Design calls on public bodies to end free pitching

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.’

Dawton criticises the tender for not containing enough detail on what will happen to the designs once they are submitted to TfL. The transport body maintains, ‘The best ideas will be taken to the major bus manufacturers as part of a separate competitive tendering process for the detailed design, prototyping and manufacture of the new bus.’

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.

• Chartered Society of Designers is urging the Design Council to educate Government on free pitching
• Design Business Association is calling on the Mayor of London to reorganise the London bus design competition
• DBA aims to start showcasing examples of best practice

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  • Rob Andrews November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    ‘I think we’d all rather travel on a bus that was designed by someone qualified to do it.’

    Nice “jobs for the boys” mentality from the DBA. That’s the sort of idiotic thinking that pigeon-holes designers in this country. Would anyone ever say to Philippe Starck “easy on the windmills fella, you’re the chair bloke, remember!”

    We can each of us apply our critical faculty to any problem, and okay, so we’re being shafted and we know it, but wouldn’t you rather be thinking about solving the Routemaster problem than not thinking about it?

    I never travel on a bus (now that Routemasters are out of service) that makes me think “wow this is an interesting and revolutionary solution to the problem” and they’re all designed by “someone qualified to do it” – inevitably a little knowledge of the practicality kills a lot of the spontaneity.

    Let’s throw our weight whole-heartedly behind getting done over by Boris Johnson, and just do it enthusiastically, because we think that it’s right for London that we do it.

    This is not a free pitch, it’s a competition. And after all, our architect cousins know that reputation is built on competitions entered and lost.

  • James Marsh November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Dear DW,

    While I can understand the furore regarding the TfL competition, complaints about Kingston Council’s approach seem to me rather misplaced.

    A common complaint or (more accurately) whinge of mine is that in public sector tenders, the very last thing to be considered is often the actual work. I have often heard other agencies voice the same concern.

    It’s a regular occurrence for agencies to spend many days filling out tenders, answering requests for information that have no pertinence to the work – and these tenders will often be examined by those who have no or little experience of design. Indeed, in one tender in the past I was told “Oh don’t worry about your work, we’ll come to that later” – and the tender document we supplied was over 100 pages!

    In the Kingston Council design tender, the council has kept the form filling requirement to a minimum, saying it will ask for all appropriate policies, insurance details etc at a later date. Instead, it has asked agencies to design examples of just one A5 cover and one spread. This is hardly an onerous task and is far less time-intensive than the form-filling of many other tenders.

    Our agency B3 Creative specialises in design and marketing to children and youth. We often feel frustrated when we see design produced for young people that fails because the design agency has no experience and understanding of the demographic. If the original requirement had been more about “Can you do the job?” and less about “Ticking boxes”, the design solution would surely have been more appropriate.

    Personally, I would much rather more public bodies followed Kingston’s approach of thinking about an agency’s design skills first and whether they tick all the boxes of appropriate policies and mission statements second. We are used to this process when dealing with the private sector, why complain when the public sector takes a similar approach?

    Yours sincerely
    James Marsh, Managing Director B3 Creative

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