Are Designers Stingy?

almost 6 years ago from , Another Designer

So some people thought that 8 USD for a Sketch Dark Theme was expensive. (I was indifferent to the price, meaning I don't have a strong opinion on whether it is expensive or cheap). Anima opened pre-orders for an in-sketch animation plugin, and that seems to be going kind of slow.

This made me think that many people are already paying 99 USD a year for Sketch, 40 USD a month for Adobe CC, 12 USD a Month for Framer and any random amount for other multiple tools and resources...

Are designers stingy? Or is it that maybe we already have to pay a lot for essentials? It's clear to me that the extreme fragmentation of design tools doesn't help to keep the cost of being a designer at a reasonable level. Think about a developer who can get their equivalent core tools like Visual Studio Code or Atom for free.

I've been working on a side project for this market, and I want to know what motivates a designer to pay for a tool/resource or how designers determine if something is cheap or expensive.


  • Danny Lai, almost 6 years ago

    Hi. This is Danny and Aaron who created Midnight. We can share our reasons behind the infamous $8 price for the dark theme plugin, aka “just colours”!!

    — Designers have been asking for a dark theme in Sketch for more than 2 years ( https://dribbble.com/shots/2472966-Sketch-dark ) but it never happened. When we began working on it we realised why — because it is really hard!

    — New Sketch updates in the future will break our plugin and we are responsible to keep Midnight updated. Developing once is easy but we need so commit our future time to maintain the plugin.

    — Everybody’s system configuration is different so we get a lot of support requests on Twitter with unexpected bugs and corner-cases. Providing support takes a lot of our time.

    — When you use Midnight, it provides value for every minute and every second that you use Sketch. Unlike other utility plugins which perform their task and then go away. Unlike a latte or a beer that provides value only for a few hours (we really think it is unfair to compare software costs with cost of lattes)

    — Dark theme is not for everybody. Some people who were waiting for a Sketch dark theme for years realised they preferred the light theme anyway. For those who like and enjoy it $8 would be a fair amount to pay for something they will use a lot for even the next year or until dark mode is natively added in Sketch.

    — We had modest sales in our first week. About 100 people have bought a license. After paying Stripe fees and hosting charges we made about $740 which is $19 per hour based on 40 hours per week. The $8 is a one-time cost so there is no recurring revenue for us which means revenue is going to be very unstable.

    — Three people work on Midnight. Danny (developer) Yi-Ming (designer) and Aaron (support and copywriting). It will be some time until we become millionaires out of selling this plugin!

    In conclusion, we do not think designers are stingy. Sometimes it is hard to see what goes on behind the curtain and what it really takes to build and maintain a product. We are openly sharing our development process, our reasons for pricing, and our sales metrics to help you look at this from our perspective.

    46 points
    • Juan J. Ramirez, almost 6 years ago

      Thanks for the super comprehensive answer. It really helps to understand the reasoning behind the pricing.

      2 points
    • Simone Simone , almost 6 years ago

      What should be questioned is not the price or the amount of money you made, but why something like this should be thought of as " business". I think it can be more a lot more fun and rewarding to do something for the community and release it for free than convincing yourself that its a viable business idea and thus become outcome dependent.

      1 point
      • John Doe, almost 6 years ago

        I love that you think it would be “fun and rewarding” to contribute free stuff for the community.

        I’m interested to know what free stuff have you contributed to the community?

        Or is it only fun and rewarding when it’s other people giving and you’re the one receiving ...

        31 points
  • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

    Are designers an extremely diverse group of people that shouldn't be categorised by their financial ethos?

    31 points
  • Luca Candela, almost 6 years ago

    I think a factor to keep in mind is the ridiculous amount of churn we experienced in tools lately. If I buy a wood router I can keep it as long as it works and it will probably last me 10 years, if I buy a plugin as soon as the company loses interest in maintaining it I will have lost my investment in learning the tool and I'll need to find a replacement. This constant shift has made a lot of folks (definitely me) less likely to jump on the latest thing because it's likely to go away soon.

    Bonus points, all the damn subscriptions start to add up after a while and it's a mess to keep it all together.

    11 points
    • Nicholas van der WalleNicholas van der Walle, almost 6 years ago

      Not just plugins, but all software. Sadly the disposable/obsolescent culture has also crept into physical products a long time ago which also chips away at any purchase invest made. To counter, many items are relatively cheaper compared to average income than they were 20+ years ago (if they even existed then).

      0 points
  • Jan ZhengJan Zheng, almost 6 years ago

    I think designers are "stingy" because we are poor, or we don't have a solid feeling of always having a solid income. It makes it hard to justify purchases, even though in reality an $8 is a couple of coffees.

    I think providing real, tangible (or time-saving) value is the way to squeeze money out of designers.

    9 points
    • Nader KeshavarzNader Keshavarz, almost 6 years ago


      2 points
    • David ThornDavid Thorn, almost 6 years ago

      Don't forget that designers can be in-house with stable income...

      1 point
      • Jan ZhengJan Zheng, almost 6 years ago

        if they're in-house, they could probably just buy with a budget. When I had a full-time design job, I'd just use Sketch and everything else through work. For sure, that's where the "real" money is—enterprise

        I've only had to buy Sketch for myself now that I'm off freelancing and doing my own thing.

        2 points
  • iterati designiterati design, almost 6 years ago

    I think there's a huge bubble in US and SF/NY in particular. The rest of the world isn't like that, we're not having $7 lattes all the time.

    So don't generalize and perceive designers as the people you meet at work and at meetups in your area.

    7 points
  • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, almost 6 years ago

    I think the problem is not just with design software, but with any goods or services. People from different parts of the world have different buying power and goods made in different parts of the world will have different prices. So if a Ukrainian developer asks for $2 for their app, that is going to seem cheap for someone in the US where the minimum wage is $7.25/hr but not that cheap for someone in Russia where the minimum wage is $108/month. This applies to everything - iPhones, which are made by an American company cost $700 in the US, which is a big investment but only little over half the minimum wage for Americans, whereas for someone in Romania (which is where I'm originally from) the cost would be 2x the minimum wage ($382/month) so for a lot of people it's regarded as an unthinkable purchase.

    This says nothing about individual differences in income and priorities (two people with the same income in the same city could get different value from a new colour scheme for their software and thus only be willing to pay different prices).

    Personally, if I was using Sketch, I'd 1. rethink my choice because a third party group of devs managed to do what Bohemian said was unfeasible and not even worth considering for years, and 2. be happy to pay the $8 to have the option of a dark interface.

    Others might not. If you want to do some research and figure out whether people would pay for your product or not, you'll have to segment your market better than lumping everyone into one big category called 'designers'

    6 points
  • Philip A, almost 6 years ago

    lol really?

    5 points
    • Juan J. Ramirez, almost 6 years ago

      Yes. For real. Of course nobody is going to admit their greediness....So I'm not really expecting people to say if they are stingy or not...Just really want to understand where designers find value that justifies a high price... (And for the record, I consider myself a somewhat stingy person)

      0 points
  • Matthew BlodeMatthew Blode, almost 6 years ago

    TL;DR: Competition is good.

    The tool and service fragmentation in the UI/UX sphere is a sign of greater competition and more options than ever before. This increased competition has driven the quality of all these tools way up and has driven the prices to a much more affordable level. In regards to the Dark Sketch theme, the $8 price was infinitely more expensive than what people are used to paying for Sketch plugins; which is $0. This isn't a bad thing obviously it's just that I personally found it way above my price expectations for Sketch on top of the paid software.

    The darkest timeline would be Adobe gaining 100% market share as a monopoly power in the design market and then being able to charge $150 a month as their is no alternative option. Currently we have all the aforementioned tools plus Affinity Designer, Figma, Invision, Marvel, Webflow, Bjango's upcoming tool, Subform, and a trillion other prototyping tools which fill and experiment with a certain niche all fighting it out and vying for the limited amount of money (or time) people are willing to spend on new tools.

    I'm also a front-end developer and it is magic that all the tools I do pay for a have an almost as good free alternatives:

    • Transmit and FileZilla/Cyberduck
    • Sublime and VSCode/Atom
    • MAMP Pro and Laravel Valet/Mamp
    • Codekit and Gulp/Grunt

    The highly competitive market and the right incentive structure has led the market to create open source software that is perfectly solid and sold for free.

    What a time to be alive.

    4 points
    • Mark Horgan, almost 6 years ago

      The highly competitive market and the right incentive structure has led the market to create open source software that is perfectly solid and sold for free.

      People generally create open source software for themselves or their company. There isn’t much open source design tools because most designers don’t code.

      Maintaining an open source project can be a fairly thankless job. I wouldn’t see it as some magical source of free software. Someone is giving up their evenings and weekends to work on it for free.

      0 points
  • Robin RaszkaRobin Raszka, almost 6 years ago


    3 points
  • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, almost 6 years ago

    I think my answer would be that I'm becoming increasingly aware of how much of my transactions these days are micro subscriptions, whether for tools, charity/support models, entertainment, gaming, whatever, and this stuff does add up over time despite the low price tag.

    A Sketch Dark Theme (which more than a few realized they didn't want that badly after all) is more or less the kind of low-hanging fruit purchase a store will put at the checkout counter.

    But as others have mentioned, there are psychological biases that could be to blame for this "stinginess." For example, there is no Sketch Midnight competitor besides "$0" and "vanilla." Theoretically, the same team could release a premium tier, or we could see an entirely separate product (Sketch Slate, let's say) that costs $19.99, and that alone would upset our impression of the pricing.

    But as far as tools go in general, designers shouldn't feel the need to test drive every single option out there just because it exists or they want to add it to their line-up on a CV. My rule of thumb is: "Does this tool solve a problem that nothing else does, or perhaps even better than anything I use now? Further more, does this solution create a new problem (e.g. "Oh shit, this coffeescript is a pain in the ass.")

    3 points
  • Weston VierreggerWeston Vierregger, almost 6 years ago

    nah i just think people are used to sketch plugins being free.

    2 points
  • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

    I regret being a designer because of two reasons.

    1) Greedy software companies only focused on profits.

    2) Designers who are either drowned in their cesspit of ego or find an easy way to earn money and not aware that they are actually puppets of the companies in the 1st reason.

    Whenever a designer comes up with a stuff (UI kit? lol), they immediately start charging idiotic prices. There are also lots of actual free stuff (not the crap that InVision tries to bait people). It is also pretty grim that in year 2018 and people are trying to charge everyone just for #000

    This is being greedy imo. There's zero functionality and it's mostly an dropdown option in applications. Either you if you told the actual developer/designer this, they'd start cover up their greediness saying it's a latte money or something. In Rio, a latte is around 1 quids which is based on the income average in Rio. So selling 8 lattes for just a dark colour is not the brightest idea. That's where their ego going to kick in and they would start blabbering that they also put effort in it etc etc.

    Mozilla also puts damn a lot of effort in Firefox and web standards that you earn money from. Do they even charge for new css codes?

    You know what? There's a reason of this. At least, I blame one. Adobe. We all know Adobe is a behemoth and the scene turned grim when they went full hedonist mode and try to gobble their users wallet by charging every month. For a frigging offline software!

    Eventually they start to earn heaps of money because they were selling subscriptions to corporate companies in ridiculous prices.

    Eventually Adobe is going to crush 20 yr old designer's beloved Sketch with their money. Not with good software. That's inevitable. Poor bohemian coding, framer and rest of the tools are forced to sell their broken shit tools with subscriptions to keep their wimpy companies running and working against wallet devouring Adobe.

    Blame Adobe (and AutoDesk if you're into 3d) for the greedy prices. Of course 8 dollars for a color option is expensive. But you got to target the source that makes designers greedy, not some pesky designer tries to rip people. There's always going to sheeps would follow the herd. Who would ever think it would be a nice idea to charge 3 screen ui's for 50£?! yeah people are buying. People buy anything. The thing is, you shouldn't abuse it. If you do, you'd lower the standards and expectations. Most importantly, it'd lower the reliability for the future. Like this thread. Now probably everbody on DN who is not a designer thinks designers are stingy. And the sad part is, they are actually becoming stingy.

    Maybe design scene needs a foundation like Mozilla.

    2 points
    • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

      Your 2 points are in no way unique to the design industry.

      1 point
      • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

        You're absolutely right. I believe on other work areas like finance etc, could be worse. I believe these two points are clashing with the definition of the ideology.

        Design means a solution (or a plan) for a problem.

        But these two stereotypes are causing more problems which are the majority in the industry. Everybody thinks that they are 'design rockstar'.

        Oh, I also detest defining someone as a 'design rockstar'. I mean come on. There's a difference between singing Highway to Hell and changing the font size to 200px.

        Don't get me wrong Todd. English is not native. My rant is not targeted to you at all, its general <3

        0 points
    • Corey LeeCorey Lee, almost 6 years ago

      Mozilla makes 100s of millions in tax-exempt revenue from search royalties, which is why they don't need to charge anything. I'm sure everyone working on their products is getting a decent salary and is not expected to just work out of the goodness of their heart. That sounds like a greedy software company by your definition.

      2 points
  • Jason MillerJason Miller, almost 6 years ago

    $8 is a nice sandwich. Or a couple of half decent pens. Or a big stack of post-it notes.

    When I want one of these things to help with my work, I don't think twice. So why is it such a big deal that a small add-on to a tool most of us use for hours a day costs $8?

    1 point
  • John PJohn P, almost 6 years ago

    40 USD a month for Adobe CC

    I wouldn't hold this up as an example, we pay this because we don't have a choice. Nothing Adobe has shipped in the past 5 years has been enough to justify the amount they demand.

    1 point
  • Thomas Michael SemmlerThomas Michael Semmler, almost 6 years ago

    Well, especially for the Sketch Dark Theme - most people are used to having this as a vanilla customization Option, I know I am, so paying 8$ for something that you might miss as a vanilla feature in the first place, can seem like too much money. Especially knowing, that updates on the software will require them to make updates, but as the revenue stream will not be consistent, they will loose their "funding" if you say so over time, which means that your "dark theme" will only be partially working or not working at all anymore. So that is why 8$ was too much for me, specifically.

    And, I will not pay as much as 40$ for a plugin. I do understand that other ecosystems involving audio, video and gaming have much much higher prices, but that anima plugin, timeline, seems to me like a tool for just "playing around", rather than something that would become part of my toolchain. But, I have to say, that I am a frontend developer and when it comes to animations then I have to consider the technical capabilities of the medium. I, most of the time, rely on CSS-powered Animations. And even though it would be nice to be able to do this directly in sketch, I'd honestly save those few hours and do it directly on codepen. Even if it had an option to export it to svg/css/js, it would probably not be compatible with my/our way of writing frontend code, because it is opinionated, like every code is. User Interface Animations are inherently part of Planing and Thinking In Code, if you wanna to them well. You shouldn't just "drop animation on top of it", you need to plan around it. If you want Page transitions, you are probably going to end up rendering everything via JavaScript. What if you can't do that, because your existing project relies heavily on serverside routing and rendering? Because this is such an unsolved (generic) Problem in current UI Design Tools, I am to careful to pay that much money for a tool that will probably just end up being something to play with for a few hours and never use it again.

    1 point
  • Simone Simone , almost 6 years ago

    When price is within certain boundaries, its not a matter of income disparity as much as Its a matter of perceived value. A dark theme for Sketch is useless to some and valuable to others.

    You partially bring up the most interesting part of the question, which is the cultural aspect: certain things used to be free (nobody ever thought of charging for theming an app, since the IP there is pretty much zero - https://www.adiumxtras.com being a great example of that). And I have the feeling that people who have been involved in design for a shorter period of time have not experienced that.

    I think the real question is why are (younger?) designers trying to make a buck off each other instead of truly contributing to the community?

    1 point
    • Nicholas van der WalleNicholas van der Walle, almost 6 years ago

      Sorry, but I'm old enough to remember software "skins" being sold in the late 90's already. Did a quick Google search but sadly can't find references anymore. Not much new on this planet.

      I personally woudn't buy a theme like this. But then again, I don't buy wallpaper for my house either ;)

      1 point
      • Simone Simone , almost 6 years ago

        I'm not saying it was never done before, you're always going to find an outlier example. I'm saying it wasn't necessarily customary, or it was done in a way that could still contribute to the larger community. Think about The Iconfactory: they had free and paid icon sets.

        Monetization is a new cultural phenomenon (IG, Youtube, Steemit, Twitch) and I would be surprised if there was not a correlation between the two.

        2 points
    • John Doe, almost 6 years ago

      Since when charging for products is considered “making a buck off of each other”?

      What have you truly contributed to the community?

      2 points
  • Nicholas van der WalleNicholas van der Walle, almost 6 years ago

    Hmmm... I'm not sure "stingy" is the correct word. Due to the much lower requirements (eg. training and investment) that somebody can set up shop as a designer, I personally see that a much wider skill and experience set exists in this industry than others. Want to be a plumber? You need kit and a van. Before you even start, you've laid out a lot of $$$ (née £££). Want to start calling yourself a designer? Get a hand-me-down computer and download Inkscape or some such.

    Experienced, skilled, committed designers all know that it’s a business like any other. If a product (software of hardware) costs X but allows you recoup that within Y weeks and then start profiting from the investment, it’s likely to be worth it.

    Manga Studio is a product I’ve heard the name of for years. I’ve just checked and it’s $89.95 for a physical copy (wow - they still do that!?) which seems like a good price for a professional designer who sketches characters regularly. But if it were my money, I’d say it’s expensive as I wouldn’t really use it to its full potential or professionally. Yet the Adobe CC license at nearly 10x that for a year is an absolute bargain in my opinion as I use it to make a living on the hour, every hour.

    Another very important factor to consider but seldom discussed is that the true cost of any software product is the time required to learn and become truly efficient with it. If you’re needing to charge $100/hour to make a living, the time tally to “mess around” with a new tool can often completely outweigh the cost of the purchase in the first place.

    But I think it was a good question as I have also come across many comments from professionals lamenting the cost of product Z even though it appears to be essential to them being able to make a clear profit and living… ;)

    1 point
  • Eddie LobanovskiyEddie Lobanovskiy, almost 6 years ago

    Invision Studio will be fixing that problem soon. Design with the dark interface, animate, prototype - FREE.

    1 point
  • Chris CChris C, almost 6 years ago

    Some people are stingy regardless of their profession and regardless of the product in question. People are also motivated to buy things for all kinds of reasons. There are also TONS of articles on the psychology of purchase decisions.

    If you are working on a side project specifically to sell to designers, I would suggest not waiting until you are done to figure out what people will pay for it.

    1 point
  • Nicole AydëNicole Aydë, almost 6 years ago

    I love this question - I don't really have an answer for anyone else, but I try to get software comped through work when I'm in-house. When I'm freelance, I try to find free software to minimize my cost since nothing is so essential to my work that I can't find some free alternative, or analog alternative.

    Creatives I feel are charged for our tools even when not dealing with software, and our tools are more likely to be expendable or out of date within a shorter time frame than other vocations. For instance as you stated, developers generally learn more robust languages and their investment would be their computer. Even with traditional creatives, you have to pay for paint and canvas, and those only have one use.

    In terms of software, there is a lot of churn capitalizing on the growth in design, making it difficult to figure out which technologies will stay and which will go.

    But thanks for asking this, it made me think a bit!

    0 points
  • Mark Horgan, almost 6 years ago

    I think the issue is that we perceive a fair price by what something similar costs rather than the value it provides or the cost of making it. Most Sketch plugins are free so when someone charges for one we perceive it as overpriced. If Principle, with all the same functionality was available as a Sketch plugin would we perceive it as overpriced at $129? The advantage of Sketch plugins over standalone apps is that they integrate into our existing workflow but developers will continue making standalone apps because they know they can't charge enough for a plugin to cover the cost of making it.

    0 points