Has your design job gone overseas?

Global is the new local

Jobs are on everyone’s mind. Recently, a longtime reader sent me the following career note:

“John, this has brought me to my breaking point.

“I understand that we have companies struggling for profitability throughout the U.S., and cutting corners has become everyone’s mantra. However, I never expected for my design services to be outsourced to foreign countries for cheaper rates.

“Earlier today, I was shocked to learn that another former client has outsourced web and graphic design services to a firm in Colombia. Initially I thought they were joking, until it became apparent that the vast majority of the work is being assigned to a Colombian agency for $11.50 US per hour.

“I have already lost a significant amount of business to companies working out of India. Their rate of $30 US per hour was less than half of mine. My client openly boasted about the amount of money he was saving as he gave me a look that said I’d been overcharging him. Evidently, the quality is good enough.

“In all my years as a designer and marketing director, I have never felt so hopeless or disgusted. I can’t be the only one affected by this trend. It’s putting me in a position where I need to be looking for clients once again. The last thing I expected after all these years is for clients to look past my skills and years of experience only to see my services as another commodity to leverage against.”


Dear readers, it’s a difficult position to be in, and painful. Reminds me of the Chutes and Ladders game. The last thing you want near the end of a career is to slide down a long chute back to the beginning, but it’s happening to many.

The recession gets the blame, but it’s more than that. It’s that the world has changed. Technology has erased borders and barriers. Anyone can now connect with anyone, anywhere. Result: We all compete globally, and our high American lifestyle has us at a disadvantage. If Colombian designers can do for $11.50 what you charged $75 for, that’s where the work is going to go.

Recessions end, but this change is permanent. Our world will never again be as it was. It is not a passing phase. It’s a new day.

Global is the new local.

It’s a great time to be young and fresh. For those of us who aren’t, there is loss to suffer. Don’t underestimate your need to grieve, but then get your game face back on, and remember that you have the advantages of experience and perspective. Thing is, the playing field has never been so level. Everyone can compete — or cooperate — with everyone. Literally.

From my vantage point, I can see another perspective. Over three-quarters of our Facebook fans are international, from nations on every continent. They are eager to join the party. When you say of the Indians, “evidently, the quality is good enough,” I can tell you that yes, it is, and often it is better. There is a lot of design talent beyond our borders — educated, clear thinking, visionary, with great enthusiasm and a tremendous work ethic. To us insular Americans, this may be shocking. Get unshocked, and get ready to play. It’s a good thing.

Hey, some Irish kid just tore up the U.S. Open.

Before & After has felt the change, too. For our part, we’re spreading into video, iPad design, podcasts, webinars, and live seminars. Our focus is a little diffused right now; you may have noticed the slowdown. It’s the learning curve.

Keep me posted.

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111 Responses to Has your design job gone overseas?

  1. JD says:

    Sadly, not a new thing.

    Been nearly five years since I heard the same line from one of my bigger clients. He was all excited about getting web banner ads done for $10 each from some company in Eastern Europe. One-fourth the cost I was asking for.

    If you want to see this firsthand, visit elance.com. Plenty of freelance graphic jobs listed; lowest bids are from Pakistan, India, etc. One I looked at recently had done 89 jobs, with a total of $9,000 in earnings. Less than $100 a job.

    I can’t compete with that.

  2. Mark Hannon says:

    The comment “Evidently, the quality is good enough” simply suggests that while many clients are becoming more cost-conscious, they are willing to accept a lower standard of quality as part of the deal when they use off-shore design services.

    I understand the need to put our game face back on, but even if we cut the same corners as many off-shore designers, it would still be difficult to compete with $11.50 per hour. I used to think that the quality of my work and experience meant something. Perhaps on some level it does, but how do you effectively sell these qualities when the client’s only question is “How much?”

    • Jason Crowe says:

      The fact that they charge less does not mean that they are cutting corners. In many cases, I would bet they are cutting fewer corners than their American counterparts.

      The real difference is the cost of living. You have to look at how far $11.50 stretches for low-cost providers. Would you rather design for $11.50 an hour or do manual labor for $3 an hour?

      • Don Biggs says:

        That’s really the issue. We won’t compete well from an economic-disparity standpoint. Our dollar might equate to $10 to them. This is the problem with a global economic model. Add the internet to level the playing field, as John put it, and it tosses our U.S. model into economic turmoil. Most Americans have not been affected on this level yet, but I have a feeling that it’s coming.

        • Donna Berry says:

          “. . . most Americans have not been affected on this level yet . . .”

          On the contrary, most working-class Americans have been profoundly affected, and many, many middle-class workers also — Y2K, for instance, taught managers that there is plenty of offshore programing talent for a fraction of what American programmers charge. It’s only the creative classes who are just now feeling it.

        • Nic Johnson says:

          So how to differentiate yourself? For me it’s physical presence. I go to the client. We draw together on paper, I talk to them face to face. I show them things, they ask for changes, and I make them right there and then.

          • Angela says:

            I completely agree with Nic on this. I’ve been freelancing on Elance for a while now, and you really can’t compete with some of the rates people from overseas put on projects. I have found that the fact that people can meet with me and talk to me on the phone has benefitted me a lot. I think some people are willing to pay more to have the physical contact and face to face.

  3. KSC says:

    Having had to adapt to changes for over 33 years in design and print, I find it hard that we have to pay such high prices for Adobe software, yet it is well known that many of the super-cheap providers either don’t use legal software or use software very out of date. I receive countless emails on how to download illegal software and can’t understand why no one can stop it. On their wages or fees per hour, it would be impossible to pay the advertised prices for software even in their country. We also have to pay legal fees, licenses, insurance, incidentals and far more in western countries, which add to our hourly fee.

    • Steve Teare says:

      Not all of the offshore software is bootleg. It’s easy to design now with Linux Ubuntu or Mint. (GIMP, Scribus, etc.) Free stuff! I’m in the process of making the switch. I’ve been a Mac user for many years. Now I’m running on cheap used computers ($100). No annual cash outlay anymore.

      We’ve been American-technology snobs and insisted on having the “best” software and hardware. Overseas, they’re willing to use our junk computers and adapt with Open Source. This makes American’s breakeven much higher. Times have changed, and many U.S. designers have not been paying attention to the world signs, instead being content with how things were done yesterday, because they don’t want the learning curve (lazy?). We’ve lost our edge.

      If you work and think as if you’re a refugee then you’re prepared to survive the bad times. And I’m sorry to say it looks like more are coming around the corner.

  4. Is it all about price. If I want something designed for my business in Australia, I’d be crazy to use anyone who doesn’t understand our mentality; i.e., which of our buttons to push. It might not be the cleverest, but I don’t want to win any awards — I want action.

    However, I’m paying an IT company in Australia $200 per hour to log onto my machine and fine tune my Act database. They are good, but some Indians and even Filipinos in our area could do the same work with one hand behind their backs. No design skill, purely mechanical.

    It’s a market economy. You pay for what you get, and if you are willing to persevere and put up with a bit of agro, a lot of prima donnas better downgrade themselves to the chorus line.

  5. Igor says:

    So true. I feel the same effects of globalisation. Although I am not from the U.S., a couple of my customers also outsourced work to outside countries, and it was probably a bit cheaper.

    The problem with this line of work is that it has become a very low-entry business, which creates higher competition, and higher competition creates lower pay margins. There is always someone cheaper! Globally, even more so.

    One part of the answer is to become exceptional at what we do. Some customers will recognize that and choose us over the other. But at the other side, everything and everybody cannot be exceptional. And even if we are, will customers recognize that? Hard questions. I am looking for answers, too.

  6. Len Williams says:

    I’m based in Florida, and before that in Los Angeles, and I’ve been designing for international clients (Canada, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa and Australia) for many years since the mid 1990s, shortly after the Internet created a global market. For over 21 years I’ve usually had more work than I can comfortably handle, and frequently had to have some clients wait a week or two until my schedule cleared up. Now, for the past six months I’ve been struggling like never before to pull in work. I’m having to aggressively market myself. Even the jobs I have lined up from long-term clients are taking months to close. Everyone seems to be dragging their feet. It’s scary, because our income has really plummeted. I’ve had only one client in Switzerland decide to use a Swiss designer, so I’m not directly having my work stolen by international designers who’ll work cheaper.

    My hourly rates are so high that I never tell anyone what they are — I quote the project instead. Trouble is, I’m so fast that unless I set my hourly rates really high, I don’t make enough money. This comes from decades of experience both as an artist and as a computer user.

    I’m in the process of doing a lot of email promotion and inventing new services to offer to clients. Only time and hard work will tell if I can stay in business. Who knows, it may be that my life-long career as a designer may be over in a year or two if it remains unviable to make a living this way — and that’s terrifying!

  7. This is an interesting question, with a lot of emotion attached. No one wants to think of their work as a commodity, but it almost always is in some form. If price is the only factor in people’s decisions to pay for your service, then it would look bad for the design industry (amongst others). But price alone is not the only factor involved, otherwise companies like Apple wouldn’t succeed at all. People are usually willing to pay what they think is fair, and when it comes to business, there is a trade-off decision between price and quality that gets made.

    I have noticed that the biggest move to outsourcing is in smaller companies who can’t do their own design but find a full professional designer to be more than they need. It’s also this market I see “outsourcing” to people they know, or inexperienced people looking for experience, again trying to cut costs. It’s the same with wedding photography — often couples tend to avoid paying a professional photographer and instead bring in someone they know who has good camera equipment.

    These two issues are very similar, but the response is the same. You cannot just wait for the changes to happen and then complain; you must go looking for customers, and you must give them a service they are willing to pay for. There are many benefits to being “local,” even if it’s just understanding the local business, local issues, being able to drop in and talk through things. But the biggest thing you can do is see the challenges as exactly that — keep on your toes and keep improving. The challenge has always been there to stay ahead of other local designers, but now the scope is wider. Improve your service, improve your work, improve the way you do business.

    There are still plenty of people out there who are willing to pay good money for good work.

  8. Lou C says:

    I’m in Australia, and one of my clients recently sourced a cheaper U.S. designer. So it goes both ways.

    Having said that, I am happy to work globally and have designed for UK, NZ, USA, Czech, Turkey, Italy, Philippines, and western Samoa clients. I also have to compete with the dirt-cheap prices of India, and realistically, due to their sheer population, that’s not going to ease.

    The best we can do is to pay attention to what’s happening, Find our niche, make friends, and deliver.

  9. Randy Martin says:

    John, you are absolutely right.

    I am in the third (maybe fourth?) restructuring of my career.

    Currently, I am helping a client create a new business from scratch.

    This opportunity allows me to design, reflect, re-purpose, pontificate, write, imagine, and build. I am having the time of my life.

    Yes, I am using Indian web folks.

    And, as with ALL vendors, there are three options, of which I can have only two: quick, good, cheap.

    I have spent a lot of time teaching, trying to overcome the choice of including “cheap” as one of my options.

    As a result, I have had to put on my learning cap and force myself to dive into new technology.

    As I said, I’m having a blast.

    There is always something better after the last buggy whip has been offered for sale.

    You just have to look at it differently.

    Not too long ago, I was dithering over upgrading to a smart phone from my metal flip phone that worked perfectly and could double for a hammer. It took my son’s insight to get me off the fence: “Dad, don’t think of it as a phone. A phone is what you had at your mother’s house that when it rang it rang two longs and a short ring. This is an electronic device that can also make phone calls. If you don’t want the device, don’t get it.”

    I bought a Thunderbolt.

    And an extra battery.

  10. Craig says:

    A friend of mine, a consultant to nonprofits, frequently outsources client design needs to Colombia. He says that small, struggling nonprofits must watch every penny. John is right, the quality is there. But this friend has also worked with me on projects. He says there is value in working with someone local that I (and other North American designers) can take advantage of.

    First, many clients need to be able to connect personally with their designer. When I have a creative brief meeting with a client, it’s often the aside comments and even the body language that tip me off on the direction the project needs to take. You can’t do that if you are thousands of miles away.

    Second — and my friend says this is subtle — there are cultural expectations and differences that an offshore designer may not be aware of that will influence the end product. It may be color choice, font selection, or subtleties in language that get missed in the brief.

    Third, value-added services and advice (based on local experience) are what a North American designer brings to the table that clients need and want. Clients of mine who are aware of offshore options say they are willing to pay for that extra value.

    That means I can’t rest on my laurels, though. If I don’t give clients my full attention and add value every day, I know the work will vanish – even to another local designer. It also means I have to (nicely) remind my clients of this value that I bring to our relationship.

    This challenge is not new. Ever since personal computers made desktop publishing accessible, we have been faced with someone who will do it for less. Such is the industry today. I wouldn’t be surprised if that Colombian agency is facing the same thing from other quarters.

  11. John says:

    Embrace this opportunity — seize it and use it. This same cycle has taken place in other industries. Just look at manufacturing — it’s now mostly done in the Far East.

    I now have clients in countries that I could never have reached even three years ago let alone 30 years ago . . .

    1. the only constant is change . . .
    2. that which does not destroy us makes us stronger . . .
    3. adapt and survive.

    Carpe Diem!

    • Donna Reynolds says:


    • Don Biggs says:

      I don’t agree with that statement in principle. It’s not as though you can make lemonade from these lemons, if the scale of this trend accelerates beyond an anecdotal level. The playing field will have been altered to the degree that the game as we knew it has changed. Great intentions aside, even the best attitude about it won’t overcome this degree of economic disparity. John McWade’s original comment about developing other services may be the most practical path to take.

  12. Donna Reynolds says:

    Funny you should ask. I recently spent a week teaching an India-based design team how to do work I’d handled for years. Financial pressures forced a long-time client to outsource projects that had previously been done by U.S. designers, and I was hired to train my replacements. I didn’t mind at all. The skills I taught the Indian team were yesterday’s news, and like Mr. McWade I’m moving into other areas — not in response to international competition, but because it’s what I’ve always done.

    Early in my career I saw an entire management team put out to pasture because they clung desperately to a skillset that was quickly becoming obsolete. Instead of investigating and adopting new technologies, they tried to block them. And they ended up unemployed. I took a lesson from that and have made a point — and a career — of keeping up with new developments. It isn’t just good business, it’s fun! So don’t “just” be a designer; become the go-to guy for information on new trends and emerging technologies. And be proactive. Don’t wait to be asked about tablet publishing, for example. Develop a presentation and sell it to your clients. You’ve got a big advantage over foreign designers: You’ve got face time. Use it.

    Mr. McWade writes, “it’s a great time to be young and fresh.” Maybe so, but in my experience it’s also a pretty good time to be deeply experienced (I’m 60). To quote humorist P. J. O’Rourke, “Age and guile beat youth, innocence, and a bad haircut.” Go get ’em, Tiger.

  13. Jimmy W. says:

    This conversation is long overdue. I’ve experienced the same thing — being outbid by overseas designers. One thing I know is that they have families too, and they have to eat just like us. So I’m cool with it. However, at some point the work/client has always come back after experiencing the communication gap.

    Don’t forget we are at our core visual communicators — and communication does not always work well when it comes from a culture that is unfamiliar with the nuances of American cultures. This fact was brought to my attention when I was talking with a designer friend of mine who lives and works overseas. I was reaching out to him to see if he could help with some logo designs, and he made one thing clear. He said — and I quote — “Make sure you use simple English in the creative brief so that I can translate the concept in my head the ‘American’ way.”

    One more thing . . . embrace the change, and let the clients know you’re there to help when things get lost in translation. With this new playing field, we’ve become more of the design/agency consultants.

    That’s the main reason our site is currently “under construction.”

  14. Jeff Hillman says:

    After following one particular avenue of revenue for several years, our studio now provides small, one-off projects for a large group of customers who need quick projects in the under-$100 range. While this keeps us busy and profitable, it always leaves us in competition a million other small operators and freelancers. (Ironically, that’s right where we/I started!)

    About overseas . . . one of our competitors is the 99designs.com model (there are several operations like that one). I’m sure that many of their designers are overseas, as well as here in the States.

    Consequently, our push right now has been to seek out clients who need larger, more complex, and, ultimately, higher-profit-margin projects.

  15. GINA says:

    I am a freelancer who lives on the East Coast. I lost work to folks in Colorado and New Mexico who charge less than half of what I do (and I charge below rates in my area). I lost work to younger folks who charge less in my area. My response is that quality and experience does come through, and many times I have been asked to “fix” problems that inexperience creates. There is a new paradigm out there. We all have to adjust.

  16. Ginger says:

    I just had a client tell me nearly the same thing: “I can get a logo design for one-third your fee.” Luckily for me, they were talking about through a challenge service. I was able to show and tell the quality difference. However, when it comes to overseas, why not look at it as a plus? If your clients will accept their work, hire them. Charge a tad more and be happy for the income for connecting the two and the free time you have to spend with your family.

  17. Interesting discussion thread. This also popped up in my twitter stream, so obviously there is something a bit deeper than just offshoring design work.

    What we’re seeing is a lot of work being shipped off, but the client is left to spec it out. Programmers and designers in India, Turkey, Colombia will do exactly what the client says. The nature of not being in the same time zone, in the same physical space, to interact and have a “real” conversation where body language speaks as loudly as the words in the design brief, lends itself to just-the-facts thinking. The client may have signed off on Pantone 199 red, but what she really, really wanted was a deep red with soul that ached for the unrequited passion of the nightlife club scene . . . you get my point.

    But many times, clients spec out what they think they want, not what they need. Many times the code is not scalable, the design is not built for change, and updates take an incredible amount of time.

    My most recent outsourced experience was with a WordPress theme that a long-term client outsourced because they could not wait for us to free up resources. What they got back was visually stunning, but with menuing that was hard-coded, javascript-driven crap for what should have been simple processes, and a fundamental misunderstanding of database-driven design. Now, any change that we make “breaks” the theme into a million pieces, and we end up charging a fortune to fix a cheap designer’s rapid deployment. And the “designer” is too busy with new work that he can’t be bothered with changes.

    For clients who don’t value the experience that can guide them through scalability issues, it will always be an issue of cost. Too bad it is making the really talented in this industry abandon it or, worse, become too diversified to be deeply talented in any one skill.

  18. Dave says:

    I think the designer is in a great position. As I did when I started seeing this happen years ago, since designers know quality from the trash out there, we can pick and choose the right designers and outsource the material ourselves. Charge the client $45 to $50 an hour and let him speak to an American, meet with him at his desk. Then outsource it! You get to take on more jobs and gain more experience, and the client gets to save money.

  19. Fran Casey says:

    They key is to adapt, I feel. The world will always be changing. How about trying to search for more local clients in our communities? There are still a lot of people who are more comfortable working with someone they can see face to face. You can find them through your Chambers of Commerce and local networking groups. Offer them excellent service, and find new ways to serve the older clients. Otherwise, the world will go flying by us!

  20. Bill says:

    Part of the globalization process is equalization. We are being forced to realize that the style and cost of living in the U.S. is inflated because of many factors. We are also being forced to realize that we will be able to work for less when our expenses are more realistic and our needs and wants are more in line with the global reality. But the transition is not pleasant.

  21. David Kunkel says:

    My friend runs a Web hosting and design service out of his home in Israel. He told me that he’s always looking for freelance artists to keep up with his demand. His comments were that he uses South Asian talent when the quality needed is “good enough,” but when it has to be great, he uses American artists because of their design sophistication and understanding of American culture. My advice to my colleagues is: Become a design brand like Levi’s and Harley Davidson — uniquely American, uncompromising in quality, and perceived as worth the price. By the way, designers can subcontract the “good enough” work to the same overseas talent, if they must compete on price.

  22. Ellen Fields says:

    We’re American designers who live in Mexico. And we use that to our advantage. We charge lower fees in Mexico than we would in the U.S., and many Mexican clients come to us because we can build websites that are attractive to Americans and Canadians. It’s true what someone said above — that there are cultural differences in designs, and it pays to understand that and take advantage of it. Another good news — everyone needs a website now, so there are more clients than ever. Sure, there are those who will do it for as cheap as they can find it, but many are looking for a middle road — not too expensive, but better than they could do it themselves or than someone who doesn’t understand their business can do it.

  23. Eric says:

    Thanks John, for another excellent topic for discussion. I have worked in-house for many years so have felt fairly insulated for a time. If anything, the competition for me is not offshore but younger age. There are tons of students coming out of design and art schools eager to get into the field and willing to work for next to nothing. There are many other students who couldn’t afford art school but are just as talented and have grown up with all the desktop publishing skills we struggled to learn over years.

    I know this is a bit of a different discussion, but I wanted to thank you for making the point that just because a client paid less for it does not mean it’s necessarily lesser quality. I took a design class recently, and several of the students’ work blew me away. Fresh, clean, and not restricted by all the “rules” that get implied after years of trying to meet clients’ short-sighted needs (not all, of course).

    If anything, it’s an opportunity to see it all not as competition but as a chance to see design move into completely new areas. Again, I’ve been somewhat insulated, so when it’s hitting you in the wallet I realize it’s a completely different situation.

    Thanks again, John. I recently went back through a bunch of older Before & After issues, and you still offer the cleanest, no-nonsense, straight-up design talk there is. Hope to see you more in whatever medium. Cheers.

  24. Skip Savage says:

    Westerners are so naïve. We forget that our know-how, systems and technologies are the result of centuries of sacrifice and struggle. Then we blithely hand it over to competing nations, where they use our power against us.

    The long-term result may be for the greater good, but in the short run, I think we’ve been had.

  25. Mary Baum says:

    I think Donna’s onto a key strategy. It’s been clear to me for a while now that design alone isn’t really saleable, and that we need a business case for branding.

    After all, we’re not just competing with overseas designers. There are also the free and cheap templates, even for the Creative Suite products, that let someone download a set of files and hire their kid, or send their admin to a two-day training, to adapt.

    But what businesses need is someone who can actually translate this thing called design into financial results. And that’s not a job for a kid or a designer in another country who, best case, likely thinks American consumers are exactly like American television characters.

  26. M Jacob says:

    Donna, you are spot on. However, in my experience, being proactive over and above the call of duty is tough to maintain. Often, the client appreciates the information and suggestions but fails to act on them due to pressing, routine matters.

    In creative outsourcing, things have changed in India since it all started. There is plenty of domestic demand. Rates and retainers being paid are as good as, sometimes better than, outsourced work from abroad. Good creatives are not as available as before.

    Still, when compared to the Philippines, for example, you can expect an India-based designer/team to provide some value-added strategic thinking when required.

    There is also another problem which many may not know. Kickbacks are very common in securing all kinds of outsourcing contracts.

  27. Donna Fischman says:

    Let’s face it, some of what we do has become a commodity. I’ve certainly had to make adjustments that include using some of that “cheap” labor. For example, I don’t waste my time anymore doing Photoshop touchups to poor photos when I can hire retouchup.com to do quality work for $5 to $10. They are amazing, and I pass that cost savings on to my clients. Where I don’t negotiate is giving my experience, coaching and planning away. My business is balanced between graphics and coaching, and I’m a big fan of planning and implementing. They can’t buy that online . . . yet!

  28. I’m attracting lots of new business. If you know your fearless why, then you’ll be able to find prospects who want to work with someone like you. Not all business owners go for the lowest price. Not all business owners want to work with someone on the other side of the world. There’s still lots of business here. And there would be even more if we invested in our local economies.

    Forget global and go for local — local food, local lots of everything. Ramp up your local economy, start programs, join local business associations. Why send our profits to other places? Why eat food picked unripe and shipped back here? Main Street is the real economy anyway.


  29. John Powell says:

    I personally have not been affected, because I’m employed by a large commercial printer. However, our local newspaper laid off its design staff a few years ago, and outsourced all design work, ad creation, etc., to a company in Hong Kong (if I recall correctly). To add insult to injury, they ran an article in their paper announcing the change and bragging about how they would be saving a lot of money. In the meanwhile, several people lost their jobs, and in this small town they most likely had to move away to find employment. There are not many jobs for designers in this area.

  30. Miguel says:

    After working as an in-house designer for over nine years at a tech firm here in Seattle, my job was sent overseas to Singapore, and I was laid off. After the initial shock wore off, I was able to shift my perspective from crisis to opportunity. Although I have not received a full-time job yet, I have been using this time to sharpen my skills. And for that I am thankful.

  31. Trich Collins says:

    How appropriate to receive this today. Just yesterday our union held a meeting to discuss our company’s decision to centralize its graphics team — if the current graphics personnel opted out of the union, the work would stay in this city; if not, it would be located in another city. The company has graphics personnel throughout the province, but ours is the only team that was part of a union. The issue of graphics being contracted out to other countries was brought up, and that we should be grateful they’ve decided to stay here in Canada, so it could be worse. Certainly since I’ve been with this company I’ve clearly seen how most clients are ignorant of design: One design is as good as another, regardless of quality, consistency or proper representation of the brand. It’s all about the money.

    I think, down the road, when clients are failing to reach the right demographic, they might return to local designers because they do know who the customer is — likely personally. I’ve seen it happen on a small scale here, when the design work produced has been inconsistent with previous projects, and although the clients don’t notice (or perhaps care), their customers do.

    Fingers crossed that this trend reverses — I really like designing.

  32. Mark says:

    Welcome to the programmer’s world.

    I’m seeing local programmers getting let go, and the jobs going to various offshore countries. I’ve moved onto working with clients and designing their products with them. I miss the code, but you do what you have to do. Hard to replicate the personal touch via web-ex. Good luck to everyone.

  33. I worked in the Miami garment industry for 25 years and was considered “unemployable.” The U.S. government paid my tuition and sent me to school — McFatter Technical Center, Printing and Graphic Arts — for 12 months in 2007-2008. Upon graduation, I found myself unable to land an entry-level graphic design position. I started up my little freelance graphic design business when I couldn’t find a “real” job. Seems as though the demand is for Spanish-speaking web designers with bachelor’s degrees.

    My fashion background includes a fashion-design degree, seven years as a Missy designer, illustrator of fashion catalogs, technical design, pattern making, sewing, purchasing, quality control and production management. I’ve worked in most every textile, ranging from Spandex to Ultrasuede. From storyboards to tech packs, I am very well rounded. So, I can’t go backwards and I can’t move forwards, either. The point I am making is, the garment industry was the first to go. Those jobs are gone forever. Make no doubt about it, once you outsource the printing industry you are signing away your livelihood.

    Who do I blame? The government of the U.S. They can change the rules for imports and exports and quotas, but they don’t.

    Anyone looking for a freelance graphic designer in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign with six years of training?

    • Leesah Matsee says:

      I totally agree with you as far as blaming the U.S. government for this trend! I saw it begin back in 2006 when an “efficiency company” took over the publishing firm I was working for. They outsourced all of our IT to India and fired all of the professionals in order to hire cheap, expendable labor. It happened again at another large insurance firm I worked for; we had a two-year contract, which they broke when the decided to outsource our work to China. This should be illegal. My pay scale has been literally cut in half over the past four years because of this trend, and I can barely take care of my son. The U.S. government should tax companies heavily that send jobs overseas. They’ve ruined this country’s economy, which in the end will ruin the global economy. It’s a shame, and I don’t know what the answer is, but a change must come.

  34. Ty says:

    Well, I can change careers and become a plumber, which can’t be outsourced overseas. (They can also make some pretty good money.) :-)

    But I’m evolving with the industry. It feels risky and scary at times, but that’s just how life is. Nothing is certain, and there are no guarantees.

    A friend with a military career shared a useful phrase that helped me persevere as I get into running: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” That really helped during a half marathon, when everything was difficult and I wanted to give up.

  35. Phyllis says:

    It’s always scary to read about being underpriced. I’m a little bit insulated from that myself because I’ve chosen to work as an in-house designer. There are quite a few organizations (particularly non-profits) who can’t outsource their work because they’re so involved in it. They make oodles of edits (sometimes even watching while I make them) and depend on me to be there to harass them if they’re not giving me material on time. And they also need me to suggest publications that they might need. If I were not in the office, they’d never finish this stuff!

    That may sound like annoying work, but it’s actually quite pleasant once you’re used to the style of it. And unlike freelancing, my income stream is constant. So it’s worth considering if freelancing ceases to be lucrative enough. There are quite a few companies who need at least one in-house designer, and obviously they can only choose someone local. Lots of artists don’t like the standard 40-hour work weeks, but they do have their advantages! You get used to it, and it’s a decent lifestyle. I personally don’t think I’d ever go into full-time freelancing.

  36. Mark Duran says:

    I’ve always felt that offshoring jobs is just a new form of slavery. It decimates the jobs here in the U.S. while giving the new offshore workers a shiny new penny for their labor, and a whole lot of money for the people who have insinuated themselves between the workers and the work. It’s been going on forever, but computers have allowed this practice to blossom. I just hope I have enough work to keep me employed until I can move into my retirement box under the freeway. ;-)

  37. Tom Piercy says:

    Where there’s change there’s threat. Where there’s change there’s also opportunity.

    Globalisation certainly means change. It may well bring threats — but it also brings opportunities. It’s interesting just how many more people here have identified the threats rather than the opportunities in globalisation. It’s also interesting (but perhaps not surprising) that John McWade has concentrated on identifying the opportunities.

    When you are working by yourself you are inevitably working with focus. It is difficult to step back and carry out a dispassionate SWOT analysis (your strengths and your weaknesses, your opportunities and your threats) by yourself. SWOT analysis is usually much more effective when carried out in a group — ideally a small group — with an experienced facilitator.

    What local resources are there for you to help you organise such a event? College? Business organisation? Small business club? LinkedIn? Rotary? Round Table?

    You don’t have to identify those opportunities all by yourself. Get a bit of help. The opportunities from globalisation, a concept born in the United States, are there for you to take. Go for it!

  38. Wayne Sanchez says:

    Recently, I had one of my large clients go to India to revamp their website at a lower cost. I was still doing graphic design for print but lost the online portion. It was a tough loss to swallow and put a huge dent in the pocket book.

    After drying my eyes and getting over the initial shock, I took the time to really think about what had happened and the potential of some of my other clients going the same route to save money. I know that I may not prevent all my clients from going overseas, but I did realize how much I need to make myself invaluable to my clients. As a practice, I keep in touch with all my clients on a regular basis and have a timely turn-around on my projects.

    Two months after that initial loss, that same client called with total frustration due to the language barrier, translation of clients needs, etc. I now have that business back. I believe that my clients like the personal, face-to-face, local, hands-on attention they get. I really focus on getting clients that are local, and small-to-medium in size, because it is easier to maintain that kind of attention, especially with the decision makers.

    I believe that a lot of your clients will come back to local designers. Be fair and flexible on your fees. I always have to remind myself that this isn’t the 80s and 90s when designers could charge top rate. The economy is weeding out the unfair and inflexible.

  39. Cindy says:

    I am a graphic designer at a community newspaper. My job was just outsourced to the Philippines. I don’t make that much an hour, not much more than people overseas. I have won awards through the Associated Press, Liquid Library and Small Newspapers of America, but apparently that’s not good enough. You bet I feel betrayed and angry. I’ve worked there for 20 years. I don’t feel like I’m good enough anymore after this has happened. I’m not looking forward to a job interview after that long, and let’s not even talk about health insurance.

  40. Jewels says:

    John, you are right! There is a lot of talent out there! The design business is extremely competitive. I’ve had to discover new ways of doing business and continue to reinvent myself over the years. More than ever, I feel like it’s really important to build strong relationships with your clients and continually show them how much you appreciate them. There’s never any better way of advertising than word of mouth, and I feel if you take care of and appreciate your clients, they will spread the good word and bring you more business!

  41. AMD says:

    As a UK-based designer, I’ve not experienced any of my clients sourcing their design work oversees, thankfully! However, I have started outsourcing all my Photoshop clipping work to India. For £1 per image, they produce clipping paths of outstanding quality in 24 hours, and whether I send one image or 50, the quality and turnaround time remains constant. This not only saves me masses of time on a mundane aspect of a job, it also enables me to spend more time concentrating on the design element of the job. The fact that I can still charge my client for the clipping path work at a huge profit is also a bonus!

    Outsourcing work abroad — if you can’t beat them, join them!

    • CN says:

      Hi, AMD — could you post the details?

      P.S.: Do you have a reliable After-Effects contact? Grunt work?


    • Timba Fella says:

      I am a Sydney designer and use the same strategy with Photoshop clipping, etc. Anything more complex is no good, though. One of my clients takes all their pics on an iPhone in terrible conditions. I send them off to me mates in Mumbai, and they come back looking AMAZING — all for under $3 each (colour corrected, masked and clipped). I keep the charge-out very low at $40 each (Come on guys, there is prep time involved and checking and sorting as well. Like I pre-crop everything to the same aspect ratio/crop). Oh, and the other thing, I get them to send back the layered files — I have learnt lots from their work (good and bad). So there we go always learning.

    • JR says:

      Or you could get a co-op student to do stuff like that for free, if cost is really important. Your Indian guys would probably do a better job, though! :-) I don’t know if high schools have co-op courses in the UK, though.

  42. Laura says:

    I feel the same pain as many of you. I have 20 years of experience, and some months ago my job was sent to the Philippines. I am only a print designer. I now need to upgrade my skills to learn web design, but I am wondering if it’s worth it. With all the WordPress and free websites out there, web designers are struggling to create websites. I am thinking of changing my career to something else. Sometimes I think that I am giving up, but there are many other careers that pay more; even a carpenter assistant earns 14.50 — more than some Craigslist-advertised jobs!

    I consider myself a very good designer, and marketing savvy, but I am tired of trying to convince clients why my services are better than 99designs. I am really tired, pessimistic, and willing to do anything else other than design. Sorry if I sound negative and sour to you, I just wanted to vent, and I am sure more people feel like me. I am happy for the designers who are doing well, but how much is enough to say no more? I want to try something different — not sure what yet — because every industry is going through the same situations.

    • Angela says:

      What about putting your knowledge to work by moving into teaching?

    • Miguel says:

      I got my job sent overseas too, but now I am learning WordPress from the ground up. I do not agree that it is just a “free” website — it’s a tool to rethink content management altogether. Don’t knock WordPress!

  43. morris says:

    Has anyone noticed that one-half of our income goes to the federal, state, county and city spending machines?

    Has anyone noticed that corporations overseas pay much lower income taxes the U.S. companies?

    Is anyone here purchasing anything that is not made in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc.?

    Anyone out there with a shovel, trying to compete with a backhoe?

    When Wal-Mart began putting local stores out of business, the stores had to reinvent themselves. Don’t compete with Wal-Mart, take advantage of them. The case is the same here.

  44. Dean says:

    My wife and I have our own two-person design business, so I have read every word of this thread with great interest.

    There’s no doubt that work is harder to come by now than it was in 1997 when we started — and we cannot pull the rates we did back then, either.

    This thread has focused on globalisation, but, speaking personally, I’ve found less impact from that and more from the general corporate drive of cost cutting (more on that later).

    In terms of outsourcing to overseas (off-shoring), we have to realise a couple of things. What is happening here is almost the same story as the havoc that file sharing has had on music (bear with me). The key to both of my examples is not so much globalisation as it is “digitisation.”

    Back in the old analogue days of say the 70s, people could swap a little music by taping their Steely Dan vinyl LP and handing the cassette off to friends, but it was never a big deal. The trouble started when music went digital. Once CDs could be converted to MP3, the rot started to set in for the traditional music model. But that by itself is not enough. The missing piece of the puzzle was, of course, the massive, global, essentially free distribution network called the Internet.

    Let’s now compare the music example to design and the topic of this article — and you can already see where I’m going. If we were still in the days of Mad Men, or even the 90s, clients are simply not going to FedEx briefs and artwork back and forward to India ;-) . But with the cost of (digital) communication to anywhere on the globe essentially free, and since the artwork is no longer paper but ones and zeroes, the brief and return artwork and discussion (Skype of VOIP) is no more than net traffic. That is a whole new ballgame.

    If you haven’t all read Dan Pink’s fantastic book, A Whole New Mind, I urge you to do so. Although written in 2006, his insights on this topic are proving very prescient.

    In his book he points out that any job that is routine is going to go either overseas to cheaper labour, or to software. He points out that, a few years ago, whilst three million Americans had their taxes outsourced to Indian chartered accountants, 21 million Americans did their taxes on TurboTax — for $39.95. Spare a thought for our accountants! ;-)

    India has a billion people, so if only 15% of them (only 15%!) make it to middle class in the next 10 years, that will be 150 million people. What is the size of the U.S. workforce? 150 million people. A few years ago, India passed the U.S. to be the largest English-speaking country in the world. Think about that for a while.

    So if your job is “routine,” that job is under threat from either off-shoring (or even outworking within the country) or from software. How many of you had clients who paid you as an external designer and now paid $4k for a Mac and got an in-house designer? Is the work as good as your was? Probably not. Is it good enough, in their opinion? Probably yes. Are they paying less all up? No doubt. Which brings me to what has impacted us more than offshoring . . . unending corporate cost reduction.

    I think I better start a new post ;-)

  45. Dean says:

    Following on from last post . . .

    Even before the GFC, there was a trend toward a culture of corporate cost reduction similar to the Japanese principle of Kaizen, or continuous improvement. The GFC has only accelerated that, and even though here in Australia our economy has fared better than many, corporates seem fearful of conditions turning and are reluctant to be on the front foot.

    Companies are now on a (seemingly) permanent process of cost reduction, and external design seems always to be an obvious candidate.

    They simply will not commit the sorts of dollar figures to projects and events that they used to pre-GFC.

    Maybe it’s the whole bonus-driven culture of the ExCo who make more money if the business runs leaner, short term at least. But it’s something I’ve seen develop over the last few years, and it seems here to stay.

  46. Diana says:

    I feel sorry to hear this. I am working as an outsourced designer/programmer here in the Philippines. I have met a lot of U.S. designers online, and I understand their point of view. Seems it is inevitable for us to just ignore the job invitations we are getting from small businesses there in the U.S. who are trying hard to make their business work.

    Don’t lower your hourly rate in order to compete with us, but be competitive in terms of your designs and ideas. Try to venture and learn a different perspective of design. Offer something unique and interesting. There are still a lot of employers looking for U.S.-based designers.

    For those U.S. employers, do not ask for an hourly rate of $1 per hour (and some are asking even less than that!). That rate is so very unprofessional, even for a simple data-entry job. $1 per hour is not even worth one hour of electricity and Internet usage, plus labor. We are willing to help, but treat us with respect, too.

    I may not have a degree in design, a decade of experience, and a top-notch portfolio, but I am offering my passion to work with integrity, a good ethic, willingness to learn more and giving more than what is expected — just like any freelancers in U.S. or other parts of the world. But you guys are way better than me! Don’t lose hope! (Thanks to Before & After — you have been an inspiration to me!)

  47. Mats says:

    Globalization is the path to equality. The gap between the (soon former) leading industrial nations and the (now catching up) “third-world countries” is going to close. It’ll take some more decades or even centuries, but it’ll clearly make the world a lot more equal. Even if it means a great loss to the those who are ahead right now.

  48. I recently drafted up a website, sent it as a multi-page pdf with the text and images to an impressive girl in India who made it come to life and tweaked it the multiple times I requested her to, put it up for me, and charged me $30 (it was for charity, but her usual eight-page price is $250). I design it, she does it. I save the time, she does it at a rate that is good for both of us, and I can still afford to mark it up. That is the new world, so you can’t really fight it.

  49. Alfred Ingram says:

    Our clients’ businesses are afraid. They either can’t get credit, or worse, their lines of credit have been cut while the cost of doing business has grown. They don’t see design as essential, so they go bargain hunting.

    We’ve allowed them to believe that we’re decorators selling them frills. Only when well-designed work, integral to their competitors’ business structure, eats their lunch will those of us who survive get some of this business back.

    I had an argument last weekend on Facebook with Graphics.com about stock logos. Mediabistro which acquired them has a stock-logo site, so a site that once promoted the graphic artist now promotes the artist’s competition. Whoever was on the graphics.com end of the argument thought that what we do is decorate. Instead, we structure content, make it more usable and enduring and therefore more valuable.

    • Angela says:

      I work as an in-house communications professional, designer, and photographer. My bosses have always been business-oriented accountants, engineers, and sales people. I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to “make this look pretty.” As if all I have to offer is window dressing! Most lay people just don’t recognize that design is visual communication. Sometimes I feel like they see me as just a “computer monkey” with technical skills.

  50. Peter K says:

    See the glass as half full!

    If you get quality design work for 11 USD per hour in South America, I suggest that you start considering them your next employee!

    As I see it, you can have ten design talents working for you at 110 USD per hour — with the benefit of paying them only for the actual hours they put in.

    Add your years of expertise in client relations, reference customers, presentation skills, memberships in trade organizations, local business boards and so on, and you can easily raise the per-hour rate to 15 USD.

    That’s a 27% gross margin on every dollar your turn over. That, in my book, is a pretty good business case by any measure!

    Good luck! / Peter

    • Karma says:


      I am a designer based in India and I would mark this post by Peter K as the most useful. In a nutshell he has laid out the path for U.S. designers to follow.

      Look, you guys are better than us. Don’t ever forget that.

      You have the given the world its greatest innovations. We merely make cheaper copies.

      Stop seeing us as competition and start seeing us as your resource for cheap manual labour. That frees you to focus on innovating.

      If I were an American client, would I be tempted to take advantage of cheaper designers in India? Of course. But (and this is important) would I be willing to pay a small premium to a go-between American designer who will brief the designer in India on my behalf? Heck, yeah!

      Become that go-between American designer and be the one outsourcing work to us. Stop treating us like colleagues and start treating us like employees. That’s the only way you can convert this into a win-win partnership.

      P.S.: When cheap Mexican gardeners became available in the U.S., did American gardeners curse their luck? Probably. But the wiser ones became landscape designers and used the cheap Mexicans to implement their designs.

  51. Paresh Shah says:

    John, wow! A wonderful and a balanced response. We all need to change and adapt — it is truly a different world, even for us here in India. As you have rightly pointed out, we who have the experience must figure ways out.

    Get ready to play!

  52. Sabine says:

    I am just in the midst of reading the No B.S. Price Strategy
    book. As some comments were saying that today price rules everything, the book brings up the thought that we imagine that the cheap client is cheap throughout. That would mean he lives in a cheap house in a rundown neighborhood, dresses secondhand, drives a Yugo and eats Ramen. However, this is often not the case. Clients spend money on quality brands when they see the value. The same client who nickels and dimes you on design may have just spent a fortune on his last vacation or dinner. He is cheap on design because we make it available and because he has learned through the media that it is hip and good enough — what he gets through a contest, outsourced abroad — than what he gets from a local service. The hard part now is to make him see the value.

    I am a big supporter of local business. They pay the taxes that pave my street. They may be a bit more expensive, but they have products available for me to browse and try out. Ordering online or driving farther away will need an investment of time or money.

    I’d recommend businesses in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia, to look not only to the U.S. or Germany to get cheap, outsourced work. It will get you more appreciation in the long run if you develop the infrastructure in your country and work locally. It may not pay as much right away, but you won’t race with the next cheaper nation to compete for the lowest price. The tendency of price is to spiral downwards, yet the advantage is only temporary; cheaper discounters were bankrupted by the next-cheaper ones, and those now have to compete with Amazon. Besides, who wants to be treated as a doormat, anyway?

  53. Nancy Parker says:

    I’ve struggled with the rate issue for years. After deciding video was the right road, I took time to learn what I needed. When offering services, clients were not ready. They didn’t understand the power of online video to market. Thought: a learning community that helps network local business owners. Three years into that and it’s just about to shut down. It didn’t help people “want more” — Facebook grew stronger and activity on the site died. New idea, just kicking off: Marketing Community. First month, not going as expected, though it’s an approach I plan to run with. Idea: Offer a marketing-support department to sole business owners via community, offer discounts and specials that give away some service, but in the giving away it’s also promoting the work I do. I think this is the right road to rebuilding a core base, but I certainly don’t think I’ll be seeing those big paychecks anytime soon.

    John, this discussion is a clear indicator that you need to start an online community. There certainly seems like a lot of us creative people struggling with what comes next. Something to think about. Ning.com offers decent rates, excellent tools. I’ll join!

  54. Jana says:

    I live in Prague. And you know what? Recently I’ve ordered design from an American designer, as it was 50% cheaper than the same from our Czech guys. Yet you Americans hire Czechs (I know many), and Colombians hire Americans, and Germans hire Turkish, and Turkish may hire Colombians. The playground has not moved, it has only increased in size. Some may lose their clients, but it’s also a brand-new chance for everyone.

    And thank you, Mats, for your comment.

  55. Bob says:

    While it is very typical to blame other countries for our problems, I think the biggest reasons for the decline of design jobs everywhere are computers and the Internet.

    See, thirty years ago, clients either hired a designer or used a typewriter. There was no in-between. Now there is.

    And the Internet. The Internet is the biggest reason for the demise of print. That leaves designers scrambling for whatever pieces of web work they can find; work that they are usually not as good at as print — at least the old guys aren’t. And, it is hard to work independently on the web; we really need javascript programmers to help us with websites.

    Now, about work outsourced to other countries: They seem to use templates a lot; there is little creativity that really fits a client. And, their English is usually atrocious. That’s were we still have an advantage. It must be as difficult for them to design an English site as it would be for me to design an Indian site; I simply do not know the culture.

    So, while some of our work may be going overseas, that’s not where our decline began; it began with computers and the Internet. Most of my friends had lost their design offices by the time all the outsourcing came about.

  56. Briann shear says:

    My design business was born in 1985 with my first Apple Mac. And the Post-it on my monitor says: “When you are through changing, you’re through.” — Martha Stewart — So true.

  57. It’s a tough dilemma being forced on all of us. I empathise with all of you who are finding it difficult to adjust to the new world. The typical, gentle nature of creative types and those who are older find it probably hardest the most.

    A few years back, I decided to extend my offering and got into sign-making, which was a nice fit — half my week was done with the mind, the other half with the hands. I’d encourage you to consider what other offering you can supply. It may just be the start of something fantastic! In fact, some will find it was actually the best thing that could have happened.

    I suppose the change is a little more obvious now that there is more competition from afar. But design has been changing for a while, especially since web design has overtaken most printed corporate brochures. I still can’t design the back end of a website, let alone any multimedia stuff that young designers and most others learnt in primary school. But don’t think that young is definitely better, though, and you really can’t put an old head on your shoulders. But though this is true, it’s a bit hard to convince some young marketing manager who wouldn’t know good design from bad. And for that we need to accept responsibility for not defending the profession that design truly is.

    Certainly photographer friends have been clobbered from about five year ago. And what young designer would know what a typesetter did or what a Crosfield drum scanner may be? Seems denial followed by stunned inaction is pretty typical, and the thought that all the knowledge you’ve acquired over the years just doesn’t reward you as it should in these changing times can be deflating. But times have changed, and if you stick your head in the sand, the only thing that won’t change in the next few years is you — and most likely your bank account. So doing nothing is not the option I’d suggest you take.

    Anyways, keep your chin up; life is about change and progress, and as I said above, you just may find that the change forced upon you may turn out for the absolute best. Enjoy the ride!

  58. M. Lechkun says:

    “Evidently, the quality is good enough…”

    No, it’s not, people are just settling. True, it’s a global marketplace, but like politics, all sensibilities are local. I am told to refer work to an overseas agency. This work comes back shoddy and often incorrectly done. I end up spending time fixing the mistakes, both physical and nuanced. This may not be the majority experience.

    Locally, I can talk to my client face to face and get a feel for what they want. Cultural differences won’t be an issue (like the funeral program I sent to be done that came back like a birthday party invite).

    I don’t design for big companies, I design for people — people who have brought their masterpiece done in Word, looking like crap, and want me to make it work. That’s where the settling comes from. I bring them up a couple of notches, I charge a fair price, and I send them on their way — quickly.

    Global, this is not.

  59. B.J. says:

    It’s not outsourcing to other countries that’s nailing me, it’s outsourcing to the receptionist or the hostess or the nephew of the owner’s wife. There is a naive thinking that if you just have InDesign or Photoshop (or whatever) that you can do your own work for SO much less. And you can. But, it will not look the same nor will it be the same.

    Right now I’m in the midst of training a client to do their own email (using someone who does not know JPEG from IKEA), training the hostess to use InDesign and attempting to explain why they can’t flip a switch to get SEO results on a new offering. Yes, I educate. But, there’s this crazy perception that the software is the key, not the knowledge. Aargh.

    I’m happy to train, but I cannot be a free fix for “Oh, no! I can’t get the email to work!” when they’ve specifically given that work away to someone who can’t handle it. My challenge is trying to stay involved with the client on the bigger things without being a free help desk on the things for which I am no longer paid.

  60. Volker Beckmann says:

    “Just because you own a fine paint brush, does not a Rembrandt make.”

    “Nothing substitutes for experience.”

  61. Bob says:

    There are a lot of optimistic comments here.

    I’d like to hear how much money we all are making these days. That may be a better way to see if we should be optimists or pessimists. Anyone willing to share?

  62. I would like to share my thoughts from an Indian perspective, since my country has been mentioned a few times during this discussion . . .

    I had a career of 11+ years from 1997 as a graphic designer. My second job in 1998 was as a graphic designer in a U.S. private firm that had opened in India, and from then on to the last full-time job I held, I worked as a U.S. outsourced overseas employee.

    In our first overseas job we were totally ignorant of the U.S. way of working on the graphics part of a project. But we were not given a training — instead, we were sent a document and some sample files and left to swim in the sea. With our “let’s figure it out” attitude, we were on top of it in three days — and this situation happened many, many times when were were working with our U.S. colleagues who hated us (I understand their frustration) and didn’t want to share information, so we sat to reinvent the wheel and did it remarkably in a short span of time.

    Another experience was the poor English grammar by Americans. To us, being Indians, and English not being our mother tongue (we have about 22 mother tongues for 25 states), the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes (typos) were appalling, since English was the Americans’ mother tongue.

    In the above paragraph, I am talking of general U.S. employees. I am not including the exceptionally skilled U.S. employees who were also there; we learned a lot from them, and it was a great knowledge sharing.

    So in a nutshell, we in general had the advantage of learning in a jiffy by ourselves and not being spoon fed, producing quality stuff as per American standards in less amount of time, and we were dirt cheap ($1 = INR 45). These advantages were shining brightly to the American business men/women.

    From our perspective, we are thankful to them and very happy, since there were fewer jobless people in my country. But we didn’t force them to come to us; they came to us because it was best for them. Many American colleagues didn’t understand that, and working across the seas was many a time quite challenging.

    I quit full time in 2007 for my children and tried to work as a freelancer from India but didn’t succeed — not because of my quality, I believe, but because now quality with cheaper options is not working anymore. Now only the cheapest is working, whatever the quality. This I have experienced from the freelance websites where you need to bid to win a project. I have checked out the portfolios of the people who won bids (most of the time non-Indians), and they were way below the mark . . .

    For Americans, I think the value of money is the main culprit, and we do understand that. When you pay me $1, I get 45 of my currency, but nothing is in anybody’s hand. If everybody across the world collaborates intelligently and in a friendly way, I think there is going to be enough for all of us.

    • Donna Berry says:

      Many Americans do not speak or write grammatically. However, American English grammar is slightly different from British English grammar. In addition, there are many idiomatic usages — prepositions, for one — that are extremely difficult to learn. Your posting is well written and grammatical. However, it has a distinctly “foreign” feel that would not work to market products in America. The differences are subtle but real. I am a writer, not a designer, but I can only say that while there may be enough work to go around, the question is “at what price?” The race to the bottom is likely to take down all of us, ultimately, except the elites.

      • Karma says:

        You need more than just good vocabulary and correct syntax to be a good communicator.

        Likewise, one needs more than just cheap graphic-design tools to be a good designer.

        We in India have a rich heritage of traditional Indian design, but that aside, all of our contemporary design principles come from aping designs from the west.

        Before starting work on any design project, Indian designers flip through advertising award annuals from Europe and North America.

        My point is, we can never replace you American and European designers. But we can provide the labour to implement your designs at cheaper rates than you can find locally.

        Now you can see that as a curse or a blessing.

      • @Donna: I understand your point about the “foreign” feel to my writing, and it would be, since I do my thinking in my vernacular language and try to translate it to English. So the feeling would be indigenous. I could never feel like you. To feel like you, I need to be a person from the same social background. Also, we are aware of the difference between American and British spelling, since many times we unlearned the British spelling for the American one — for example, colour and color, for British and American respectively.

        But when I said grammatical and spelling errors, I was not referring to professional writers like yourself or professional writing for the corporates; I was referring to non-writer colleagues who need to communicate regularly via emails.

        Just to share, we have very renowned English-language Indian writers like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, V.S Naipaul, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, and others. So outsourcing or work done in a difference country should not always be related to low quality, if the remuneration is more economic. The issue, I think, is the price one has to pay for the same quality work that doesn’t depend on a social understanding of a country.

  63. Todd Wheatland says:

    I empathize with both the original post and the many comments. I commission a lot of design work, and I try extremely hard to remain loyal to the people who know our business, who’ve grown and shaped the way I think, who add many layers of value beyond a commodity. But, as the comments here show, that’s an approach that’s increasingly in the minority.

    The design community is feeling the same shockwave that has hit people in nearly every industry. Read up on what’s happening in the legal industry and you’ll see the exact same types of discussions.

  64. Gavin says:

    Many people look only at the cost but do not understand the value.

  65. Jon P says:

    Although I design many things, I haven’t called myself a designer for years. This article explains why that is so.

    Good designers are capable of transforming a client’s business by helping them understand what drives their best customers’ decisions and positioning their brands accordingly. A person from India who has skills with color, type and rearranging design elements does not posses the knowledge or training to do this. They are competing on a price-for-commodity basis.

    Cultivate long term clients who depend upon you for their business success, rather than commodities such as their web banners or their collateral. Then you will have moved yourself to a place where low-cost design resources cannot replace your value. You will be perceived as a valued business partner who is key to the success of your client’s organization.

    And by the way, many companies prefer to have a business partner who can not only articulate their value proposition, but can also translate it into beautiful design. So maybe the best way to get design work is to not be a “designer.”

  66. I say embrace outsourcing! We are in a global economy. If I can hire someone in India to do a basic website for $300 and sell it to my client for $600, I call that smart business. I now become the art director and guide my Indian counterpart to deliver what I need. We have to stay ahead of the curve… and outsourcing is one way to do that.

  67. Mushtaq says:

    How can I not jump in . . . ? This is one interesting discussion :-)

    I’m a multimedia designer (graphic/video/web/flash and now iPad/iPhone), and I’m from Pakistan, one of the countries mentioned here. To distill some of the comments into a few core points:

    1. The economics, exchange rate and cost of living in other countries dictate outsourcing, and it’s worthwhile for the majority of companies because the quality they get is very good.

    2. The designers here can hold their own with designers anywhere — a plus for them but perhaps a source of some consternation for some designers in the U.S. John, we have to place the blame on you for this — you are read with enthusiasm here :-)

    3. I’d venture to say that the vast majority of designers and programmers here speak English very well — many speak the Queen’s English as well as American English effortlessly.

    4. An important benefit not mentioned here for U.S. employers is the time difference: You can send the files to your partner in Pakistan/Asia at the end of your work day, and while you are asleep the work gets done since it’s daytime in Asia, and it’s then ready for you to review when you get in first thing in the morning.

    5. Experience in a field (graphics, for example) is one thing. Experience with a particular market is quite another. Outsourcing does not necessarily give you that kind of experience, so a U.S. designer has an advantage here.

    Mr. Len Williams’ words have to be sobering for a U.S. designer. I’ve been a great admirer of you, Mr. Williams, and one thought is that adaptation to a new presentation platform may be a possible answer: I’m thinking of the new world of social media, combining with video and news.

    So what does this mean for the designer in the U.S. who is losing clients to outsourcing?

    I’ve found that the ones who are making it are the ones who have become a go-between, in the sense that they come up with the initial conceptual requirements for a company, perhaps begin an initial design, outsource it to a partner, and oversee it from there.

    M. Lechkun is correct. Face-time with the company gives them a clearer picture of what’s needed and what will work. It becomes even more hands-on for them with video-related projects, since the time-consuming grunt work for these types of projects are easily separated from the structure and conceptual part.

    All the speed and (relative) low-cost of transferring files becomes irrelevant if the work done is not what the particular market culture wants.

    For the U.S., it’s still preferred that print designers be somewhat local, because of color matching, proofs, paper quality for more custom work, and just plain old shipping cost/time.

    For web-related projects, the best templates are still just templates, and they look it.

    In any case, a template (design) first needs to be adapted by someone who is relatively close to the company, who understands marketing and product issues.

    Looking forward to more comments . . . !

  68. Ken Smith says:

    If you offer no content, then expect anyone to do your job.

    Everyone can give an opinion on a design, and by doing so may feel that they are an expert.

    Few designers are interested in conceptualizing a strategy based on research. They just want to work visually, because that’s where all of the training is.

    That’s the big gap.

    Offshore is weak in this area.

  69. Gordon says:

    Hey everybody! Do you want to know how a consumer gets on with this problem?

    I am a dabbler in design and don’t pretend to be a good designer, so I can probably shed some light on this issue for you from the “consumer’s point of view.”

    A recent experience that may cheer a few graphic artists within their local Western markets (USA, UK, NZ, AUST, etc.) . . .

    I received a quote from our regular designer to develop a new corporate branding for a charitable organisation that I am involved with. (It’s a big organisation (worldwide), so I didn’t want to try and do it myself, being not properly trained . . . )

    He quoted USD$1300 to develop and refine one concept. I had explained that we were trying to save money and didn’t want this to go too far. Previously he has charged about $1800 for this, including providing several draft options.

    To cut a long story short, I thought, “Here is a chance to try Elance.” I received several quotes for paltry amounts such as $75, $150, $199. etc.

    Selected two providers for $199 and $149 and said “go for it.”

    After several weeks of hassling and waiting overnight for simple responses, I ended up with about 25 variations, 23 of which were terrible, one wasn’t bad but needed work as the “designer” had overlooked basic issues like alignment and what would happen when the logo was used in a small version. Loss of detail, etc. . . .

    It was a good laugh but a waste of time, really. I ended up going back to my local guy to “fix” the one we chose as being okay. How much? $1000!

    (By the way, my local guy did an awesome job turning a very ordinary attempt into a truly iconic logo with sound and well-reasoned concepts behind it, totally reflecting the required “look and feel” of our organisation).

    The lesson in this for you guys? It’s not enough just to be able to do the work anymore. You need to learn how to articulate to your local clients the advantages of working with you.

    If I was a designer? I would find a few offshore guys to help me with the “hackwork,” train them to do what I want them to do, and focus on honing my communication skills with my clients using the offshore guys to keep my profits high, work less for better clients, and put the spare time I had as a result into helping people less fortunate than myself . . .

    Come on. It’s not that bad. If you have rested on your laurels, then maybe you had it coming!

    In my normal business (manufacturing), we have never been able to rest. We are constantly improving our methods and taking advantage of new opportunities that come up because of the way the world changes.

    And we laugh at the way the offshore countries (not mentioning any by name) try to copy the products they think are “industry standards”! They are about 20 years behind, because they are looking at one country and trying to sell that to the rest of the world! But I’m not telling them!

    So cheer up. Analyse what it is your clients really want and go and tell them how you can save them time and make their business truly better through the provision of your intelligent and superior services.

    Maybe it’s time for you to check up on the three basics of business:

    1. Is your product relevant? If not, fix it.
    2. Do you know where your market is? If not, find it.
    3. Go and tell the market about your relevancy to them!

    (By the way, I have noticed how “professionals,” and especially artists, seem to think it is below their dignity to have to “sell” their services. Get over it and enjoy the fruits of your newfound approach — the approach the rest of us have had to use all along).



    • Texas says:

      Like many of these responses, I have been deeply involved in outsourcing graphic design. I worked for a daily newspaper in large metro market.

      In Texas, our cost per ad was much lower than sending the work to India. We sourced four different companies. I worked for four years training a team located in India. The mother company was in the UK. Company profits were in the UK — the people in India saw little of the money. But graphic design is considered a high-end job in that country.

      I traveled to India and worked directly with the team. Extremely nice group of people who are just trying to make a living. But, cultural difference are immediately evident in designing ads. The use of color is totally different from what Americans expect.

      The cost per ad was nearly three times higher than local talent, even with the benefit package factored in. Quality was horrible and brought many laughs. But, corporate choice was to reduce U.S. jobs. Most work had to be redone or resulted in the customer refusing to pay.

      The real problem is that you get what you pay for. If you expect to get prime rib at McDonald prices, you are going to be disappointed. This new level of quality is hurting the advertiser. The ads are poorly designed and do not get the reader’s attention. The customers see no results, so they stop advertising. Thus, the cycle continues to destroy newspaper revenue. The papers cut content, and the subscribers stop subscribing.

      I was the go-to person and, yes, my job is gone.

  70. Rohan says:

    I think constant innovation and growth is the only way forward if your work has anything to do with technology. I’ve moved actively from being a graphic designer through to becoming a Web developer and a project manager. I now find outsourcing the best thing to have happened. I now see the big picture from a design standpoint, understand technology and the pieces of a technology puzzle that makes the solution, and outsource only the work that I know will optimize my time and effort. I think project managers and people with multiple skill sets are going to be more in demand in the future.

    Don’t define yourself by a career path; instead, be as flexible as you can, and learn as many skill sets as you can.

  71. Quality services and products are comparatively expensive everywhere, whether it’s in the west or in the east. Elance has many good designers based out of Asian countries who are comparatively higher priced than the regular non-designers who quote just anything without even reading what is required of them. Their main aim is to quote the lowest. But when anybody is thinking of outsourcing, they are thinking about getting the “cheapest,” not comparatively cheaper and good quality. No wonder Mr.Gordon had a nightmarish experience. Good and bad quality is everywhere. One needs to be careful while choosing.

    And why are we targeting only the service industry? What about the manufacturing industry? When I visited America for the first time in 2000, I wanted to take back souvenirs for my near and dear ones. I was looking for products that had written ‘Made in America’ on them. But sadly, whatever I picked up was “Made in China.”

    • Charmie91752 says:

      I read somewhere that some companies are bringing their customer service back to the States. Why? Because the employees overseas are now complaining that they want more money.

  72. Nora says:

    Yikes. I just made the decision to try freelancing because in-house design positions are hard to find in my locality. Now I’m wondering whether I made a huge mistake by investing in top-of-the line computers and sofware. Time will tell.

    • Charmie91752 says:

      Freelance work always has been and always will be a tough job. The most important service that I’ve found most companies want is reliability. They mostly need ink on paper (or code on web) sent out immediately. Still, the hard part is to make sure you don’t cut corners on your own design standards, even if you have to take a hit once in awhile. Other potential clients are watching.

  73. Don Biggs says:

    Frankly, I’m a little surprised by the number of people in this string who are suggesting that we embrace outsourcing design. This situation is much different from adjusting to current market conditions. One poster even said, “Make these $11-per-hour people your new employees.” Let’s be clear — at $11.50 per hour, you’re hiring an agency and all its resources, not just one person. That’s quite a disparity, not to mention the exploitation that goes on from a human-rights standpoint that I don’t believe anyone has truly considered in this post. It’s almost as if we are selling a bit of our soul to the devil in the process.

    But let’s say we set our scruples aside and surrender to embrace this new world order in outsourcing our design needs. Okay . . . we then must prepare ourselves for a massive shift in the current number of designers who will need to change their chosen vocation. Then what about the legions of highly trained new designers coming out of schools just entering the market? What will we tell them? I’m sorry, now that we’ve globalized design, there’s no work. Where are the positives? Think of the dominoes that would fall as a result. School loans can’t get paid; house payments will be missed; designers can’t buy computers, printers or software; Apple, Adobe, HP dramatically effected . . . another job market exported.

    I have a difficult time seeing the glass as half full, regardless of the sentiments from my more optimistic brothers. Yes, globalizing design will work out beautifully for a few of our more-enterprising agencies and businesspeople, but in the process it will dramatically undermine the value of the work done by U.S. designers. If we don’t take care, they too will go by the way of such notable trades as the American sign painter, but not for the right reasons.

    • Charmie91752 says:

      . . . and what do foreign designers know about how Americans truly think, respond, and what they need? I’ve lost clients before, and when it was to cut expenses, the clients usually had to experience the downside of their choice before they came back. The key is to not be angry or show anger in any form to that client. They’ll be back . . . unless your rates are ridiculously high. 8-D

  74. SallyJ says:

    If clients are happy to send design offshore to save money, they are paving the path for the rest of us to take their lead, the results of which they might not like: We consumers, instead of using their products, might also find them cheaper overseas, meaning fewer sales for them. Either that, or we won’t have the money to buy their products, as our incomes have dropped due to our jobs being sent offshore, which will also impact them with fewer sales. It’s a vicious circle.

    I live and work in Australia and when possible prefer to support local products and services, as I’d like to believe, from an economic angle, that this will help my local economy to survive this difficult financial time, and in turn, I hope they will also support me.

    I love that I can buy anything I want from all around the world via the Internet, but I still prefer to buy locally if possible. Also, I tend to not support companies that have moved production offshore for cheaper labour costs but have maintained their higher pricing, and I know a lot of people feel the same.

    I hope that the companies who are quick to cut their budgets by sending jobs offshore understand that as well as cutting jobs in their own country, they are reducing their customer base there, too, as it means the local economy has less money to spend thanks to fewer jobs -– and instead, think about the longer-term impact of their cuts rather than making a quick saving in the short term.

  75. Not yet, but soon it will be!

  76. Volker Beckmann says:

    Well, I read this thread at the start. I’ve been a free lance designer for over 30 years. Never heard of eLance. So I tried it for a design project I am working on. I received 12 bids for a small illustration job. Didn’t take the cheapest. Ended up with an artist from my country, Canada. The system works! And I intend to use it much more.

    I had to change my business when most of my customers started using computers and MS Word some 20 years ago. Then I had to change my business again when our local sign companies were able to print out any design or art file on their large format printers.

    We are in a global economy, folks. Adapt, change or die! Sorry. :-)

  77. Chris M. says:

    I agree with this article. I have lost work also. Now I bid on jobs at half of what I used to, but I get them. Several of them, and I make an Indian company do them DIRT cheap. If they say 300, I say 100 or I’ll go somewhere else. Use these countries as slave labor. If you want to work for nickels, I’ll pay you pennies. And you’ll take it. When life hands you lemons . . .

  78. dharma says:

    For some reason I previously missed this post, but here are my two cents, albeit late . . .

    Although a designer, I am also a web developer proficient in php, MySQL and Javascript. While the design side of my business has gone down a bit, the web development side has actually increased, and I have India to thank for it. My new increase in business comes from clients who outsourced their work through freelance websites and then found they had big problems.

    Take, for example, the recent client who started a successful online store. It was visually acceptable and seemed to work perfectly — and it did, for six months, until they found out that the developer had placed a backend script that sent the credit-card numbers of his clients back to India. Because he sent the work to countries not bound by U.S. law, he is out all the money for the sites, and is having to pay huge sums to deal with the expense and aftermath of his clients being exposed to identity fraud, for which he is legally liable.

    Or, take the client who had the website completed in the U.S. but then outsourced the SEO . . . and is now banned by Google for using black-hat practices. Again, he has no recourse against the people who got him to the top of Google for three months, then got him banned.

    Or the client who had a custom and complicated, database-driven site that was bid at a crazy-low amount, even for overseas. The site was up for three months when he discovered that the vulnerable code used caused it to get hacked, and he had no backup copy of the site.

    My experience is not related solely to programming, either. My newest client wants a logo redesign after he found out that he paid an overseas designer $75 for a custom logo, but he actually got a boilerplate logo that the designer had sold to another company. Adding insult to injury, he has now been accused of trademark infringement.

    Sometimes it’s not just the language and cultural issues that will prove challenging. You have to think very carefully about who you are releasing server access to. You have to think about whether you can accept the legal ramifications of cheap work, and whether you have the ability to hold an unscrupulous or inept designer or programmer legally accountable for their work.

    • Shekon says:

      Ditto, Dharma —

      However, I do not blame the hard-working designers and outsourcing champions toiling in the bowels of India, the Phillipines, China, or some other emerging third-world haven.

      It is we Americans who have become so cheap that we will go to any extent to cheapen out and start a self-destruction process that is evident now.

  79. Shekon says:

    U.S. clients have become way too cheap — EU is still better.

    We had to lay off two designers and one PhP ecommerce programmer last year due to the fact that none of our new clients had the budget or project resources that we had 2–4 years ago.

    We hired a team from India, and it was a nightmare; we are still adjusting to working with a remote team.

    This is an alarming trend that will self-destruct in the longer run.

    At this rate there will be very few jobs left in our industry in next decade inthe U.S.

    “Evolve, diversify, or die” is the new mantra.

    To new college grads who are into web, print, graphic, interface design — either be “exceptional” or quit this career path.

    You will be competing with wages that will not sustain a dog in our area ( NYC).

  80. Pingback: …someone in China or India can do your work more cheaply than you can. « goldwynism

  81. Ingedesign says:

    Very interesting insights regarding this issue, and many thanks to all the posters who shared their views.

    I didn’t happen to read any comments by those who are actually in Colombia doing website design, graphic design, and other work of this nature, as we are, and who, like many of you, are just trying to survive in a world where many circumstances and events are outside of our control, such as varying costs of living, country-specific economies, the relentless advance of technology and education on a worldwide basis, and a myriad of other factors.

    I can certainly understand and empathize with the difficulties with the personal economic consequences that result from decisions to decide on projects closer to the cheapest labor costs available. However, perhaps this is an issue that isn’t a recent trend. To my mind, it’s been happening at certain levels, and in certain incarnations, for centuries, whatever the trade, product, or resource.

    If you ever happen to visit a country such as Colombia, and cities like Bogotá or Medellin (and I certainly encourage you to — it’s a beautiful country full of kind-hearted people, with vibrant cultures and with a vastly improved security situation), where many of these emerging industries are located, and if you actually live there for an extended time, as I have, you understand even more (if not already) that people are fairly similar around the world — just working hard to provide a better life for themselves and their families. The truth is, life can challenge us no matter where we live, whether Colombia, the U.S., India or elsewhere, but no matter where we are, we all should feel a kindred spirit with our fellow human beings.

  82. Tasneem says:

    Well, all this talk is making me feel like I should pack up and move to a country where the American dollar goes further. I can even keep my U.S. phone so people can talk to me if they want, but at least I will be able to compete.

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