Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Win-Lose Situation

Not long ago, a business associate asked if we would design a poster for her organization's well known fundraiser, on a pro-bono basis. This was a well-attended local event and the project sounded like a worthy challenge. Toward the end of the conversation, she said: "oh, and we're having several others work on poster designs as well" -- basically turning the request into a contest. She said arrangements had also been made for the printing to be donated. When I asked if she was having more than one printer produce it, she laughed and said: "of course not." I respectfully declined to participate, but what I wanted to say was: "Do you know how rude this is?"

I can imagine few other circumstances where someone would ask for a favor, while at the same time saying essentially: "We value your contribution...unless we decide to value someone else's more." I think one reason for this attitude is that we are taught from a very early age to place little value on creative work. Because it's "fun" and "anyone can do it." Contests are common in schools where kids learn that creative work (like music and art) is secondary to "academics."

Many professional design organizations reject contests as unethical. I dislike them, but for different reasons. My problem with contests is that they are a colossal waste of resources. Imagine that an organization decides they need a logo, so they launch a 60-day contest. Suppose they get 100 entries, with each requiring an average expenditure of 20 hours of design time. That's a total of 2,000 hours -- almost a year of labor. That means that after picking a "winner", the other 1,980 hours (of the community's pool of pro-bono time) has been wasted. Simply in the interest of giving someone a choice.

I don't think competitions should be shunned. And I don't think creatives should stop entering them -- if that's how they choose to spend their time. If it makes business sense for a firm to participate in them, they should have at it. But I do think it's important for organizations to think about how they value what they ask for, and how they ask for it. If they truly need a donation of time and talents, it shouldn't come with an insult.

Copyright 2008, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

You Like That? Really?

After nearly 14 years in the same space, it was time for a redo. What began over a year ago as a plan to upgrade parts of our office has grown into a project that includes new rooms, new lighting and virtually no surface untouched. We're looking forward to the end result in the coming weeks. The process has required daily decisions and focus on a lot of details. Mostly design details. This week while looking at lighting fixture options, many of my preferences were met with, "please tell me you aren't serious" from one of our designers. When I thought about it and really looked at some of my choices, I realized that it wasn't that they weren't well designed. They weren't in fashion.

This made me start to think about the relationship between fashion and design. On occasion, a young designer will show me something that I will instantly not like (not liking something has absolutely nothing to do with its effectiveness as a solution, but that's another discussion). Usually the reason is because I've seen it before -- years before -- and I connect it with old and tired (think mauve bathroom fixtures from the 80s). So I tend to dismiss some things out of hand when what I should be looking for is what the designer has done to draw from the past and turn it into something new.

The need for newness is what drives fashion. Clothing is an extreme example of this. My teenage son wears his hair and dress the way I did in high school in the late 70s. And I would guess that style has come and gone several times since then. Things that look dated and old to someone in their 40s can appear new and exciting to someone half that age seeing it for the first time.

The office design has made me think twice about the things, colors, textures and finishes we surround ourselves with. I realize that my comfort zone has been defined by what I have been used to seeing. So I have been trying to look at new ideas and old materials with an open mind. After all, nearly everything we do is some kind of mashup of what's been done in the past. I think the key is to not just redo what's already been done, but to remake it. I'm starting to really like the "new" stacked stone wall in our conference room. It kind of reminds me of my grandparents' circa mid-60s "Brady Bunch" split-level.

Copyright 2008, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.