Monday, January 23, 2012

a few hitches with pitches

Recently I have had a couple of projects where I've been invited as one of several designers to pitch concepts for a new book design. I have concerns about the process of 'the pitch' and thought it worth airing them.

Advertising creatives do the pitch thing. That's the way things are done in that parallel universe. That's way I'm not there.

There's something very special about being commissioned to be the designer of a new book. It's a great privilege to be asked and trusted with a new manuscript. To be one of few to have the chance to read a new story on A4 unbound pages. I take the privilege very appreciatively, probably too earnestly, and always with unflagging enthusiasm.

My experience 'pitching' for a recent project seemed terribly frustrated. I spent a long time on it – time completely out of kilter with the fee being offered. And yet I failed stupendously to produce anything of great merit and was embarrassed by the obvious lacking of my offering. I didn't have heaps of other work on at the time so it wasn't that I didn't give it enough time or thought. The brief was exciting and well considered and wonderfully comprehensive. My relationship with the publisher, at ease and comfortable. I was really excited about the project.

The payment for the concepts wasn't insulting but nor was it comparable to the amount of reading and research I usually invest in the beginning of a new project. I probably spend too much time in this stage but I find this time and effort can often be rewarded by early success. You don't build your house on feeble foundations.

Was my frustration and mediocre offering a case of performance anxiety perhaps? Was my ego struggling with the idea of competing with others? Isn't competition meant to drive better performance? Was I intimidated by not being on an in-house team and thus privy to developments and creative input from others? I am used to having the trust of the publisher, such that they've chosen just me to be the designer. Did the absence of this trust alter my ability to give my full creative commitment? Could I have just been having a bad week or two where everything I did turned to stone? Was I sub-consciously resenting the lesser pay for the 'big ideas' even though this never usually is a consideration? Was I concerned with giving too much away for that fee? Probably YES to all of these questions and more.

I also have concerns about what happens with the pitch designs I send. A publisher may take one aspect from my design and add it to another design. I fully expect that this is the idea behind commissioning several designers. It's crowd-sourcing like 99designs does, and it basically threatens the integrity and intention of the original designs given by all the designers commissioned. 'Can we have this graphic with that type configuration and then can we make it red like that one?' At penguin we called this the dance of thousand cuts. What you end up with is a salmagundi of nothing much and likely, poor sales. (I have always wanted to put that word to good use.) Once the designs have been presented, I have no control over the process from there. I don't see what was chosen. There's little feedback and less opportunity to revisit the designs for another round. I don't have a say about what's taken, if anything, from my design, and what's done with it.

Okay, okay! That feels much better. I'm stepping down from the soap box and bracing myself for this next dance.


  1. I'm glad you have put 'it' out there SC. I am sure many of us out there will be nodding our heads in agreement and even refer a client or publisher or two, to this very post in time to come. Really nicely put. PS I hate designers who can write too!

  2. Even in advertising and the design studio world, the Pitch (with a capital) P can be a dirty word.
    Often, it is combined with the even dirtier word 'free'. Free pitches are unethical and should be avoided at all costs. AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Assoc) is trying very hard to stamp out the practice.
    It also makes Intellectual Property and Copyright a grey area - clients often feel since you have presented these concepts to them, that they now belong to them. However as money has not changed hands that may not be true, it depends on the agreement between the designer/client.
    Anyhoo! That's free pitches, and I know Sandy you were paid. If only at a reduced rate, I gather because it was only for your concepts?

    I would be interested to find out if your client got the outcome they were hoping for through the pitching process. Did their find design rock out like Voltron? (many robot parts creating one mega awesome robot) or did it look like a dog's breakfast suffering from the lack of an originating designer's clear vision to help guide it..

  3. Thanks Pure and Astred. Interesting times in crowd sourcing land. Would love to know how the client feels about the process from their POV. One can absolutely understand why it's done because in theory, it makes sense. Is the reality of working with several designers at once with all the correspondence and time that entails, then cherry picking the best ideas, worth it? Did the client not only get what they wanted, but did that design result in good sales? More sales? And are they paying as much or more money out than if they went to one designer? I'd love to know, anyone?