Sample Lecture

MDD340 Business of Graphics – Course Home

The design world is as much about business as any other profession. There are organizational hierarchies, various roles and duties that different people perform to service the needs of endless products and services for clients. This is very much a people business as it is a fun, exciting and creative business. Whether you are just starting out as a junior designer or independent consultant, more commonly referred to as a “freelancer” or a more seasoned pro looking to move up the corporate ladder or perhaps start your own business, it is vital to understand the business side of the equation to be successful for the long term. The more you understand the goals and objectives of business the more you can be effective creating design solutions that drive these goals and objectives to the marketplace.
During this course, we will focus our attention to:

• Different sized design and advertising organizations

• The way that these organizations get business

• How everyone gets paid

• The various legal details that we need to concern ourselves with

• The business world vs. the creative design world

• Marketing and project management within the organization

• Plus much more

Through the lectures, weekly discussions and other focused assignments, you will come to understand that there is much more than just design to keep the organization running, protected from liability and able to grow and compete in today’s marketplace. This in turn will help you, specifically, to be better equipped to understand how to compete among your peers for that “next best role.”
As you take time to look over the course, some of this may be new to you, but ask questions to better understand the content, there are no bad questions here. My role as instructor is to make sure that you are getting value out of this course and I am here to ensure that you get your questions answered Let’s explore the Business of Graphics together this session and welcome to the class!

MDD340 Business of Graphics – Week One Lecture

What is the Business of Graphics?
Advertising Agencies versus “Freelancing”
How everyone gets paid
How Graphics is part of the bigger business model


Welcome to the Business of Graphics! We will explore the business side of the art business during this class. You will understand the roles that everyone performs in various types of design organizations, and how the structure of the organization differs depending on size of the organization.This is vitally important so that you understand how you market yourself to land that first job or move up in the agency, get clients and, most importantly, get paid for your efforts. Regardless if you are in a large advertising agency servicing Fortune 100 companies or a boutique design firm that produces leading edge multimedia projects for a niche market to “freelancing” or consulting to startup business owners you must understand that there is a business side to your profession.

What is the Business of Graphics?

Just like any other profession, you learn the skills that make you proficient in the field you wish to pursue. You take classes, study under a mentor or professors in structured learning environments and absorb everything you can to make you ultimately successful in your career. The designer’s career is no different, you take classes, build skills and a portfolio of a body of representative work and then go out and market yourself to prospective clients or employers. This is the basic model that every business has to build in order to develop products and services that are marketable to other consumers or customers or clients. Then the selling of the products and services, pointing out features that will assist in a purchasing (or hiring) decision, finally closing the deal with an offer for the products and services or an offer of employment. This will be repeated over and over during your career with prospective new customers or prospective new employers.

It is important to understand that the designer’s craft, whether you are producing business cards, brochures, websites, instructional multimedia, or other design products that it is very much a business and as such you deserve to be paid as any professional offering products and services for hire. The difference here is that a lot of what we as designers do are intellectual efforts as much as physical efforts.

Advertising Agencies versus “Freelancing”

At first, there seems to be two distinct choices the design field: The Advertising Agency and Freelancing. Both are very viable environments in which to make a living. To some the glamour of the advertising agency conjures up visions of board rooms and exotic clients and leading edge design, while the attraction of freelancing is commuting from your bedroom to your design workstation in a home office where you make all the business and design decisions for a range of businesses that you have personally courted and cultivated from prospects to clients.

The upside to an agency is that you will have mentors called art directors that will help you learn the agency’s processes and hopefully groom you to be an art director one day. One lesson in business is that you can’t move up unless you have someone to backfill your position. It is in the team’s best interest to help you grow as a designer so you can take on more responsibility and be comfortable that you have the skills to be successful in this expanded role.

Freelancing or consulting is very attractive to many as they want to take on the challenge of starting their own business and may grow their business to a small design firm or a large agency. Working in or running a large business may not appeal to the freelancer. As attractive as this may sound, there are certain things to consider:

  1. Am I the disciplined type to diligently look for new business?
  2. Am I generally a positive person?
  3. Can I handle the feast or famine that may occur from time to time?
  4. How will I market myself to compete with other designers and design firms?

These are very real questions intended to completely think through the possibilities, not scare one off from being a freelancer. There are many positive things that are great about being a freelancer, for example:

  1. You set your own business hours (but must be reasonably available to clients)
  2. You determine your time off for vacation
  3. You have the ability to pick and choose clients that match your corporate style the best (do you specialize in corporate image or do you cater to casual dining clients)
  4. You have the ability to look beyond what you have to sell and look for answers to client’s problems through creative design solutions.
  5. You have the passion for your work, the drive, to work harder and longer to meet specific deadline knowing you are going the extra mile for a client and this will probably lead to even more work (it is much easier to get more work from an existing client than to go out and look for new clients).
  6. You do this because it is more to you than just a job.

There are lots of smaller design firms that are a middle ground also that typically employee a dozen or less people that specialize in design, accounting and payroll, business, and many may often wear several hats within the organization depending on their skills and what is needed at the time. You may get to do and learn more than one starting out in an agency.

There are many companies that have consistent design needs for products and services that the business offers. The business recognizes the value of design professions and may have an advertising department or an “in-house” agency. This is very similar to an advertising agency with only one major difference; it only has one client, the parent business. This can also be a great starting place as you get to work through the entire creative development cycle for a set number of products and services. This would also include art departments at high tech businesses, defense contractors, retail and non-profit organizations, television stations, newspapers and magazines and other types of businesses. Everyone has to start somewhere; it might as well be somewhere you are passionate about going to every day.

How everyone gets paid

Have you thought about how much you will get paid? Here is the area that unfortunately gets the least amount of attention during school, outside of recruiting efforts, school counselors or until you go out into the world to find that first job. Many assume that if you are the best, the world will beat a path to your door. But what if the world doesn’t know you are the best? Then how do you get work to show how good you are? As previously stated, this is just as much a business as any other profession and your time and talents are valuable assets to the business world.

The formula for success is simple, but the discipline can be hard depending on your personality type. This is not to point out personal shortcomings, but to make you aware of what will and what will not be in your best interest. If you have to take time for accounting and business records, marketing your services to other businesses, client meetings and other non-billable efforts, this will erode the amount you can bill your client. Another big bite goes to time wasting, we are all guilty of it at one time or another, but we have to understand that time surfing the web for non-business purposes eats into our ability to earn money just as much as wasting time at the water cooler chatting about “the big game” last weekend. This doesn’t mean we are chained to the computer, but we must be aware of time wasters and their effect on our ability to earn more.

It is positively a fact that there are a finite number of hours in any given year. Time is the only variable that is absolutely equal to everyone. For most purposes let’s assume that there will be 2080 hours. This is not an arbitrary number; it is one that many Human Resource Departments in any variety of business types use as labor hours for a full time employee for one year. It also is based on an average 8-hour day.

So what does this mean? Is this possible? The answer is yes and no. If you are working strictly on design work this would be your billable rate. If you are a freelancer or consultant, you will have to charge more per hour due to the fact that you have certain activities that are not billable directly to the customer but are necessary such as accounting and marketing as well as tasks to comply with the law to operate as a business. The good news and the bad news is that most customers do not understand how long it takes to produce a business card design or a website, but know what they are willing to pay. As you gain proficiency in producing your design work, you will get a feel for how long it takes to produce a business card design or website design. Where you can gain a competitive advantage is producing superior design and producing it faster.

The faster you can work, the faster you can take on new work and the faster you earn money. Another way to look at this from the customer’s perspective is why should I pay you more per hour than someone else? The ready answer should be (and the ability to back up the claim) is that it will take less time and the ability to produce a superior product. This is where you can gain value in the mind of the client.

How Graphics and Design are part of the bigger business model

Here is where the business world doesn’t quite know how to manage creative people. Business types are comfortable with metrics, numbers and the bottom line. The business world acknowledges that a polished image will lead to consumer confidence and more likely a sale than an amateurish design solution. The great debate comes where the discussion turns to “How do you attach a dollar figure to design?” There are actually many ways to test this theory. You may have heard about focus groups. These are test groups that are exposed to multiple choices in packaging and other criteria that may go into the purchasing decision. You may actually design two versions and let the test groups decide which one they would prefer. This is quite common for websites as well. This is called A-B Multivariate testing (A and B are two versions of the same page and then the viewers responses are recorded and measured, the winner eventually replaces the other version). Design comes into play in the marketing materials starting with the simple business card, the website, the brochure, and other materials that help “sell” the products and services of the company.

The total company image may involve uniforms, name badges, vehicle signage and other design solutions that give a unified brand image to the company. We recognize the big brown trucks that deliver packages as much as the fast food restaurant that has the yellow rounded letter M. These design solutions are not haphazard and fit into the total business plan to position the company in the consumer’s mind when they are ready to make a purchasing decision.

It is frequently difficult to attach a dollar value to something subjective as art, but at the same time, there can be very real financial consequences if artwork is plagiarized or copyright laws are violated. The designer should be well versed in this aspect of the law and take stern steps to ensure that their own works, as well as their clients’ work are protected from similar misappropriation.

End of lecture

William Wheeler provides world-class program and course development to these distinguished colleges and universities. They trust me, shouldn’t you?