most affordable with the best portfolio. Seems easy enough, right? Well.. maybe. Odds are though, that you’re going to be surprised by the variation in those rates in relation to their portfolio and you’ll be left asking yourself why one designer is charging $50 more than another designer. Or better yet, why one designer is charging $50 less than another designer. It’s partially a matter of perspective and how we determine value. And for good reason. But it’s also about how a designer values their own work, their business and their clientele. So what does that mean to you?
I believe it’s important to be transparent on this subject and to lay it all out on the table. Why? Because graphic design is a profession that is largely misunderstood and sometimes undervalued by many independents and small businesses, but mostly among startups.
What should you expect to pay for quality and custom design services? To start, there are two ways that graphic designers charge: hourly and per project.
Flat Per Project Rates
Flat rate projects are predetermined based on the number of hours the designer expects to devote to a specific project. It is usually a project that the designer is very familiar with and does a lot of, like logos for instance. A designer may also lower the hourly rate that they use to determine the cost of a flat rate project for jobs that may require a significant number of hours, like a website design. The more revealing question would be, “what does a designer charge per hour?” But first, it’s important to understand how a designer sets their hourly rate.
So how does a graphic designer determine their hourly rate?
This is going to depend on each individual designer and how well-established they are in their business. If they’re doing it right, it will demonstrate their level of experience, expertise, commitment and professionalism. That means that a designer must determine what they are worth before they set their hourly rate.
To keep it short, their hourly rate should be based on their education (academic and additional training), their experience (within an organization and as a sole proprietor), their level of creativity and their general understanding of best practices, new technology and programs. There are guides that can be used to help determine national and regional averages based on these qualifications.
Now let’s get really real.
At this point, like with any business, the designer must calculate the cost of running their business and the cost of living (such as healthcare and taxes) and add that onto their base salary. Then they can determine their hourly rate by dividing the total income necessary in order to operate their business by the number of hours worked in a single year, allowing about 25% of that time for other non-billable business operations. There’s actually a little more to it, but that’s the basic idea. If you are reading this as a freelancer, CreativeLive offers a great infographic to help determine your own hourly rate.
So now that you have a little insight, let’s look at hourly rates among different designers and determine what sets them apart.
On average, freelance designers in the U.S. charge between $65 and $75 per hour, although the overall range is between $20 and $350 per hour. I’ve found that the lower rate in this range is far more typical than the higher rate, but it is also somewhat telling.
Designers who offer their services at lower hourly rates usually do so because of one of three reasons.
- They are somewhat inexperienced and/or less confident in their craft. This typically means the designer is considered entry level.
- They have a full time job and need easy access to extra jobs for extra income in the evenings and on weekends.
- They are considering going rogue or have just started their own business and they are temporarily exchanging lower hourly rates for quickly developing a client list.
Designers that fall within the national average of $65 to $75 per hour are going to be fairly experienced, confident and well-established as designers. They are going to be very familiar with many different types of projects, industries and best practices. These designers have already done the footwork in developing their business and are now focused on maintaining client relationships and further building their business.
Designers that charge above the national average should be expected to have very specific areas of expertise. Many times these designers are industry leaders and have established themselves as such. This may mean they work with very high-profile clients in very specific industries. Perhaps they are world-renowned. It could also mean that they have additional skills that makes them more sought after. For example, this person might specialize in web design and is also a programmer. Their higher price is justified by their overall value of having two areas of expertise.
So you can see there are essentially three brackets that hourly rates for designers fall within. There is a significant range within the lower than average and higher than average bracket, but you now have a better understanding for this divide.
As with anything of value, it is generally true that you get what you pay for. If you’re considering hiring a designer that falls below the national average, ask them why their rates are so low. If you’re interested in a designer that falls within the average, ask them what you can expect working with them. If you’re thinking of hiring one of the top tier designers, ask them what sets them apart from other designers.
As they say, knowledge is power. The more informed you are about the experience, expertise, commitment and professionalism of the designer you choose, the more satisfied you’ll be. The best part is that you may find yourself pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you really just don’t know until you ask.