Is speculative (spec) work productive and fair? Can it enable clients to achieve goals that are not possible with traditional work-for hire practices? Does it advance the fortunes of some at the expense of others? What are the rewards and perils of speculative work?
Once a rare practice, spec, or "try before you buy", work is being requested a growing number of businesses-startups to global organizations. Many believe that the call for unpaid work is being fueled by changing mores, new forms of crowd-sourcing, and economic stress - but whatever the cause, spec work has the potential to upend the economic model of the industry.
Moderated by New York State Supreme Court Justice Colleen D. Duffy, the diverse panel explored if, why, and how spec work has a rightful place in the way projects are structured. The evening's goal was to outline a way forward that meets the functional, economic, and ethical needs of clients and practitioners.
The panel included:
Ric Grefe, Executive Director, AIGA
Connie Birdsall, Creative Director, Lippincott
Jerry Kathman, President & CEO, LPK
John Gleason, Founder & President, A Better View
Brendan Murphy, Senior Partner, Lippincott
MOD: Good evening everyone. You might wonder what a judge is doing here in the midst of this, creative lines. But I didn't bring my gavel, so nobody has to worry here that I'm going to send them off to jail. And I always say that I'm someone like the dentist and the undertaker, that no-one wants to meet in my professional capacity. So I'm really thrilled to be here tonight, not in my professional capacity, but in a capacity to sort of further a discussion and dialogue. And we emphasize that dialogue, because in talking to the panel members, they really did not want to have a monologue of talking about spec work. They'd like to invite the members of the audience to ask questions, to join in your comments, and commenting about your issues and your views on the topics that we discuss tonight.
So my first question is actually to the members of the audience. Just by a show of hands, if you could show me who, if anyone, is here on the client side of the industry. We won't pinpoint you.
MAN: Procter & Gamble.
MOD: And with respect to everyone else, can I assume that, by a show of hands, that almost everyone else in the audience is here on the agency or designer side? All right, so that's not going to limit the discussion by any means, but we'll see what drives the discussion. I thought it interesting that we're certainly wearing these buttons, "Respect," because of course, as the lawyer that I am, I had to do my due diligence in making sure I knew about the topic that they asked me to moderate.
So I found everything on the internet that it was - let me see if I can find the sign that says, I think this was the biggest one - "No spec." So, Respect, with the word No spec kind of fits, maybe, today's topic. But in our discussions I thought, how interesting, we're talking about our perspective, what is spec work, our speculations, and what's the prospects for the industry. So it's a great term and a great name, and I think what I now want to do is open this up to each of the panelists starting with Brendan, as what do you believe spec work is?
BRENDAN: So thinking about coming here tonight, and I actually got the short straw so I could speak firs, so they can all fill in on what I say. But when I started in the business, about 20 years ago, I worked for an advertising agency. And the model in advertising in Europe at that stage was, everything was spec work. Even for existing clients, even if you had a relationship with a client, nine times out of ten you are bidding for every additional piece of work with spec work.
When I worked for the advertising agency, I was a junior designer, I worked for free. That was my way of getting into the business. And I think a lot of people pursue spec work as a way of developing a relationship with clients, or see it as a potential way of developing relationships with clients. And the reality is, in most cases that's a fallacy. If they're getting something for free today, they'll look for something for free tomorrow, and they probably certainly won't value it.
It's a very difficult process, because I imagine the reason we're talking about this today is that the economy is faltering or has faltered, and hopefully is now picking up. We probably wouldn't be having this discussion if there was a lot of work out there, maybe fewer designers competing for that work. But the reality is, it's not, and people are increasingly asking for spec work.
I think part of the process is the people who are controlling the work have shifted from maybe a CMO to purchasing. And those folks typically may not understand the process that is involved in an individual project. They just want to see how creative people can be, and maybe can they get some free ideas in the process.
I recently had to get some work done on my house, and the architect recommended three different builders. And we interviewed the three different builders. It was very interesting being more on the client side than on the typical designer side, as you're evaluating those three folks. And they all came with a portfolio of pictures, which is we would do a portfolio of images when we talk to individual clients.
But one of the builders took the time to walk around the house with us. And while he wasn't going in and saying we're going to remodel your bathroom for free to see if you could like the work, in which case I'll do the rest of your house, he did walk through the house with us and talk through the process of what we might do in each room.
And that's very similar to how Leprechaun approaches each of its new business opportunities. We have a very defined process about how we do work, but when we're asked to spec on creative work, we will always decline. What we will offer though is that we will come in, we'll talk around some possibilities in terms of ideas or how we might approach the work, without actually doing any of the work. And sometimes that will involve considerable investment. We'll put quite a lot of time into thinking about what the client's problem might be, and we'll do a competitive analysis of the space.
So while we're not actually doing real creative work as an identity or as a park or as a website, we certainly go in with a point of view around, "This is what the industry's doing, this is what your competitors are doing, this is sort of blue space if you like in terms of where you might want to go, and this is how we would help you get there."
JERRY: Well said, and I agree with everything that you did say. Spec work is part of a larger story about - I think it is based on the economic contraction. There's too many of us and too few assignments. We would all fancy that we're uniquely qualified to do the work, but the market is deciding that there is a significant amount of what are called similar competitors. And that's part of the problem. We're frustrated in that we try to create economic moats if you will, around our consultancy based on any number of variables - experience, quality of the portfolio. But there is increasingly a number of customers who don't see it.
I think we're also seeing the ongoing reframing of the economy based on the digital environment, and we've seen industry after industry collapse. I'm sure there were roomsful of people in the travel industry that were trying to argue for their economic moat and why we shouldn't be buying our travel choices on line, but we solved that industry collapse.
We have not done spec work, but we do find that there is an exhaustive amount of work put into client acquisition and analysis of the market, suggestions of opportunities, so if you define spec work broadly and say it's simply unfunded tasks, we certainly put a lot more time into responding to a request for a proposal. And those proposals, which might have been three or five typed pages, are now 30, 50 pages full of a lot of illustration, verbal and visual illustration of ideas and process.
And so that in and of itself has been a dilemma for us. How much do we protect what we consider some proprietary methodologies? But we have had to face the reality that that's table stakes to compete for assignments. So I don't think it's going to go away soon. I think we're all going to have to figure out ways to deal with the fact that the asymmetry that has always existed between those who are buying our services, the size of those organizations and the size of design agencies, that imbalance has become manifest in not only the requests for spec work, but terms and conditions that go into even the ability to talk to them about a potential assignment.
So it's tough. We do manage to navigate our way through it so far, but I think the economic lift should help somewhat, but these remain challenging days for our industry.
MOD: Ric, your view?
RIC: I come to this probably from a slightly different perspective, because it's not in the experience that I've had in having to respond to request for proposals or spec work, but rather being a bit of an arbiter and advocate for the rights of designers around the issue.
And I guess when I look at - when I look at spec work - let me draw a bit of a legacy here for the argument itself, or the policy itself. There's basically, within the design community worldwide, certainly within the communication design professions worldwide, there's a principle against doing spec work. Our professional standards have been based on ones that were adopted by EcoProduct International. But 15 years ago a trade commission made it clear that this was a restraint of trade because it was suggesting that designers should not work for nothing. In other words, it was price setting between zero and any positive sum. And so we'd better take it out of our professional standards.
And so we now look at spec work as a principle that we still believe is critical, but we look at it in a narrower frame I think a bit than you do Jerry. I mean certainly, Cam pointed out that designs generally have moved from the creation of artifacts into more and more strategy. And once you move into that space, then the idea that there are these really substantial proposals that are required to get work is part of the norm of that profession. So we have sort of worked into that profession.
The spec work line I think is around the creative product itself, because it seems to me that there were really two issues. One is, as Brandon suggested, respect. I mean there ought to be respect enough for the creative professions so they're fairly compensated. But the other side of that is the intellectual property rights of the creative product. And it's those two elements that I think are really defined in terms of whether spec work is appropriate or inappropriate, with the special character that we provide as a creative product.
And yet I certainly agree with Brandon, when we are asked to define what is an alternative to spec work, when we're trying to advocate it whether it's government or large corporations asking for spec work or doing competitions or whatever, inevitably it suggests for a path you outlined, which is to explain how you see the problem and demonstrate how you addressed it in previous situations.
Hopefully, the issue I think that we try to articulate is that spec work is actually to the disadvantage of the client, because it's allowing them to try to make a decision based on outcomes without sufficient research to allow the designer to become a partner in solving a problem. And so it's really in the problem-solving capability of the designer or the agency that they ought to make a decision, not on a rapid attempt to solve a problem that's already placed on the table.
Now with that said, in the past AIGA had a very strong standard on spec work. Spec work was wrong. But we observed two things happening within the environment generally. One, it is certainly this sort of the consequence of the digital environment, and seeing what's happening to the marketplace as a result of it. And the second is watching the norms of the millennial generation, those people born after '82, and realizing that we may not be able to identify our norms based on what was the experience in the past, but maybe we've got to look at it in terms of what we're expecting other to follow in the future.
And the issue for AIGA is not to protect the designers' practices of yore, the practices which are really based on the creative skill for creating objects; but rather we should be dealing with respect and with relevance. But how do we assure that everybody in this room is relevant as the problem-solver of the future, rather than allowing those without the creative talent, as well as the intelligence and experience in this group, to solve similar problems? And if you're dealing with relevance, then you have to begin to consider whether your rules make sense not within your own world, but in the world of those who you may be serving.
And so, it was very interesting when I explained to Colleen the change in our own perspective, and the fact that we have shifted from saying there was an arbitrary rule here, no spec work, to one where we're essentially based on education and partially because the client themselves will benefit from a different approach. And you nailed me on moral relativism I think. And I think it's interesting, a moral rel-, the idea, "Oh my God, I've changed my principles based on the economy."
And it's not that, actually. The principle is the same, the principle is about respect, it's about fair compensation, and it's about intellectual property. What's changed is the environment around it, and the way we earn those things. And I think we have to earn that respect by responding to what's happening in the marketplace, which has to do with this open digital environment, it has to do as you point out with marketplace where there are designers who will do spec work, and so how do we differentiate around them?
It's around the economy, and it's around - business norms are also changing. And instead of trying to resist that, I think we have to find a way to accommodate and deal with it in education.
MOD: That is a great lead-in into John. Let's hear your perspective, coming from a - to some degree, a client point of view.
JOHN: The way I look at this is spec work is a symptom of a much larger set of issues. It manifests itself through several things: through the client lens, massive oversupply of undifferentiated providers of the service, the advancement of the technologies that allow just about anybody to claim that they're a designer, I would say the general lowering of the bar on the client side of what is good design. And then the entrance of procurement in this space, which largely has been stiff-armed under the guise of, "Don't come here, you'll mess up my relationships."
The challenge becomes - my view is, while I was at Procter, within about 18 months when we started keeping track of the number of firms that knocked on our door, we had seen almost 400 firms. And literally, there were five, maybe six of them that set themselves apart from the noise. The vast majority came to market with what I now come to call the Big Five. We have the best people, we have proprietary processes, we've worked with the most recognized brands and clients in the world, we can do everything. And the difference is in the experience, give us a try.
The challenge becomes, and in my personal view, is the evolution of spec work has emerged out of that fifth bullet. Because how is a client supposed to know and understand what the real difference is in that experience if I don't have the opportunity to experience it? And seeing 400 firms in a very short period of time, there is no way we're going to give a test drive, free or not, to the vast majority of those 400 firms. So part of the challenge becomes, how does the firm articulate the difference - if the difference really is the experience, isn't it your responsibility to describe what is that difference, so that I know whether that is something that I'm interested in?
Conversely - one of the things, I'm also very quick when Cam and Rob Wallace and others asked me to participate in this, I said I would if I could hold a mirror up to both sides of the relationship, because I believe that both sides are complicit in the dysfunction that's occurring right now. So that on the one hand, congratulations to everybody - design now has a seat at the table and is getting visibility.
The down side to many of the people in the industry is, with visibility comes credibility, responsibility, and accountability. And with that accountability, most people don't know how to articulate the value I've created for the business. Because at the end of the day, client companies, particularly big CPG companies, are making choices about where to invest their money. And it's not just about - how many of you have said it, or how many of you have thought that, gosh, if I just had a fraction of what they spent to run an ad on Desperate Housewives, I could come up with a great program.
Well, give them a reason to do that. Or figure out how to articulate that value. And if it's compelling, they'll move the money. But so far, the vast majority have not been able to come up with the compelling argument to move money out of advertising, out of digital, out of media, into whatever form of design can help articulate that brand message.
So the challenge that I see in the industry is the firms that play in it often don't know how to have a business conversation with the client, and can't articulate their difference. But instead they contribute to the noise by saying, "We're different because we have the best people, proprietary processes, work with the best clients, etc."
And then the clients, it's not so much that the last two years in the economy has created this new dynamic, but it's certainly magnified it, and created this exponential need for everybody to want to create better value. And unfortunately, it has been further accelerated by most of the big CPG companies hiring third-party sourcing organizations to come in who aren't knowledgeable about what design is, who aren't going to be there to live with the outcome of those design firm choices, and usually pound the tar out of the firms, mostly pounding the billing rate, but forgetting amazingly that the agency still has the opportunity to select the level of talent and the amount of time it takes.
So my believe is, most of those sourcing decisions that were made on price, they will not see a single dime of the savings that was calculated and recommended. But those third-party agencies, part of their issue - part of their opportunity - is they're compensated on a portion of the documented savings they've been able to drum up, which spec work becomes a component of that value generation, and it's a way for them to document, "I was able to get this much real value for you." And so I personally believe spec is one small subset of the essential supply and demand of a set of services.
MOD: If that fifth prong that you just talked about is what's driving the industry, which I guess is sort of pushing spec work as part of the industry, I want to take, Jerry, your analogy where you said the travel agency business collapsed - and my question is, did it collapse, or is it redefined as cheaptickets.com or whatever, and who are those people now working in that industry? So if that's the analogy that you use, and taking the fifth point, what role do you see in your industry to play in redefining the industry under that spec umbrella?
JERRY: I'll answer - I'll do two more analogies and then circle back to the answer. I don't know whether we're the travel industry; I don't think we are. I used to say, are we an appliance or a restaurant, as an industry? And the market has decided that we don't want competent people selling us extremely expensive electronics, because we're rewarding price. So Best Buy killed all the experts in the industry. Now there's a teenager reading five bullet points that you can read along with them in the store, and that's the basis for buying something that costs thousands of dollars. The market has done its magic and defined that as the norm.
Restaurants, however, do a good job of differentiating themselves, creating an economic moat which is a combination of their creativity and their panache and their pricing. And so I do think we as an industry, and certainly consultancies within our industry, will continue to thrive by coming up with that differentiating proposition.
But the economic drivers that the digital environment has created, that the economic contraction has created, will continue to put pressure on us. I have the theory that we were living in an extraordinarily prosperous time in the last ten years until about three years ago; we just didn't know it. I wish someone would have told us, because it seemed to be a seller's market at that time. Design thinking, and in a world of where everything works, the aesthetic profile of a brand seemed to really matter, and there were a little group of people who were able to speak to business people successfully about that. And we saw the fees and the prestige with our industry rise rapidly. Then, basic economic theory, we saw a lot of other competitors entering the industry, and now I do think we're at - the pendulum has gone the other way.
But I do think that it is the challenge of us - and I might add, rather than restaurants and appliance stores, if you just look within the marketing mix, we're all going through this. Public relations firms, digital firms, law firms also. The negotiations with big companies where there is a procurement function determining the pricing on what a company's prepared to spend for their law counsel. I think we're all going through this challenge together.
MOD: So Brendan, how do you think you and your colleagues can help define where this industry is going, if it is driven in some part by economics?
BRENDAN: I'm not sure we're seeing the same thing that Jerry is seeing. I think to use the analogy of the restaurant, there's always going to be fast food joints. There's always going to be those higher echelon restaurants. I think you have to be very sure of yourself in terms of how you're positioning yourself to the marketplace. And you're constantly getting a gauge on the value that you're bringing to the marketplace, because if you weren't delivering value, clients would drop you pretty quickly.
What we've seen over the last five years is that the folks that we're working with value the long-term thinking and the long-term sort of service that we're delivering on a daily basis. So we're kind of, we've made the switch from being sort of a project business, like five years ago, where we would, someone would come in, they would need a brand identity, we'd give them positioning, we'd whip out a logo, we could do visual system, we give them some guidelines, and send them on their merry way, to being sort of basically brand counsel, where on a daily basis we're providing strategic and design advice.
I think the opportunity of the digital world, if you like, is that the world is a lot faster now, and there aren't so many experts. And the range of experts that's needed to deliver on a body of work is far greater. So it's not just Brendan as a creative director, giving you an answer; it's a team of folks both on the brand science side, the design side of a strategy side, or the retail side, or the social media side, all getting together and saying, "Okay, this is the situation, how do we address that? How do we answer it?"
So most of our client relationships now tend to be a little longer term. Maybe now and again they'd come up for reconsideration, and there's a discussion with purchasing around what our daily or hourly rates are, but oddly enough, where we have a higher-level relationship with a CEO or a CMO, they will override purchasing.
MOD: In that regard, in taking Jerry's analogy, which you also did, like you have the mom-and-pop diner, the fast-food restaurant, and then those lovely restaurants, five stars, that are in Zagats. So where does spec work fall in the spectrum of design work, taking that analogy?
BRENDAN: We still get asked for spec work. And we are asked for spec work from everybody from charities, in which case we may take it - if somebody is interested within the firm in a particular project, we'll encourage that person to get involved and to help out if it's a worthy cause. If it's a business, we've had situations where we said, "Okay, this is kind of interesting to us, we see some possibilities with this business. We can take an equity stake in it." And those folks usually go away very quickly.
And we see situations where larger financial institutions, one of the Big Three, will come to us and say, "We're interested in working with you, we want to see some work." The only thing I do when that happens is, in a lot of those cases the type of folks that we're coming up against are from the advertising industry, where their model was, they gave away the creator, because they were making enough money on the back end by selling media.
Now, because there's been a separation between who's buying and selling the media, and who's doing the work, the advertising folks are trying to move into the design neck of the woods, and the branding neck of the woods. So we face those guys a little bit more.
So far, economically, we haven't had to sort of face some of those situations that other folks have had to face, so we may have to make more difficult decisions down the line. But at the moment, we've done a pretty good job of differentiating ourselves, and _____ ourselves on that fifth point. And nine times out of ten, we always have an existing client who will speak up for us. So if a client does have the question around, "Why are you different? What makes you different?" rather than me telling you why Brendan is brilliant, maybe I'll go to Eileen and say, "Eileen, can you speak to Joseph over here and tell him why Brendan is brilliant?"
MOD: Now John, let me just ask you, in your experience in talking to clients, how frequently do they utilize or seek out spec work, and in what context?
JOHN: I don't know that there are a lot of claims that fundamentally lean back on that as an ongoing practice. I think part of the challenge becomes - let me enter the world of analogies here, since the rest of the panel seems to be jumping there. I'm going to take it to a broader context of, think about who you believe are massively strong and powerful brains. And the same thing applies to design firms and creative enterprises. If they have strong positioning, unique capabilities, and are known in the industry, most of them will be able to thrive and not succumb to spec work or discounted structures, or beauty contests or pitches or whatnot.
And so the challenge becomes, through the lens of clients, they're seeing the herd of water buffalo that all look the same. And so the challenge is when procurement steps in. The industry has already done most of their job for them, because they see commoditized homogeneity, and price then establishes the difference. And so the challenge becomes, most agencies that I've come across see a bright shiny thing that's offered by another agency and say, "Oh, I'd better go offer that," to remain relevant in the industry. And they get further and further away from their core, and their brand, and their true point of difference.
I'll use an example. Many of you may be aware of Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, an ad agency. At the height of their hotness, they got to set the price, and they got to pick the client. They fired clients, in my opinion five minutes before the client was going to fire them, but took advantage of the fact that the industry create buzz around agency moves, and created a scarcity mentality and created more demand for their services, the harder it was for people to find them.
And so the same thing applies with design firms, and quite frankly the same thing applies to clients. Clients, all of you who are in the room, all of you might tune in and hear this, you have reputations as well. Many of you are viewed as price planners. And the good news is some of you have tonnage that you can offer that might be attractive. But the name that you have that shows up on the client roster for many of these agencies is becoming tarnished because of the way you do the ordering.
And so part of the challenge becomes, how do you remain and establish that premium, that five star, so that you command your price? You work with the clients you want to work with, and you avoid some of the pitfalls of a commodity market.
MOD: By a show of hands in the audience, how many of you designers or in the industry have been asked to provide spec work? Very few not raising their hand. So given that experience, it's almost like saying, well the client's view of you is lessened because you sort of prostituted yourself, but if you don't, how do you compete? And how do you put that five-point package together so that you're not just selling yourself on point number five?
JOHN: The other challenge is, if you won't do it for free, there's a long line of people that will. And so there's a reality in the competitive marketplace: for those who are rewarded on pricing behaviors, they're going to seek out people who will play the pricing game.
MOD: Let's hear what the audience has to say.
MAN: I should not be at this table. I definitely have opinions. I've been running a design firm for longer than most of you. I'd say more like 40 years. And no-one's ever before asked me to do anything for spec. It's happened recently, but what I've been doing is I've been focusing on design that's going on around the world, and in Western Europe the design business really suffered because in the last recession, they were fighting over business and decided that they would lower their standards and do such things as spec work.
We haven't really messed up our business yet in this country, and we're in a great position where we just say no, and we're in a position where we can choose our clients. We're one of the bigger design firms, and I think that taking this stand is going to help everybody else.
WOMAN: What kind of design? We've been having this conversation about spec work, but I think it depends what you do for a living, who you would get an RFP from, and are you doing packaging, are you doing advertising, are you doing _____*37:54? There's very different people sitting here and I _____*37:57 wants to do anything on spec. So I think we have to say what kind of design we're doing, and then find out what kind of clients are asking for spec.
MOD: That's important, defining what is spec work.
STAN: Let me just tell you what we do. We do brand design, some structure, some corporate ID. And like I said, I think it's not too late to protect ourselves.
WOMAN: I agree.
MOD: I will chime in as the legal mind in the room - actually I see one other - but there is what we call in the United States, which is not as strong in other countries, as unfair trade practices, antitrust work, and all of those things might prohibit some of the self-protections that you're talking about. It's certainly available in individual entities, but joining together as a group becomes a problem.
MAN: Every time we talk about this, don't we just circle around the issue, which is that it is very very difficult to measure the actual value of the products we provide? And rather than spending a lot of time saying we should or we shouldn't do spec work, and oh my God there are too many designers, wouldn't the time be better spent coming up with ways to actually measure? Nobody seems to have this problem with websites.
MOD: So sort of a value-based industry. How do you value your industry? Ric?
RIC: I think a couple of issues have come up which are really - I mean Jerry you sort of kicked it off, and Brendan you defined it as well. One of the things I'm quite certain about is, the new normal is not going to be the old normal. And we may be protecting something that we can't regain. And just as Jerry, you were saying, there was a period where I wish we had known that it was an unusual period of prosperity which may not come again for a while. But you were saying that we _____*40:19 a value chain toward decreasing strategy, and Brendan you were saying that basically that's the relationship you're trying to differentiate yourself on.
I think that's absolutely critical. I think, when you raised the issue of transformation of the marketplace, just whether it was - the earlier example that Jerry gave about travel, or just this sort of dysfunctional change in the marketplace, I think that design is being so changed right now in terms of not only our own experience but also demands of a business and the competition that is heard from para-designers, from people who have the tools but not the judgment at the bottom.
And the other thing that worries me is that many of you have heard me cite this statistic before, but there are 40,000 students in the United States in four-year design programs right now, and there are 1 million in China. So I mean the bottom of the chain is going to be commoditized; there's no stopping it. And the only way we can create the value that business might appreciate is to shift what we do to creating, to adding value from strategy that is multidimensional, that is strategic, and is conceptual. And that that's - we have to really change the business for it.
And the people who are at that point on that value chain are the ones who will hire people who find themselves as designers in the past. But at that point, our competition is not each other. Our competition is not with those people who will do spec work. Our competition is with Accenture, it's with McKinsey. I mean saying that what we're doing is, we are providing something that frankly they can't provide as well as we can. On the other hand, if we don't learn the vocabulary soon enough, they will sell what we're doing, despite the fact that they can't deliver it.
And I think that what is - the transformational element of design has not been around what's happened externally, the economy, so much as the fact that Brandon, or design, or communication design, or messaging, has moved from dealing with form and content, to form, content, in a context in which we communicate with people over time. By doing that it means that our ability to have both strategic vision and yet still an empathy with individuals gives us a unique characteristic which will not be challenged by the management consultants.
But that's where we've got to compete. If we try to worry about the rules at the bottom of the value chain, where we are creating objects or brands or images, I don't think we can slow down commoditization of that.
JOHN: To build on that, as part of preparing for this, I spoke with a guy named Bob DeVoss, who runs a new company called WeLoveLogos.com. And he was horrendously unapologetic about commoditizing and leveraging the talent of the world to drive creative output at $49.99, $99.99, or whatever. Part of his view of the world is, you're not going to be able to stop the momentum of crowd sourcing, in part because his designers are located anywhere in the world, and $500 could be a month's salary for somebody in China, or in India, or in Pakistan. And he also used the one million people in design programs in China.
So part of this is the momentum of the crowd will definitely take over at any part, because - I talked about the declining level of the client to understand the value of design. Part of this is, the mass majority of their clients are small businesses, and they don't understand the difference between understanding my consumer, understanding the marketplace. They're looking for a plethora of ideas to choose from. And I would argue that the pitches that many of you have been asked to participate in, if there's more than ten firms, they're probably looking for the ideas, not for the capability and the thinking. And so the challenge becomes, it's your choice.
Jerry made a comment earlier about the size of the clients versus the size of the firms. I disagree with that, because I think that the firms largely have been unprepared to have those conversations, so it looks like it's the big versus the small. But if you have strength, if you have power, your power as firms come in your ability to walk away. If the client waves while you're going, you get immediate feedback. If they call to have you come back, you get immediate feedback.
There's one that - I've seen a number of sourcing and selection processes recently that have asked for spec work, that have asked for a number of other things, and in some cases all of the incumbents were shooed out the door, and a whole new slate of firms have come in. And whenever I hear things like that, I think of the ad for Staples printing services. If you've seen it, "We fix $6 haircuts." And so a number of firms who were sent out are likely to be called back to fix a $6 haircut. And part of it is, they don't realize what they're missing, or they're going to keep using those cheaper and cheaper services because they can't tell the difference between good and great. They might be able to tell the difference between good and bad, but maybe not good and great.
WOMAN: John, let me just ask you a question.
MAN: Let me just clarify one thing. I think you hit it again on this issue of why we have to transform the way we look upon the business we're in. Because the WeLoveLogos.com is not design; it's commercial art. And the problem is, we allow people to take the word design, and there's no designing in it. It's simply a stockhouse of art. And somehow we've got to transform the way people perceive us in order for them to realize that's not what we do.
MAN: It's articulating that value.
MOD: Let me just ask one question, and then I'll turn to the audience. Some of the comments - and this touches upon one of the audience's reaction - was defining what the industry is. Like what - you're talking about commoditization of the industry, but it's a commodity. It's just, what is that commodity? Is it that logo, or the end product? Or is it that whole creating thinking behind - and the concept that went into this as one element of the whole picture that you're selling. That's my one question, and that touches upon how have you defined what you are selling? Because is it just that one product that you can buy - y'know, WeDesignLogos at $7.99 or whatever? Or is it something more?
And two, if you had the one million design students in China and however many here in the United States, and all of them have this experience of well, we have to sell just the end product or we're going to give away everything up to the end product for free, where is this industry going to be in five to ten years from now? Because that is going to be their experience with the market.
Anyway, think about those questions as we have some other audience members ask something, or comment.
MAN: Basically the equation as I see it, spec work on the part of the designer, and being asked on the part of the client, is simply, client's commitment zero, designer's commitment 100%. This is not a relationship among equals. I'm not a big firm. I don't deal with multinationals as of yet. But I do have my principles. And principles can endure through economic times good and bad. We all have been through bad economic times before, but we didn't cave and suddenly start doing spec work.
Granted, that for many years ad agency figure, we'll give away the design because we'd make that up in media placement. We do not make it up in media placement; we are in design. And as was said before, when you work on spec, it becomes commercial art; it's done mindlessly without thinking, without developing your relationship with your client. And in the end, the client finds out that they don't stand out in the marketplace. And then they lose market share. Maybe it takes a while for them to realize this, but these chickens do come home to roost.
And as somebody from the revolutionary war period said, "If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately." There may be a million designers in China who are being taught how to design in a mindless fashion by throwing it all out there and maybe something gets plucked from the great sea of design, but that, as was said before, is not design. Principles endure; economic times may change.
BRENDAN: One thing I'd say, as people are making those kind of comments, I started as a commercial designer, as a commercial artist, in a darkroom, doing _____*50:54. _____* set type like _____* was. I was called a commercial artist. That's not the right partners in this field. It doesn't matter whether you're big or small, you're from China, you're from Ireland, you're from New York. If some people need to do spec work because they need to feed their families, and if this is the last straw and it allows them to make that leap and possibly do that - I guarantee you, if I'm back in Dublin and I have to feed my kids, and somebody gave me the opportunity to do that, I would do it.
But that's a different kind of problem. The problem that we're facing is back to the idea of sort of design versus design thinking. Our business has evolved from design to design thinking. Most of us today, at least the people in this room, the very fact that you're here, I would gather that you're probably more interested as much in that intellectual side of the business as well as the craft side of the business. The value that we're offering is on the thinking side of the business. The fact that we are great at our craft makes us even better.
But I think it's sort of fallacy to think that okay, because I live in China and I need, I can live on $500 a year versus $50,000 a year if I live in New York, somehow it makes it not so good to do this work versus okay to do this work. It's a very different problem.
MAN: Basically I'm a recent graduate, so I have had the _____* pleasure of entering the workforce realizing there are absolutely no jobs. It's a lot of fun living in my parents' basement at _____*52:53 time. So my question is, 75% of the experience I have right now has been spec work, mainly because I don't have the luxury of being able to say no because I need the experience. As a new designer I completely understand I need to get my foot in the door and possibly have it stand on a few times before I actually land that job, which I'm still looking for.
Now, someone with my experience mainly is asking a question toward someone who has the employer's standpoint. You guys have probably much better foothold than I do, and _____*53:23 understanding than I have, is, when you're looking at a new designer who's been doing a lot more spec work that he probably should be, and you're looking to hire, the experience that I have had so far is that when applying for jobs is most of these new companies are asking me to do spec work just to see how I'm working. And then they say no, you're not hired.
My other question is, how do I get out of this? Who should I see? What other types of companies should I be looking for, and how do you start to say no to spec work, considering it's been a very large percent of what I do?
MOD: With respect to some of those questions, we're going to have a seminar on employing designers next week. But I think that is a good point. One, are you in the industry destroying yourselves by practicing what you preach not to do? And two, how do you get out of that cycle, and how does somebody who's new into the industry, trying to be a designer, go forward? Let's address that.
MAN: Let me just respond to that, just from AIJ's perspective. First of all, I am hearing increasingly that employers in the interview process are asking for spec work. And in some cases, it's pretty egregious. I mean it goes way beyond trying to evaluate the candidate. I'm hearing more of that now, and I think part of the reason we're hearing it is because they can get away with it. And in some cases they're institutions that should know better than that, and we're taking them on, or try to take them on, in terms of the ethical standards that they're projecting.
So what you're experiencing there is happening. And for those of you in the room who didn't realize it, it's happening at an increasing pace. Secondly, we understand the dilemma that you're facing in terms of how do I get seen, how do I get recognized, given that I'm just starting out. And one of the reasons AIJ moved from this sort of categorical doctrinaire approach, spec work is bad, is we wanted to avoid original sin here, give people a chance to make the decision that they have to make, just as Brendan mentions as well.
If in fact you have to do things that appear to be spec work in order to recognize a young designer, or you want to do pro bono work or whatever, we feel that instead of saying that it's absolutely wrong, we're trusting that a professional is going to make decisions that should recognize the need for respect for their own talent, and also fair compensation. But they're going to have to make the decision about what's respect and what isn't.
And in the case of - we try to clarify that pro bono work is not spec work. Spec, in our minds - in our minds, spec work is when you're doing work which could have a commercial value to someone else and you're not getting compensated. So if you want to do work for the public good, do it, by all means. Because we actually think strategically, everyone in this room, if you can do that, then it moves you from the margin where you are the creative fringe, to standing in the center of the community, saying "We're doing something that benefits others, and they recognize that we did it because of our creative talent." So it's absolutely critical that people do pro bono work.
But also one could argue internships, or volunteer work, are unpaid and are spec work. They aren't. I mean, they have their values as long as they're educational, and that the individual is benefiting from them. And so that's another opportunity, if in fact you as an individualist is learning, and it isn't just for the benefit of the firm. But then you do get into this area ultimately of commercial work in competitions, which are or can be spec work, and you're going to have to make the judgment call on yourself. But hopefully you can find ways to get seen through work that is pro bono work or volunteer work and might actually get more attention.
MOD: And I wanted to ask Jerry and Brendan, in terms of hiring people in the industry, y'know, you probably look for people with experience, and how do those people get experience? Do you ever hire people who have a lot of experience, or had experience in spec work? Or do you even ask that question when they show you their portfolio?
JERRY: We do - first of all, we would never have someone work - we do have interns and we pay them, and we would never ask someone to do something - This migration of our industry from where we were aestheticists - and we still are, we're still passionate about that - to where people are buying our thinking, would suggest that that's the interview process too. So whether the work is done, whether it's student work or it's work that you've done pro bono, or whether it's for a prestigious commercial brand, that - we're interested in how that person thinks, and frankly how that person talks.
I mean there's the skill set - I went to school in the eye-hand coordination days, and that's why I was good. And then the digital environment wiped that out, and I - our consultancy, our industry, we realized our real currency is our observation skills, not our expression skills alone, and our design thinking and our visual acuity are really the currency of our industry. So the interview process would be to get into that person's head so we can see how they think. And that would be the basis for hiring them.
MOD: So you are fostering the principle you're following.
JERRY: Yeah, we don't - we haven't done spec work. I'll never say never, but again, even the selection process involves so much analytical work that we're investing heavily in client acquisition, but not doing phase one. Because it's really phase zero that determines the quality of the relationship, the analytical work.
I wanted to say earlier, in some ways, I mean it's kind of a cheap shot, but I feel it, and I think most of the consultants in the room feel it - if - the client is revealing a lot about how they think about the work, not just the fact that they're not willing to pay for your time, but the fact that they're going to reward - if we knew more about the quality of the selection process and who has decision rights in that selection process, we might be more willing to do spec work.
But there's almost a correlation between the way that what would seem as where there are arbitrary or uninformed processes that select who they move forward with. So in some ways it's self-editing. But I know that's very elitist, and we all would want that. But there is something in that, where, if they are reacting viscerally to the artifact that you present for them, instead of really trying to understand the user, and the context, and the marketplace, and socioeconomic trends that you need to synthesize so that your brand will be relevant, not just today but - y'know, if you don't build a relationship based on those kind of heady ideas, it's probably not going to go anywhere anyway.
MAN: Thanks for these very interesting remarks. I'm now persuaded that spec work is a structural necessity. It feels like the design world is caught in a perfect storm. There's the commodification of what would have happened in any case, this intermediation that's struck all of us in the last 15-20 years, and there are now fantastically efficient markets that connect suppliers and consumers.
But we know what happened. There's a traditional way of dealing with a problem like this, and it is an upward ascent from that commodity basement where people have been slugging it out on spec work basis, upwards as people, several of you have talked about, the higher orders of value, the strategy, the relationship, those pieces that will now be made essential to the value proposition that the designer brings to that calculation of what the relationship should be.
It sort of feels funny - sorry, this is going on too long - it kind of almost, and as an insider, forgive me if I say this, but it sort of feels like, designer heal thyself, in some sense. It feels like a rebranding is called for here. As you move that upward ascent from design is a logo, to design the strategy and relationship in these almost ineffable things, it now becomes clear to talk about those hard-to-talk-about values, new power and new clarity. Who knows how to do that better than designers? But it needs to happen, so that even the dimmest client, even the cheapest client, goes "I get why I'm paying this premium here. I get why I need a relationship with the premium player, and not the spec work, y'know, the million kids in China." So maybe it's a heal-thyself rebranding proposition.
MOD: Designer brand thyself, kind of thing. And that leads to what you're commenting about, Jerry, before. If you think that right now, in some areas, the decision-makers have no real clue, they're just looking at some visual thing as opposed to understanding the process, how do you and the industry play a role in changing the mindset of that decision-maker? Ric?
RIC: I think it is a challenge. I think that - when I mentioned earlier that as we see the need here, it is an educational campaign. And one of the challenges is to get designers to work together in articulating the same message. I mean we have 20,000 members, and I think there are 350,000 designers like those of us in the room in the country. And if we all articulated the same position about the value of design, that would be a pretty resonant voice. But it is hard, because designers do tend to feel each is special, that they can articulate it a little better than the other. But instead we get 350,000 divergent voices that are - and we don't really get the acceptance of.
I think we really do need to do something in terms of repositioning design around the design thinking. And what it does mean though, is there a lot of designers who will feel sacrificed in the process, because they aren't ones who want to move up that value chain. And I think it shows a bifurcation of the profession. But I do think that the only way that we can become more relevant is to seek leadership in redefining who we are, and that that's going to lead to opportunity.
MAN: While the mike is moving up, I want to address a couple of things. Jerry talked about the last several years and the advancement that design has made with corporations and brandings. And then with any competitive marketplace, there just followed a whole bunch of other people that said "I can do it too." And so the challenge to your comment and your question is, through the client's eyes - I use the term "Clients have been trained to be disappointed." Because they hear the noise, everybody says I'm the best, everybody uses terms "I'm different because...." And the challenge becomes, I give them a chance, or the client gives you a chance, and you fall short. And so part of this is that - and it gets worse when people with a procurement background step in who can't tell the difference, and really are buying based on what they hear, what they see, and the price tag.
And so the challenge becomes, what's the education and what's the value the design could play in my business? Because very senior marketers grew up, grew their careers in the day and age when television was the primary way of reaching consumers, and human nature is to fall back on what I know and what I'm comfortable with. So most of those corporations continue to lean on advertising. And everything else is an experiment. So they throw experimental money against digital, against design, against in-store, against sampling, against events.
And so the challenge becomes - Ric talked about your competition is McKinsey and others. I disagree. I think your competition is all of the other money your clients are spending trying to reach their consumer. Because it really needs to be about establishing the brand essence, and it sets the foundation for everything else that brand says to their consumer. And to me, that's the place for design to play.
MOD: I'm going to ask some questions of the audience, but I have this question because I'm, always been the thorn in the side of the people. If you educate those clients or the people you're looking to buy your product in what you actually are selling, does that make spec work go away? So what do you about that? Think about that while I - who's raised their hand?
BRENDAN: It does, and I want to get back to this, to these questions. Actually I would agree with Ric. Our competition is McKinsey, and Bain, and all the other management consulting firms, because what they are delivering is quality thinking. And if you bring yourself down to do the widget game - Johnson & Murphy Shoes, and you're selling 50 million of them at a price point of $99.99 - a _____ ...[sounds like "a button fat"]
... business. But if you elevate what you're offering is to a service offering, and a thinking offering, that's where you get value.
And back to the student, I started out doing all this for free in Kinko's, because they were getting the printing. And I also taught for five years at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and we do get requests for students all the time to do free work, and we would tell the students how to do it. It's a very difficult position to be in, in the position that they're in today. You've just got to stick with it.
Doing the spec work is probably not the answer, but actually as Ric suggested, by volunteering for a community organization and getting involved with that organization, and helping them to express who they are, and go beyond doing individual flyers or individual logos, to think more of the personality of the organization, you're going to gain not just in terms of your design skills - you've obviously been trained in that - but in your communication skills. And that's what's going to differentiate you.
MAN: Folks, we are blessed to have these people in this room. I'm very proud of the industry that we are in. It's time for us to stand up and be accountable for that. I'd like to switch the tenor of the conversation to taking the next step together. I have a feeling that we're all getting a little tired of the discussion. I have a huge bias for action. What is our first next step? Ric, can you give us some indication as we're seeing some of the other organizations who have established points of view in their organizations, what the AIGA can do, what the Design Management Institute can do, what the Association of Professional Design Firms can do? Is there yet a fourth or fifth organization that should be formed specifically around this, that we all can become part of? Any mentors? Any suggestions about how we could take the next step together?
RIC: On that score, very tactically here, I think that all the design associations have two or three problems. And I think it's time to get over them. I mean one is, they're all undercapitalized; the second is that they are so absorbed with the adjective in front of design, they forget that ultimately there's the third problem, which we ought to all be talking about the same thing - the business, the public, and the media. And that's the story about the value of design and what designers do.
And I think that whether it's AIGA alone or whether it happens to be a coalition of DMI, IBSA, AIGA, ADDF, we ought to be doing what the Design Council in Britain does, which is to articulate one story that is well populated with case studies, of the example of design and the value of design. And it comes from a perspective of strategy, where the execution of the strategy and all of its artifacts are brilliant, but in fact it's the strategy and it's the thinking that makes us valuable. And I think that that's what we ought to be doing.
One of the issues that we thought of at one point what whether we could actually get designers to contribute extra beyond membership fees to invest in a campaign on that score, public campaign. Architects do it - but the architects are a slightly different issue. The architects have ads that they run in magazines, in general trade magazines, but they're going after the retail market, and we're actually going after the business market. We're just a B2B business; it's not a B2C business.
And so the architects' approach, which we all can see, isn't necessarily what would work for us - it's a much more intensive-focused, targeted campaign where there's common messages, and it's just relentless, and there are case studies. The architects spend $2 million a year on their campaign. Could we get designers in this country to raise a million a year, where we could buy medias as well as develop a program? I think we could, possibly, but the design profession is not used to contributing large amounts of money to associations. I can tell you from personal experience. So that's the next step, is do we do that?
I also think, if we look, strategically, the next thing we have to do is we all have to band together and start seeing that the educational system trains for the next range of designers, so they are thinking in the way that we have discovered. So that in fact not greeting people who are competing at a point in that value chain of artifact to strategy, where there are too many designers, and that's not where we want to go. That's not where the profession is; that's increasingly where the craft is. The profession is moving along in another direction, and I don't think the education system's keeping up with it.
MOD: All right, before I ask Pamela for her comments, I do have a question, because it sounds like, from everybody in the room, that spec work is the bottom feeders - I guess is an expression in the legal field - y'know, spec work is done by the bottom feeders, or asked for it to be done by the bottom feeders. But why are you all here, if that's really true?
MAN: Great question.
JERRY: It's the economic contraction. I'm sorry to keep going back to it, but there are significantly fewer architects employed today than there were five years ago, in spite of their brilliant campaign, because there's an inordinate amount of capital that has to follow the work of the architect. So for those of us who are in sort of a - by historic* graphic expression - part of the reason our industry's been a little more robust is because there isn't quite the capital expenditure that there is in industrial design, and certainly architecture. The British Design Council does a brilliant job of making the case. We don't even have to reinvent it, just read. But, there's been a horrific collapse for designers in the UK that far exceeds what we're going through in this country.
So this is about the behavior of too few buyers and too many sellers of the business. And we can mitigate it by figuring out ways to come up with a distinct reason to work with us, which is a challenge in good times and bad times. But I do think it is fundamentally the fact that the economic contraction is just, the spend pool is much smaller.
RIC: Let me mention one thing on that, that was so startling to me recently. And I was talking to a colleague at the World Society of Arts in London, and they have a special initiative to try to find a productive role in society for architects, because they feel the unemployed architects today will never get a chance to practice architecture again. And I thought, Oh my God, let's hope that that doesn't become something in this country around design.
And I think that this whole discussion has got to be toward what is the most relevant role for these remarkable talents that the designers have, and how do we make sure that the demand is increased, and the design economy is increased for that. So an educational program, and really target it out, target it, focus on changing awareness of business of what the value is that we create is important.
PAMELA: I took a job many years ago on the corporate side because as a designer working in corporations, I felt that there were a lot of challenges in how the corporation understood design, and I thought, well, if you can on the inside and figure out what they're doing and try to influence it, that might be a good thing.
I was at Kraft for eight years. I was responsible for design there. And after a time I started to realize that the lunatics are running the asylum, and they were procurement. And I don't mean that in a terrible terrible way, but as procurement started to be more and more responsible for dollars, and getting involved in the process of hiring design and managing those relationships, I realized they didn't understand design at all, and without a strong advocate in design in the corporation, it made things worse. And I remember speaking to one of our procurement partners internally who said to me, "Well, buying design is like buying ink for printing. It's a commodity, and we're going to look for the lowest price."
I've been back on the consulting side, and what I have found is our best clients have the best, strongest design advocates within their corporations. They're the ones who will not allow an RFP to come to us and require us to do spec work. The corporations we work with - and I would say in the last nine months we must have seven RFPs who say we have to do spec work, and we don't participate or we say we won't do it - there are designers involved in that process who are allowing that to happen. And I think that's where the problem lies. If there isn't strong design leadership internally within a corporation, the corporation who may not get it will ask designers to do things that they shouldn't be asking us to do.
MOD: Well, I'll tell you, I was given this email today or yesterday, and it was from a Fortune 500 company, that said - and I'll use some of the text - "While we appreciate your professional point of view on our corporate practices, I hope you can appreciate that our policies and operations support our mission of saving our customers money so they can live better. Please note we are not asking for work to be done for free; rather, we are trying to guarantee the output we are going to pay for through sampling, in order to guarantee the highest quality for the lowest price. We feel that it is a process that works for us and those who we choose to participate."
Fortune 500 company - is that where the industry is moving? No matter what you are selling, the intellect or the actual end result? Let me just ask some questions -
MAN: Thanks. I wanted to get back to, Jerry you were talking about not being elitist. I think we've already been through this transition. Design firms became corporate identity firms. So they upscaled their offer, they began to offer systems, and they differentiated themselves. You had to have a fairly large firm, because you required diverse expertise. What happened was, technology came in and allowed individual practitioners, who trained within those firms, to go off and do it themselves.
So we saw the costs of corporate identity programs drop. Firms like Lippencott, Siegal & Gale, Futurebrand, Interbrand - all these big firms began to see a need to bring strategic resources, MBAs, consultants from McKinsey into the process; to bring - you call them brand scientists - analytic researchers into the front end of the process. It was a way of adding value in a way that you couldn't be commoditized out.
What I think is really - because this has been very dire, and I appreciate your call to action - I think what's really encouraging is that today we have technologies which enable individual practitioners to combine their forces with others, and actually pitch against the Lippencotts of the world. So if you have the training, and you have an ability to collaborate with diverse specialists, you can bring a team that is indeed a dream team together for companies in a way that you couldn't do as a small firm or an individual practitioner.
So I do thing that you're right Ric, we have to educate people to understand, how do you work collaboratively to produce strategic programs of great complexity and depth that are worth a premium, that are worth a relationship with a client. Second, we have to find new ways of working, because unfortunately most of the big branded design firms have been bought by networks which are advertising-based networks. They're going to move toward packaging what those firms do as part of their advertising pitch as to worldwide corporations, because that's where the money is. So it's going to get driven more and more toward being bundled.
So I do think that the future is in mid-size and small firms. I think individual practitioners who have great reach and depth, they have to build a proposition that has value, they have to articulate that value, and they're going to have to collaborate in ways that they've never done before. But I think that there is a place for us to move out of - no-one will ask you for spec if what you offer as value that they can't see as spec. They just won't. You could avoid contests, you can do the Olympic bid if you want, if you think it's fine. But in the end it is about upscaling, but I don't think it has to be a leader story; I think we can find a way to make this within reach of very small firms if there's the right training and the right _____ technologies.
MOD: I see a hand over here.
MAN: I think Ric, what you had mentioned about education is really important, but what's interesting is, you were bringing it up from a designer perspective, and what I'm finding is that MBAs do not understand design. When you ask any marketer, and if you get them in a closed room, they'll say, "Gee, I don't know how to print design." And they're so nervous about it, and I think what we need to do as an industry is help educate. I teach at the Phillips World* Management, and. I'm the only designer there. In fact my class that I give, I come in for like a week-long period, I'm the only time they ever meet a designer. And many of them come up to me afterwards and go, "This was the best thing that I've ever had."
And so I think part of us as leaders is we need to learn to collaborate with MBAs and marketers, because then they see the value of what we bring. I think the reason it's been commoditized is the fact that they don't understand it, and they feel many times after they've done the strategy, it's all done. I've had many of them say, "Oh, that's the easy part, you go whip them out."
And so it's like, wait a minute. Design has to get the strategy of design, the value of design as a strategy, has to be communicated to the whole process. Instead, it's seen as like, "Oh, well, we'll just go get a designer. We'll go to crowdSPRING and get something." And to the comment about crowdSPRING is that it's not sustainable. That's the thing. How many - if there was a million people, and only one person gets $500, how often is that going to really work?
And just a side note on that, I did it with a large corporate, and it was a big joke. I mean we ended up having hundreds and hundreds of designs, and we didn't find one that was worthwhile, because it's who you look at - the schools out there, only really about 1% is really good, that all of us would really want to hire. It's only about 1%. It's sad, but that's true. And so all the others are literally on crowdSPRING, and that's the sad part of it. I mean I actually had my email crash on me, I had thousands of emails.
MAN: On educating the business side. One of the reasons, one of the indirect reasons we developed the AIGA program at Harvard Business School, now at Yale, was not the to take advantage of that for the designers; it's basically a class of creative professionals. And an executive education program, for those of you who don't know, it's a one-week-long program, and the idea is to teach designers to think like a CEO, so that they understand what's going on on the other side of the table. It's a really intensive program for a week in negotiation, operations, marketing, or whatever. But the other side of that was to get the Harvard Business School infected with the ideas of design. And it actually has worked, and has worked at Yale as well in terms of beginning to get people intrigued with the role designers can play.
But I think you're absolutely right. This is something that we have to make much more pervasive. And just as I think that we have to have these conversations about the role of design, not in front of crowds of designers, but rather at the Conference Board, and at the Aspen Institute, and in Davos, and in fact, we did have several programs in design thinking in Davos last year - in DoVA just a month ago. And so slowly we're getting some traction there. But I think you're absolutely right. We've got to get that side of the fence understanding the value of design.
MAN: I wonder if another model that we could look at are a couple of other professional services that offer corporations advice - the law profession and the accounting profession. And in those two instances, I can't imagine a Fortune 500 business asking for their accounting advice for free. Y'know, farming out their tax returns to the largest five accounting firms in the country, and asking them for that advice for free - and yet they seem to be doing that with design _____. Nor can I imagine them farming out their best legal, asking for good legal advice, for free. And I think one of the differences -
MOD: I've got to interject on that. That is an experience that the legal field has looked at in recent years. Big law firms, of which I've worked for many years, used to charge by the hour. We used to bill - it was nightmarish - every eight minutes we'd have to bill. And it wasn't like a dollar. $300, $325, I filled out 18 years ago. But, now they're looked at - and clients said, "How much are you going to charge me for this project?" And so they are being asked to give a lot of intellectual work, a lot of work for free, because they're not billing by the hour, they're not billing by the amount of time they actually put into it; they're billing by the project. And if they spend a lot more time than they had thought about, that's too bad, so sad.
So there is a movement, not just in this industry, but to the dollar - what's the bottom dollar? How can we save money on the work that we're getting? So it is an experience.
MAN: I suspected that that movement was happening. I guess my question is, is anybody aware in the room of a model that we might be able to look at, in terms of the way the law profession or the accounting profession, or even the architectural profession, sort of structures the business? One difference I think is that all of them are required to be licensed as individuals. We're not. Now I know there's a tremendous amount of discussion for decades about whether we should or shouldn't be, and I won't go there, but I think that's one difference between those three professions and ours.
The similarity is that we both offer sort of strategic and tactical advice. All law firms, all accounting firms, all architectural firms, would pretend to offer both. And I think we seem to be walking away a little bit from the tactical side of what we do here tonight, which is fine.
So I guess the question I'm asking the panel perhaps is, are there other lessons we could learn from those professional groups that might be of benefit to us? Have they gone through, or are they going through things that perhaps we can share?
MAN: To the degree, I have an answer. I think about it a lot. We're time-sellers, just as attorneys and accountants are time-sellers, and architects and contractors, construction, general contractors. So it would appear that everybody's internal methods include tracking time. But I agree that we're kind of late to the game. I think attorneys and accountants and others have been squeezed by the procurement function in large corporations for a long time, and the idea that this is the fee for this year's work, and it has caused a lot of consternation in those industries. So we're catching up with what others have been through for a while.
There are other models that are half-pregnant, and that is rather than the all-in spec work idea, there is the idea of what is it called - value, the cost-plus idea, that they'll pay you enough to cover the salaries of the people engaged in the work, but there will be a reward that would deliver an acceptable margin, or even an attractive margin, if the business performs. That's a great idea conceptually. Advertising's tried to work with it. A number of companies, Procter & Gamble has done it. As to the quality of how one assesses the outcome, it's really hard. Success has a thousand fathers, so everybody who participates in the brand-building process will claim that their insight is what drove the turnaround.
But I don't know of an idea other than, we sell our time, we can bundle it together and have a fixed price, and hope that we come in under the budget, which is probably mostly the way we work these days. But I don't know of another model.
MAN: Actually, Jerry, it speaks to what you're saying. We've been through this. I'm a consumer brand and packaging firm _____, and we got just really hit really hard with this process, which - _____ into a lot of conversation with John, APDF, folks at AIGA - and what I came to conclude, is that we're always going to deal with this. Because at the end of the day, the point that was made earlier, there will always be those folks that will do it for the opportunity. I'm not going to say that I had to; fortunately I didn't, because we had the specialization.
But there's a point where people within my peer group and some of my closest friends were professionals, they could give a damn that I know more than they do, that I'd be the more worthy contender who would better serve the client in any given circumstance. And until it becomes like Twitter where it's a reTweet, and the value is in that, we're always going to have this. And I hate to admit that I wasn't even sure I wanted to come to it, and when I spoke - you know what? I really do want to be here to hear the dialogue. But I'm kind of throwing my hands up. I really am. And I'm thinking, the clients that we were speaking about, in those cases - screw them. No. I can't do that. And hope to hell you're right, they need to ...[lowers voice]
... and if they don't, then damn it, right?
The biggest challenge is, we've had all these discussions many many times, and we've come a long way I think. I've only been involved in it for a short period of time, but it's remarkable how far we've come. And that we have what is arguably the coolest job on the planet, and there aren't many people fighting for the right to do what we do.
So I'm just kind of throwing cautionary - unless APDF, DMI, AIGA, IDSA, all come together collectively. Because the conversations that we have in APDF, I've since left it APDF, mainly because I realized that we were having the same conversations over and over again. Until they're combined, then the students who will become me some day, will learn this like I learned at Tulane, instead of this becoming a momentum-builder. I can't imagine the diversity in this room, let alone the design community, and the level of understanding of this as a real challenge, or not. I'd rather be in Stan and Rob's position, and Jerry, your position would have all that responsibility. People know who we are, and there's a reason that they call us. And then God bless us all, we've all won. But that can't happen realistically ever again.
MOD: Well, we're not going to end on a downer, we still have got half an hour, so let's see where we can go from there.
MAN: Further to Rob's suggestion that we look for some course of action, is there, Ric, do you think, some opportunity tactically to take issue with the procurement issue? As it stands now, no-one who insists that design ought to be cast to the dogs in procurement; everyone pays for that decision with some part of their career mobility. Right now people just do that and it seems to be a good thing, and - if we had case studies that demonstrated, that named names and pointed fingers, and said, "Look, they cast it to procurement, this work was done. This work cost the brand measurably, here are the measures." Would that give somebody pause do you think?
RIC: I mean I'm game. I'm game for working together on this stuff, coming up with an education campaign, coming up with case studies that name names. But the real question - and what has happened in the past on that, and this is no excuse but it's just a reality - it is hard to get design firms to write case studies. Or, they feel they have to ask the client, and they don't get the permission. And then because we're all just a little bit OCD, we say that all the case studies have to look alike, and pretty soon they don't get done. I'm all for quick studies that name names and tell the stories, and that we get on the agenda or the program at conferences that talk to purchasing agents, instead of y'know -
MAN: Maybe this is a job for Fast Company. Germany* was a more than case study writers.
RIC: Right. Yeah, we've certainly talked to Fast Company about a partnership on some things like that, so - but great idea.
BRENDAN: Just a couple of thoughts. We are actually seeing more $6 haircuts, and we're seeing it both from external and internal brand resources. I think the other thing that we're seeing is - and I had this conversation with one of my clients today - we want to be a best-in-class brand, right, and so clients are asking, how do we do that? Well, we institute an educational program, and we'll help you with that.
And how we do that, we talk to the MBAs - I've worked with 50 MBAs. They all love working with me. And you know why they love working with me? Not because of an Irish accent, because I'm different. I'm not one of them. I'm their entertainment for the day. I'm their different guy. I'm the guy that they can wheel out and God knows what I'm going to say in a meeting. And that's what makes us different.
But I think that brands that are succeeding in the marketplace, the smart brands, realize the value of design. They realize the value of design thinking. And they're instituting it throughout their organizations. And more and more organizations are putting as part of their metric of compensation in their marketing departments, how have you delivered? And that's not just on how have my sales gone, it's what's my brand awareness, what's the consumer opinion of my brand? Not, have I sold 50,000 widgets.
MOD: Well let me ask you, both Ric and Jerry - Brandon and Jerry. Have your clients asked you to do spec work? And if so, what's your response, or how do you respond to that?
RIC: The answer is no, most of our business is sustained relationships over time. Very little of our business is transaction-based, is new business based. And I'm not saying that with great comfort. We want new clients as well. We haven't - I don't know how we could do it, in the sense that we have a - we're a large company, I've got a big number to make every month, and I've got a lot of salaries to pay. So the economic model wouldn't allow us to do that.
The reward in our industry doesn't seem to be large enough to justify giving away Phase 1. There are 150,000 fewer people in advertising than there were ten years ago. There's probably 80,000 people in this part of New York that used to be in the industry and aren't. Our industry's shrinking too, so people are going to say I can either give up and keep my integrity, or I can try this to feed my family, whether they're in Dublin or Queens. It's an economic reality.
I did want to say something as a question to the group, because we're talking about the commoditization and the number of practitioners entering the industry, and the digital reality allowing a different formation to solve a problem than what it was required in an earlier age, as Scott said. But there is this counter-narrative where design is in its ascendancy. Branding is in its ascendancy, first of all. Branding was a pejorative that only consumer goods companies would use, and suddenly healthcare providers, municipalities, financial institutions - everybody understands they're a brand. Politicians, actors and actresses. So branding is in its ascendancy.
And then the idea that design informs a brand, helps with the brand's success, I think is largely accepted. And we're seeing that the discussion, the discourse on design in Fast Company, in INC, in Business Week - it's unprecedented. We've never seen more coverage of our industry, ever. And yet we're struggling with this commoditization at the same time. I find this really schizophrenic. And the business schools are either developing a B-school curriculum, or they're damn nervous right now. A lot of us are working with business schools who are trying to make sure that they don't send those MBAs out without aesthetic sensibility, because it's going to matter a lot in their careers.
MAN: Let me just mention something in that, because you're absolutely right. It's on the ascendancy. The importance of design thinking and creativity has never been greater. But I think, what really worries me is that y'know, Fast Company and Business Week pick it up, and then they almost always illustrate it with product design. And my real concern is not that it won't be relevant, but that we won't be the - and I have to think that communication design, branding people, are better at this, in design thinking, because they haven't already decided what the form is of the outcome. And architects and industrial designers have a greater problem with that.
And yet my greatest concern is not only that the MBAs hear the vernacular, but the discussion is one which is actually drawing business into going after industrial design firms and the great design firms, rather than necessarily communication and branding firms, and their losing out. And so how do we regain the credibility on that, so that in fact they come to those of us who are trying to encourage them?
MOD: And what's your position Brendan?
BRENDAN: We don't do spec work. And if one of my clients needed a favor, would I do it for him? Sure. It's recognized that it's a favor, and I'm going to - y'know, am I keeping somebody out of a job? Maybe. But like Jerry said, I've got a lot of mouths to feed, and I've developed a relationship with a client. They wouldn't ask me if they didn't need it. It's usually paid back in spades in another* form.
MOD: So it's paid, but in a different fashion.
BRENDAN: Yes. So just one of our - a funny story, which goes a little bit back to Jerry's comment. We had a client a couple of years ago who had this great idea that they were going to crowdsource their logo. So they were going to ask all their employees and all their customers to submit ideas for the design. So they asked us for the price if we did it, and the price if we managed the process of the competition. And funny enough, the price to manage the competition was a lot more than the price if we did it, and not only that, when they came back and asked us, "Well, why is the money more?" I think one was, we're going to have to wade through all this shit. I think the other was, what you're paying for is not our ability to draw a logo on a piece of paper. We're pretty good at that. We're not y'know. A lot of other people are pretty good at that. What you're paying for is our ability to guide you in the process to figure out what's the right answer for you.
MOD: So that's sort of redefining your industry, because you're using your talents at one end of the spectrum with respect to spec work. And I wanted to ask John, do your clients, the clients you talk to, ask for spec work, and what are their parameters if they do?
JOHN: I think part of the challenge is that the corporate people I work for, most of them do ask for spec work. But my guidance in that is, what do you hope to get from it? Because in the discussions I've had with Bill and the discussions I've had with a number of other firms who were subjected to these procurement processes that have been laid on them, one of my comments to them, or questions to them, is, if this is the way they're behaving in their selection process, is this a company you want to work for? Because they're already devaluing what it is you provide in the marketplace. And what happens when you do get in the door, and they ask for it again, then they ask for it again. There's another big company that two years into their agency roster they just said, "Oh, we now need a rebate from all of you, based on how much work you do with us." So they changed the rules in the middle of the game that were not part of the original scope.
I think the challenge and the opportunity again comes to defining the value of the design as a practice provides, and then each player within that community, you have to establish your brand. Are you BMW or are you Hyundai? And continue to reinforce that, and live by that, and walk that talk every day. And so the industry knows that. And if you go scream and yell and holler about how unfair it is that somebody's asking me to do spec work, but then continue to submit a proposal for that same pitch, what does that say about you?
Part of it is, it could be times. I need to feed my family, I need to make payroll. I have been contacted or I proactively contact, when I hear about it, agencies that can't make payroll, because most of them have become extraordinarily dependent on one or two clients. Something changes in that client, and the world is different.
And so the challenge becomes, how do you run a responsible business? Because that's what you're doing as design firms. And how do you demand that - because you have a right to demand that of the clients you work with. And part of it is, do you band together, do you not bad together, do you walk out in solidarity? Those are all I think short-term tactics that could play a role. But again, if you can't stand for who you are and how you're different and how you're better and how you're worth a premium, then - I call it the sad irony, because when I found coming across all these firms, that you all get paid to differentiate client brands, but you do a terrible job of differentiating yourselves. And if point number of the big five is your proprietary process, I would often ask a firm, "Have you ever used your brilliant process on yourself, because it doesn't appear that you understand what the market is saying about the services that you're offering into the marketplace."
And so the challenge becomes I think - there's this broader opportunity for design to continue to add value, and get out in front of people. The UK I think is, as an environment, as a country, and as a business environment, accepts design as a more strategic player in its business than here in the U.S. And part of that is industry, part of that are the association groups, but part of that is all the players in the industry walk a common talk. They're phenomenally more competitive with each other than the U.S. industry, that is more cordial, and even friends. But I think the challenge becomes, how do you continue to help elevate that?
I want to build on one point that Jerry mentioned. One reason I believe we're having this discussion today is, you've gotten your wish. You have become more strategic, you have moved up the food chain, and as a result budgets have gotten bigger. That now you're arguing that I need more money to do the work. So the bad news is, if you had stayed under the radar screen, procurement wouldn't be knocking on your door and pounding your billing rates and reaching into your wallets.
And so now you have to become responsible businesses. You have to know how to run a business, you have to know how to have a business conversation about the client's business and about your own business. And so that's I think the opportunity moving forward to Rob's point. I think one is education of the industry, and APDF I think is in a great position to be able to help organizations run better businesses. But I also look to the guy to my left, as a representative of association groups. This is an industry challenge; this isn't one that Sam needs to fulfill, or Stan or Rob or Bill or anybody else. This is something that both sides of the relationship have a responsibility to come to terms with, and figure out how to manage this moving forward, or we'll have this conversation in a year and only half of you will be here.
MOD: John, let me ask you, with respect to your clients, do you find that the experiences that were talked about there by some of the audience members, that the decision-maker in your clients' experiences who have asked for spec work are those who don't have an idea of what the industry really wants to offer?
JOHN: I think it's a mix. And quite frankly they're hiring me to help them navigate that mix. And one of the first things I ask my corporate clients is, how do you the client make decisions? Because it's my assessment that at least a third of what the client companies spend on design work is wasted iteration and subjective decision-making. And so I often ask them to start by improving their own decision-making. And we may not actually save 30%, but if we save 10%, it opens their eyes to how inefficient their own systems are.
The other is, I find that a lot of my clients are enamored by agencies that say, "What is it that you want, I'll build it for you." And my impression - because many of my corporate clients are big, big CPG companies - my retort is, "If you're paying the kind of money that I suspect you're paying for the kind of talent you're hiring, why on earth would you not be hiring someone that already can deliver what it is you need? Because you're paying a premium rate for them to build something that they can then go resell in the marketplace."
And so the challenge becomes getting them to change their mindset about what design is. Most of my clients aspire for design to play a bigger role, but they're not there yet. And that's a piece of what I do, is help them on that journey. But another part of it is to try to do what I call matchmaking. I tend to gravitate more towards an eHarmony, Match.com kind of attribute for matching the right skill against the right pipeline and the right culture, as opposed to asking 50 people to come in and bid for it.
MOD: That kind of goes - and I'm going to ask Jerry to make a comment - your analogy before, are you going to be the BMW or are you going to be the Hyundai - well BMW sells its high-end product to a small market, and Hyundai sells its lesser-end model to a much larger market. Is that what you're talking about with respect to the industry:
JERRY: If I could attempt my unsuccessful restaurant analogy one more time. More five-star restaurants go out of the business than fast-food restaurants. So this migration to the premium isn't necessarily a sustainable business model in other industries.
MOD: I'm glad you added that.
JERRY: Yeah, they don't tend to last. But here's why we're walking past one another, and John is in this fascinating position. If I can read the data points here - this is this week's Advertising Age. Now again, what's frustrating about our industry, there's nothing to read about it in the U.S. There's good information in Britain, Design Week's a good gossip rag like Ad Age is to the advertising agency here. Or we can look to our brothers and sisters in advertising. And there's always interesting lessons.
"Fourteen percent of agency executives" - that's us - "believe procurement is knowledgeable. Ninety-four percent of procurement people believe they are knowledgeable." So that's how we're walking right past one another.
So the idea that we're not having the dialogue, and that - the ascendancy of the procurement dialogue is what's behind the spec work, the cost plus model, other models.
MOD: I'm just going to ask for one more comment from the audience, and then I'm going to ask each of the panelists. So let me get the one more comment, and then I'm going to ask each of you, so bring your thoughts, to take about five minutes each to sum up your views on today's dialogue.
MAN: I think Jerry's dead on, I think that's exactly right. In the RFP process that I was approached on multiple times over the last few years, there is no dialogue. You pushed for one. Even our leads - which goes back again to Pamela - the leaders within the organizations who are our liaisons did not have the clout or capability - or the interest frankly, because it was in the perfect storm - they're afraid, as much as anything else, and went along with the process.
So we use the word strategy like crazy, right? All of us do now. But when the boarder* nailed it, when it's choosing what not to do. And at the end of the day, unless enough of us choose not to do these things, they will be around forever. And that's not an easy answer.
MOD: One more comment. I lied.
WOMAN: Being a Brit, I've lived here for 12 years. There is a huge cultural difference between design here and design in Europe and especially in the UK. In the UK we took our clients through the first brand ID that they went through, or the first package design that they're going through, and we held their hand through that process. And they fell in love with the designers. I mean I've got people who follow me. I just can't - and they're clients, like 20 years ago - like, "Where are you, what are you doing?" And they fell in love with us and the intelligence that we brought to them. And a lot of the time - I had one client who said to me, "You said yes, once, in a three-year project." Because you can't say yes. You're a notable. And I was just like - no is a very powerful word in our industry. If you say to a client, "No, that's awful," half of the people, or 90% of the agencies they're dealing with, they're just saying "Yes, we'll make it purple for you. We'll make it pink for you." Because they don't understand that challenging the person is the room is that reason that the dollars are being spent on us. They're paying us for our opinion, and if we have the intelligence to be sitting there in front a client and we've got their time - the difference also in the UK, and I think in continental Europe, is we're sitting with the CEOs and Boards of Directors. Here I'm sitting with a procurement person, or I'm sitting with the marketing department, and I can't get any higher. In the UK, I'm sitting with the Board of Directors, and I have the ear of the CEO, because I want to know where he wants to take the company in 20 years, not where the marketing department thinks he wants to take it, or thinks the Board of Directors want to go.
So the brand is an empty vessel until we fill it with all that meaning. It doesn't matter whether the logo's good, or bad, ugly. And I always same something very unpopular, which is, 2% of your brand is your logo. And here, when I say that in front of Americans they go, "Don't say that!" And I think, "Seriously?" The logo's not that powerful. And those are the kinds of conversations that you have with a client, where they go, "You can come back." And that's - we've got to understand that we have our own value, and that it's - and people want to hear our opinion. If you show up as the yes people, you've lost them. So, that's my rant.
MOD: She's the no-woman.
WOMAN: I am the no woman...[laughs]
MOD: I hope - and this is certainly an interesting forum for the judiciary to be in, but you'll never be in front of me on this issue, one hopes. But let's close up the dialogue with some comments from each of the panels. Brendan if you'll start first.
BRENDAN: I think I should go last.
MOD: All right, let's start with John then. So John's coming from the client perspective.
JOHN: I think the challenge becomes, what role does design play in a business. And to your point, I think it's brilliant. And there's a recent book out called Glimmer that I think provides a lot of unbelievably powerful insights into the power that design can offer to corporations, that designers look at things differently. They question the very premise.
Because my experience is, those marketers, they tend to be brand managers and ABMs, and with all due respect to marketers, their main mission in life is to get promoted. And they will potentially tear a brand apart in order to launch a campaign that for three months grows the business and shows what a wonderful business manager they are. But they want to appear to be brilliant, and they want to appear to be decisive. So briefs are often written in very vague terms, but I want it green, I want the logo tilted 7 degrees, I want this, I want that - with very little rationale behind it, driving it for the consumer or the marketplace.
And so for that, designers continue to play that role. Question the premise, question the very brief, the solution. I got pinged on that a lot in my career at Procter, questioning, are we solving the right thing? Sometimes I got rolled over, sometimes I was able to have some latitude. But stay true to that.
And then to the other point is, resist becoming a saluter. My experience is there's a lifecycle of relationships between design firms and clients. When you don't have any business, you appear to be infinitely creative and infinitely disruptive, because you're not burdened by knowledge. In the first year that you had that relationship, you maintained some of it, but you get worried about losing this client. And in the second or third year, most agencies become saluters to some degree, because they're most fearful about losing the money trend that has been created.
And so the challenge becomes, how do you become and earn the premium that you're -
WOMAN: Don't forget to show up in the third year, either. It's like the A team comes in and we've won, and now all the big, big corporations we talk to, and they* have friends at - I'm going, "I'm treated as the F-level client now." And it's just like, how did that happened?
JOHN: And on that, the more the client pounds you, the less interested you are of having the A team. In fact, the A team, I've had many conversations with the gentleman two people over about "Hey, John, there are some of my people who don't want to work on Procter business, because you chew them up, you spit them out, you don't appreciate it." And I have to manage creative careers. And so it's that balance.
And then the other thing from a procurement perspective, the procurement people are less informed and educated - and in a career of procurement, in most CPGs, marketing services is a less desirable place, career stop for them, because it doesn't have the swagger, it doesn't have the chest-thumping, it doesn't have the direct impact on a brand. It's a lot harder to make that impact. So they come in, they check the box, and then they go back to packaging, or they go back to raw materials or capital equipment or something. There are exceptions to that, and there are some that are phenomenally knowledgeable about the space. But it all comes down to defining the value and sticking to your brand, and having the courage to walk away.
MOD: I'm going to ask Ric if you would speak last, and then just give the mike to Jerry and Brendan, and then we'll hear from AIGA's voice.
STAN: Well, I think we've aired the issues in play. I'm not sure we've resolved anything, but I've learned a lot. I have enjoyed this, and I think we all are dealing with a frustration about the respect - I mean, this is a great, clever logo aesthetically but it does sort of demonstrate our sort of victimhood, even in the way we choose to talk about this.
And instead of just sort of stepping back and looking at is as supply and demand, and the sort of basic ways that markets work, and we're all trying to figure out a way to be a distinct brand within that market, so that we create those economic moats, those barriers that make it less interesting or less easy for a client to remove us from their business and put someone else on it, either the quality of the team, the thinking involved, or other reasons that we can be proprietary. But we are working through a ruthless economic environment, and that's sort of at the essence of this.
BRENDAN: I think Stan, that you should put some valium in my water, because I typically have an Irish doom and gloom mentality. I grew up in the Irish recession, which, it's now back in the Irish recession. I think part of the solution is, for us, as a profession, goes back to a comment that Ric made earlier where he said we're too focused on the objective in front of design. And I think that's true.
If we think of ourselves in a very narrow way, as a craft based industry, we're in trouble. I think the whole electronic world of the way we now operate, our first huge, huge opportunity for people that think design. Y'know, we can take the attitude that we worry about people doing spec work, or we can get out there and embrace it, and engage in it, and have some fun.
MAN: For me, this has been a terrific session for a couple of reasons. Certainly, the moderation has been great - thank you - and engaging the audience. Because I think there are two issues that we've covered here. I mean, certainly Jerry has mentioned, economic forces are at play here, that are fundamentally changing the professional. I also think crowd-sourcing and technology have fundamentally transformed the profession, or the whole acquisition of things that people would call design, but we would not call design, for reasons, like we've all discussed - about design thinking and what it is we contribute. I think we have to redefine the very nature of the discipline we're all engaged in.
For me, what's been useful is hearing how strongly people feel about try to articulate the kind of message that John has made it clear, is critical to deal with, in terms of informing the client as well as the design community. I think that in terms of moving beyond looking at the problem, how can we address it? I've sort of been energized to take on the issue more strongly in terms of trying to articulate a way to describe what is special about what is contributed by designers to business - how that value is created, how it differentiates - how designers can differentiate from other consultants, who might otherwise try, frankly, to eat our lunch.
I think AIG will also, try once again to bring together all the players, or at least all the design associations to see if we can work together. I think, just as you pointed out Jerry, there's something ironic going on here, because the attention given to designers has never been so great. And yet, what's going on? Why is it being cheapened? Well one of the things we haven't talked about is - we talked about _____ the business schools. We talked about education, but I also think that we ought to be in something no one in this room wants to do, but every year, every Kiwanis Club should have a presentation on the value of design and why you don't buy it cheap, but it adds value. Because believe it or not, there's an awful lot of business created - well it gets back to the English experience - you know, get them while they're young and develop them.
And we often make no effort to deal with small or medium sized businesses. And that's where the growth is going to occur. Particularly coming out of this recession. So just as we have to educate business people, we have to educate designers, we have to educate educators, we have to educate small and medium sized business - and I think you're right, Grant, about coming up with case studies that are pithy and hold people accountable, but also demonstrate exactly what has happened where business has chosen to go the route that it's too cheap and not thoughtful enough.
So for me, it's been a great session, and I can see some things coming out of it that might engage a number of you, and some brainstorming sessions around messaging. I think the Design Council in Britain has an advantage, because they get roughly $7 million a year from the government - which actually recognizes, this is an important issue. We're not there - and to be honest, we'll never be there, right? I don't think we'll ever see that money from government. But I think that there are ways that we can get started, and we ought to.
WOMAN: I want to say thank you to everyone who made the trek out here tonight to participate in this discussion. I want to thank, of course, and most especially, our panel - Brendan, Jerry, Ric, John, and to Judge Duffy, for getting into the design mind and moderating our session tonight. We really, really appreciate all your expertise and the thought and energy you commit to doing this.
This is an important topic. We will continue to discuss it. It's something that our chapter really wants to take on, and not just talk about it, but do something with. So if you're a member and you want to join us and help us, we would love to have you do that. If you're not a member, join us, we'd love to have you do that too. I'd like to introduce you to some of our Board, and thank our Board for helping to bring this event together.
To Scott Lehrman, who's standing back there making the tape, who can up with the Spec-Respect idea and logo. So thank you for that, and for finding this space, and for helping craft how we were going to do this tonight.
And to Roy Levitt, who is our Vice President, behind the other camera, helping with a lot of our logistics and getting members in. And our Treasurer Secretary is Richard Shear. Thank you so much for all you've done on this.
And to Lisa Francella, from Pepsi, who not only showed up and did a lot of things behind the scenes, she brought a lot of Aquafina for us tonight. Thank you for that.
If you look at our site, Scott's putting something together, so we'll have this taped and available, and please contact any of us if you have any questions or things you'd like to do on this topic, and we would love to have you participate, and join the discussion, and make some change.
So thank you very, very much....[applause]