Forbes Says Designers are Snooty

Two weeks ago, Christopher Steiner, a senior reporter with Forbes Magazine, sent me an email with FORBES MAGAZINE QUERY!!! in the subject line.

After a back and forth with Christopher, interviews were set up with top designers in the industry. Busy designers, who agreed to take time out of their workload to talk via phone with Christopher.

Designers such as…

The fabulous Debbie Millman of Sterling Brands, Design Matters (Voice of America), author of How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer and Essential Principles of Graphic Design, and board member of the National AIGA.

Also included was popular logo designer Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, bLog-oMotives, author of The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success and Identity Crisis!, as well as member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, UCDA Designer Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, and HOW Design Conference Advisory Council.

The first interviews were missed. The second missed too. With no explanation. No email of apology from Christopher.

The next thing we know, Christopher’s article ad is out with this charming blurb in bold…

Xxxx aims to slash the cost of graphic design work–and democratize a snooty business.

Way to go Forbes.

This is not a well researched, balanced article. It’s an ad for yet another bottom feeder in the design industry. That, and a testament to Christopher’s professionalism. And Forbes, well… what does it say about Forbes?

David Airey was the first to post opinions with Forbes calls designers snooty. Design Observer’s Observed section sported a blurb, as did SpeakUp’s Quipsologies. Swiss Miss then came in with Forbes calls designers snooty. Steph Doyle posted about the subject with Forbes Promotes Graphic Design Kitsch. Brian Yerks came out with one of his own. As did Steve from the LogoFactory, with Design is a “snooty” business: Forbes. Then Jeff Andrews posted Forbes Magazine: Graphic Design is a Snooty Business. The design forums are debating this subject as we speak.

UPDATE: Debbie Millman has now been asked by AIGA to ‘chair a task force in an effort to understand the various sentiments about this practice in both the design community and the broader creative community, and report back to the National Board our findings and potential recommendations at the National Board retreat in April, and to share these findings at the Leadership Retreat in June.’

If anyone would like to contact Deb about this matter, follow this link to AIGA’s discussion on spec.

This morning Terri Stone, editor in chief at, requested an interview on the subject of working spec. Knowing Terri as I do, it’s sure to be a professional, well researched article.

13 responses to “Forbes Says Designers are Snooty”

  1. Best wishes to Debbie Millman when chairing the task force. It’s a shame the Forbes journalist didn’t interview Jeff and Debbie, as a more balanced article would be most welcome.

  2. Graphic Design Is Now A Commodity! ? ;-(…

    CrowdSpring is “crowdsourcing” graphic design. It’s a business model that makes sense on the The Internet, in that it connects people with services to offer with people who want to buy those services. A writer from Forbes looks the company’s……

  3. When the world changes to reduce the demand of certain tasks, it’s interesting how people react. I’m sure there were gas stations that were upset at the idea of people pumping their own gas.

    I’m sure there were some companies that were irrate when electronic manufacturing ended the need for hand wiring. Of course, I wonder what it would do to graphic design costs if a computer cost $8,000.

    There is no more milk man. Sorry. Walmart is king, like it or not. Sorry.


  4. Even those who get paid at Wallmarts get an hourly paycheck. CrowdSpring only pays the winner and the rest get nadda.

  5. As a seasoned professional Creative Director/Art Director for forty years within the ad agency workplace, the clients these days only want one thing: cheap, cheap, and more cheap. The advent of the computer ushered in a new era of crap. Buy a computer, software, and presto, you’re a graphic designer? Crap. Creative thinking went into the toilet. Just give the people cheap crap.

  6. I came to your site because of a rant of mine on Craig’s list.
    I started to read your site and thought to my self…good for you.
    BUT, as I continue to read, something else came to mind.

    I am a photographer, I remember back in the early 90’s looking for work.
    I would go to a few designers and they would show me there stack of royalty-free images they
    literally said “This sucks for you dude but I really don’t need you now”.

    Now as big business has found it’s way to gut the photo market. they are now
    finding the way to gutting the design market. How, well let’s look at the “Forbes”
    article, they are cleverly painting you as “snooty”,”too big for your britches” they are
    encouraging businesses to “take you down a peg” not to work with you and to distrust you.

    I have a mixed reaction to this.
    I am no way a fan of big business, but I am also not a big fan of the egos designers have.
    You are running into a problem that has nothing to do with the quality of your work.
    Your opponents are going after your profession in a very personal way and are
    doing a very good job at it.

    If it is perceived that designers are not good people and they they do not deserve your time effort or money.

    I remember looking for a way to market my photography skills to work directly with business. I lived in Somerville MA
    not very far from Harvard Square. What better place to research than the used book stores right next to one of
    the most influential business schools in the country. I search for business and creative.
    What I found was a quote that I never could forget, given by a Wall Street executive to the business school in the first have of the twentieth century “Creatives, are like paper towels, you grab one use it up throw it away and grab another”.

    The battle we all must fight is our own personnel worth towards each other.
    Some of these problems are of your own making.
    Most of it will come down to the disrespect that business have with those who “play in art class” while they do the “real work”.
    I am not sure how to fight it, but knowing the problem is the first step.

    good luck to all of you.

  7. Here via craigslist. Interesting blog, BTW.

    It looks like some people figured out how to bring the “American Idol” paradigm into the visual arts field. It saddens me that a high-end magazine like Forbes would stoop to such a thing, but it doesn’t surprise me.

    Maybe I should write an article about crowd-sourcing CEOs – that would save companies a lot of money…

    One of the problems is that anyone and everyone can now start a business if they have a computer and a connection to the Internet. These people want to look as established and classy as possible for the least amount of money. They are busy selling ebooks to each other that they hired a ghostwriter to write for 100 dollars, listing “secrets” of how to get all this stuff done for next to nothing or free.

  8. A Designer’s Story

    Client: I’d like to talk to you about designing my startup’s corporate identity.

    Designer: Great, I have a lot of questions to ask you before I can accept the job and give you a price.

    Client: OK. Ask away.

    [long conversation ensues, extensive notes are taken]

    Designer: Based on our very detailed conversation, I am confident I can deliver what you need. For $4,000 I can deliver the results in about 2 weeks.

    Client: Excellent. Call me any time if you have additional questions. Now, what if you return and your work is not like what we talked about or what I wanted? Will you try again?

    Designer: Sure, after the first version is delivered, you can pay my rate of $60/hour and I’ll do as much work as you want.

    Client: Um. Thanks, but I’ll try Crowdspring first. If they can’t deliver what I like, I may call you back. Don’t hold your breath waiting by the phone, though.

    Designer: Darn that Crowdspring. I refuse to adapt. I may be starving, but least I have my integrity.


    Designer at new job: Welcome to McDonalds. Would you like fries with your burger.

  9. > only pays the winner and the rest get nadda

    This is true in any instance, but you need to think more broadly than this. For a designer with talent, they will win some and lose others. Over a year (approximately 2000 hours), they might be able to submit 1000 ideas. A really good designer might win 200 of these contests, at say $500 each. SO, even though they would be “working for free” 800 times, they would still pull in $100K. On the other hand, a really bad desinger would win very little, and would receive very little compensation. Over time that bad designer would probably leave the business for career opportunities that are a better fit for them.

    In the end, the good designers will win out over the poor designers, and will be compensated for their work.

    Note: this does not address the question about whether the overall level of compensation for designers will go down. I think it will, but that is what happens when your world opens up and competition scales up dramatically. Designers are facing the same challenges that others are facing when they have to compete internationally for work.

  10. Sounds to me like a lot of designers who’s work is not getting them the money they think they should get are pissed because they are being under cut by places like 99, Sounds to me like the free market does not work for designers here,Problem is the market is so flooded with designers and designers looking to get a break,Seems most of you here feel your above the new guy trying to enter this field,and no one else but you should be designing, Oh how we all forget that the Nike logo was done by a rank amateur for 50$

    What it comes down to is,your design is no better then the next guys, Its all in how the client views it, They either like it or they don’t,you may think you control there thoughts and visions but you don’t.

    So its time to get over 99 and Elance and move on and focus on your own work and if your work is that good then no need to worry about 99 now is there?

    Cheer Up Have a great day

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