The industry as seen by top designers.
Low Pay for Designers ...
... drives them out of the industry and is
by Joan Green and Judith Brossart (March 3,
(Note: Joan is President of Joan Green Designs, and is one
of the top needlework designers – particularly in high-end plastic
canvas projects – in the industry. Joan is reacting to the
previous column, "Designers in the Ghetto." To read that
column, click on the title in the right-hand column.)
I read with interest the article about the ongoing plight of
designers in our industry. Everything she said is right-on. Of
course, those of us who have been in the business a long time (30 +
years for me!) have been saying the very same thing all these many
years. The Society of Craft Designers labored tirelessly over the
years to implement the very things she is suggesting, and we made a
few advances (especially in the area of professionalism for the
designer), but in the long run failed to make any progress with
regard to design fees. (And I think she is absolutely right with
regard to fees staying the same or actually decreasing!)
One thing this article didn't mention was the issue of buying all
rights to designs (without paying adequate fees). This was what
ultimately forced me to abandon free-lance design and return to my
roots of operating my own design and manufacturing business where I
retained all rights to my work.
This also allowed me the freedom to design the things I knew,
from years of experience and personal marketing research, that my
customers wanted – which was not the case when I worked for other
Perhaps the issue of buying all rights no longer applies, but
many of the most professional and respected designers (myself
included) battled this for years and tried to negotiate other terms
(with very limited success). Most of these excellent designers are
no longer in the business because they couldn't justify working for
pauper's wages and then giving up all rights to their work on top of
it! There were only so many places to sell our work, and the key
buyers absolutely would not negotiate and insisted on all rights (or
they wouldn't buy from us). If we wanted to keep working in an
industry we loved we basically had no options.
One example of this: I designed an award winning pattern leaflet
for a company. Ten years later (after it was long out of print), the
company reprinted the exact same book (only change was putting the
word NEW on the cover!) and then sold tens of thousands to Wal Mart.
Obviously since I had been forced to sell all rights, I didn't
receive a dime. This was ultimately the straw that broke the camel's
back for me with regard to free-lance designing. I still worry that
some day I will see some of my motifs licensed to companies in other
industries for use on a myriad of gift and household items, not to
mention Christmas decorations.
In a nutshell, I couldn't agree more with the writer, but I do
not see anything changing. There will always be artistic and
creative souls who want to design crafts and needlework and who will
accept whatever terms are offered in order to work in a field they
(Note: To contact Joan, visit www.joangreendesigns.com;
call 513-523-0437; or fax 513-523-1520.)
Time for 21st Century Pay
by Judith Brossart
Have your basic, monthly household expenses increased in the last
ten years? Has your base salary increased during the same time
period? The answer for probably 99% of us in a resounding YES!
Therefore, it was both surprising and unsurprising that fees for
designers in the creative industries have not changed in the 10
years since I was the Editor of a highly-respected general crafts
Unsurprising because the fees of $50 to $600 quoted by Dora
Ohrenstein in her article "Designers in the Ghetto " in
the February 25, 2008 issue of Creative Leisure News, are in
the same general range they were during my 15-year tenure as an
Editor. The high fee during those years was $500 and I don't
remember ever paying a designer as little as $50. In fact, a fee of
only $100 was rare.
Surprising because it's very hard to believe that an industry
that has grown in popularity, quantity and quality of product,
distribution, share of audience, and uses of finished projects from
simple refrigerator magnets (exaggeration ) to sophisticated home
decor items has not grown in its recognition of the importance of
paying qualified designers a fee equal to their importance in
helping to sell products. Shame on you!
Even though Dora confined her examples to the requirements for
selling a design to the yarn industry, her observation and comments
are appropriate to the arts and crafts industry in general.
For years I have disagreed with one required element to sell a
design. That element is the expectation that designers have to write
instructions to fit the buyer's manuscript template. Designers have
strong creative skills that are not necessarily paired with equally
strong detail skills. You know, the right brain, left brain thing. A
designer should be able to communicate what products she used, the
amounts and the process used to create the final item. The
publisher, whether magazine, book publisher, web site, or the
manufacturer of the product should be responsible for the final
presentation of instructions in its favored style.
The arts and crafts industry is not unique in this problem. One
of my daughters works for the world's largest food service company.
Her chef is highly respected for his culinary skills. But, when
required to write recipes for other chefs and/or cooks to follow, he
needs style, grammar, and spelling help. He is not paid less because
his writing skills are not equal to his creative food skills. In the
same vein, designers should not be penalized because their writing
and illustrations skills do not match their creativity.
Even though I am no longer actively involved in the industry, I
am still very interested in its workings. Thanks for allowing me to
voice my opinions.
(Note: Judith is too modest. Judith became Editor of Crafts
magazine when it was in its relative infancy and guided the magazine
until it was by far the largest-circulation consumer craft magazine.
The magazine's publisher, PJS Publications, has been sold three
times and a few years ago it was changed to Paper Crafts.
Judith's email is email@example.com.
To read previous Designing Perspectives columns, click on the titles
in the right-hand column. To comment on this or any industry issue,
sent your thoughts to CLN at firstname.lastname@example.org.)