Cut price design and print?

We have all seen the blanket advertising, especially in social media, by design and print farmers.  Are they any good and is it right for you?

In the print and design industry, the word 'Farmers' refers to individuals or organisations that are set up primarily as middle men.  They harvest leads from their advertising campaigns and farm those leads out to a number of printers and designers who can do the work for the lowest price possible.
By and large, these farmers have no qualifications in print or design - nor do they need to have them.  They are simply piling up as many customers as possible and getting others to do the work as cheaply as possible, by ordering their services in bulk.  These farmers then pocket the difference.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course.  It has been the basis of commerce for centuries - buy cheaply, sell for a profit.


Print Farming

Vistaprint are probably the most well known farmers in the print industry.  They are an online trading name for Cimpress based in Ireland.  By acquisition, Cimpress have acquired print businesses around the world enabling them to farm printing throughout their huge empire of smaller printers.   The profits, one would assume, are lodged in Ireland where the taxation rules ensure maximum financial benefit.  Cimpress revenue for 2017 is listed as $2.1 billion US.

Vistaprint has been operating for more than twenty years now and has cut swathes through the print industry by offering low cost print solutions based on very high volumes.  This predatory marketing has either forced independent printers to cut their margins to compete, or to just throw the towel in and close. As a business model it is a great success.  However, the print quality reflects the price.  It is a budget printer and produces budget quality.  That is where its market lies.  For the majority of businesses who use this type of low cost provider, quality is not that important. It is purely a price-led model.


The others catch on

This model set by Vistaprint has proved so successful in generating large amounts of revenue for relatively low cost, that others have seized the opportunity and jumped on that bandwagon.  The graphic design industry, which was once a highly respected and, some would say, privileged profession, now has to compete with a plethora of low cost farmers.

Graphic design farmers started to spring up and gather hundreds of thousands of design projects and then farm those jobs out to low cost providers.  These providers are almost entirely based in low income centres in Asia, where the dollar goes considerably further than in Australia.  99 Designs, Fiverr, Freelancer and recently Design Pickle are all farmers.  The US farmer Design Pickle, for example, farms almost all of its work out to the Philippines where it can find people to come up with design work for a fraction of the cost of home grown professionals.
They also offer a slant on the "stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap" philosophy.  They offer a cheap low monthly fee for unlimited design projects, safe in the knowledge that the type of customer who would use this low cost option is very unlikely to use the service more than a handful of times.
Russ Perry, founder of Design Pickle commented in 2017, "Like a gym, we turn a profit because many clients don't use us a lot, but keep their subscription active".

Again, these types of services have their market.  It is pretty much the same market as the low cost print market - one that is not too discerning about the quality and mostly driven by price.  There is nothing wrong with that either.  Businesses in Australia, regardless of the current pandemic, often struggle to make good money, so keeping costs down is very important to them.

You do not have to present any qualifications to submit designs for these online services.  All you have to do is provide some sort of reasonable portfolio and a low fee. 


Cheap providers and templates!

Vistaprint, Fiverr, Design Pickle and all, can only make a decent profit if they keep their costs down to the barest minimum.  Simple economics.  The key to this is cheap providers and templates!
They can't afford their designers, for example, to be spending time on creative ideas and exploring different approaches to a brief.  That takes time and time is money.  Design Pickle, for example, need to get their designers to turn jobs around within a day ideally.  That way they can get on to the next job and earn them more money.

That can only be achieved by stripping the design process down to its bones.  The way they do that is to have a bank of templates.  Logo designs, brochure layouts whatever.  They have either designed or copied a design which they can simply call up from their archives, change the details and pass it off as an original.  A few minutes and job done!  Bring on the next one.

Sometimes, these templates are good.  Sometimes they are very good.  Sometimes they are not!  However, they are cheap - and that is what that particular market wants.


Image courtesy of ninedotscreative.com


Pros and Cons


Cheap!  In fact, very cheap!
Fast turnaround
Adequate quality, sometimes good quality


Unlikely to be original
Little or no ongoing support
Designer will have no local knowledge of markets
Not supporting local business
Profits go overseas



These cheap online services have their place.  They give businesses the opportunity to have some sort of design where they would have had none in the past.
You may think I will have an unfair bias in this discussion, being a professionally qualified and trained designer.  However, the reason I think this type of service has a place, is because the type of business that would use it, is very unlikely to be the business that would commission my studio anyway.

The design process for a logo, for example, is an extremely extensive and exhaustive one.  Branding is of paramount importance when marketing your goods or services.  This is especially true nowadays when it is incredibly difficult to get noticed when there are so many messages being screamed at you every minute of every hour, every day!

A studio like mine, will research a client's market.  Find out who their customers are and where they are.  Research what they like, how they buy and where they buy. We carry out extensive research into trade names and trade marks to ensure any design concepts we come up with are unique and original.  We carry out extensive research into our clients' industry. We investigate our clients' competitors and what edge our clients have over them.  We compile a thorough checklist of what we, and our client, needs from the design.  What outcomes need to be satisfied.  We are expert professionals.  we know what questions to ask, we know how to get our clients to think hard about their business, its current position and where it wants to be in the future and how it wants to be perceived in the community in which it operates.

Then, and only then, do we put pencil to paper and work on design solutions!

In conclusion, the simple answer is - you get what you pay for.  A cheap, ordinary design is unlikely to really harm your business or your reputation.  A brilliant, thoughtful and researched professional design will improve your business without a shadow of a doubt.



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