Opinion | Columns

Graphic designers deserve respect and compensation

Humor me for a moment. Imagine you’re a doctor, lawyer, programmer, sitting in your office. Suddenly, you get a text from a client, and they demand to meet you. “I’ll come in very soon and explain what I need!” they say. You make note of the fact that they give no indication of when they’ll arrive. 

They show up several days later, and you, graciously making time in your busy schedule, diagnose, advise, or write code for this client. Still, they’re unsatisfied. Over the course of the next few hours, they return multiple times. “I think it would be better if you diagnosed me/advised me/programmed for me like this,” they say. Undertones of urgency surface as you overhear your client muttering about “the deadline.”

Finally, you settle on a diagnosis/advice/piece of code which seems to satisfy both you and your client. They leave without paying, but a few minutes later you get a text: “You’re a lifesaver :). Let’s get lunch one of these days—ON ME.” You can stop imagining now, lest you imagine yourself “accidentally” pushing this client into a volcano.

Even a shred of decency would make these kinds of interactions avoidable, you reassure yourself. This would never happen to a doctor, a lawyer, or a programmer. And yet, the story above exemplifies my experiences as a graphic designer. It’s a jungle out there: a jungle where complex concepts like “time” and “scheduling” and “treat graphic designers with even a modicum of respect” lose all meaning. There, otherwise well-mannered students become uncharacteristically demanding clients. 

Graphic design? If the severity of the crime suddenly seems lessened, then perhaps you ought to consider the amount of time and effort that goes into a piece of art. Artists, believe it or not, usually want to be happy with their work. However, it’s extremely difficult to develop a piece of work to satisfaction when faced with an unreasonable deadline. Hell, Virgil toiled over the Aeneid for a decade, and still requested that the manuscript be burnt after his death. More often than not, I’m given a nebulous description of what to make (one of my recent favorites is “I just want it to look good”) merely hours before the piece is due. The Rhode Island School of Design’s student-run Design Guild expects “at least a two-week turnaround time on projects.” I’ve never been offered that luxury. That New York runs on a coked-up timetable is an interesting excuse, but not one I find particularly compelling.

This is problematic for a number of reasons, but most importantly because work done on an accelerated schedule is less presentable in a professional context. This student government election cycle, I worked on graphic design for six different campaigns, which resulted in a total of around 12 posters. I received all the associated candidate photos with only 24 hours to go before the posters had to be approved by the elections board. I ended up pulling an all-nighter to complete the work, growing progressively more apathetic as the night dragged on. Most of those posters don’t feel reflective of what I consider my general standard of quality to be, and yet I cannot disconnect my name or reputation from these sub-par works.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t demand any form of compensation for any of the media content I designed. Students running for a CCSC position aren’t allowed to spend their own money on a campaign, and the stipend allocated by the elections board only covers printing costs. GSSC and ESC candidates are allowed to spend a limited amount of money—however, the spending limits are designed with printing costs in mind. So instead, I was frequently offered dinner instead of payment—a gracious offer, but one that I fear takes the stereotype of “starving artist” too seriously.

To an extent, the rules make sense—it’d be a shame if, true to recent American political practices, student government races favored the richer candidate (or candidate with the richest donors). These rules don’t take into account the work done by graphic designers, work that contributes to one of the most recognizable and important aspects of a student government election campaign: flyers, the medium through which candidates make their names and faces known. I emailed the elections board about this shortcoming, suggesting a separate allocation per candidate designated for paying graphic designers. I received a response to the tune of “Neat, we’ll consider it.” My attempt at following up on this response went unanswered.

The obvious solution to late or unreasonable design requests is to refuse. However, the pervasive fear that a refusal could disqualify me from future work keeps me going—I’d rather not sever any connections with the people who regularly depend on my work. And the number of times I’ve heard “It gets my foot in the door” as an excuse from other artists for not demanding pay is unreasonably high. 

I love art, but I have no interest in expressing that love at the expense of the rest of my life on account of people with no conception of deadlines or of the amount of work required to pull off a successful piece. By mistreating designers, you send the message that you don’t care about them or their work—other professions are rarely, if ever, treated to this brand of disrespect. 

Mikhail Klimentov is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in computer science and political science. Humor Me runs alternate Wednesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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JP posted on


Anonymous posted on

It's an interesting phenomenon that good, attractive design has become more and more expected as standard, and yet the people who create content are more and more devalued.