2006-06-24

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.)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

schizo: the only proof for the $ucce$$ of an idea or theory is whether or not it brings in more bu$ine$$, plain and simple. the sentiment may be cynical but business is about the numbers.

"Your intellectual capital, your process, your way of seeing that’s what people will pay for." - ah, so now youre reducing an entire community of designers to essentially, STYLISTS, who should be paid by the hour.

client: that brainstorming session at design firm X was great! wow! theyre really good! wow! fuck, their fees are outrageous! can we get design firm Z to do the rest of the work for us?

ok, yes, all designers get ripped off, from industrial designers to fashion designers, to interior decorators, and even architects. every designer is susceptible to having their concepts and products diluted by a customer trying to save some money.

letting your client in to the process does demysitfy it. letting your client in to the process creates a collaborative effect, i agree wholeheartedly. you come away with a better understanding of what their needs are. they come away with a better understanding of what could do for them, but the savviest of them will also come away with a lot of YOUR concepts and ideas (which if there are no contracts drawn up, there is nothing that binds them to your organization and your business).

so, how do you create and build a creative business based on the "public brainstorm"? how do you build a business on "the process"? what part of the process do you get paid for doing? are you building your business on billable hours, as part of the process (see stylists comment above, and hourly wages)?

nightmare one: what if you the client decides against your company, and then their next campaign uses concepts that you had presented to them?

nightmare two: what if the client doesnt want to pay you for your ideas because the ideas "werent very good" or the client wasnt "satisfied with the results"?

the good part: i do agree with you on the "exploration for explorations sake" idea. nowadays ideas are almost always discarded as being too frivolous or too costly to ever see the light of day. the only way to feel gratified is to carry out these ideas on your own with your own investment or to convince someone with cash to spare that you have a great idea that could be a good investment in the long term.

*chris

Anonymous said...

oh yeah "mr enigma", dont wait another 21 days to post a reply. this is supposed to be a 'smackdown' remember? LOL -cp

DC1974 said...

Jesus. I have a life beyond blogging. And since this is my own blog. I'll post when I want to.

Look there are plenty of firms, IDEO being one, that have always worked from the idea of giving away ideas.

And they have grown like that.

Sure it's half the full idea. And it certainly not what you can completely bill for. But it's about sharing.

And sharing -- in the context of business -- not only creates karma, but creates promotion of your work.

Graphic designers are already seen as stylists. In part because we haven't done a good job with keeping the public in on what we do. And that's a little bit of putting on a show.

Take the business week example, the firms involved got great exposure. That's part of putting yourself on the line. Letting the process out in the open and allowing yourself to be copied.

You certainly can't be some afraid of your or your firms value added that you put the whole thing behind a mysterious wall.

It's also why communications companies lead seminars. Even seminars geared to how to crack into the markets they serve.

But anyway. This is all boring me and frankly this is not the reason that I have this blog. Per se.

As for the unknown identity.

DC1974 is my web persona. It's what I use to comment on blogs as diverse as Washington Monthly, DCist, Gawker and Design Observer.

My identity isn't all that hidden, you'd probably be able to figure it out if you spent some time here.

But it's just not something I advertise.

Thank you for stopping by though.

Anthony said...

Okay, so I should probably re-read your post and digest it before commenting, but I don't want to.

I think it all depends on the clients/situations as to how much of the process they are aware of or share in. Obviously even the most tight lipped and walled off designers need to work with the clients to some degree to produce anything...it's not like some magician with a curtain. At least that's not my view.

It's important that a lot of attention has been put on spec work and how harmful it can be to our community but I also don't see everything as black and white either. It's about defining processes and sticking to them.

The process is the real essence of a project. It's where you make everything and it's fodder for the end product and even future projects. Sharing part of that with client can be treated as a value-add and also community education to some degree. I also think it just has to be an basic part of the process if you are at all a results driven designer. It serves to make better consumers of our services. That said I'm a firm believer in retaining and protecting the copyright of that process and making clients pay for it when needed. I don't give files away, you pay me for my time developing and guiding that "process" and the final output but if you want independent access to that work, it's extra.

I don't know what my point is...

Anonymous said...

"Graphic designers are already seen as stylists. In part because we haven't done a good job with keeping the public in on what we do. And that's a little bit of putting on a show."


I don't know who is more confused. You, 1947, or me after reading five lines of your post.

Your syntax is a nightmare. Plain and simple. Are you German?

That aside, I'm still curious as to your stance on spec work.

You may not have ever seen this, but I have:

Client: I've got this logo, and I need it recreated.

Translation: I've got a logo concept that someone did for a nominal fee, and I don't want to pay them to produce the final artwork.

If a designer does spec work, he is forfeiting his position as a creative professional. He has become an artwork machine.

I don't want to be an artwork machine. I want to create.

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