May 2006 archives

Entry no.: 876

28 May 2006, 6:08 PM

Comments: 0

Design On design contests

And why the term “design whore” is too elegant

Following the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games identity scandal, Canadians banned spec work. And they banned it good:

As a result of the situation and others that preceded it, the GDC (Society of Graphic Designers of Canada) changed its Code of Ethics at its annual meeting on May 6-7, 2005, so as to leave no doubt as to its stand on design contests. The GDC no longer allows any member participation in open design contests for commercial purposes on speculation, either as an entrant or a judge.

GDC is—as far as I know—the first graphic designers' national organization to not only instill the idea that free pitches are wrong, but to actively enforce it across its body of members.

From now on, GDC members cannot undertake any speculative project for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used. Members may take part in limited design competitions where each participant is provided equal and adequate compensation. The Society has separate guidelines for pro bono work for charitable purposes.

The Graphic Artists Guild and the GDC both recommend that if a competition is held, the hosts should first put out a request for portfolios, then after reviewing the work, select a group of finalists who are best suited for the job. The finalists may be asked for rough sketches for the project at hand if they are paid adequately and equally for their work. Finally, when a single designer or firm is finally selected, that winner should be paid fees that are commensurate to current market value. The designer will retain rights to the work.

In order to change the tone for a second here to something more tongue-in-cheek, I'll quote Andy Rutledge from his Redesign Competitions: looking for a commitment or just a roll in the hay? post on DesignView:

I’m hosting a competition. I need a partner with whom to have a serious relationship but I don’t want to invest any time or effort in finding the right woman; I shouldn’t have to. I’m a great man and any woman should be proud to be with me, so I’m holding auditions. I’d like for all interested women to visit me and show me your “wares.” I’m definitely looking for someone with a hot bod, and not afraid to show it off. Extra points for staying the night and letting me sample your attentions and enthusiasm.

One lucky winner gets a $400 wedding ring and the prestige of having me for a partner (‘cause I look good). The rest of you just get screwed. Awright, who’s with me?

  • * *
    This is the basic translation of every redesign competition invitation for any company who has ever held one. Is it apparent now just how disrespectful such competitions are toward those they solicit? Given this clear context, how many of you are still willing to defend this sort of behavior? Aw c’mon, I know you’re out there. I read your apologist responses and defenses of these competitions all the time.

But after his colorful opening comes a bitter closure:

Yes, it’s very definitely a joke on all involved. The problem is that the joke is also on the design profession as a whole. Every time one of these competitions is held, it tears a little more at the fabric of our profession. Every designer who participates in one of these competitions steals a bit more credibility from the true professionals in this industry.

The term “design whore” is not even applicable to the image that is thus created. Whores are professional and whores get paid. What do you call someone who doesn’t even have the self respect to expect or demand payment?

A designer? Say it ain't so.

Sad. Awful true.

In Romania the situation is very different from Canada. There is no national graphic designers' organization. The design industry is still in its infancy. Many graphic designers I meet—including the greenest juniors—are incredibly fond or downright hypnotized by shiny overstatements and words like 'consultancy,' 'strategy' and 'branding,' obliviously neglecting their true main profession: graphic designer. There are no rules and ethics is perceived as a luxury fitted only for the few.

In this conditions, design steps right into advertising industry's footsteps, repeating the same mistakes and heading for the same deplorable dead-end they're swamped in: free pitch as the de facto norm.

I wrote about spec work here on Kit.blog in the past, but this is an important issue that needs to be revisited every once in a while. And so this post's purpose is not to freeze spec work practice as from tomorrow. This is not possible.

This post's purpose is let designers know that providing spec work and participating in free pitches is wrong and it undermines not only how design is seen, but—slowly—what design is as a profession.


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Entry no.: 875

23 May 2006, 7:38 PM

Comments: 0

Design The 'free pitch' practice

Open letter to the Romanian design community.

At the first draft this was a very abrasive article against designers who comply with 'free pitch' client tactics. Then I thought that what we really need is a bit of education, not aggression—I'm sure some of those designers don't know much about industry ethics regarding this practice. And neither do many clients, but this is not their problem—it's ours.

What is free pitch? Free pitch is a situation in which a client is asking for free speculative work from one or more design companies or freelance designers, before any contract is signed, in order to decide which company or freelance designers is going to 'win' the account or project. Free pitch is a 'competition' where designers are required to submit free speculative work in order to 'win' the project.

It's a free market, why would this 'free pitch' be wrong?

Erik Spiekermann answers in Form [see Pitched out]:

Clients love to invite designers to a pitch when they think they need help with an unsolved communication problem, and the fee usually doesn't even cover the cost of the color prints. That would be like visiting several restaurants in a row, trying the food in each one, and then refusing to pay the bill because none of the dishes were really to your liking.

Taking part in a pitch where concepts are sold for a fraction of what they are worth - in other words: given away - makes you a loser three times over. First you lose any respect for our business, because if it can be given away, it can't be worth much. Then you lose money by not being paid for your most valuable asset: ideas and their visual manifestation. And finally, you lose any chance to show the client that it takes a dialog to solve design problems.

AIGA Boston's chapter president, Amy Strauch, reinforces the same opinion [article "To spec or not to spec" is no longer available on AIGA's web site]:

In my eyes, there is nothing right about this. I don't ask my lawyer, broker, doctor to do work for me for free while I scope out who might be better at it. To me, that shows disrespect and is a waste of time for all parties involved.

And a third quote, from Lana Rigsby—AIGA Houston [from the same "To spec or not to spec"]:

Unpaid competitions are more likely to end in frustration than in good design. The "winners" are just as likely to wind up frustrated, since they're now somewhat locked into an approach devised before they had a chance to do any real homework... in addition to being grumpy about having been put through the hoops along with total strangers. For no money. The spec work approach demeans us all, and perpetuates the myth that design is all about how something looks.

We see that opinion leaders in the design community—Mr. Spiekermann is a design legend, Icograda is one of the strongest voices in the design world and AIGA needs no introduction—these leaders define free pitch as a bad practice and the act of taking part in free pitches as a bad conduit that erodes and devalues design as a profession.

Some time ago I heard of an ad agency creative head passing the details of a logo contest to his team, thus encouraging them to participate in the spec competition. At the same time, the ad people are pretty furious about the horror stories of clients inviting 20 agencies in a pitch.

What goes around, comes around. When you encourage the concept of free pitch, don't be surprised when you'll get your share of it.

Any solutions then?

In the advertising industry the free pitch practice rules and it will take them a long time to clean their act. In the design/identity/branding industry it's not too late. There are two solutions: one would be the 'No, thanks' answer—'No, we do not endorse the practice of free pitch, sorry.' The second is the paid pitch. Even if the pitch fee is only $1000 (but we'd better talk about something like 25% of the project costs), that client would've think twice before flexing its pitch-organizing muscles and invite anyone in the marketing section of Yellow Pages.

In the end, straighten your spine and have a good look at what Drew Davies has to say in Be A Design Group's article This week's 4-letter word: SPEC:

I know to some that it would seem that the design world has heard all it needs to about the practice of engaging in speculative work. But if the past week has taught me anything, it's that we don't talk nearly enough about it. The reality is that engaging in spec work continues to erode the value of what all of us do as designers, and if any of us want our profession to have even a modicum of respect in the world, we'll answer the call for spec work with an emphatic No.

Most importantly, it's frustrating because, at its core, this is an issue we all have to fight together. All of us in the design profession are on the same team. If the entire business community understood the value of good design, and saw the effect we can actually have on their bottom line, there wouldn't be nearly enough design firms to handle all of the business. But when any creative firm reiterates to a business client that it's okay to give away what we do on a gamble of a big payoff, it's a huge setback. So I'm raising the horn again and sounding the rallying cry: if we all band together and tell the business community that, like any other professional service, we provide something of great value that is worth paying for, only then can we win the war. Fellow designers, please join me in saying no to spec work.

Just say no.


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