I have a 20 page brochure which needs a layout. It appears that the overall cost for a graphics designer to do the job is about $1000. However, I want to see a designer's ideas before I pay $1000. So I told one designer that I'd like to pay her for one page. I'll find out soon what her response is. In general, my approach to creative projects is that I like to see multiple ideas before I choose one approach. What do you think of my approach? I'm prepared for a lot of negative feedback.

Please note in the above: I said I will pay for that one page. I'm not looking freebies.

I received a reply: Their offer is 3-4 hours for one page at $95 an hour.


So, I contacted a designer who has an office not far from me (in Oregon) and I offered $200 for a draft of one page, with no revisions. My plan was to get ideas from a few designers before I hire anyone. Is this a cost effective approach? Maybe not. Is it ethical?

Anyway, this person accepted the offer. I sent this person my illustrations and text. What I got back for $200 was almost nothing. I guess she changed the font, and moved my text to the side, and left adjusted the text. That was it. I wrote this person back and basically said that it needed more colors and boxes, or something. Pardon my lack of description here; I don't know the terminology, but I said it needs more 'stuff'. This person asked me if I have a "website or some example of branding that I can match to this booklet". I do not have a website or a logo. This might be harsh, but it seems as if this person doesn't have original ideas.

What lesson did I learn at this point? Did I learn that this person is not right for the job and that I wasted $200 but I avoided wasting $1000? I maybe I learned that this person didn't take the job seriously and just wanted to put a quick $200 in their pocket. Maybe I would have received something more serious if I had paid a $1000?

What lesson should I take from this?

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    Hi. Did you tell your graphic designer that you required multiple design ideas before you requested the quote? If not, then I wouldn't agree to it if you were my client. Sorry.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jan 10, 2022 at 22:31
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    Imagine the same approach when going out to eat. First you want to see some of the dishes made for other customers. Then you want the kitchen to prepare bite-sized tasters for free. Then you order a meal with a lot of instructions and want a few different plates to choose from. You choose one, eat a little and send it back with a few alterations. This is possible, but too expensive for the average person. Most people just pick a restaurant based on word-of-mouth and reviews and let the cook do the work. If it's a satisfying meal they come back. If not they pick another place next time.
    – Wolff
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:28
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    Hey everybody, you missed the part where I said I would PAY for the first page. I'm not trying to get anyone to work for free.
    – Chris
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:51
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    Everyone's just showing their client PTSD :) We don't know the communication that's taken place. I mean if I were approached with -- "I have a 20 page piece but I'd like to see a design for the first page before I commit to the entire project. I'll pay you to design the first page. Then if I like it, we can move on to the entire piece." -- I'd be fine with that.
    – Scott
    Jan 11, 2022 at 0:09
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    That's what I meant @BillyKerr - One can assume the designer is in the dark and is going to get hit with a wrecking ball at some point.. or one can assume Chris has been completely upfront (he/she has been here) and the designer is fully aware of what may take place. -- I'm just choosing to believe the latter :)
    – Scott
    Jan 11, 2022 at 0:13

3 Answers 3


Generally one looks at a designer's portfolio to get a sense of their style and abilities.

Offering to pay for a single page is a reasonable thing. Although for a 20p piece that may not really be a huge indicator. In such a piece there's typically a cover design then internal pages to coincide with that design, but internal pages are generally different on the whole. Still it may work. Realize that for a 20pg piece the entire project needs to be considered even for merely a cover design. One can't design a cover with element that won't necessarily work for interior pages. And often, as one works through a 20pg piece, there may be cover changes needed to coincide with the interior design. Generally, a designer considers the "whole" not each page individually. So even if you get a cover design you love, you should be aware there may be changes once the full project is developed.

I know this isn't what you're asking, but it's important: Creative iterations for something like a 20pg piece are problematic. Consider one design may take 20-30 hours of work... so 2 designs.. add another 70% of the time necessary, minimum. Each iteration will create a considerable amount of additional work. That's not something most designers will do free of charge. I know I'd be happy to provide multiple iterations if each iteration was paid for. But, as a client, you are then spending money for things you may not need or use.

A better course of action is to possibly pay for some iterations of the cover design, until you find a cover you are happy with and then the designer can move on to interior content. This way you have the opportunity to nail down a general design you like without wasting so much of the designer's time (and your money).

Honestly, if I were approached with this, I'd direct you to my portfolio and try to communicate the amount of work you are asking for with iterations. It's exceptionally unreasonable unless your pockets are deep. If you don't intend to pay for creative iterations of a 20pg piece, and want them all under that initial estimate/quote of "$xx"... I'd politely tell you to go pound sand. :) But I'd have no problem with cover iterations until you are happy, again as long as they were paid for.

I would also point out the (general) Paul Rand theory of design... I'm completely paraphrasing...

Design is problem solving. The designer solves the problem of how to get the audience engaged, interested, and excited about the content. A good designer seeks to do this for everything they do.. they want to solve this problem. To that end, there is generally only one "best" solution. Any other solution is secondary and may be lacking in some particular area.

By demanding iterations, here's what actually happens...

  • The designer creates the initial design which they feel is the best course to solving your problem.
  • A second iteration causes the designer to not make the decisions they think will work best... but rather use secondary choices (as good as I can without doing what I actually want to do). This may be the best attempt to solve your problem for a different audience - that may or may not work if the audience hasn't changed.
  • A third iteration will merely be the designer trying to make you happy, not necessarily the audience. Most designers will try and strike some sort of balance between the two, but really, they lean more towards your happiness than effective audience targeting.
  • Any further iteration will merely be an attempt to make you happy and the designer has most likely divested in the project and merely wants it to be done at this point.

I know clients tend to feel they get more "bang for their buck" if they can see a few different design iterations. The reality is though, there's generally not a great deal of value in multiple iterations for anything other than branding and/or packaging. (Branding/packaging because, on the whole, they are concerned more with a company's "personality" as opposed to merely attracting a target audience.)

My point being, if the design brief was thorough and communication is good with the designer, you'll get the designer's best work the first iteration. More iterations don't always make for "better" work, unless there's been a lack of communication.

To use @Wolff's meal analogy from comments... Imagine being given 5 ingredients and being asked to cook a meal. You must use all 5 ingredients. That first meal will be good. Then you're asked to make a different meal with the same 5 ingredients.. the second meal may still be okay, but chances are it won't be quite as good as the first. By the time you get to the 4th or 5th meal with the same ingredients, the meals are generally "passable", but rarely noteworthy. Design really isn't much different. There is a rate of decay with iterations.

Many designers will "suck it up" and create iterations when they are asked. But generally only for more simple, one-off, items - business cards, fliers, handbills, etc. For small items a designer may or may not charge for such iterations. Less experienced designers may even offer iterations as a selling point to clients. (Note that doesn't change the bullets above - they are still all true.) More experienced designers typically will charge for iterations. Iterations for multi-page pieces are just unworkable unless the client is essentially willing to pay the full price for each and every iteration. No experienced designer is going to provide iterations for a multi-page piece without some heavy costs involved.

Note that by "iteration" I am referring to an overall design direction change, not merely color alterations, copy corrections, or minor changes such as that.

  • I changed my question to update my sad story.
    – Chris
    Jan 14, 2022 at 17:17
  • It does sound, from your question, as if the designer was merely "phoning it in", @Chris . That's a shame. We aren't all like that. She should have asked about any web site or branding before starting any work. Which would have delved into the overall expectations you had.
    – Scott
    Jan 15, 2022 at 1:16

What your describing feels okay at a first glance but is not necceserily so. What you are doing is railroading the designer into thinking and solving the wrong problem. You are putting the designer in a similar position as happens in stackexhange where you ask for a XY problem.

So its fine to ask the designer to design one page of a 20 page publication. But its not okay if you ask them to design one page, because your not asking them to solve the problem you intend to solve. But rather your asking them to solve the problem that you think needs to be solved which may or may not help at all.

You may also find that this is not necceserily cheaper. Since accepting a job and negotiating the contract is out of neccesity the bulk of the work. So you may end up having to either renegotiate or do it with the designers extra work rate that is allmost certainly quite high. So be prepared to pay 2 times the going price for the job.

Paying 2 times for something that is most likely non-optimal does not seem like a good deal to me. On the otherhand if you intend to do many copies of said publication it may be a sane thing. But then should would ask the designer to do a style guide for your publication. Then there would be much more room for back and forth between you and your designer.

  • I might be a difficult customer. It is the way my brain works. I like to see a diversity of ideas and let them gestate in my unconscious mind. Also, I might not be the most trusting person. People always tell me they do great work, but I've learned not to believe them until I see evidence. I don't trust the portfolios that people have on their website. I don't know that this is their work. From what I see on graphics design sites, the photography is almost certainly stock photography, which is a huge turn off for me. On the other hand, when someone does good work for me, I pay well.
    – Chris
    Jan 11, 2022 at 18:14
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    @Chris thats fine I dont judge. But I wouldnt take you as a client, but then i dont take almost any clients anyway. Thenagain not much work coming my way here since im a mechanical engineer. At the end of the day a 1000$ isnt all that much money. Pay well is atleast an order of magnitude more. -- On photography, obviously graphic designers work with stock photographs. They arent photographers after all, a 1000$ does not take you very far if you want a custom photoshoot. The photographer, model, and assistants all rack up quite the bill. 1000$ is peanuts...
    – joojaa
    Jan 11, 2022 at 20:23
  • @joojaa Although I completely agree, $1000 is a very different thing in for example the US vs India. In most of the world $1000 is a couple of months worth of salary, so saying "isn't all that much" might be a bit fast without knowing where the OP is from. Jan 13, 2022 at 9:18
  • @DavidMulder well if OP's designer would be in india i doubt they would be charging 95$ an hour.
    – joojaa
    Jan 13, 2022 at 10:20
  • @joojaa You're absolutely correct, I stumbled over that. Jan 13, 2022 at 10:22

I received a reply: Their offer is 3-4 hours for one page at $95 an hour.

Yes, rightfully so; albeit less expensive than I expected.

Designing the first is probably 60-70% of the work to be honest; pages 2-20 just fall into place after that and would be churned out rather quickly assuming you have the content ready and don't drag your feet forever.

Imagine going to a restaurant and asking the chef to prepare something absolutely custom for you for just 5% of the cost and then you'll tell them whether you want the full meal.

Preferably you should ask to see their portfolio and even look at other inspirations and start the conversation as "Could you make me something like that?"

  • This doesn't really add anything to the existing answers and comments... Jan 12, 2022 at 17:53
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    @ZachSaucier If that's true then I've added brevity.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jan 13, 2022 at 13:52
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    @MonkeyZeus - "I've added brevity" is now my newest retort, thank you. As for the OP's question - designers have their style which should be fully demonstrated in their portfolio, think "Salvador Dali v Picasso". If the OP likes the designer's style, he should proceed with purchasing some sample work for his project from the designer. That work should be contracted stating that the OP owns the work, having paid for it, and if the designer is hired, that work/payment is applied towards the entire project. Jan 14, 2022 at 15:22
  • @user3481644 I'm glad you like it =). I got halfway through the dissertations and still wasn't completely sure what I was reading.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jan 14, 2022 at 16:42
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    I will admit.. I can get rather verbose at times :)
    – Scott
    Jan 14, 2022 at 20:34

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