The ƒ1.2 Principle

It seems about once a month, there are murmurs about how a certain service or technology is threatening to put creative professionals out of a job or otherwise seemingly undermining what it takes to be  designers, photographers, filmmakers or artists.

There are services like 99 Designs that belittle the complexity of the design process and cheapen work to being a contest. Sites like Squarespace allow anyone to build a website, making it seem like webdesign is nothing more than connecting links and having a social media widget. Apps like Instagram can give any teen with an iPhone that film look that photographers spend hours (literally) developing. And YouTube and iMovie make it possible for anyone to whip up and distribute video whether or not it’s any good.

While it seems like these services are continuing to erode the value of the work of creative professionals, I posit that it does the exact opposite. The fact that these tools exist allowing anyone the ability to do things historically left to professionals means a few things:

First: most of it is terrible and secondly: it makes good, professional work really stand out.

The tools built for general use produce works that look amateurish to professionals. These same works look at best, “normal” or at least typical to everyone else. It isn’t until these same amateurs hear a professionally recorded song or see a video produced by a talented filmmaker that a spark goes off in their head. That’s the spark of true talent.

Take a look at the style of popular photography right now. It looks a lot like this:


Images like this are stunning because they’re different. Why are they different? A depth of field that shallow can only be achieved with a very expensive lens on the body of a very expensive camera operated by someone who’s spent years learning how to use it and run through expensive software that not many people know how to properly use. Is that why it’s popular? Because it’s expensive to produce? Because people know the skill involved in creating such an image?

No. It’s popular because when the average person sees photos like that amongst a sea of images on Facebook shot with an iPhone with everything in focus and flat lighting from it’s on-board LED flash, it seems like a revelation. That photo is unique because it is made in a way that, while very similar to the way all the others are made, is very different from what people are accustomed to seeing.

The same can be said of professional video among the myriad YouTube videos shot with cameras built in to laptops.The same goes for a website built by a team of thoughtful designers and coders next to one hastily populated using a Squarespace template.

The same goes for a website built by a team of thoughtful designers and coders next to one hastily populated using a Squarespace template.

The same goes for a logo created by a designer who took the time to research the subject and understand the business next to one crowd-sourced for cheap.

The same goes for a spot illustration that really digs into the meaning of the article it highlights over a generic one plucked from thousands on a stock website.

This is the ƒ1.2 Principle: Professional work will stand out among amateur work for reasons that most clients can’t quite peg, but they know there’s something about it they like, and they’re willing to pay for it.

There are certainly going to be those who say that Squarespace ruined their web design company, or that iStock has cheapened the value of photography, but in reality they and services like them have raised the bar for creatives. Clients happy with what can be achieved on their own without the help of professionals will do just that. The rest will turn to those who are masters of their craft and will happily pay a professional to produce work of a higher caliber.

If you’re creating great work with depth and meaning using cutting-edge techniques and working to understand the needs of your client, then you’ve cemented your place among those in the highlands who will weather the storm of oncoming changes in technology and style while the rest of the pack is left scrambling along the shoreline.

Justin Perricone

UX Strategist

Cyclist. Pinball Enthusiast. More Posts by Justin

One Response to “The ƒ1.2 Principle”

  1. Tony

    To be honest the average client is not very educated when it comes to design, art, photography.. He just needs the work done and rarely have a good understanding of them crafts. On the other hand there’s distinctive price gap between such services and what real professional freelancers offer. The quality gap is very distinctive too. So I guess there’s a train for everyone.

Comments are closed.