what michael said to bruce, or spec work smackdown :

I’ve been sitting on this post (which basically means that I write about it in my head) for a little bit too long, but it keeps coming up.

Bruce Nussbaum detailed the development of the Business Weeks’ innovation quarterly, INside Innovation. Among other things, he detailed a concepting process that involved design firms helping with the brainstorming process.

This has been met with strong reactions.

Of the blogs that I read regularly, Michael Beirut gave this process the firmest tongue lashing. Labelling the process, “spec work”, he suggested in no uncertain terms that this was the beginning of the end (or “the road to hell”).

There also have been some angry words about the imagined horror that is “spec work” at Be A Design group. In a response to a post on gig posters no less.

I think everyone on the graphic design side of this is wrong.

Graphic designers have a very quaint notion of their work as the product only. That their intellectual property is only the printed piece, the programmed web site, the package, logo or what have you.

And if we, as designers, start churning that out gratis before we even have a signed contract that we have basically become whores. (Or sluts, I suppose, as the saying goes: you’re not a whore if you do it for free.)

Industrial designers, and architects before them realized, that their intellectual property goes beyond the final mechanicals, or starts before it, with the process.

Any chance to engage the audience in the design and development process —fast prototyping (as IDEO calls it) or an architectural charette —is a chance to refine theat process, develop collaboration skills and put on a little bit of a promotional show.

In the end, whatever is produced is just a result of the process. And the process is what you own. And what, should a client decide to go forward, you own and for which you charge. The pieces developed in a public brainstorm are merely byproducts. In fact, the pieces you develop with a client are also byproducts. Your intellectual capital, your process, your way of seeing that’s what people will pay for. Dangling preposition and all.

No one would claim that industrial designers or architects have less status now then they did several years ago. And yet, increasingly they have moved more and more of their development into the public realm. And each and every time they do this: they refine that which they actually own and for which they make money — their process.

Graphic designers increasingly struggle with irrelevance and I think this is part do to trying to hide the mechanics of the process. And to focus on the product as the thing that we are actually selling. (Or the only thing.)