We’ve failed to prove design value

In 1961 Les Mason moved to Australia to work at the advertising agency USP Benson. A year later, he established one of Australia’s first independent graphic studios, Les Mason Graphic Design. Les Mason excelled at putting design at the heart of branding and advertising. He set the model for the Australian graphic design industry.

Fast forward to 1984; there were hundreds of graphic design businesses in Melbourne when Carol and I established our studio. We were in the pre digital age.

Concepts were presented with felt pen renderings some of which looked like a piece of art. We have three felt pen renderings hanging on our wall; they were done as part of a promotion for the first Concord flight between Paris and New York. They are works of art.

Clients were amazed at the skill in the renderings. They were evocative and much easier to explain the emotion of a design concept.

We typeset all the text and pasted it up on boards. Meticulously laid out, they showed a lot of skill and hours of execution. Clients marvelled at the work put into old fashioned ‘artwork’ with coloured overlays.

Clients couldn’t handle print, the predominant medium for designers. The process from concept to printed piece was a mystery to them so they paid us to reduce the risk and manage print.

Our research shows that the average hourly rate calculated for design today is $150. We were charging that back in 1984! The equivalent today would be $285.

I was reminded of all these things this week when preparing to present a Lunchtime Learning on design value and the follow up session this month; How to find clients who value design.

What has gone wrong.

When the digital age hit we were initially protected because the software was hard to use; computers for design and artwork were expensive. Clients couldn’t just buy a computer and get the receptionist to ‘design’.

We all know that’s changed. Clients now ‘think’ they can use an inexpensive computer and Canva and they are designing.

As the change happened we reduced our rates to compete; a race to the bottom. We thought that we now had to compete with our clients. We failed to explain the real value that design can deliver.

The experience economy

When Tim Brown popularised human centred design at the Stanford d school he recognised there were ‘hidden’ aspects of the design process. Parts that identified how design worked to deliver value.

This has lead to what I call the experience economy. In this area clients recognise the customer experience is what drives sales and gives satisfied customers who keep coming back.

This is the area that we need to work as designers.


We can’t go back and increase our prices for executional design; that boat has long sailed. We need to look at those deeper parts of the design process and draw them out to show how design adds value.


Want to continue the discussion? Email Greg.

Greg Branson

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About Greg

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a Businerss of Design Short Course that help designers rethink their business.

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