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    What is AIGA's response to the NEA's call for logos?

    Many members of the design community are concerned—and deservedly so—about the National Endowment for the Arts' request for proposal soliciting designs for an Art Works logo. On behalf of its members, AIGA responded today to the chairman of the NEA, Rocco Landesman, in a letter expressing our concern that the RFP “includes a solicitation of design concepts to be produced on a speculative basis” and outlining AIGA's position on speculative work. The full content of that letter has been republished here.

    AIGA is committed to supporting the interests of professional designers and strives to play an authoritative role in promoting and communicating standards for ethical conduct and professional practice in the design community. As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

    Dear Chairman Landesman:

    As the largest and oldest professional association representing the communication design profession in the United States, we would like to express our disappointment and deep concern over the RFP for the Art Works logo. We are concerned that your request for proposals includes a solicitation of design concepts to be produced on a speculative basis. We realize that this is a practice in some disciplines.

    This type of competition runs against the global professional standards and practices for graphic design and we believe that it is both unfortunate and inappropriate that the NEA would be pursuing this practice.

    I would like to explain the issue, since we know that this practice occurs in other disciplines. And there are acceptable ways of engaging a broad range of designers in pursuit of creative graphic solutions. However, we would also appreciate it if the NEA would find a way to capture this issue in its institutional memory, for we raised this issue with the NEA and White House in 1999, after a similar RFP was issued for an identity for a millennial identity, and the competition was rescinded in favor of a more appropriate professional approach.

    The communication design profession, numbering 300,000 nationwide, is a critical contributor to U.S. competitiveness in an information society, as well as a force in the visual culture. We consider the NEA an advocate for programs we value just as we advocate for programs the NEA values; we expect respect for the professional standards of the profession, particularly those based on recognizing the value of design.

    The approach you are pursuing is one that seriously compromises the quality of work you are entitled to and also violates a tacit ethical standard that has long standing in the communication design professions worldwide.

    AIGA, the nation's largest and oldest professional association for design, strongly discourages the practice of requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a speculative basis in order to be considered for acceptance on a project.

    There are several reasons for this position.

    First, to assure the client receives the most appropriate and responsive work. Successful design work results from a collaborative process between a client and the designer, developing a clear sense of the clients objectives, competitive situation, and needs. Speculative design competitions or processes result in a superficial assessment of the problem and can only result in a design that is judged on a superficial basis. Design creates value for clients as a result of the approach designers take in addressing the problems or needs of the client and only at the end of that process is a “design” created. Speculative or open competitions for work based on a perfunctory problem statement will not result in the kind of work a client deserves.

    Second, capable and professional designers do not work for free. While there will always be some designers who are willing to create designs in response to an open call for work, without any assurance of compensation, the buyer immediately relegates his or her choices among those designers who are least likely to be experienced, knowledgeable designers who are in demand among clients and who work according to the professional standards of the profession. Only too often, it results in a client eventually having to bring a more experienced designer onto a project in order to execute it.

    Finally, requesting work for free reflects a lack of understanding and respect for the value of effective design as well as the time of the professionals who are asked to provide it. This approach reflects on your practices and standards.

    There are few professions where you ask all possible candidates to do the work first and then you will choose which one to pay. Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you and you would then choose which one to use and which to pay or dentists to work for free until you decide which one you like. We realize that there are some creative professions with a different set of standards, but those are mostly ones like advertising and architecture where the billings are substantial and continuous after you make a selection of a firm and the work presented in the competition is often conceptual, so that you are not receiving the final outcome (the advertising campaign or the building) free up front as you would be in receiving a communication design solution.

    It would seem to me that the analogue in theater production would be for producers to invite dress rehearsals of a variety of productions before an investment or commitment was made on any one production.

    There is an appropriate way to explore the work of various designers.

    A more effective and ethical approach to requesting work is to ask designers to submit examples of their work from previous assignments as well as a statement of how they would approach your project. You can then judge the quality of the designer's previous work and way of thinking about your concerns. When you select a designer, they can begin to work on your project and design solutions to your needs while under contract to you, without having to work free on speculation up front. An RFQ process, rather than an RFP process, would be appropriate in the case of communication design.

    If you would like us to work with you in developing a process that will benefit you most and maintain the professional standards we would expect of the NEA, please do not hesitate to give me a call. There are many local and national designers who can provide you with solutions that will far exceed your expectations with respect for an appropriate budget and schedule.

    Sincerely,
    Richard Grefé
    AIGA executive director

    About the Author: 

    Richard Grefé is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. While guiding all of AIGA’s activities, his most significant contributions are in strategy, formulating new initiatives to enhance the competitive success of designers and advocating the value of design to business, government and the public.

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