The Make-Or-Buy Dilemma For Designers

The dilemma


I’ll try to explain this dilemma with a simple example. Let’s say you’re designing a website for a client. During this design process you need 4 icons for the website; an icon of a TV, a camera, a cellphone and a tripod. In this case you have two options. First of all you can try to create these icons yourself. It would take some time to do this but they would fit your design perfectly. However, you could also try to buy these icons from an online marketplace or from another designer. In other words: you’re outsourcing the design of these icons to someone else.

Outsourcing can actually be subdivided into two different buying options. Either you buy stock from an online market place, or you commission another designer to create a specific item for you. These days you can find just about anything on online marketplaces: photos (iStockPhoto, ShutterStock), icons (IconDrawer, StockIcons), flash elements (ActiveDen), and other design elements (GraphicRiver).

There are several reasons for not creating everything yourself. Let’s get back to our web design example. Let’s say you’re a pretty good web designer but icon design isn’t your cup of tea. In this case it might be a good idea to hire a designer who is good at designing icons or you could buy icons from a stock website. Perhaps your coding skills aren’t up to par. In this case you could try to catch up on this subject so you can do this task yourself. You can always contact another designer if you don’t have the necessary time to learn these skills.

Advantages and disadvantages

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s up to you to decide which method to use: are you going to make it yourself or buy it from someone else? Let’s compare both methods.

Buying design elements


The first major advantage of buying design elements from a third party provider is that you don’t have to spent your own time. Basically, you can just kick back and relax and let someone else do the work for you. Some people also decide to outsource something because they don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to create a specific item themselves. You could hire a designer who already has plenty of experience to solve this problem. His/her level of experience will probably generate better results too.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Hiring someone else to do work for you will cost you money. Really complex jobs could be too expensive to outsource, forcing you to solve the problem on a different manner.Buying design stock is usually cheaper than having a designer create something from scratch. But with the latter approach you’ll get a design element that is tailored for you. Another aspect you should keep in mind are the difficulties that you may have when you try to explain your vision to another designer. Because of this you could end up with a design that doesn’t stroke with the vision you had.

Create it yourself


The most obvious advantage of creating everything yourself is that you’ll probably get what you had in mind, unless you lack the necessary skills to create those design elements. Not everyone is a photoshop expert, a code hero and a flash guru. However, trying to learn these skills can be useful in the future. Another disadvantage of this approach is the fact that you lose valuable time. If your planning doesn’t allow you to create everything from scratch you might want to consider outsourcing some design elements.

Other options

But wait… there are other options you could use. The internet is filled with quality freebies that might fit your design perfectly. Thanks to the power of Google you’ll find free icons, buttons, vectors and other design elements in no time. Just make sure you read the licensing terms so you know when and where you can use these resources.


The make-or-buy dilemma can be solved by asking yourself a few simple questions. Do you have the necessary skills to create the item in question and, more importantly, does you schedule allow you to do it yourself? When you decide to outsource some of your work, you have to decide if you want to buy pre-made stock or if you want to contact another designer/coder who will work for you. Besides these options you can always search the web for free resources. There are plenty of design blogs that offer quality freebies.

Your thoughts

Do you usually try to create everything yourself? Or do you usually commission someone to create certain aspects of your design e.g. icons, brushes, banners, coding… Tell us what you think and post a comment.

4 thoughts on “The Make-Or-Buy Dilemma For Designers

  1. Nice write up! I actually didn’t know about ActiveDen and GraphicRiver – so I’ve bookmarked these for possible use later. I’m not a flash pro, so especially ActiveDen will be very useful.

    Thanks Kevin!

  2. I have newly subscribed to your RSS. As a designer I would rather do it all myself, but as times get busy, I find I have to look more and more to outsource. Many times you can find a compromise by downloading a high end CMS template and then doing a lot of customization to really make it your own.

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  4. Hi Kevin. In answer to your question I normally make all the elements for my clients websites myself, though lately with more and more complex requirements coming in I have bought some turn-key site templates. The logic is simple enough, all though I know I could learn all the ins-and-outs of Flash, PHP and JS I’m simply too busy to keep my clients waiting while I research and edsucate myself on all the nesecary intracacies for these various languages.