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Graphic Design Price vs. Speed vs. Quality: What's Most Important?
Graphic design

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Graphic Design Price, Speed & Quality: Can You Have it All?

Graphic design
February 11, 2022
25 minutes

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Is it possible to get good quality graphics fast for a fair graphic design price? It may sound like a tall order. But if you know how to measure the quality, speed, and price of the design process, it will be much easier to find a design service that perfectly fits your needs!

Do you think dating’s hard? Try finding a graphic designer, who delivers quality work fast. Then the philanthropic, corporate lawyer who trains basketball and likes your mother may not seem like a pipe dream after all.

I joke, but the truth is that it can be challenging to find a design service that ticks all the most important boxes: quality, speed, and price.

It’s a concept known by many names, including Project Management Triangle, Triple Constraint, or Iron Triangle. The gist of it? When it comes to quality, price, and speed, you’ll always have to settle for just two out of the three.

SP22.01_Graphics 1.png

This won’t be new territory if you’ve ever managed a project or worked on something yourself. In fact, it’s a dilemma we face in everyday life. Let’s use an example to illustrate:

I want to buy a new pair of jeans, and I know exactly which pair I want to buy and what my budget is.I’d also like my clothes to be ethically sourced as a conscious buyer.

If I go to a high-street store, I’ll have various options at a price I can afford. However, most of these fast fashion chains don’t have much regard for sustainable production or worker’s rights.

A high fashion store will likely have some lovely designs (perhaps even better than what I had in mind). And mainly use more ethical means of production. The problem is that these are likely to be out of my price range.

On the other hand, a thrift shop is cheap and sustainable. But it’s doubtful I’d find exactly what I was looking for since they might not have the model or size I need.

If you’ve looked into hiring a graphic design service provider, this is likely the dilemma you’ve already faced. So, how does one resolve this issue? Is there any way you can get the most “design bang” for your buck? It’s simple: know what you’re paying for and why.

In this article, we will address what makes a fair graphic design price list, what is a reasonable speed for completing projects, and how you can assess quality.

Next, we’ll discuss the different combinations of the Project Management Triangle. This way you’ll know what to expect when settling for two out of the three preferred features of a graphic design service provider.

Finally, we’ll reveal the ultimate solution where you don’t need to settle and compromise on quality, speed, or affordability.

What is affordable design?

I was at a petrol station recently, and since I have no clue how much petrol costs, I asked the station assistant to fill her up for a set sum. Turns out, that was nowhere near enough. Once the driver realized my mistake, we had to stop at the next station to tank the car up, paying the correct amount this time (gas don’t come cheap, folks).

So, if you’re stuck wondering, “how much should I pay a graphic designer” you should first consider what you need created.

Otherwise, you might end up paying much more than you’d budgeted for. For example, you may think a project only requires 2-4 hours to complete. But, due to complexity, it could easily take twice as long. Or you may discover that the $5 logo you created with an online logo maker is terrible and will need to hire a professional designer instead.

Unfortunately, finding a comprehensive graphic design services price list online can be tricky since the different design service providers charge very diverse rates.

However, to give you at least some idea and make you feel less clueless than I did at that gas station, we’ve compiled a graphic design price list for some common design projects:

SP22 (2).png

  • Logo: Logo design cost is a common point of disagreement between clients and designers. How can something so simple cost so much? Well, you need to understand that a logo translates the business purpose, main values, and target audience into a single visual element. Then it’s clear why the average logo costs between $200 and $800, while it can also go upwards of $2000.
  • Landing page: Several decent landing page builders allow you to customize one of their many landing page templates for as little as around $150 per month (this includes hosting). However, if you want to create something from scratch, you’re looking at paying about $1000 to $1500.
  • Display ad set: Although simple enough, good ad design can be a significant factor in the success of campaigns. Boring ads get ignored; ugly ones don’t get clicked. Luckily, almost anyone can afford professional ad design since a single banner is usually well under $100, meaning you could get a complete set for a couple of hundred dollars. Design agencies, however, can charge as much as $900 for a single ad set.
  • Social media graphics: Social media graphics on Freelancer cost between $4 and $20 for a single post. Although there are pricier alternatives, this is a good ballpark figure. That said, remember that you can’t reuse or post the same social graphics all the time. So, if you want to post at least three times a week, the monthly price for social media design alone would be around at least $200.
  • Website design: Although cheaper alternatives like website building platforms will cost less, custom websites will usually cost around $3,000 to design. Agency fees will typically be much heftier, ranging upwards of $15,000 (but this usually involves additional services like development and testing).
  • Print collateral: Brochures, flyers, and other printed materials have varying design costs, from just $10 to more than $100. But, since you need to consider printing costs, it’s a good idea to have a professional design them. Otherwise, you might end up spending money on unusable materials.
  • Books and ebooks: The price for these is largely dependent on the length and complexity of design. You can expect to pay between $200 and $2000 for ebooks and longer print publications.

As you can already tell from the list, different design service providers come at various price points. Although a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better quality, it’s important to bear this in mind when you’re looking for a service to work with.

For example, freelancers can set virtually any rate they want, but that won’t always correspond to their experience level. On the other hand, agency fees are highly dependent on location, so their pricing isn’t just based on quality or experience either.

So, another good way to make sure you’re getting a fair price is to consider the average hourly, monthly or annual graphic design rates of different services.

To help you decide, we’ll give a bit more detail about what you can expect with each:

In-house designer

Did you know that 90% of US graphic designers work as freelancers? Why would so many prefer to work under flexible, often unreliable work conditions?

Simple: there is a greater need. Few companies can justify the expense of hiring a full-time designer because most small businesses don’t really need design regularly. It’s often something like 2-3 social media posts per week, perhaps an email newsletter, and a couple of blog covers. That all requires 2-3 working days, maximum.

Even creative agencies that often have design professionals on their team are increasingly moving towards outsourcing: a Cella report from 2019 noted that 73% of agencies outsource graphic design. This is mainly to access specialized skills and expand their resources and offer.

agenices reasons for outsourcing.jpg

But I know what you’re thinking: “Stop trying to convince me otherwise. I believe that a full-time hire is right for me, so how much should I pay for a graphic designer?”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for graphic designers in the US is around $53,000. Is that a fair price? Sure. You get the same person working on your graphics, which means they get a deeper understanding and perhaps emotional investment with your brand. You build the company culture by enjoying those (Zoom) watercooler chats.

Are there more affordable alternatives? Definitely! For example, our unlimited design service also offers the possibility of a Dedicated Designer plan, which basically gives you the option to have a full-time designer on your team (reachable via Slack) for just $999 per month or $12k annually!

Here are a couple more options to consider:

Find out how and where to outsource your graphic design needs

Download our guide to find a solution that suits your business

Freelance graphic designers

Upwork graphic design rates are estimated at an average of $25 to $30 per hour. However, depending on the type of project and the designer’s experience, they can go up to $150+ per hour.

It’s also safe to assume that Upwork caters towards less experienced designers. Hence, the rate of $25 per hour is probably the minimum you can expect to pay to someone who has at least some professional experience.

Of course, remember that with this type of service, you won’t just be paying for the design work.

The safest way to hire a freelancer is through a reputable platform like Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, Toptal, etc. However, these commonly charge commission or sign-up fees, which need to be factored into the overall price.

Usually, these fees aren’t very big. But if they are commission-based, more expensive projects could add quite a bit to the final bill.

Design agencies

As you might’ve guessed, this is the costliest type of design service out there, so if you have a small budget, this probably isn’t going to be the right option for you.

Graphic design agencies employ a variety of designers, from less to more experienced, and usually, charge around $100 to $150 per hour. Since few design projects can be done in under 8 hours, you’re definitely looking to pay upwards of $1,000 for even the simple tasks.

You might ask for a graphic design price list, but this won’t be possible in most cases. Instead, many agencies will give you an estimate of the costs based on your needs. These estimates are often free, so if you want a ballpark figure to work with, this is a way to find out!

Unlimited design services

Like traditional design agencies, there is some range with this type of service. However, since unlimited design services charge fixed rates, you will be able to have a good overview of how much you need to spend on your designs.

Most unlimited graphic design services charge between $300 and $1,000 per month. This price range usually covers different services, allowing you to find the most cost-effective option for your business.

At ManyPixels, we offer three pricing options, starting from $450 per month. Our most expensive plan ($999 per month) includes double our usual daily output and a dedicated designer you can collaborate with via Slack.

What is fast design?

Graphic design is a complex process that involves stages like research, ideation, testing, and revision. For you, it might seem like a quick matter of changing the colors or moving the text a little bit to the right.

But, a graphic designer knows that even a minor change can impact the overall balance and require hours of revision work.

Moreover, the turnaround time for a design project greatly depends on the quality of the creative brief. The more precise the guidelines, background information, and illustrative examples, the more quickly a designer can produce quality results.

From our own experience, here are some of the projects a graphic designer can complete within one working day:

  • 2-3 social media graphics
  • 1-2 custom illustrations (more if they are not too complex)
  • 2-3 display ads
  • 4-5 pages of a brochure, ebook, report, or slide deck
  • 1 GIF draft (2-3 sec)
  • 1-2 flyers
  • 1 logo draft
  • the first draft of a landing page.

Of course, this does not include extensive research or revisions, so you might need to factor in some extra time for that as well.

And, in terms of daily output, don’t forget that most freelance graphic designers work with several clients simultaneously. So although a design project might take 8 hours to complete, they will only deliver the first draft after two working days.

When it comes to more complex projects, here are some rough figures to help you determine what constitutes a good pace for design work:

  • Complete logo and branding: 4-5 days
  • Web design: 6-12 weeks
  • 60-90 seconds of animation: 4-6 weeks.

Finally, bear in mind that many freelancers decide how to price graphic design work based on the speed of delivery. So often, while it is possible to get a design completed faster, it will also mean that there will be a bigger fee to pay.

Designer's Work Tracking Checklist

Learn how to work effectively with designers: from writing a brief to giving feedback and tracking work.

What is quality design?

Here it is: the big question. How can you ensure that the work you’ve received is any good? Measuring the success of a piece of design takes time and is not something you can easily predict. So you might realize you’ve paid an unreasonable graphic design price for poor quality work, only when it’s too late.

Luckily, graphic design is not wholly subjective either. Unlike visual arts, graphic design always has to fulfill a specific purpose. That usually means conveying a message to a distinct audience and, potentially, prompting them to take action.

Let’s look at a simple example. If the design of a button confuses the typical user (e.g., a red button for yes, green for no), then it’s safe to say that there’s a serious design flaw.

Here are a few pointers on how to judge whether a piece of graphic design is high-quality:

Does it fulfill its purpose and speak to your audience?

Before you submit a design request, whether it’s for a business card or a landing page, you need to be sure of what you want it to achieve.

For example, you might need business cards for daily use that build trust in your brand and enforce the brand image. On the other hand, a bolder, eye-catching variation could be more suitable for trade shows and special events. Landing pages, of course, can have an even greater number of variations and purposes.

If a design doesn’t do what it’s supposed to (inform, sell, advertise, convince, etc.), it can’t be considered effective. This should come before any aesthetic considerations or even ensuring that it’s on-brand.

If the primary purpose is fulfilled, you need to assess whether the style fits the preferences of your target audience.

This is where you’ll need to create marketing personas (personifications of your ideal audience). A well-developed persona will include information beyond simple demographic data (age, gender, location, job, etc.), such as hobbies, preferences, and where they look for information.

Based on your findings, designs need to correspond with the styles and trends they know and love.

For example, a few years ago, if you were targeting millennials, muted and pastel color palettes were an inevitable choice, while the younger generation Z today prefers more variety in terms of contrast, bold design choices, and a more “genuine” look.

Remember, new isn’t always better. Some years ago, Gap tried to rebrand with a new logo more in line with modern design trends. Instead of a serif, they opted for a crisp sans serif font and added a gradient element to the logo.

gap logo redesign.png The Branding Journal

People hated it, and the new look was dropped after just 6 days! But why? The new logo definitely looked professional and polished, so why were people so outraged by the change?

The answer is: wrong target audience. People don’t go to Gap because they want to look trendy. They want quality, affordable clothes, often bought for the entire family. Unlike the more “traditional” serif typography against a navy background, the new logo simply didn’t translate the same sense of value and trust as effectively.

Keep your main value proposition in mind, and never try to be everything to everyone. A more limited target audience that will remain loyal to your brand is much better for long-term success than trying to reach across all demographics.

Is the message clear?

Let’s say it again for the people in the back: don’t overcrowd your designs with calls to action.

As mentioned, any successful design needs to fulfill a purpose. But how can you check that this is actually the case? By looking at the way people interact with your designs.

This is how a call to action (CTA) forms an integral part of any piece of graphic design. A good CTA has to be clear, visible, and legible. It also needs to be placed well to understand the action they need to take and why they should take it.

Here’s an example from the world of email marketing. This graphic has a lot of aesthetic value (quality photo, legible, consistent typography, excellent color scheme). Unfortunately, the competing CTAs confuse the user as to what precisely the main message and, subsequently, the primary CTA is.

cta bad example.jpg Econsultancy

Is it beautiful and original?

Only once the purpose and message are crystal clear is it time to consider what even non-designers can understand: does a design look good?

The importance of an aesthetic appeal is hugely important in the world of design. One study found that 94% of first impressions of a website are related to design, not content. Another statistic suggests that well over half of consumers (60%) will avoid brands whose logos they find unattractive or ugly.

But what makes design beautiful or ugly?

Well, we’d be lying if we said that design isn’t at least a little bit subjective. Its performance can be measured (e.g. social likes, ad clicks, sing-ups on your landing page, etc.). But it’s also impossible not to have a subjective response to design: sometimes you just like it, or you don’t.

While you might be tempted to go with your gut feeling when assessing a piece of design work, it’s much better to stick to the universal principles of good design.

This will provide you with a framework for assessing any design and, usually, ensure that the graphics are visually appealing to people regardless of their personal tastes and preferences.

For example, I’m not a huge fan of minimalism, but I can’t deny that Apple’s crisp, stripped-down logo is much better than the original 1976 one, which simply has too much going on to be memorable.

apple logo evolution.png Logaster

So, what are some of the most important design principles? Here’s a quick list:

  • Color: Color theory examines how colors are mixed and organized: primary and secondary colors; complementary and analogous, etc. In addition to that, you should also get acquainted with color psychology, which refers to commonly recognized associations tied to specific colors.
  • Line: As one of the most foundational design elements, lines come in all shapes and sizes and help designs meet different goals. They can be very subtle and supplementary (see the timeline in the logo evolution example above); or the focal point of a design (Art deco style, for example).
  • Typography: Understand the difference between script, serif, and sans serif fonts before choosing the most appropriate one. Serifs are generally considered more traditional, scripts are more playful, while sans serifs have a broader use in the professional world. Know what a typeface is (e.g., Arial or Times New Roman) as opposed to a font (variations of a typeface such as italic, thin, etc.)
  • Balance: In simple terms, this means that a design doesn’t work if you take out any single element. It’s a good rule of thumb to apply to your designs - if you delete an element, but the overall design still works perfectly well, it means this element may have been redundant.
  • Hierarchy: This is the design principle applied to ensure that the message of a design is evident. Remembering the example of the email banner, it’s clear that hierarchy is missing, which would ensure that the most important information or message is the most visible one.
  • Contrast: If you want to grab attention, use contrast. There are many ways to achieve contrast successfully without making designs overbearing or ugly, from colors to lines and typography pairings.
  • Repetition: It’s one of the most essential principles used in branding design, as it allows people to remember a brand through the consistent use of colors, typography, and shapes.
  • Proportion: Also called scale, proportion means adding visual weight to elements conditionally. For example, a giant red button is noticeable and can be overbearing unless the other details are kept to a minimum (think of the Japanese flag!).
  • Negative space: Unused space (also negative or white space) is the element of design upon which all the other principles are built. An absence of white space usually means no balance since too many elements are competing for attention, and it’s impossible to convey a clear message.

If design principles are observed, the final step in quality control is to check for originality.

Still, it goes without saying that creating something completely original is a near-impossible task these days. Moreover, in marketing design, following trends is crucial, as something totally different from the norm might seem unprofessional or not trustworthy. Additionally, unlike software that can quickly check writing for plagiarism, checking the originality of design is not quite as clear-cut.

So how can you decide if the design is original?

Start by researching within your industry and see if a similar design appears elsewhere. Here’s a famous example of a Korean coffee company that “borrowed” its logo design from Starbucks, and, unsurprisingly, a lawsuit ensued.

plagiarism design mistake.jpg Creative Bloq

Next, look at your design provider’s portfolio and see if they’ve been tempted to simply recycle an old design and pass it on as something new. This won’t necessarily mean the design is a total write-off, though. If the purposes and industries are vastly different, it can still work, provided some tweaks are made.

At the end of the day, it’s still important to remember that originality is not the ultimate goal of good design. Instead, you should focus more on whether and how graphic design solves problems or what kind of action it prompts.

See some of ManyPixels’ best design works

Get the ManyPixels Design Library 2022

Price, speed & quality: is there always a trade-off?

Now that you understand what you can get for a particular graphic design price, it’s time to also consider what you’re not getting.

Here’s a quick overview of what the design process looks like when you have to settle for only two out of the three requirements:

Fast and cheap = low quality

Probably the most common type of design is done fast and cheaply, at the expense of quality.

If you come across a graphic designer hourly rate that’s unreasonably low ($7 to $15 per hour), the quality of the design probably won’t be as you expect. Or, the designer might not take enough time to read your briefing and will have to spend time on revisions (for which you might be charged extra).

It goes without saying that DIY design on a platform like Canva or Creatopy will cost you little to nothing. But, the results will rarely resemble the work of a professional designer.

Need proof? Compare this first visual I created in Canva as a reference for our ManyPixels designer and the latter made by the professional.

Although I applied some of my design knowledge to create the reference graphic, I failed to present the information in a visually organized way. Thanks to the clever use of color, the final design also had a lot more visual interest (even if I tried to “cheat” with the bright pink background).

design outsourcing flowchart non designer.png

how to choose graphic design outsorucing.png

Quality & fast = expensive

You know the old saying, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is? In the case of graphic designers, the “unwelcome” surprise is usually the price.

Quality work done fast is often what you can expect from a design agency with a complete team on hand. Still, as we’ve already said, this isn’t the type of service suitable for those with a limited budget.

As previously mentioned, most agencies won’t offer a graphic design services price list since the rates are highly dependent on the complexity of the project. So even though you might know someone who’s gotten a reasonable rate from an agency, it doesn’t mean the same will apply to you.

Although they’re seen as a more affordable alternative, some freelancers will charge pretty hefty prices too. For example, web designers often charge as much as $70 per hour. And it’s pretty common for senior designers and art directors to charge around $100 to $150 for an hour of work.

Naturally, there is another issue with freelance work. Since many charge by the hour, they often try to prolong the process a bit, which adds to the total bill.

Quality & cheap = slow

Designers learn how to price graphic design work by working with more clients. If they offer good value at a lower rate, that probably means they are still inexperienced.

So, you might get the most talented and perhaps eager designer, who is terrible at task management and organization (definitely something we all learn by doing). It might not be a huge issue at first, but if deadlines keep being missed and work piling up, it won’t be too long before the whole process turns into a complete train wreck.

A non-competitive arena, such as a nonprofit, might benefit from this approach. For example, I worked at a nonprofit that hired design interns who got to develop professionally and delivered great graphics for the limited needs of the organization.

Can you have it all?

Remember the dreamy lawyer from the beginning? Are we anywhere closer to finding his graphic design equivalent? Absolutely!

Knowledge really is power, and as long as you know what you’re looking for and where you definitely have a few bargaining chips up your sleeve. Whether you need to create a complete brand guide, a new website, or something as simple as a social media post, you’re now able to set your standards and not settle for less.

But is there still an option that gives you everything you’ve hoped for and more? Perhaps. If you consider unlimited graphic design.

Learn how to get started with our unlimited graphic design service

Download the ManyPixels User Guide — you’ll find all the useful information there

Here’s a quick overview of why you get it all with this type of service.

Price

For the amount of work you get done, this is by far the most affordable option. In theory, you can request unlimited designs every month, but remember, you will be working with people, not robots. However, it does mean a steady daily output of designs: like an in-house designer without the cost!

For a few hundred dollars, you’re looking at dozens of different designs every week, with unlimited revisions and iterations for a set amount. Even more importantly, these companies usually offer several graphic design services price lists that cater to different business types and sizes.

Plus, you don’t need to worry about any overhead costs. Sick leave or holidays are always covered, and there are no additional charges for admin like contracts or payment fees.

Best of all, some services (including ManyPixels) offer risk-free guarantees so that you can try the service and get your money back if you don’t like it.

Quality

It will depend on the company, but most of these professional services have internal quality assurance procedures - you can read more about ours at ManyPixels here.

Of course, not every designer employed by a service will have the same level of skill and talent. Still, there’s usually a vetting process in place that ensures the professionalism of each individual designer you get to work with. At ManyPixels, we hire only 2% of the top talents that apply to our positions!.

In addition to that, the possibility of working with several designers at once means you have more options. If you think the quality or style of a particular designer isn’t quite your cup of tea, you can always request working with a different one. Again, no extra charges or hassle!

Speed

If you want to consider how quickly you’ll get a design with on-demand services, simply think of it like a well-oiled machine. The amount of work these companies do every day by far exceeds any single freelancer or design agency.

More work means more practice; more practice means greater efficiency.

In many companies (ManyPixels included), designers are also trained to work with clients: to ask questions and find a way to get more information out of a creative brief. With a steady influx of tasks, designers get better at time management, and in case of an emergency, there’s always someone to take over and ensure that the expected results are delivered.

In addition to that, we also have designated project managers on board. They make sure that designers provide regular ETAs and updates. That way, clients don’t have to waste time managing the designers, and can fully focus on the design process itself.

Is ManyPixels the right unlimited design service for you?

If you’ve made it this far and are considering taking the leap of faith with an on-demand design service, why not give ManyPixels a shot?

We have some serious experience under our belt (thousands of happy clients, over 45K projects completed) and heaps of enthusiasm for each new client!

Find out more about the services here, or head straight to our pricing page to discover the best plan for you.

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Danica Popovic

February 11, 2022

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.