A cautionary tale.
Recently, I was shortlisted, along with three other designers, to work on the branding of a new attraction at the Handel House Museum in London. We’d been whittled down from twelve designers who’d expressed interest in the project.
There’d been an initial meeting after all twelve of us had submitted detailed written responses to the brief including fee proposals and timescales. It was a Lottery-funded project, and so our proposals had to follow a particular formula and be delivered within an exact timeframe.
A week after the initial meeting I, and the other three short listed designers, were invited to come to a further meeting with the Board of Trustees. This meeting would happen on the 31st March. A little after this invitation, I received an email asking me to bring some ideas to the meeting with the Board of Trustees.
Wanting to be certain of what they meant about ideas, I asked: “Am I right in thinking that you’re now expecting creative concepts at our meeting in March? I’m surprised because there’s been no mention of fees for this work. Does this request to create some preliminary concepts relate to the costing break down that I supplied in my proposal? Please could you let me know the position.”
Here’s the reply I was given:
“The committee has decided that they wanted to get as much of a sense as possible about the rough ideas that the potential designer might have.” Having said that I was surprised when this was suggested, because I’d realised it would entail work and time, I felt that this was asking for a lot without any fee and possibly even a winning idea for free.
They continued, “One of our advisors is the Marketing Director at The Tate. He’s previously worked as the Marketing Director at the Guardian and he’s assured us that asking designers to produce some initial concepts for this meeting was normal standard practise and that he always worked in this way. He said that there wouldn’t be much point doing a face-to-face interview with designers without some rough suggestions of where the design might or could go.”
My response was straightforward:
“Firstly, I never take part in free pitching. My creative thinking is my livelihood. I don’t give it away unless it’s for a charitable concern that I personally want to help.”
“Secondly, free pitching is a practice that various bodies within the design industry are trying to outlaw and I fully support this. I’m surprised and shocked that the Tate Marketing Director has said that "this was completely standard and he always worked in this way."
It isn’t, and I think he should be ashamed of himself for giving such shabby advice and for having such little respect and regard for designers. The Tate is a part government funded organisation. It should engage in best practice, particularly with the creative community that it purports to promote. Needless to say I won’t be taking part in this ignominious nonsense and wish that it had been made clear to me that this was a free pitch before involving me in a considerable waste of my time”.
For the Marketing Director of Tate to have such an ignorant disregard of the worth of the creative industry is paradoxical. It suggests that he doesn’t believe graphic designers should be paid for their thinking, echoing the D&AD Chairman Dick Powell’s unfortunate and lamentable missive last year that design graduates should work for nothing. Where would the Tate be without graphic designers? No brand identity, no exhibition graphics, no catalogues, no posters, no signage, no website…
We live in a society where bankers and utility chiefs are paid obscene amounts of money, even when they fail. They contribute little joy, delight or benefit to our society. Designers do this every single day, and the best of them do it with great talent, passion and enthusiasm. Sadly this often makes them vulnerable to exploitation. If, as The Marketing Director of the Tate seems to be alleging, that they get designers to free pitch as a matter of course, I wonder just how many of our industry colleagues are being exploited by them. If you have had similar dealings with the Tate or know of anyone who has, do let me know in confidence.
This is a very sorry and sorry tale and a disgrace. I’d like to encourage The Tate and any of the short listed designers who intend to turn up for the Handel House Museum Trust Board meeting on 31st March to reconsider their intentions and think about the worth of designers and their time.
And a simple Google search will identify who the Marketing Director of the Tate and ex Marketing Director of the Guardian is, with his total disregard for designers.