Why Money Shouldn’t Motivate Design

Today we’re going to discuss the difference between designing for money and designing for a living because it’s what you love to do.

We’ll take a look at a few things that motivate designers who couldn’t be anything else if they tried and why design is more than a means to a financial end but is in fact a way of life.

But I Like Money!

I’ve recently stated a few times on Design Shack that I’m an avid capitalist. I said this in a half joking manner but do in fact have a love for the world of business, finance and all things related to working hard and becoming successful. The most inspiring stories to me are those about little guys with big ideas that took them from rags to riches through ingenious implementation.

However, my fellow Design Shack cohort David Appleyard recently suggested that I write about why money shouldn’t motivate design. This presented a significant hurdle to my way of thinking as a paycheck is in fact a driving force behind me getting out of bed and starting work every day.

The more I considered the question though the more I realized that design has very much become a part of who I am. Even now that I have become a full-time writer I still introduce myself as a designer. In fact, I’m convinced that if I inherited a billion bucks and retired tomorrow I would still be a nerd that can’t help but analyze the font selection on the logo of the local fast food chain and would probably eventually fall right back into reading design blogs in my free time (after purchasing a small island of course).

My point is, work is something that I have to do to survive. It’s why I wake up early on Monday morning and why I eat lunch at my desk. Design on the other hand is something that I love to do. The fact that the two came together just makes me extremely fortunate. Finding a job doing what you love won’t mean you never have days/weeks where you just need a break, it just means you’ll have less of them than someone who hates what they do.

This realization brought me to the conclusion that money isn’t in fact a primary reason behind my addiction to design. So what are the reasons for this obsession? What are the ends that justify the means?

The Act of Creation


Designers, architects, painters, construction workers, sculptors and welders have one thing in common: the act of creating something. Whether it’s through the sweat of our brow or by the furrowing of the same in deep thought, there’s something about creating something unique that makes us feel good.

I’ve noticed that males in particular have an interesting tendency regarding the completion of a project. We tend to build something, then crack open a beer (or Mountain Dew if you prefer) and just stare at it for a while, not quite ready to move on. The sense of accomplishment and even self-pride is strong in these moments. Whether or not we had fun building the object or cursed and spat our way through the entire project, that contemplative outcome is the same.

You know you should be a designer if this is how you feel about the work you do. If that ten minutes after you’ve completed all the final touches of a design that you’ve really poured yourself into is better than pay day, you’ve found your motivation.

Revel in these moments long enough to give you that high you need to make it through the next project. Then lather, rinse and repeat.


Web designers and developers are peculiar breed of designers. Rather than wading into the still and fairly calm waters of print-based materials (I speak from experience), you’ve jumped head first into the rushing stream of ever-evolving web standards and technology.

As a print designer I had to keep up with the latest version of the Adobe Creative Suite and whatever ephemeral buzzwords marketers were currently using to sell their products in basically the same way as they always had, but for the most part the standards for CMYK printing stayed pretty static.

As a web designer I have no end to the list of things that I feel that I should be learning. HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, Ajax, WordPress development, database management and countless other technologies are enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. Yet we’re secretly excited as well aren’t we?

When I finished college I was thrilled to wave goodbye to homework and tests, but quite sad to see the end of constant organized learning. However, in web development I found a new drug to feed my addiction to education. For whatever reason, my brain loves taking in new information and makes no qualms about tossing out anything I’ve paid thousands of dollars to learn to make room for data on how to use the newest CSS properties.

Whether or not you had a 4.0 or a 2.8 GPA in school, loving web development might just mean that you have a love for learning new things. My advice to you is to stop avoiding this tendency and start enjoying it!


The last motivating factor that I’ll discuss for design is people. Many designers, though certainly not all, are driven by a love of interaction with other people. As a designer, you help your client express things that they are incapable of expressing on their own as effectively as they can with your aid. Whether they’re selling doughnuts or raising money to cure cancer, helping them gives you purpose.

Some designers unfortunately hate their clients, and for good reason. However, these individuals often find friends in the huge community of people just like them swarming around the Internet through Twitter, Dribbble and design blogs like this one.

While our profession certainly has its hermits, many of us simply love the richness of the human interaction that a creative field brings. The intellectual conversations and mass inspiration are in themselves ends that justify Monday mornings.

What Motivates You?

Leave a comment below and tell us why you’re a designer. Are you in this business because it’s a nice way to make money sitting down or because of something deeper?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, even if they contradict the opinions above.