Watch out: co-design is as big a threat as free pitching

Lynda Relph-Knight

You can almost hear the yawns at the mention of free pitching (see News Analysis, page 9). But it’s a good time to revisit the subject of industry ethics as design faces a tight future, according to luminaries such as WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell, and as a new generation of creative graduates enters the market.

Ensuring you produce the best work for the job is fundamental for any profession. Pushing the boundaries in materials technology, sustainable practice and so on is part of that, something more design groups should recognise.

But being paid for that work is a fundamental principle, too, and it makes sense that any work carried out before the job is won should carry a pre-agreed fee. Otherwise, what’s to stop an unscrupulous client from realising the concepts themselves without paying any fee at all?

We have heard it all before. The difference this time is that an industry leader has issued a lukewarm acceptance of free pitching. Chartered Society of Designers chief executive Frank Peters may concede that free pitching is a way of life (see Letters, page 11), but it is, as he says, the CSD’s role to combat it and not just pass the buck to the Design Council, as he suggests.

But another dubious form of pitching is set to become more prevalent as the idea of co-design gains greater credence. This is ‘democratic’ design, where members of the public are invited to pitch their ideas, often for a ‘public’ service.

It is not about client consultation, or of making the user the client as The Sorrell Foundation has famously done with schools. This is casting the net overly wide through ignorance of the design process and the desire to win public votes.

We saw it with the pre-bid logo for the 2012 London Olympics, which resulted in a marque that was deemed weak within the profession. We are witnessing it now with London Mayor Boris Johnson in his bid to bring back a reconfigured Routemaster bus.

The design industry is starting to make its views known on this development. It needs to step up its efforts, ideally, with a united voice.

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