Doing something for nothing leads nowhere

A Scottish graphic designer confided the other day that the reason his countrymen face so many free pitches is that Scottish clients follow that nation’s trait for wanting something for nothing. In other words, don’t expect to be treated with professional respect up there if you’re prepared to work for free.

Rich stuff from a country renowned for its wealth of lawyers, who’d be pushed to work for less than the established fee, and a seat of world-beating medical training. But it has proved a hot-bed of free design pitches, despite Andrew Hunter’s pledge against the practice in the name of DBA Scotland two-and-a-half years ago.

The debacle over the “graphic strategy” for Edinburgh’s new Museum of Scotland (DW 21 June) is but the latest episode in a long saga. “Another case of bad design buying” is how it was shrugged off by a local designer. And you have to agree the first pitch was a waste of everyone’s time.

But whose fault is it? The project started well enough, but communications broke down. Designers involved say it wasn’t a free pitch, and had more to do with “creative approach”, the client states it was the former. Whatever, three eminent groups were unable to make a convincing case, even after cutting ethical corners.

Can you blame the client for this? If designers are prepared to work for free, you’d at least expect them to be convincing.

The sad thing, as illustrated in free-pitch tales from both sides of the border, is that the client is unlikely to end up with the best result, despite a second paid pitch. It has split the project, putting the identity work on hold while focusing on exhibition graphics. Not the most obvious approach to a “graphics strategy”.

The designers, smarting at their treatment, have nowhere to turn for solace and support while design-related bodies such as Scottish Design fail to fight the corner of good ethics – even to help clients get the best out of design. So many organisations are urging potential clients to use design, but is anyone encouraging them to use it well?

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