Design pricing: It’s never just about the price

Setting proper pricing for your UX design work is crucial. It goes hand in hand with setting your customer's expectations.

Setting proper pricing for your UX design work is crucial. It goes hand in hand with setting your customer’s expectations. Set the price too low and you will gain reputation of the same kind. Set it high – you will also set high expectations. If you can deliver on them – then keep it that way. Reason: it’s never just about the price.


For the past several weeks I’ve been involved with number of presales and sales talks, presentations and negotiations with clients. My team has helped me and we have established our price list – hourly and per-project rates for the number of different services we are offering: UX design (including interface design for web, desktop and mobile), information architecture, content creation and development, usability testing and user research, SEO, SEM, training and, of course, consulting.

Of course, coming up with the prices was tremendous effort from our side and huge time investment. Our consultants did very well and now I am very satisfied. We tried and succeeded in categorizing our services and their constituents. We have even developed number of internal tools to help us reach and estimate time needed for specific service or project. We want to be transparent and fair to our clients and we sincerely believe in delivering even more than expected. I like to believe that all this goes without saying in our industry. However, realistically I know that is not exactly the case…

It’s never just about the price

When sitting in the same room with the client or client representative, usually that is some C-level executive or high positioned person from IT / Tech division, most of them are looking for several elements of our offerings: our availability, references, tools and technologies we are working with, quality – and of course – price.

You know it all too well that often they will just go for price. You keep showing them PowerPoint, previous case studies, competitive offerings – but still – they often just look on the price. Personally, I dislike phrases like: “Hey, this looks just great and you guys are really good at what you do, I can tell that, but seriously, this price?!”

Expensive car

And that is the first error they are (unintentionally) making – focusing on the price and the price only.

I do, however, have tremendous respect for clients explaining to me that currently they do not have budget allocated for what they require from us and that they would be gladly buy our services but current situations does not allow them to do so.

But I see problem with “explanations” like “If you lower this price down, we will accept your offer and you can do business with us!” or, even worse “Do this for free / cheaper for us for this, first time, and next time we will pay you full rate!”. I consider this as an offense. Seriously I do. And my answer it that case is: “Well, let’s do it other way around – you pay me full rate now, and I will do it for free / cheaper next time! What do you say?” And you know is usually the answer? Nothing. Silence. Mute.

Quality / Price ratio in UX design

I believe in elitism. Elitism when it comes to the quality of the service and products. I believe that great clients are looking for nothing less than elite and exceptional products and services. I know that in this case I can say that those clients are not just great (since they are paying us properly for our services) but they are also smart.

If you take a look at my previous article where I am thinking about UX ROI: User Experience Return on Investment – you will see that there are 3 areas and 2 types of measurements I’ve described there. Investing in UX design in its broadest sense of word is not a cost. It’s THE opportunity for business. The opportunity for growth and market differentiation.

There is a well know and well established metric called Quality over Price ratio (QPR). In the wine trade industry this is one of the important elements. In the UX / web design industry some principles hold true as well. My business consultant explained it to me in simple terms in 4 simple cases.

Four simple cases – considering quality over price ratio

It all comes down to the fact that if something is of high quality and it costs relatively high amount of money – you, as a client, can be satisfied.

Also, if you pay small amount of money and receive exceptional quality of the service – you can be very satisfied (of course) but I would have troubles believing that something very cheap can result with high quality. Of course, as always, there are exceptions, but relying solely on those exceptions is very dangerous and, in the long run, much more expensive.

Third case is when you pay relatively high amount of money and receive very low quality service (if you get it at all) – that’s when you, as a client, are in really bad position and your frustration is completely understandable. I feel sad when I hear stories from clients describing their experiences with bad designers – those people are making huge damage to our business and profession, but the biggest problem here is that they are leaving their clients dissatisfied so they need to go out, hire a new agency and pay again, hoping that this time nothing will go wrong.

Last, forth option is when you pay a little and you receive / expect a low quality product. Usually, as a client you will keep bitchin’ saying that you have paid enough / lot and received a bit if anything. If you see yourself in this position – then do yourself a favour and don’t make that same mistake again. Personally, I’ll never do business with someone with this kind of attitude. Someone who disrespects design and UX as a profession is not going to be our client… Also, this point has some close relations with the third point – client ends up being dissatisfied but in this case it’s because in the beginning he tried to save some extra money (since, hey, this design thingy can’t be all that worth) and now he is angry because he lost his money (event that small amount he dedicated) plus he knows that he must look for new designer to do the job.

At the end…

Dear past, current and future clients – it’s never just about the money. Look what you are getting for that amount of money. Don’t just say “Yes, yes it’s very cool, but this is too much!”. Too much for what and what’s the reason? Is it because you don’t think it’s worth that money or is it because you really don’t have money in your budget for this? In either case think about quality over price ratio.

Paying 1 million dollars for Yugo car is expensive; paying 1 million dollars for Bentley is not
Paying 1 million dollars for Yugo car is expensive; paying 1 million dollars for Bentley is not

Paying 200 000 dollars for a Yugo car is expensive; paying 200 000 dollars for Bentley is not. Are you looking for Yugo or Bentley? You know, both of them are cars and both of them will take you from point A to point B.

But, there are not-so-subtle-differences between those two… I love building and selling Bentleys to my clients. They love them too! Win-win, I’d say!

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