…though our indignation won’t stop the practice

Birmingham City Council has fallen foul of the design community by asking interested groups to provide logo and identity design proposals and a whole raft of rationales for sub-branding, design application and a proposal of style for fun.

Actually, it is in the pursuit of a ‘world class’ identity for the Library of Birmingham, due to open in 2013. And the carrot for the lucky winner? A contract worth £30 000.

It seems there are some hungry folk around who will bite BCC’s hand off for a chance to play this game. Or roll the dice. For surely the crux of this, and every other unpaid chancer’s pitch, is that a lottery of decision-making will accompany the proposition.

A misguided BCC spokesman seems to think it’s normal for such behaviour when tendering for ‘a contract of this size and profile’.

Someone should put him right. In the world of brand influence, Birmingham’s library is hardly up there with, say, the Science Museum.

So, who’s to blame? There are no guidelines for the BCC to follow and no charter or trade body that the design world collectively adheres to.

And hands up who hasn’t pitched something for free, maybe not a full-blown identity solution, but perhaps a bit of insightful thinking?

How tempting does the opportunity need to be to trigger offering our skills for free? It’s all a matter of degree. What’s one man’s free advice is another’s bread and butter.

Thirty years ago, when we started out, we would sell, sell and sell ourselves to get a foot in the door, and if that occasionally meant doing something for nothing, well, that was the way it was. When it comes to competition in the consultancy world, money goes out of the window. For us it was a means to an end.

So lets get realistic. No one can build a business on free-pitching, but if you have mouths to feed, no end of industry indignation is going to change it.
Howard Milton, Founder, Smith & Milton, London SE1

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