What Should Design Cost?
We publish our studio costs—including our pay—and rate(s). This is an unusual decision for a graphic design studio. Why have we made it?
Minute Works’ day rate scales dependent on access to funding. Our basic level is set to enable more ‘Unsung causes and start-ups’ (for example, a campaign with limited income, or a new social enterprise) to commission great graphic design. It covers our costs, and it aims to encourage positive change.
We have separate rates for ‘Established charities and NGOs’ (imagine national non-profits) and ‘Renowned companies’ (responsible corporations) too. They make our profit for purpose model possible.
Publishing our costs (computers, insurance, software, rent, and so on) adds context to our rates. Being straight-up about the amount we earn goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to honest practice. In Open Up: The power of talking about money, Alex Holder writes:
“Transparency would absolutely make workplaces better. For a start, prejudice would have fewer places to hide, and pay disparities wouldn’t have a chance to develop.”
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publish an ‘Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings’. Last year graphic designers were found to be earning an average of £26,490 in a year. This median can’t set a precedent for fair pay since it obscures income disparities across class, gender, and race.
What is a fair precedent? The Minimum Income Standard (MIS) is a calculation used to determine the minimum amount people need in order to participate in society. It’s based on public consensus. The Living Wage Commission use it to arrive at the UK Living Wage. We used it to establish our own ‘no less than £22,172’ rule.
Our pay is set at £23,000 each. This amount takes our personal living costs into account, allows for a few wants (as opposed to MIS needs), and some savings. It means our studio gets more chances to collaborate with people who share our values. You might think that this number is too high, or too low. Maybe you think it’s fair. Our decision to publish it could invite tough questions about entitlement. That’s all fine. Conversations about money can lead to positive change:
“Just as it shouldn’t only be up to people of colour to call out racism, or for women to call out sexism, it shouldn’t only be up to those who feel underpaid to call out financial privilege. That is not to say it’s easy to own up to privilege, but ultimately admitting a privilege is like calling out a prejudice: it shows an awareness of the systems around us. We need to accept that recognising our privilege, or having it called out by others, is not a negative judgement on us as individuals, but an important recognition of the society we live in.”
Our studio costs, living costs, and rates, are connected and open to change. We don’t know what the future holds. We do know that we like the advice put forward in Yanis Varoufakis’ book Talking to My Daughter About the Economy:
“It’s incredibly easy to convince ourselves that the order of things — especially when it favours us — is logical, natural and just. But at the same time be hard on your own temptation to accept the inequalities that you find outrageous. When you feel as if you’re about to give in to the idea that outrageous inequality is somehow unavoidable … maintain your outrage but sensibly, tactically, so that when the time comes you can invest it in what needs to be done to make our world truly logical, natural and just.”