The industry as seen by top designers.
More Thoughts on Pay for Designers
Demanding more pay, the right brain/left brain
conundrum, and a historical perspective.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org;
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
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
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
$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
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
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
(Note: Want to join the conversation about pay for
designers? Send your thoughts to email@example.com.)