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The industry as seen by top designers.

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More Thoughts on Pay for Designers

Demanding more pay, the right brain/left brain conundrum, and a historical perspective.

by Cindy Groom-Harry, Dora Ohrenstein, and Mike Hartnett (March 17, 2008)

(Note: In the Feb. 25 issue of CLN, designer Dora Ohrenstein complained in "Designers in the Ghetto" about the poor pay designers receive from publishers and manufacturers. The Mar. 3 issue included "Low Pay for Designers" by Joan Green of Joan Green Designs and Judith Brossart, retired Editor of Crafts [now Paper Crafts]. To read those columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

Designers Taking Responsibility, by Cindy Groom Harry

At Creative Marketing Connections, we have become service suppliers in addition to being designers in order to extend and differentiate our services to provide additional value such as superior instructions (according to appropriate form and edited by multiple editors for guaranteed accuracy) along with photos handling all the details and providing additional marketing information. This has allowed us to charge a fair price that can pay our staff and the overhead of our office building.

I'm very supportive of designers, as you know, but designers need to take responsibility for the problem, too. By being willing even offering to provide design work for $50 and less, just to be published, completely ruins any industry price structure.

From a designer's perspective, Pogo said it best, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

While I'd like to think that we can scold or shame companies into paying higher fees in the interest of "what's right," these companies are being squeezed at every turn and must cut corners wherever they can, in order to keep their jobs and their doors open.

Can we honestly expect them to pay $800 for something that they think they can get for $50? For $50, it will be done much less well, much less accurately, but for only $50, it's tempting to decide to either not care, or find someone in-house who can clean up the inaccurate instructions and photoshop out the lousy craftsmanship. Some companies are willing to do that. Other companies are smart enough to realize how costly the in-house handling really is.

Short term, the poor quality doesn't seem to matter. It fills the need for the moment and with the way people shift jobs, the contact people probably won't be there when it's discovered by the consumers that the instructions are wrong.

And consumers aren't in it for the long haul either. When it doesn't work, they'll just throw it away and go do something else another craft from a different company, or another leisure activity since they're "not any good at crafts."

The sad fact is, under-rating design makes us lose. We lose good designers, good companies, and good consumers which in turn makes everyone in the craft industry lose.

(Note: Cindy is President of Craft Marketing Connections, one of the leading design, product development, and marketing firms in the industry. She can be contacted at 2363-460th St., Ireton, IA 51027. Call 712-278-2340; fax 712-278-2308; email cmc@acsnet.com; or visit www.craftmarketingconnections.com.)

Left Brain, Right Brain, by Dora Ohrenstein

It is wonderful to hear the viewpoints of others in response to my article, "Designers in the Ghetto." I hope there will be more, perhaps even from those who make decisions about budgets for design fees.

Joan Green and Judith Brossart raise the issue of retaining rights to one's work. It is tremendously important, and recent moves indicate that some companies, most notably Interweave Press, are at last recognizing designers' rights in this realm. So progress IS possible.

As for Ms. Brossart's point about designers' weaknesses in writing skills, I beg to differ. It may be the case for some, but there are many fine designers who write excellent patterns and have access to BOTH sides of the brain. It would be excellent if craft industries could be set up to accommodate all kinds of talented designers, but I don't want this discussion to veer towards defending the handicapped creative types who can't function in the business world. With all due respect, this line of talk has been used too often to justify keeping artists in the ghetto. In the entertainment industries and performing arts, there are thousands of artists who belie that point of view, and there are many in our craft industries too.

We Are Responsible, by Ann Kristen Krier

We all know who is responsible for the state of pay. We are. If you continue to accept what you have always received, then you can not expect your customers to offer to pay you more. You have to ask. This is simple economics. It is better to refuse work (if you are good) that doesn't meet your pay needs, than to undervalue yourself as a resource. It just enables your client to pay you the same or try to get less next time. That is just human nature.

What if you said no to poor pay? This time, the editor may find a suitable replacement. But what about the next time and the time after that? When will she tire of paying the photographer to touch-up bad work or copy-editors to do re-writes? What does that project cost her in the end?

Have you ever seen a booth with just product but NO inspiration? I bet they sell a lot of whatever it is. Clearly a trade show is to force purchases. That is accomplished with ACTIVE inspiration, demonstration and models - not product sitting on a shelf. The customers require education so that they can sell the stuff in their own stores. The true value of a professional designer is that she creates something with the product that INSPIRES THE BUYERS TO PURCHASE the product.

WHY in god's name, would a company devalue such an important sales function? It is almost as foolish as poo-pooing packaging, on which thousands is spent. Why would they hold contests so that the designers give them "free" booth samples?

Without inspiration, there is no need for more products. I repeat, these products can not SELL without INSPIRATION.

Manufacturers and editors can expect to delve further into the poorly written directions when they pay in goods or underpay or for "publishing rights." New designers can't be trained without the sharing of knowledge from existing designers or significant investment on the part of the editor/publisher. This costs money for both the students and the teachers. Whether print or Internet material, the originators require payment.

As CHA moves further into the scrapbook/paper craft arena and further away from the crafting niche (which incidentally has a profitable history, right?), this will all fade. Soon we will be left with a bunch of uneducated, untrained, mommies "doing art" so pictures of their little darlings can appear in magazines, because that will be the only free-lance segment that will survive. The independant professional craft designer will disappear.

Good work requires significant investment in training and in practice. Writing it off as a brain thing is just a cop-out. There are several designers who are capable of using both "sides" of their brain, and when discovered, should be handsomely rewarded with significant paychecks so that they are able to remain available for more work, and don't have to go back to a "real job."

$50 for a knitting project? Please. It costs $50 in gas to get to the nearest independant yarn store to have a decent selection of fibers from which to work. AGH!

P.S. And while you are at it, move the stinking winter show; Anaheim is NOT the center of anything, except maybe Southern California. For those of us on the East Coast, it is not a "welcome reprieve from winter"; it is a stinking 6 1/2 hour plane ride in a subhuman-sized airline space. Designers have to sit in coach.... Hmmmm.

(Note: Ann Kristen Krier is head of Design One World, and is an author, designer, and creative consultant to the industry. Ann's newspaper column, Creative Weekly, is syndicated in U.S. and Canadian newspapers. She is the author of Creative Beads from Paper and Fabric (C&T Publishing) and Totally Cool Origami Animals (Sterling). Her website is www.annkrier.com and her blog is http://lifeandtheStateofCrafts.blogspot.com.)

An Historical Perspective, by Mike Hartnett

Designers have been complaining about low pay for 40 years, and with good reason. Consider our products and remember what the Italian shoe manufacturer said: "I don't make shoes, I make beautiful feet."

Clearly our products bottles of paint, skeins of yarn, reams of scrapbook paper are just ... products. It's the design, the finished projects, that inspire consumers' interest and creativity and make them think they, too, can have beautiful feet.

Industry veteran Max Makow tells the story about a group of designers complaining at an HIA show in the 1970's; he told them nothing would change until they organized. So they did. Industry pioneer Patricia Nimmocks founded the Society of Craft Designers at her kitchen table.

SCD grew to the point where it sponsored an annual five-day education seminar which attracted hundreds of free-lance designers, publishers, and manufacturers. Occasionally someone would raise the topic of a fee structure for designers, but the executive director would claim that it could be considered price fixing and therefore illegal, and make SCD vulnerable to lawsuits.

Another problem was SCD allowed anyone to join, so SCD and HIA launched certification programs in hopes that a certified designer could charge more for her work. But certification can be a minefield who's to say a designer's project is better than someone else's? Who is qualified to judge? If a knit designer completes the process is she certified in all product categories?

Meanwhile the industry changed. As it jumped on the scrapbook bandwagon and vendors' margins were squeezed, the demand for designs in many categories dwindled. Scrapbookers just made things worse; many were so happy to have a layout containing a photo of their child in a national magazine that they never thought to ask to be paid for their work. Many members of company scrapbook design teams work simply for free product and the thrill of being a member of the "team."

An example of the designer's plight is Lois Winston, who has probably had more cross stitch projects published in magazines than anyone. Today Lois is a successful author of romance novels. (I'm not a romance novel fan, but Lois' first novel, Talk Gertie To Me, was both charming and hilarious.)

I'm happy for Lois' success, but our industry is the poorer for it.

(Note: Want to join the conversation about pay for designers? Send your thoughts to mike@clnonline.com.)



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