Design Week carried a story last week about some reaction to Kingston Council (outskirts of London) asking potential design companies to take part in a free pitching process. The story continues today:
The Design Business Association and the Chartered Society of Designers have both responded vociferously to free pitching, following the recent revelations reported in Design Week.
Transport for London is currently running an open competition to design a new bus for London. While the top three ideas will receive prize money totalling £45 000, none of the other entrants will be paid for their work.
‘Designers will want the prestige of having their name attached to the new iconic bus for London,’ TfL director of surface transport David Brown told Design Week by way of justification at the launch of the competition on 4 July.
The DBA says it wrote to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson ‘on this issue’ last week. ‘The Mayor has been illadvised on this,’ says DBA chief executive Deborah Dawton. ‘Both the DBA and CSD have extensive experience in running competitions that meet industry requirements.
This one is so far off the mark we’d have to go back to the starting grid. Prize money of £25 000 goes nowhere near covering the design investment.’ She continues, ‘I think we’d all rather travel on a bus that was designed by someone qualified to do it.’
CSD chief executive Frank Peters is calling on the Design Council to take a lead in stamping out malpractice. In a letter published in this week’s Design Week (see page 11), he urges the Design Council to ‘educate clients away from such practice. As a Government body, they should be wellplaced to ensure that no Government department adopts this practice [of free pitching]’. Meanwhile, Kingston Council has received at least two letters of complaint from designers angered by its unpaid tender to fill its graphics roster.
The latest, from Watershed Design managing director Paul Widdup, argues, ‘If you are tendering for accountancy services you would not ask them for an audit to prove their credibility.’ Kingston Council wrote back to Widdup, claiming that, ‘The council is not seeking “free” design work. To identify the most suitable candidates we need to be able to establish the quality of services that potential partners can provide and the value for money they can offer taxpayers. Our experience of procurement is that businesses are well versed with tender processes and see it as an opportunity to win work and develop their client base.’
Dawton believes that getting public bodies to observe best practice would be a major achievement.
‘A commitment from Government to drive up best practice in [its] procurement of design would benefit the whole country in one fell swoop,’ she says, adding, ‘Why should small commercial businesses subsidise it in this way?’ The DBA intends to start showcasing examples of best practice on its website. ‘We hadn’t thought about doing that before now,’ says Dawton.
Now think about this for a moment. The design industry is opposed to free pitching. Paul Widdup makes the very good point that accountancy firms are not asked to carry out a free audit before being given work.
So why does the very same industry allow many of its members to ask graduates to work for free before offering them a job? It’s variously called ‘work experience’ (I call it ‘work’ just without pay, so not really the full ‘experience’ wouldn’t you say?) or an Internship, which seems to give it a bit more credibility. This is an industry which claims to contribute billions to the UK economy, but thinks it acceptable not to pay its own staff. They may say that they need to do this so that they can employ ‘experienced’ staff but you know what, other jobs pay you while you gain your experience.
Imagine if every other industry operated like this – doctors not being paid until they’d done a series of two-month placements at different hospitals; policemen not being paid until they’d arrested 100 villains; teachers not being paid until they’d seen three whole classes through their SATs.
I heard a story the other week about a graduate who’s been doing the internship round for so long he’s currently on his second stint at a rather well-known agency, working on real briefs for real clients, but for no money. How does he live? On income support (i.e. the taxpayer) and his parents’ re-mortgaged house. Since when was advertising a state subsidised industry?
Asking someone to carry out creative work for no pay is wrong. So long as it’s called free pitching. But call it an internship and everything’s okay.
Why isn’t the Chartered Society of Designers doing something about this? And why isn’t Design Week reporting it with as much concern as a bloody meaningless ‘design a bus’ competition?
This US comment from Graphic Design Rants (20/4/07) sums things up pretty neatly, if somewhat ineloquently:
But the current trend where and INTERNSHIP is your first real job out of school instead of a Summer job. Rather SUCKS with your degree, $80,000 in Student loans, dropped $10,000 on Computer gear and Pro-class $oftware, and paying rent in NYC with four psycho roommates. And entry level salaries have slipped back to less than what a decent receptionist makes with a GED and a push-up bra.So I rather have an issue with our profession being not-so-gently-hammered down to working class.