How much is this going to cost me?

Parting with money is hard for all of us. And investing in your brand can be mysterious. First you want to know where that money is going. Second you want to know if you will get it back? There should be an ROI just like the Google Ad spend right? Clients want to measure the impact of “Branding.”

What are we paying you for?

Design is often seen as a fluffy expense. Something to make things look good. I’ve heard many a founder tell me they would design themselves but they don’t know Photoshop or Illustrator. These conversations typically end when I recommend they visit sites like or hire a TaskRabbit.

It’s done in a second after 34 years… after every experience, and every movie, and after everything in my life that’s in my head.
— PAULA SCHER, Pentagram designer and Partner

For those that appreciate the value of design, the question still remains- how do you price this?Our answer is generally- “it’s complicated.” Time is money, but putting a price tag on our hours isn’t so easy. Creativity doesn’t operate in minutes or hours. No designer is able to predict when the brightest idea is going to hit. There is no forecast of creativity to tell us we’re in for a shower of design or a drought. That’s why we rely on our process to help us get there. And that takes time. We also have been amassing years if not decades of experience from other projects that help speed things up over time.

Pentagram designer and partner Paula Scher famously designed the Citibank logo in 5 minutes on a cocktail napkin and charged $1.5 million. When asked how she could charge that, she explains “it’s done in a second after 34 years… after every experience, and every movie, and after everything in my life that’s in my head.” But even after the napkin sketch, they weren’t done. Paula returned to her studio and her staff rendered it, refined it, added a system of type, color. They tested it out across print, digital, apparel. They had to roll this logo out across the world. That’s why it cost $1.5 just for the logo and another $3.5 million for the rollout. Citibank could not afford a screw up.

Good, Fast, Cheap: You can only pick two.

This is an adage in our industry. We retell it to clients when they tell us they need something ASAP and they don’t have much budget. You can see the general correlation.

OPTION A: Good + Fast = Expensive
Quality takes time and effort. When we have to shortcut the time, we most likely have to add more designers to the project and work around the clock. We may have to put other projects on back-burners and burn some midnight oil. This translates to a premium fee.

OPTION B: Cheap + Fast = Bad
If this is your option go visit 99designs or They will knock out a cheap and fast logo for you. The problem is that the output is generic, derivative, not well crafted, and may not muster a trademark. These places have automated design using Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and some crazy algorithms. Your logo is either made by a computer or by cheap labor on the other side of the world.

OPTION C: Cheap + Good = Slow
The favorite and most dependable option. We know that most start-ups and young businesses have tight budgets. If designers are able to balance a variety of projects (to pay the bills), and invest the proper time, the work will be better.

The ROI of Investing in Brand Design

Branding is not the same as feature testing. You can’t do an A/B test with a brand to see if it will stick. That may work for an online form, or an e-blast headline. The problem is we can’t directly measure the impact of brand design. When properly done, branding is the greater sum of everything you are doing. Our contribution is to provide you with a consistent and credible system that works in tandem with – strategic marketing, well oiled operations, a stellar customer service experience and a smart fiscal approach. You can have the snazziest looking brand identity, but if you’re sales and product don’t deliver– that ain’t our fault.

The value of design is a long-term return. Similar to playing the stock market, you need diversity in your “brand portfolio” and patience. The diversity comes in having your brand voice and visuals truly extend into every interaction, every touchpoint. This becomes your brand experience. Think about Apple and how they consider every detail and nuance from an email, an ad, a box, a gesture, a sound.

The patience is in consistently managing your brand equity. This is getting out there, over and over again. Brand awareness doesn’t just happen overnight. It requires a steady stream of engagement through marketing, advertising, social media. And over time, you will attract more customers who become loyalists and advocates.

Think about the brands you love or admire– Starbucks, Southwest, Disney. They stick to something and build a loyal following with each interaction. They also evolve. They pop in special Holiday Cups, or new attractions. This is part of the awareness, the marketing.

So again, how much?

For years, designers have countered that we can’t place an hourly price on our services. Well consider a variety of factors like the difficulty of the work, the timeline, how much of a pain in the ass we think you might be. It’s really a good guess. Because in the end, we end up tracking our hours and waiting to see if we guesstimated properly or poorly. We have to be competitive, because if you don’t pick us you’ll go with someone else. Typically estimates are negotiable. But understanding what goes into is key. Don’t just look at the Total $. Consider the process, the deliverables, the timeline, their experience. Hiring a good designer, is like hiring anyone. You want assurance that you are making a good decision. If you can trust in who you are working with, the return will be well worth the cost.