About this site's lack of design: Yes, it's supposed to look this way — I'm helping create a new sandbox theme for WordPress (see it on GitHub).

Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Of Work

The story is the same everywhere you look: Designers are struggling to make ends meet, especially freelancers, independent consultants, and small firms like mine (we have two employees: my younger and oh-so-talented brother, Alex, and me).

We’ve been trying desperately to make a living for quite some time now, without much success — perhaps we charge too little, maybe we’re just not salesmen, or it could even be that we don’t like working with clients who don’t appreciate good work when we give it to them, no matter what they pay us — we spend so much time on projects (again, probably not making enough money on them…) that we don’t leave ourselves with enough time to produce any self promotional materials (one day, I will write a book about being a web development firm without a web site: see the Webgraph, Inc. Corporate Website for more informa…oh wait, there’s nothing there). We would really like to be able to put some money in our pockets, fix our car (that’s correct, “car” as in “singular”) or maybe even get one each. Heck, we’d love to collaborate remotely on projects with other designers/programmers (we have a few projects we’re trying to get funding for just so we can work with the likes of waferbaby, IconFactory, and perhaps even Zeldman himself, budget permitting) for the experience, the extra name recognition, and the money, of course.

A problem I’ve run into over and over is that of having standards which seem to be too high, yet I can’t bring myself to compromise those standards just to make a buck. A few years ago, I freelanced for a local company for a few weeks, and was even offered a job (their clients liked my work better than any of their full-time employees’ :-) but I couldn’t take it because they insisted on allowing sub-standard work to pass for “completed” and I just wasn’t up to the task of putting half-assed work out in public (I turned down a very decent salary too). I still see a lot of their work on a regular basis, and it’s so bad I want to tell them where they can put it… But they’re making millions a year, and we can’t scrape together enough to fix the windshield wiper motor on the car, so who am I to judge?

To get to the point (finally), if anyone out there needs work, or help on a project, at any level, please drop us a line — we’re very reliable (how can you beat two Eagle Scouts?) and we’re always willing to learn new skills and work with new people. But hey, if you’d rather keep the work for yourself, we understand :-)

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Wednesday, July 9th, 2003.


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10 comments on “Of Work”

  1. Posted by Jeremy on Wednesday, July 9th, 2003.

    yes, it is a bad time to be a designer. companies do not want to spend what they used to on design (web, print, etc).

    collaboration seems to be the way to go, especially for small shops. i work in a small shop (4 people full time, usually 2 interns hanging around as well), and we have been fortunate to keep busy, as i have seen other design firms close up and local ad agencies close their interactive departments down.

    i hope that things begin to look up for you and your shop. usually all it takes is that one big project to get everything snowballing.

  2. Posted by afrael on Thursday, July 10th, 2003.

    Great Site, and your recent projects look great, its ironic, but I’ve seen a lot of what your saying, crappy work for loads of cash.

    Good Luck with your endeavours =)

  3. Posted by DutchCelt on Monday, July 14th, 2003.

    This is something that’s been happening across europe as well. It looks similar to what we have seen in the ICT field. Programming took a nose dive too or went as cheap labor to a developing country. Wait until DWWS hits the bookstands in India, they really will HTML for food. Sorry, bad joke. However this does, in all it’s bad taste, illustrate how money will follow the path of least resistance, or rather the smallest paycheck. But in time we all will use web standards and use them quickly and cost effectively. But if there is still so much bad ‘traditional’ HTML out there, never mind it validating or being web standard, I doubt if this will ever change. Just like in the print world clients will settle for ‘looks good enough’ and cheap work usually equals bad work. But whatever your budget is it may always seem to be not enough.

  4. Posted by Michael Schmidt on Tuesday, July 15th, 2003.

    I can feel your pain. Somehow this posts sounds too familiar. We’re in the exact same situation. Even our windshield wiper is broken (no kidding!)…

  5. Posted by Lea on Tuesday, July 15th, 2003.

    OK, this may get me shot in this site, but… I’m gonna say it. ;) I understand your situation, but I’ll be speaking from a realist’s point of view.

    Maybe it’s because I’m fresh out of school and living on my own for the first time, but I don’t see anything wrong with “working for The Man” for a bit to make ends meet and save up money. I think you know full well you’re being a snob. Meanwhile, a lot of in-house jobs allow you to take contract work on the side; and if you’ve worked in-house, you know that the work is spastic: really busy then really dead, making time for other projects (i.e. contract). And if their in-house sucks, then push yourself to be the best and depending on the company, you can take intiative and push change within the company. All I know is the last in-house “designer” (though he was more technical) in my company became the Manager of New Business Initiatives, and I was hired as the new “legitimate” designer to take his old place. In-house lets you learn non-design things that may help you — like inner workings of businesses. Priceless stuff like that.

    Of course, the work could also suck. But Jesus Christ, it’s like in College or University. You work your ass off as a waiter to pay the bills; it’s not glamorous but it does its job and there’s no shame. At least if you’re working in-house, you’re working *in your field.* Until the storm passes and the economy gets better.

    There’s some work you can be super proud of, and some that you wouldn’t put in your portfolio. But a job is a job. Get off your high horse, get that high paying job you deserve, and grit your teeth while doing their work.

    You can’t improve by just waiting for “THE PROJECT” to fall into your lap.

  6. Posted by Benvolio on Wednesday, July 16th, 2003.

    Hey there,

    have been a long-time fan of this site – love the minimal design.

    I think I fall somewhere between the two views expressed above. I guess I’ve been ‘working for the man’ for the past 3 years. I’ve at least been putting out sites that I’m less than happy with.

    (eg. http://www.australiangoodtaste.com.auhttp://www.fastfoursvip.comhttp://www.countrystyle.com.au )

    However, I think being dissatisfied with most of my work is a very positive thing. How boring//staid would design (or any endevour) become if we went: “That’s the best I can do!” That’s kind of a scary place to be I think.

    I’m always improving – and that’s the most excting thing.

    Regarding small studios and making money… it can be done. If this site is indicative of the rest of your work, then you desperately need to display this other work and make people aware that webgraph was reponsible for such great work.

    At the very least, just add a portfolio to this site – maybe using doug bowman (www.stopdesign.com) as a good example.

    Good luck,


  7. Posted by Nick on Thursday, July 17th, 2003.

    The plight of the small design firm must be all too common today, I couldn’t agree with your sentiment more. I too despise unfinished work, and attack projects with a voracity that’s kept me from finishing my own company’s site (company = me) as well. Here’s to our (and everyone else’s) collective luck improving!

  8. Posted by Paul Scrivens on Thursday, July 17th, 2003.

    First I think you have to come up with a web presence. I don’t know if I could trust a web design firm who didn’t even really have their own website. Some people might only learn about you through word of mouth and therefore are sent to your website. A problem might that you expect your site to be the best that you can do and this does not have to be the case. 37signals site is nice, but it is not their best work. It simply provides all the information that they want to share with the clients and that is all you need to do.

    Secondly, if you feel you are charging too little then you probably are. One of the things with this industry is that you have to be cocky. Not overbearing, a**hole type cocky, but someone who believes their work is worth every penny they charge. If you want clients that allow you to build standards compliant sites then maybe you are not providing the right type of arguments or you are not showing them the benefits.

    Finally, no matter how small your company is you must advertise. Not necessarily full blown ads and stuff, but you need to get your name out. There is plenty of work out there, you just need to go hunting sometimes.

  9. Posted by Jai on Thursday, July 17th, 2003.

    Geez, do all out of work designers happen to have broken windshield wipers? In all seriousness, I ALSO fit that description. And, though I’m just getting into web standards and validation, I know that my work far outshines much of the competition. But the bottom line is that nobody cares, especially companies who might need a web site. Seriously, that’s what developers are for right? Aren’t developers just guys who do coding and when you need a website, they’ll make a crappy one that’s good enough?

    I hope that at some point the industry might realize that their crappy websites may be a large PART of the recession.

    Why isn’t anybody buying my product?… maybe because it’s being presented terribly. If a 4 year old attempted to sell yuo a car, would you buy it? Then fix your website, because it looks like a four year old did it. (That statement wasn’t directed to you guys here, this is a pretty nice site.)

    It frustrates me to no end. there is no full time employment in this field as of yet- so you gotta pay the friggin’ $600/mo health insurance if you want it. Me, my teeth are falling out cause I can’t afford to go to the dentist.

    Someone direct me to some new windshield wipers.

    (by the way, nice site, and I like the not-so-minimalist design at the Zen Garden)

  10. Posted by p on Friday, July 18th, 2003.

    geez, you guys are a little depressing! i’ll just say this: i’ve owned a small webshop for over four years now, and you *can* make it work. i’ve worked through the insanely lucrative good times, the bubble burst, and the rebuilding…always doing what i do best, and making a decent living at it.

    some words of advice: no never means absolutely no from a potential client, network as much as you can with other people in the industry as well as people in the industries you’d like to work for, and build a sales team out of the clients you’ve done work for that love what you did for them.