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Who Deserves Good Design?

Another post about SquareSpace logo builder? Yes. Another one. I just wrote a brief post on valuing the designer as more than a tool. But that’s not the only point that we should draw from the tizzy about the SS logo builder.

[Brief recap if you didn’t read the previous post: SquareSpace launched a logo design tool, and people on the internet tweaked out.]

Some of the criticism leveled at SquareSpace accused them of devaluing the work done by designers. The criticism is similar to what we see when large companies hold design competitions, or more smarmy companies utilize spec work strategies to fleece designers out of being paid.

I think that’s a misreading of the situation.

Design can be a force for good

Design as a cultural force is a tricky thing to wrap your head around. Before the advent of personal computing, design was squarely in the hands of those who could afford to do it – either as a function of their access to the tools, or the economic standing required to purchase it.  Even with the proliferation of good software and hardware, design is still the easiest way for us to distinguish the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’. Think about how quickly you can pigeonhole someone’s class by looking at the way their clothing is designed. Or sitting in a cafe, and seeing someone working away on a clunky Gateway. This happens a million times a day in a million different ways.

Image via wikipedia
Image via wikipedia

I live in Minneapolis – home of the recently deflated Metrodome, a sports arena designed in the 1980s that looks like a nuclear fall out bunker topped by a marshmallow. Whether or not you believe in publicly funding sports stadiums, it was a detractor for a the city – a way of separating a first class city from a second class city.  As much as I love design, and believe in the value of it – it is used to separate people as often as it is to unify them.

We at Modern Tribe do some branding work, it’s not our focus but it is a service that we provide. It’s also expensive. It’s expensive because the process has taken a long time to develop, and the people on our team have spent years crafting their skills. It’s expensive because we are good at it and our market sees the value in that skill. But for every company like ours, there are half a dozen companies that charge 2x, 5x, or 10x to do similar work. And for every one of those, there are a half a dozen more that charge a fraction less.

Certainly, there is a gradient of value. I believe we provide more value than hiring a designer off of Fiverr. Certainly when it comes to branding, Pentagram delivers more value than us.  But that’s not to say that I think if Fiverr is all you can afford, then crap is all you deserve.

It’s often those who have the least, who would benefit from good design the most.

What should a well designed logo cost: $100,000,000?  $100,000? $10,000?  $5,000?  $1,000? $500? $50? $5?

At each one of those price points, you filter out a group of people. If good design  costs more than $10,000, then those with less must not deserve good design. If good design costa more more than $50, than those with less don’t deserve good design.

Bad design has real world effects. Those effects are often felt most strongly by the low income population. Replace logo, with Health Care Exchange. I’m technically savvy, and can spend all day screwing around with a crap website trying to buy health insurance. I can read Mark Jaquith’s hilarious twitter feed, and laugh rather than weep.  But if you get your internet access at the library in 30 minute bursts – or if you work from the hours of 8am – 6pm when the website was ‘open’ you will have a greater understanding of the value of good design and the real tangible effects of bad design.

You can argue that the Health Care Exchange is an argument for spending oodles of cash on design. But you’d be wrong. It highlights the perverse and wonky relationship that good design and economics has. That expensive doesn’t always mean good, and cheap doesn’t always have to mean crappy.

When you spend all day hustling proposals, finding clients, aspiring to grow your own business, and trying to do good work – it’s easy to forget that there many who would be absolutely be thrilled to use your services, but cannot afford them.  What ever tools we, as the design industry can give to those people – to lower the bar to realizing the benefits of good design – we should encourage and applaud.

Kudos to you SquareSpace for giving those with fewer resources better tools.

p.s  Non-profits can get our plugins for free.