The future as a designer and the “$10 consultants”

Everybody knows the sites like,, etc. filled with “$10 consultants”. I am now working for myself since three years and I have used these sites a few times. But looking on these sites becomes increasingly frustrating. They mainly ask for elaborate designs for less than 500 USD or are willing to pay between 10-15 $/hr for a “Marvelous new bottle, something totally different from the regular bottles”, or the likes.

The thing is, there is an increasing amount of “$10 consultants” that is willing to do these jobs. ‘You get what you pay for you’ would say, but these guys are getting more and more experienced and their quality will go up. And I don’t think their rates will go up accordingly, at least not that much.

Where does that leave the designer who paid top dollar for his/her education, whose rent is high and who just can’t afford to work for low rates? Will the design have the same fate as manufacturing and move to the east? Clients are not stupid and when it is cheap and good quality, they will go for that.

Your success as a designer is going to come down to your skills and your experience.

If I want a sketch of a shampoo bottle, sure I can probably have an intern or a internet-freelancer sketch those out or maybe even build some surface in Rhino…

But what happens when I need someone who has expertise in blow molding to say “hey you can’t do that?” or “your label won’t properly adhere to this surface”. More importantly, how much of design something that is going to end up in a recycling bin within 7 days and is only worth $10?

At the end of the day proper design consultancies which can demonstrate consistent value and success for large companies are still going to be relevant, because there are more complex projects out there than the $10 shampoo bottle.

Cheap freelancers have always existed, and while some people may flock to that as it’s easier to find with the internet and social media you just need to make sure you can demonstrate why real, and normal rate services are important, and make sure your skills and experience are above what someone gets for $10/hr.

Also it will come down to taste at a certain point. I know that my NYC based freelance clients are generally looking for someone who understands style and culture references, the technical ability is secondary. If a creative director wants you to come up with some concepts that are “You know, almost like a Durer engraving but mixed with a little Mies, and reminiscent of a Paul McCarthy sculpture” then those references might be a stumbling block for someone in Bangladesh. Add to this the fact that most of my good freelance work comes through schmoozing and personal referrals, and frankly I don’t want the type of client that would do most of their work through elance.

Sometimes it just comes down to sensitivity and that’s far harder to teach than Solidworks.

I am sure that a lot of manufacturers were thinking the same thing back then, before everything moved to Asia; “They can never provide the quality I deliver”.
It turned out that, yes some of them could and more important; quality is not that of a decisive factor. People buying junk by the truckloads, as long as it is cheap.
Even customer services are moved to Asia.
I am now in China for almost 7 years and I see how quick guys pick things up here. At the moment they still look for a westerner if they want quality but how long will that last. On top of that in the west we are very used to our ‘stuff’. Because of the financial crisis the consumer has less to spend, but we still want our stuff. The result is cheaper stuff.
For now you guys are right, but how will that be 5-10 yeas from now.

Don’t forget that advancement comes with other effects, namely a rise in labor cost. With costs rising there seem to be some interesting on-shoring or re-shoring initiatives going on with companies like Motorola and Google. Very small and experimental right now, but we will see where it goes. The future is difficult to predict and sometimes things have unexpected consequences. A tour through Shanghai and Beijing shows that people there want a consistently higher quality of life and that is spreading, not shrinking.

The current buzz jargon meme of “Blue Ocean Strategy vs Red Ocean Strategy” applies here…

If your operating overhead is high, you need to be applying that expensive education towards the Blue Ocean. Instead of looking for “design work” you need to be applying your design skills to create value that does not exist yet in the marketplace. This means designing a business rather than just product or experience concepts. The Blue Ocean is clear of competitors and holds much promise for market dominance for your ideas.

The Red Ocean on the other hand is filled with blood from the cut throat competitive market. Many designers with the same skills are competing for the same jobs and it is an endless race to the bottom of the ocean where life cannot sustain itself. Technology and the internet only exacerbates the phenomena/problem. (kids in high school now are mastering 3D CAD)

If you’re in China, the densely populated urban areas of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are short term “design tourist” markets now for western dsigners. The schools there now are mature and are pumping out designers who are willing to live in a box with 20 others for a year or so. And this cycle is not showing any signs of letting up.

Take some risks…head for the Blue Ocean…