Is graphic design a profession or a hobby?

The real question may be, do companies hire graphic designers to fill a budget sheet or fuel their marketing? The industry and billions of dollars would seem to suggest graphic design is a real profession, yet there has never been a shortage of people who will ask professional designers to do free work to “gain a portfolio piece”. It often seems as if companies see graphic design as a hobby.

I’ve been a professional graphic designer (and art director, creative director, senior copywriter) for 26 years, yet I still get asked to do work at near-minimum wage by some companies, and I’m not the only one. Professional graphic designers commiserate about this all the time. Would you ask your marketing director, bookkeeper or auto mechanic to work at minimum wage? Of course not, because they all play pivotal roles in keeping you and your business healthy, as does your graphic designer.

Professional graphic design is not a commodity or unnecessary service in the way that flipping burgers might be. Smart graphic design feeds marketing pipelines, whereas clipart and non-strategic graphic design does not.

There can be no question about the marketing value of graphic design. That value comes into question primarily because companies hire based on price, not based on needs. They do it to themselves.

It is commonplace in the design industry for clients to price-shop. Companies routinely choose the lowest price, regardless of qualification or possibilities. If you hire based solely on price, the end-result will invariably be of lesser quality, which means you’re knocking the legs out from under your marketing.

Legs are what you get when you hire highly-qualified professional designers. Legs carry your marketing. Cheap design falls on its face, undermining your marketing.

There are two kinds of graphic designers: hobbyists who work for free or cheap and do work that helps you fill a budget sheet; and professionals who can make your marketing fill your pipeline. Only one of them has real value to businesses serious about success.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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