Does invention, ideation = higher rate?

Hi, do you believe that when doing work for hire work as a freelancer your services should cost more if you’re asked to come up with new products (invention) vs. design and developing products from the client’s direction or their product breifs?
If so, if the freelance rate is $35/hr. for regular design tasks, do you think $55/hr is a fair increase (this is a 57% increase)?

I’ve never heard of this. Normally freelance creative rates are for being creative. One rate. Only perhaps management or admin might be at a different rate.


Hi R,

Well, I am asking because I notice agencies pay freelancers lower rates for “designer” vs. higher rates for “creative director”. about $30/hr vs. $55/hr. pay respectively. I have not yet achieved “creative director” status, although I suspect I’ve done the part of the work of one by doing new product invention, conception. In my mind it makes sense to charge more based on this info, and that this is type of work that is more valuable to an employer because it has higher payoff, and finally, I can not ever re-sell that work to someone else.

higher rates for designer vs. creative director have nothing to do with innovation vs. any other type of design. At higher rates, you are getting someone with more experience, plus management and direction, strategy, etc.

Product innovation is not necessarily the work of a Creative Director any more than a designer. If you are designing, making new products, etc. You are a designer. Bill whatever your clients will pay for, but different rates for different kinds of design don’t really make much sense. $30/hr for “regular” design vs. $40/hr for something a little bit innovative, $50/hr for something really innovative?


Yeah who’s to say this is more innovative than that and how do you quantify or put a dollar value on it until it’s proven? I say bill US$100+ per hour for any real serious professional design you are doing that is headed for mass production unless you are inexpereinced newbie still in the “paying dues” stage. I don’t think $100 - $150 per h0ur range is unreasonable if it is something that’s going to market and you are a real professional who’s good at what you do. Firms charge more for a director’s time than a staff designer’s time. Senior bills out at more than juniors. If you’re one man you can do a flat rate or maybe less for non-design related tasks like management or communications if you want to. Up to you and what kind of clients you are dealing with. In the end it’s really what you are willing to accept and what you think you can get from the client…how hungry you are for work, etc.

You can do more for ideation if you want but it just makes life harder for you since you have to break down what is inventing and what is not. I mean sometimes I am figuring stuff out when doing CAD. You are creative throughout the process and solving problems almost all the time. Again this is personal preference. As long as you feel OK about it. Just don’t do free work!

My clients wont go for flat rate. If I am developing their idea, they might pay 30/hr to refine it, drafting, pre-vis, spec,s etc. If I am coming up with new concepts they’ve never thought of, I think that should cost more.

I guess you’ve got your answer then. Charge whatever they will pay.


I am sorry, I meant to say my client’s won’t go for a HIGH flat rate across the board to cover all that is included. Which was being suggested I do to cover for what I think is a high value task. That’s why I wanted to break out invention at a different rate vs. 3D modeling, drafting, and specification, creation of pre-sale graphics, etc.

I want to approach this janitorial supply company with my services, they have development in house, they know they can get draftsman and 3D work for $22/hr. for new product development tasks. I don’t want to go in there and pitching my ID services, which ideation is one, rack my brain coming up with a bunch of new innovations (that I can never sell to anyone else) for a rate their used to paying for the other product development tasks. That is why I want to make a distinction. I could never go in there providing full service ID for say $80/hr. But maybe I could get $60/hr, to ideate/ invent, then $30/hr to execute those they pick for prototyping, testing, etc.

Appreciate the input.

when I was working independently, some companies wanted me to bill different rates for different types of work… for example, one rate for concept sketching and general ID tasks, then another for CA D modeling, one for travel, and still another for working with the manufacturing. It was a little annoying to make invoices, but it was like billing as a larger consultancy (who does charge different rates for different tasks/roles)… so why not charge a different rate for innovation?

I’m curious though… in your scenario, do you believe innovation work is that different from typical ID ?

No offense MP but 150/hr means you’ll be getting a little over 300,000 a year. I don’t know of any company that would pay that for a single freelance designer. The guy had a valid question, lets give him a reasonable answer.

@IDguy, I don’t think you’ll last very long billing them 60/hr for ‘ideas’. Richard is right, the best way to do this is a flat rate that includes everything, even if you’re doing nothing for them. Until you have a lot of experience under your belt or can bring a group of designers together and direct them on the project you won’t get rates like this.

There was a neat article that came out in the NYTimes about 2 weeks ago, it was about attorneys. US News mag. said the average starting salary for an attorney was 125k per year, Harvard/Princeton/Yale also keep tabs on their grads for up to 5 years. Guess what the average starting salary of an Ivy league grad law student was? 120k! Clearly somebody was lying through their teeth (I trust Harvard/Princeton/Yale).

Don’t believe the hype surrounding freelance designers who say they charge more than ~45/hr. I’ve never seen one getting paid more than, it is possible but at that point I think they’re bringing more to the table (maybe they do pricing/marketing/design/sourcing/development). But understand that then, a lot less time is devoted to designing and significantly more to everything else. I think 45/50hr (~90k yr) is really the upper end of freelance design work because at that point it’s a better deal for a company to just hire you, offer you some benefits and reduce your salary accordingly. While it may seem like you’re getting a better deal (401k, insurance) it would be better for the corp. (write offs) to have it work this way.

Billing $150/hr doesn’t mean you are making 300K a year. Very few freelancers work 40 hours a week all year long. The rate takes this into account and also the expenses and overhead of running your own business (equipment, rent, supplies, etc.). I can assure you I bill out at far more (multiples of ) than 45/hr and have no problem getting paid for it.

All that being said, as I’ve said before, what you charge is more than a simple calculation. Do you bill out at $10/hr and say that it will take you 100 hours to do a concept, or bill out at $100 per hour and say it will take you 10 hours? Same net, different calc and value . Only you can know what you can charge and it is only what your clients are willing to pay.

As such, bottom line, nobody can really tell you what you “should” charge. We don’t know your experience, skills, the project, the client, the deliverables, total budgets, etc.


Freelance rates don’t equate to yearly salaries oranges to oranges like that… if you do independent design for companies long-term, you have to pay for software licenses, overhead, buffer for slow times, vacation, medical, etc all built into your pay rates (or at least you should)… it adds up. Not to mention, companies pay a premium for working with freelancers so they don’t HAVE to employee someone, manage them, and maybe have to give a severance package if things don’t work out.

I bill more than $50/hr, and most guys in places like SF area bill more in the $100+ range

I’ve not seen something that high in the freelance world. Freelance and consultant are different things, freelance is largely dependent on the company to provide a lot of the necessary items to do the job but needs an extra worker. A consultant brings their own material, laptops, etc., in this case they’re usually incorporated, llc, sole prop. etc. so it’s not quite the same as a freelancer since it’s run more like a business no? Separate office, separate bills, usually contract with some duration of time on it. I would add, if you are a freelancer making a much higher rate but not running your operation with some type of incorporation, you’re paying at least a few thousand dollars more in taxes per year than you have to.

I stand by what I’ve seen, and in design for a freelance design position I just haven’t seen anybody getting paid more than 45hr.

Freelance = Consultant.

Pretty much the same thing except normally if you are called a consultant you may offer more services and have the business side of things more considered. Either way you normally use your own equipment and support yourself through the work.


I believe the innovation work (especially revolving around functional innovation) is different in that it is harder to do well, requires more thought and time to do well and has great payoffs for the client, even after your gone, and you cannot sell it again. For those reasons I believe it should be billed at a higher rate. It’s a little more like hiring an inventor than a designer.

I have 15+ years staff experience one at a corporation one at a smaller firm. Did the whole range of new product ideation, to detailed engineering drawings, sourcing, trouble shooting mfg. issues.

I have freelanced at an ID consultancy and tried to get $55 to do the ideation part. They did not go for it. $35 across the board. I guess I may be wrong in this distinction.

There is definately a difference between working “freelance” for a design consultancy and “consulting” directly with a manufacturer.

When you are working for the design consultancy, they need to make a profit from your work. That is why it is called a business. As a rule of thumb, they will bill your hours to their client at 3-4 times of whatever your hourly rate is, “freelance” designer or staff designer. The same with lawyers. Their salary may be $125K (about $63/hour) but the firm is charging their client $200/hour for that laywer’s time.

So if you get a gig working directly with a client, of course you will charge the $100-$150 rate. If you are by yourself, the overhead is low and that sounds like great money, but clients hate price increases. So if you expand and add employees, how exactly will you make a profit if your rate is too low and you can’t make a profit from your employees?

Yes, you are correct. Most “freelancers” I know freelance directly with the client which is why I said it was the same as being a consultant. Freelance for a consultancy would perhaps be more like temp work or contracted designer? Of course if you are a sub-contractor the consultancy needs to bill out over and above your rate to account for fixed costs and make a profit as well as pay for the management of the project.

Freelancing directly or being a consultant, whatever you want to call is a different story and the impression I got was the OP was looking for advice in this area.

I obviously don’t know the particulars of the situation but have to say a situation charging $35 and hour for someone with 15+ years of experience is very strange sounding. I’ve hired students and recent grads at the same rate.

Back to the OP, I do see what you are getting at in terms of creative work vs. administrative or CAD jockey stuff. Still, most ID involves some of both during the creative process, which is why I suggested a single, fixed rate. If the basis of your relationship however to date has been purely grunt work (re-drawing specs, review of docs, etc.) then yes, by all means ask more for creative work.


Most people don’t make any distinction between the term freelancer and the term consultant. $75-100/hr is very reasonable for a bolt-on design resource, whatever you want to call it, and I have both been paid and paid others that amount. $35/hr is appropriate for new grads. More money comes with experience and credibility. Charging too low can create the perception that the person must not be any good. If you’re good, the work is out there. Don’t settle for a low paying gig unless you are doing it as a favor, or if the job gives you inordinate joy.

rkuchinsky is on point with the comment about not freelancing a 40 hr work week, and covering overhead. It’s also not worth it for a company to hire you permanently if they don’t have 40 hrs/wk work for you (much like a flat of tortilla chips at Costco is not a good deal unless that is a major food group in your house). If they can get what they need for a year in a 40 hour ideation project, and you charge $4000, then they don’t have to listen to your electronic music and feed you coffee for the other 51 weeks of the year (or pay you benefits). It’s a great deal!

Wow, I feel like a chump. Freelanced at a consultancy for $30 coming up with functional concepts for a major brand, one of which made it to production. Tried to get $55 and then $45 but settled for $35. Live and learn. Saw and ad through an agency doing freelance for a toy company, the agency was paying $45/hr. I think the toy company was Hasbro.

Sometimes if you sign on as more of an in-house contractor/consultant, you get lower per hour rates… mostly because you’re in a more dependable situation and can count on 40 hrs a week for many months at a time, but there’s also usually an agency (basically a pimp) who takes a cut on your wages before they reach you

idguy88, where are you? If your in an area with less expensive cost of living, you might not be that far off…