The design industry is in some ways in a messy race to the bottom in the modern context. Historically, being a designer was a professional industry, where your resume, folio and reputation – as well as your communication skills in canvassing clients – was all part of your toolbox. Which is kind of ironic if you’re in communications, because if you can’t communicate what you do and what your advantages are, then you probably should go back to the drawing board.
I stumbled upon this article today, linked from a colleague.
There’s been a couple of instances where I’ve done pitches, and I am au fait with the current trend in ‘crowdsourcing’ and think they’re both bottom-feeding trends that need to die.
It’s not hard to sympathise with new graduates stuck in the ‘Can’t get a job without experience, can’t get experience without a job’ catch22, but with the nature of intellectual property being what it is, giving up your professional time for free and putting IP out there for anyone to plunder may make some sense in a sort of desperate unprofessional way, but in the long term as Tom Foulks points out, even from a client perspective it is more than likely going to lead to negative outcomes. These are his three main points:
• The creative will be naïve and hastily pulled together. It will be based on a very narrow understanding of the client, its market and the true nature of what is required. Creative like this is dangerous to share within a business as it can lead to commercial decisions being made on the basis of taste rather than commercial sense. This ultimately may lead to commercial failure.
• Free creative isn’t necessarily free creative. The cost of producing this work will be recovered through the subsequent work the client does, the consultancy will likely resent giving its work away for free and this dysfunction will undermine and ultimately destroy the commercial partnership. A failure in such a vital strategic relationship may lead to commercial failure.
• The quality of any creative produced will only reflect the amount of time the consultancy has spent on the pitch. In any successful consultancy this will not be a great amount of time, unless the consultancy is struggling to win work. This will lead to poor decision-making as it is likely that the client will appoint a poor-quality consultancy with lots of time to spend on a pitch over the strongest consultancy, who was busy with fee-paying work in the lead up to the pitch. Ultimately this will affect competitiveness and may lead to commercial failure.’
All very good points as far as I’m concerned, and somewhat refreshing too, because I think there’s this assumption that the drive for free pitching is an advantage for the potential client. Few seem aware of the potential downsides.
Okay, so what about ‘Crowdsourcing’ or websites like Freelancer? I always like to hold the concept of crowdsourcing up against arguably the most respected and well entrenched profession – that of the medical profession – when drawing parallels or attempting to make arguments regarding “Should design be doing this”. Can you imagine getting 3 doctors to give you free diagnosis, only to pick the one that tells you what you want to hear? So that you can use all three pieces of diagnosis, use bits that you like, but then only pay for one? Or even worse, not pay for any and go shopping for a lower price from an Indian or Bangladeshi doctor or whatever? Or worse again, use that info, not pay for any of it, and self medicate via the internet. That’s what crowdsourcing is opening the design industry up for.
I find the whole thing smacks of desperation and as a professional you shouldn’t be doing anything unpaid unless its for an NGO or similar. To hear a client-side perspective on the whole ‘pitching’ thing that’s overwhelmingly negative should be another nail in the coffin.