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Designer As Commodity

Many of us are hired by someone to increase value to a particular product or service. In these situations we’re asked to prove the value of our designs—through metrics or other tangible numbers. We really need to begin to understand the potential value we bring to the table as well as the impact and influence we have on people around us.

I recently attended an NYU Tech event, “Designers as Entrepreneurs” where Khoi Vinh and Ben Pierrat spoke about their transitions into entrepreneurship from a purely graphic design background. During the Q & A session, a man in a tweed coat and designer glasses piped up and asked, “As a designer, how do you have the right to build a business, as opposed to someone with an MBA?” This question confused nearly everyone in the room. I’d like to think that this particular person understood the power of saying “You can’t do something,” and how much that actually drives us to do just the opposite but I unfortunately don’t know his intentions.

We need to do more than commoditize ourselves and our craft: we need to take into account our personal worth. The same applies whether we’re just beginning in our careers or are seasoned professionals.

I’ve been a commodity. The task I was hired to perform was only an after-thought to an already established business, and this issue is becoming more visible everyday.

At the NYU Tech event, the discussion continued with the idea of designers as an essential part of entrepreneurship. Both Vinh and Pieratt continued to speak about their roles as designers in the creation of their products—but never mentioned their ideas and the importance of their roles, from inception to fruition.

The web person’s role in this post-industrial revolution is to step out with our ideas, create products and raise the next generation of entrepreneurs; at the same time we need to make sure we don’t become a commodity within these already broken hierarchical organizations.

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