Why Web Design Doesn't Cost £40
Photo by Andrew Kudrin

Why Web Design Doesn’t Cost £40

As a few of you will know on Twitter this week, I received a rather interesting email from a local business who were looking to create a small brochure site. They enquired about my availability and wanted to arrange a time to discuss the project in more detail. All very polite and professional until half way through the email I read this: “I was chatting to a lad who can do it for £40…

£40….Did I just read that correctly?

As designers we know there will always be the cousin or ‘local lad’ who can build their website for £40 or $50, what surprises me is the fact that perfectly professional and legitimate businesses think this is good value! It’s unfortunate that the power of design is currently so misunderstood and undervalued by many businesses.

Design essentially provides an external ‘face’ for your customers (of your business). So why have a website that is such a poor representation of your business to potential customers?

The cost of web design also applies to logo design, which Jacob has superbly laid out in his article, which also inspired me to write about my recent experience.

  • Design Process

How can we qualify that professional, quality web design doesn’t cost £40? Let’s first look at the typical design process, in fact this is the process I typically follow.

Phase 1: Concept and Consultation

We start with a discussion on the scope of the project which provides a solid foundation before we begin. Your project is then defined using the Creative Brief (a Wufoo form which I ask all potential clients to fill in), which is often referred back to during the project. By clearing defining the concept we are able to map out the goals and requirements of the entire project before moving on.

Phase 2: Discovery

Once there is a clear concept for the project, we move into discovery and research. I get to know and understand the exact needs of the project along with research into users needs and goals, target audience or demographic until there is a complete outline. I also build up a thorough picture of the personality and intended style of the website.

Depending on the scale and complexity of the project we may then move into creating a visual sitemap of the project which is essential for organisation of content on larger projects.

Phase 3: Wireframes

I then create sketches of the layout which are turned into wireframes (using the grey-box method) for review and approval before the design process begins.

A wireframe is a basic mockup of the page without any design elements which gives a stragetic view of the positioning of elements within the layout and shows how the content will flow on the page. It is an important step in determining the placement of content, function and navigation. It is used to iron out any problems or missing elements, and will act as the blueprint for the content, design and construction work that comes later.

For a more detailed rundown on this, read the in-depth look at my wireframing process.

Phase 4: Design

Once the wireframes are approved we move onto the design phase. The wireframes are taken and given the design treatment and polished. They are then presented for feedback and iteration as necessary until approved.

Phase 5: Build

I then build the design into working prototypes using CSS and XHTML (all according to accessibility guidelines). These are presented and given feedback on all aspects of the build. This is where incoporating a CMS also takes place (if required). We work together to polish and tweak until the build is finalised and complete.

Phase 6: Testing, Launch & Signoff

Although the project is tested through each stage of the build, this stage involves a complete usability test across all platforms and browsers, checking for cross-platform functionality and appearance. I use a combination of my own testing environment and Browsercam to do a complete check, with the results forwarded onto you for review. We are then ready for launch!

Phase 7: Monitoring and Maintenance

Once the site is launched I will do a thorough link check and monitor the site for 7 days to squash any potential problems that may arise. Once the monitoring period is over I can set up a maintenance plan if desired.

But why follow a process at all? Because this type of process will allow us to:

(a) Get really clear about what the goals of the site are.
(b) Know what the site’s visitors want (after all they’re the ones using it).
(c) Gain an insight into users’ goals and behaviour.
(d) Get a good picture of the personality and style of the design.

Without this, we’re designing ‘blind’, essentially just delivering something pretty with no awareness of your audience, targets or goals, so how do you expect it to be a success?

I think we can all assume that £40 isn’t going to cover all of the above, but does it cover your experience or expertise?

  • Knowledge

The story goes that Picasso was sitting in a Paris cafe when an admirer approached and asked if he would do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, swiftly executed the work, and handed back the napkin but not before asking for a rather significant amount of money. The admirer was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this! Picasso replied. It took me 40 years”.

You weren’t just paying for that drawing, you were paying for the countless hours, days, weeks and years of research, knowledge, experience and talent that it took to create that drawing.

Many of us in the design industry spend countless hours refining our knowledge wherever possible, constantly learning and challenging ourselves to be better in all aspects of both design, development and business. Why? One of the core reasons is so we can provide a better quality of service to our clients.

As Benjamin Southworth points out, that £40 “would price my 10 years professional experience at £4 p.a – which I deem as less than minimum wage?”

  • Operating Costs

Freelancing isn’t cost free, there are a wealth of overheads that most of us have to incorporate into our pricing. Some of the more obvious expenses include:

(1) Broadband
(2) Stock photography
(3) Web hosting
(4) Email marketing
(5) Hardware (iMac/Macbook/Printer)
(6) External hard drive(s)
(7) Software (Including Online Apps)
(8) Office Equipment
(9) Fonts
(10) Stationery
(11) Marketing
(12) Insurance
(13) Tax
(14) Travel

Mosts Freelancers are serious about their business, and run a credible professional small business. In doing so there are numerous costs involved which have to be taken into account when costing a project. The reason the local lad can do it so cheap is because he has no overheads because for him, it’s just a hobby.

  • Community Response

In order to get a more in-depth view on how the design community views these type of requests I asked for some input from those smart folks on twitter, who had the following to say:

@garethbotha A company or brand’s first impression to the world at large is worth more than £40.

@brimanning If it costs that much, that means anyone can do it.

@ianglang Clients by far are uneducated: copyright: (just get it from the web) process: (I want to see it before I decide to pay).

@egeek Audi garage charges £98/hr for a mechanic and surely that’s just screwing parts on a car. So £40 would get you < 30min. @paulashton1979 Because web design/dev = html, css, photoshop, cms knowledge, seo, copywriting, typography, design, infoArchitecture & fontReplacement etc.

@ianglang “You wouldn’t compromise your integrity. Why would you ask us to compromise ours?”

@helo_biagi Well, you have costs… your equipment, maintenance, studies, rent, time and the programs you use cost way more than £40.

@mohdesign How about the fact that designers and developers spend a huge amount of time just learning and increasing their skills to make a living.

@StuRobson I’d say “how much page space would £40 get you in a magazine or newspaper?”

@cun I’ll input… “£40 wouldnt even get you a full years worth of hosting + domain” let alone the coding work and time involved.

@pixelcellar Definately worth chucking in the mix the phrase “you get what you pay for”, one I use a lot with prospective clients!

@DanielApt We’ve spent an amazing amount of time to master our skills, we need to compensate this learning time in the bill.

@goody815 My first reply is always “the copy machine repair person is $150/hr so lets start over shall we”.

@deakaz Awesome, If someone expects it that cheap they should sign up to a free service and use a stock theme.

@jhuskisson Because web design isn’t done in an hour (£40 is an hourly rate, or lower than an hour for a lot of designers).

@shredcreative I’d say that when people send emails like that, we as web designers/devs should educate them as to why they should spend more.

  • Conclusion

So if web design doesn’t cost £40, what does it cost? The answer is, it depends on both the project specification and the designer you’ve approached. There are numerous variables and just like logo design, the best way to approach this question is to draw up a customised quote for each individual.

  • The Pitch

I may not charge you £40 but If you’re interested in working with a seasoned professional web designer then please get in touch via my contact form or through my portfolio.

  • Further Resources

(a) Why Design Can’t Be Billed By The Hour
(b) The Added Value Of Design
(c) Communicate the ROI for Design
(d) You Get What You Pay For

  • Let’s Have Your 2 Cents

Have you experienced this type of request before, if so, how did you handle it?

Is it actually our fault as designers for failing to effectively communicate the ROI of design? Because clearly people do not understand how important and valuable it is to their business.

Or does there need to be a shift in current thinking from regarding design as an afterthought to being an integral part of business strategy?

Here’s your chance to talk….


  1. Ana says:

    I call this type of potential client “amateur client” and tell them that my fees reflect the quality of my work so if they want to pay amateur fees they need to look elsewhere.

    These people are so annoying and waste the freelancer’s time; in fact they think freelancer=cheap labor. It’s even worse when the amateur client says that “it should take you only 10 minutes to do this.” Really? Then you must know what to do? So it’d take you less time to do it then to email me about it no?

    I’m writer/translator. That “just one page” might have taken several hours of research to come to fruition. Oh, and the time and money spent on the Master’s degree the client found so attractive, the expenses of traveling to other countries to perfect language skills that make me desirable as a worker etc.

    Love the Picasso bit!

  2. The article is based on the premise that the client should value your design skills as much as you do, and unfortunately it’s just not the case. Particularly in the case of website design, a lot of small business just want something up and running. They’re not expecting it to be a core part of their business, they’ve just heard that ‘they need a website’.

    You’d be better off just referring them to an online site builder that they pay 5 quid a month for a site. If they don’t value design, there’s little point in trying to convince them. It’s like a bargain hunter shopping in a Ferrari dealership – fundamentally not going to work. Usually larger businesses have more understanding of the value of branding and professionalism.

    Unfortunately the other side of the story can be just as bad – opportunist ‘designers’ trying to charge insane amounts of money for template brochure sites using a free wordpress template. These sorts of stories make potential client’s alarm bells rings when designers start talking about ‘design’.

  3. Carlos Darve says:

    I always ask myself, if they know someone who can do it for so little money, why not ask them for it?

  4. Absolutely spot on there Grace, great article!

  5. Yari says:

    This is a great article Grace. I think designers as a whole is hugely underappreciated. I’ll never understand how a client can do a google search for a website design (or logo or brochure), find someone who will do it for pennies, see their work, find it to be subpar and then try to get the same rate from someone else who clearly has a better portfolio and more experience. You really do what you pay for; you either want it done cheaply or done well.

    I had the same problem fairly recently with a client who wanted a logo designed for $50 (roughly 32£ if I’m converting correctly) and it also prompted me to post an entry about it. Why Does a Logo Cost More Than $50? http://goo.gl/fb/7TO68

    In the end it’s my hope that if enough of us write articles educating the client on the design process, research and effort that goes into our work, they will eventually understand the value behind it and hopefully requests like this one will be a thing of the past.

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely RT

  6. Ross says:

    Good article and I agree with most but the 4 pounds per hour argument is a bit arrogant and typical of designers. There are many jobs where people are employed for their experience and the only case where your point stands up is if you spent those 10 years studying purely for the business that you are dealing with now. It detracts from an otherwise reasonable post.

  7. Craig says:

    My favorite response (that I read somewhere) when a client says their friend’s nephew knows some HTML and can build a site for next to nothing is to say “does he have Microsoft Word?, than have him write novel while he’s at it”.

  8. Laura says:

    Grace, thank you for writing this article! What a great resource. I can certainly think of a few people who would do well to read this. 😉

    Perhaps even more frustrating is the fact that there are some designers who will agree to these ridiculous requests. By doing so, not only are they ripping themselves off but they are devaluing the work that other designers do as well. I would hope that as a design community, we could uniformly refuse these type of projects, but sadly that’s not happening…yet.

    Though in the end, karma usually takes care of it. I’ve had several clients who, after deciding my quote was too expensive and selecting a cheap-as-chips designer to do the work, came back to me for help, saying, “Well, I guess you do get what you pay for!”

  9. Mark says:

    Grace, I’m so glad I found your site :)

    Great article and some very thought provoking responses.

  10. Fran says:

    Great article! I use to get so angry with those types of prospective clients but I don’t even waste the energy anymore. Your headline says it all in a nutshell. You do get what you pay for. I always follow up on these prospects, if possible, to see how their sites turn out and almost always find they are still where they left off when they contacted me or worse off then before and I hate to say, I think to myself “Good, you’re were you deserve to be.” 😉 These people are usually non starters so it’s better to be rid of them from the get go.

  11. I had a lovely old academic guy around yesterday, who wanted a website for next to nothing because his grant only covered his living expenses.

    He also wanted the web-site to work like a book, with pages turning etc.

    I could have done him a lovely blog for around £700, but he shuffled off back to his ivory tower, with his proposed fee of £60 still clutched in his skinny fingers

  12. Rick Nunn says:

    What a fantastic read Grace. I don’t think I can add anything else to this that hasn’t already been said.

  13. Kathleen says:

    Now, I am not a designer per se, as I assist companies develop or expand their communications strategies online, but much of your post applies to my work also. When people come to me with a small budget, I still want to try to be helpful. I usually send them links to various do-it-yourself resources so that they can learn how to set up a site themselves. I do add the biggest caveat at the end of the email, and that is, that this will require lots of TIME on their part, and time is MONEY!

    I have just returned to Northern Ireland after having lived in the US the past 5 years. US attitude to spending money on websites is much less stingy than here. They see the value in it much more and for the most part understand the time factor involved in setting up a professional site. After all, websites have now become the core of any branding and communications strategy.

  14. QOT says:

    You Get What You Pay For. I will think twice now about paying those few bucks.

  15. Simone says:

    I thought you might like to know that my CLIENT sent me this article. 😀 Glad he did, I enjoyed seeing it all written down. I pretty much follow the same process to a tee. Awhile back i tried to offer a cheaper site using templates and a standard website structure (as in not starting from scratch). It really didn’t wash and I gave up that concept. The biggest part of the design is the client management and making sure the site caters to their business goals and future. No matter how standard the site seems to be, if you want to do a good job then the above process happens weither you like it or not.

    Lucky for me right now my clients are mostly referrals from people who already expect their site needs all the above and expect it will take time and are willing to pay for it.

  16. lollo says:

    I am a designer with 21 years of experience. I run my own business. I cost out my design time at $150 an hour and production time at $90 an hour, and about 1/3 less for employees. This is what I base my quotes on. I also mostly work for larger companies with marketing and communications departments, not small business operators. I often spend more time than I estimate, and sometimes less. So the rate works out a bit lower in the end. If a job happens to take me less hours, I gratefully accept the occasional healthy hourly rate and don’t tell the client. The jobs that take longer and where the billing rate ends up less, far outweigh the ones that are faster.

    And I am fast, I have many years of experience, and good clients. It’s still a tough business. I am not getting rich. 50% of my time is unpaid overhead that has to be covered by my billable hours: admin, proposals, invoicing, bookkeeping, errands, software and hardware upgrades etc.

    Yes, once in a while I take on unpaid or lowly paid projects, usually for friends, or family. I have done friends of friends, but I don’t even do that anymore. I could be drawing or painting or riding my bike instead. And I don’t need more work “for my portfolio”, I don’t need “the experience.”

    If designers were better at charging what they’re worth, clients wouldn’t get the idea that design is cheap. Everybody knows a lawyer will charge you $250 an hour. An average design fee of $100/hour shouldn’t be a shock to people, but it is.

    I always give a written total estimate and have the client sign if. If it’s a new client, they have to pay me 50% before I do any work. No exceptions. Seriously. Stick to your guns. It works well. I have only had two non-paying clients in 21 years.

    So be discerning in what clients you go after. Don’t feel you have to say yes to just anybody. If you say no to some people, you will be available to say yes to the right people. Keep your standards high.

    Just some advice from a designer who’s been around for a long time. I like to see the professional standards of designers everywhere improve. And by that I mean conducting the business of design as well as the quality of design.

  17. I could not agree more. I love the list of operating cost… I may use it from time to time. I also like Kathleen’s comment about companies with small budget. The best way to handle this is to send them to those do-it-yourself places. Then they will realize how much work it is!
    But that’s not all… the creative is also a big part of what they are paying for. They just don’t realize that!

  18. David says:

    Great article. I think any client with a decent company will be intelligent enough to know that quality & commitment has it’s cost. I’m not too worried about joe bloggs down the road who knocks out templates for 50 quid because I can guarantee with a fairly high degree of accuracy that it will do about as much good for a companies image and sales as a guy dressed in in a self made chicken suit shouting buy your turkey here.

  19. I always enjoy reading your articles and there are some really very good points in this post Grace, I could not agree more, Keep them coming! :)


  20. Excellent article Grace. This really breaks down the science and process that is web design. While I have had my dealings with this issue (chiefly when I was freelancing) I’ve since learned how to navigate it. Sean Ayling (above) is correct, it’s a matter of the pitch.

    You’ve done your pitch above. And that is what it comes down to. Clients just don’t understand what actually goes into a web design. Because of tools like Frontpage and “instant” website builders, clients have the view that web design is easy and quick. When, as everyone has stated here, is just not the case.

    So, it is incumbent upon us as designers to clearly communicate that fact to the client, but not in a confrontational way. We aren’t justifying our price. As far as I am concerned, someone asking asking for a site design for pennies is either misinformed or “just tossing it out there” to see if it sticks.

    I’ve had MANY situations over the years where this has happened and I’ve spent the time in educating the potential client. Sometimes it works and the client realizes that you DO get what you pay for and they happily sign the contract and pay pay your fee. Because they KNOW they will get the attention and quality and value they deserve.

    Other times, it doesn’t work. The client are focused on the dollar amount and no amount of perceived value is going to sway them. This is OK. This is NOT the client for you, and like Steve mentioned above – these clients are great for those just starting out. It gives the noobie a way to cut their teeth and sharpen their skills. Sure, the pay is low and the project will probably be a pain in the neck…but hey, that’s how you learn.

    The best thing, I’ve found, is to just say “Thank you. Good luck with the project and if you need us, we’re here.” Now, maybe they won’t come back, but maybe when they get a project that they require high-end value, you’ll get the call. But this time, you’ll be dealing with a more educated and realistic client.

  21. hemal says:

    Grace / All,

    As a web designer myself, I constantly come across such clientèle, and marked out by many of you above, most of the time they are quite not aware of what all goes into creating a website. But usually you can categories them into two category

    a) Some one who is thick headed and wants to buy the world for 8$.
    b) Some one who is willing to listen and learn. (though some times they just don’t have the budget, but trust me if you educate them correctly they do come back at a later stage.)

    First category are easy to identify,
    # they talk to you as they are doing you a favor, and working with them you will become and over night star hence you should charge them less.
    # they get back to you with, 5 more quotes which are 10% of your’s
    # they are in such a hurry that it seems their pants are on fire
    # more importantly, they know your job better then you.

    my suggestion just run run run.

    As with everything in todays world, its difficult sort out the second category from the first as they come with similar symptoms but their approach is slightly different,
    # Usually they have liked your previous jobs
    # They have read your proposal, and not only ask’s you about the higher price, but also about some items in your proposal.
    # They will not bargain, but suggest their budget and will try to find a middle ground.
    # Most importantly they are eager to lean if you come to their level and explain them.

    Keep a white paper / general case study document ready from your past projects or in general form the industry, to supply the prospective client to help then understand the value preposition.


  22. Wil says:

    Hahaha, my respond to the client would be really, can I have his/her number may be i will hire him/her too. (sarcasm intended)

  23. Steve Haigh says:

    This would be funny if it wasn’t true. It happens.

    Recently I was contacted by a business asking for a full CMS based website design with around 20 pages, for a budget of no more than £100. In the UK, national minimum wage is £5.80 an hour. At minimum wage prices I’d still only be able to work on the project for around 2 full days.

    I felt like asking if he would work for 17 hours at national minimum wage.

    What’s worse than this? Friends and family ‘selling’ my services for them – ‘My brother Steve does websites, he could knock you one up on the cheap.’ Gah!

    Why are designers and software developers so undervalued?

  24. Thought everyone might find this funny (or not so much, since it actually happens): http://zerogblog.com/2009/05/running-a-negotiable-business/

  25. Tracey Grady says:

    What struck me immediately was not the low amount of money floated by the prospective client (sadly, there are too many people around who will try this on) but just how rude it was for them to mention their “chat with a lad” and his 40 quid quote in their opening email to you!

    On the other hand, at least they’ve made it easy for you to quickly sum up your likelihood of pursuing a working relationship with them: zero.

  26. christopher says:

    It would be great if you could share a version of your creative brief wufoo form, i dont tend to use forms other than to record personal details (tel, name, address and signature of approval), but it would be great to see what i’m missing!

  27. GREAT article (and other resources)! Followed, tweeted and appreciated. We constantly experience this stumbling block with clients and this is very useful information to help educate them. Thank you!

  28. Adam says:

    Also worth noting is that there are multiple tiers in the market, just like many other markets.

    When you go to the shop for mobile phone, you can get a £10 mobile, that does it’s job, but nothing else (and looks ugly), or you can get a sleek, shiny “phone” which allows you to do everything from make calls, play music, take high def videos, take photo’s, play games and a host of other things.

    Someone may not have the money for your expensive “shiny” website yet, but perhaps somewhere down the line they will upgrade their cheap website to a more expensive and shiny one, when they have the money.

  29. wolf says:

    Great article! You are so right! I was sitting through a meeting with a potential client one time when after 30 minutes discussing the project she said her budget was not more than $250 … $%^&*@# WTF … some people have nervs…. that’s for sure. Why don’t they bother their “lad” with that nonsense …

  30. sabrina says:

    Great article. I’m just about to jump back into the world of freelancing and I’m having a hard time convincing people that they really are getting what they pay for.

  31. Lynne says:

    Fantastic article. I just recently had to explain to a friend why I couldn’t build one of her friends a site for £400 and that No, this was not expensive (particularly when you compare what gets spent on handbags, shoes etc…). Incidentailly, the ‘friends’ discount I was prepared to give still meant I was charging less per hour than she charges. I guess it’s all about priorities though!

    We refer to the cheapo website places as our future client incubators – they are simply looking after them until they are ready to fly the nest!

  32. Loving this article very much. Just helped me out with a client I am trying to pitch.

  33. t0dd says:

    Great article, you articulated greatly a topic that is near and dear to me!

  34. Maston Mbewe says:

    Brilliant Article, i am a web designer from Zimbabwe, i tell you this $40 web designers are driving down the market to an extent that when you quote someone say $1000 for a website they think it’s a joke. Designers are not respected at all.

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