Put the designers to work!

Forbes Romania

Spec work involves those practices against the ethics of the design profession that mainly include free pitches (auctions), speculative work and design contests. This is an alarm signal addressed to both designers and potential beneficiaries of speculative work in this field.

First of all, let’s see what a designer is. Contrary to many meanings that we find in the minds of the vast majority of marketers, a designer is a strategist and a major influence on the destinies of a company or a product. A designer is a person that encompasses culture, civilization, fashion, psychology and works with his specific visual tools to achieve, strategically, what he set out to do within the limits of ethics, at least regarding the client and other designers. The vastness of the problems for which he/she is called makes a good designer to be multicultural, trained, up to date and, paradoxically, to always see over the ”wave of the moment”, to improve, to create or to innovate. A designer is a valuable consultant who can change your destiny.

I will now go back to the subject that hurts me (and which probably affects both of us). Free pitches are those design works (packaging, corporate identity) that are not paid. The client invites as many companies as possible and it requests, based on a brief, the realization and presentation of ideas without financially compensating the work done.

The speculative work is also a pitch, this time undeclared, a request addressed to one or more agencies to carry out a project in detail, without financial compensation, but with the promise of a positive answer: ”If we like it, we buy it”.

Design contests (which are usually very poorly awarded) are another way to gather many free proposals for further selection. Usually, the final result that comes on the market is a compilation of two or more ideas that were submitted in the contest. This way, the customers avoid paying the prizes, and it is challenging for designers to prove the intellectual theft of ideas in order to demand compensation and penalties. I think the exceptions, however, are those contests that substantially reward the winner, in equivalent to the estimated work and time allotted. They also award the second and the third places and sometimes they offer a prize for the ”courage” to participate.

Another aspect, which is not at all collateral to speculative work, results from the dumping prices charged by full-service advertising agencies. For a small amount of money (it is said that this sum can reach approximately 5000 euros) any desire (packaging, identity, identity standards) that the client might have can be ”solved” if this project is included in a larger one, which involves media budgets, creation and events (BTL). In this case, the competition between the specialized branding and design agencies and the advertising ones is totally unfair because the latter enters a field with which they are not familiar and in which they are not specialized. However, they benefit from the false advantage of the ”complete package with media and the rest of it” Likewise, calling branding and design agencies to take part in various pitches along with advertising ones is a common practice. From my experience so far, my agency has won all pitches that were similar to the one described above, except those where the price factor was the main criterion.
The results of these practices are always questionable because of the lack of financial compensation and the uncertainty of the project which demotivates the designers. Therefore, the very essence of the profession is ignored, pursuing a narrow goal: as many proposals at the lowest price.

By analogy, lawyers are paid according to agreed hourly fees and the volume of hours spent. Or, to go even further with the examples, when you want yoghurt, at the supermarket, you will not take three more alternatives to it from the shelf. If you will taste all of them, you will never be expected to pay only for the yoghurt that you ”liked”.

I will go back to the role and the purpose of brand strategists and designers that you have to ”buy” at some point in the existence of your brand. They are those specialists who are not emotionally involved and who will add attributes and values to the brand. They are the ones who will draw the guidelines of its existence and communication, who will innovate and who will do everything to differentiate your brand from the others. If they are allowed to fully do their job, they will also draw the communication strategy, the messages and the means of action. Last but not least, the designers will teach you to see your business with different eyes, more pragmatic and knowledgeable, in different contexts and in different action scenarios.

Internationally, these practices are strongly condemned and treated, including by AIGA, the professional association of designers in the United States.