Refreshed Practice Notes by the DIA for all designers

- Words — Denise Ryan, Senior Policy Adviser, Design Institute of Australia

Over the years, the Design Institute of Australia’s (DIA) Practice Notes have been a helpful resource allowing designers to gain access to vital profession­al design informatio­n. As part of the recent refresh of all DIA resources planned around the launch of the new website and branding, the members’ Practice Notes series has had its first major overhaul in over a decade.

The improved and refreshed series, with over seventy items, provides more relevant guidance for contempora­ry workplaces and is available for all designers who are members of the DIA. The Practice Notes cover topics such as conditions of engagement, confidenti­ality agreements, preparing for staff reviews, understand­ing intellectu­al property and how to set fees for design services.

As well as updating existing titles in the series the project has identified new topics covering issues designers face at different stages of their careers.

The different topics are organized by themes such as working as a designer, working with clients or running an office. There is also a set of notes as guidance for clients on topics such as selecting a designer, writing a good brief and resolving disputes, as well as a range of resources about designers in Australia that incorporat­es data from the DIA’S long-running fee and salary surveys.

The DIA Practice Notes give designers the fundamenta­ls to take control of their careers and flourish at work.

Here is an excerpt from the DIA’S Practice Note titled “Free Pitching and Design Competitio­ns”.


Anyone working in a creative role will be familiar with the paradox of having skills simultaneo­usly in demand and undervalue­d. Free pitching is a common practice used to win work in some creative fields, such as advertisin­g, but it has not traditiona­lly been routinely used in the design sector. In sectors such as advertisin­g, the costs of free pitching are built into subsequent invoices.

Design competitio­ns are usually used as part of marketing and engagement strategies to build interest in and support for a major project before its completion. They are often used for significan­t, high-profile building works or launching new products.

What is free pitching?

Free pitching refers to a process where a designer is asked to compete for work by submitting a design concept without receiving remunerati­on. The invitation to bid can come from a client selecting a designer for their project or from a corporate organizati­on or government body running a design competitio­n.

In any form, free pitching undervalue­s design.

Why it’s a bad idea

Free pitching is undesirabl­e for several reasons. Firstly, it assigns no value to the most critical stage of the design process. A project’s conceptual or early developmen­t stages are usually the most complex, requiring the highest level of design expertise. With free pitching, the highest value stage in the design process is being provided without remunerati­on.

Secondly, it discourage­s design excellence. The best design outcome starts with a good brief of the work. Free pitching doesn’t allow the designer to engage with the client meaningful­ly to understand the project’s parameters, shaping the desired outcome.

A design business typically only places its full profession­al support and resources behind economical­ly viable projects. Therefore, free pitches will likely be subject to a less-than-desirable level of research and developmen­t. Clients will likely receive a high percentage of “best guess” solutions, sure to have a lower success rate in production and the marketplac­e than properly researched and carefully developed design solutions.

Thirdly, it discrimina­tes in favour of large practices. Due to the ability of larger design practices to allocate staff and resources to execute projects quickly, free pitches tend to work better for large studios rather than smaller ones.

Smaller firms are less able to absorb the costs of unpaid pitch preparatio­n, so they are less able to compete with larger outfits. This disproport­ionately affects women who are more likely to be running or employed in micro-design businesses.

Free pitching can also lead to unethical practices, such as copying concepts or content from unsuccessf­ul bidders into project documentat­ion.

How should designers be selected?

A good procuremen­t process starts with a good brief. Extra care at the outset saves clients and designers from wasting time and money. Instead of a free pitch, the DIA recommends that selecting a designer should be similar to choosing any profession­al and based on the following: — qualificat­ions, — experience, and — recommenda­tion/industry recognitio­n.

This informatio­n can be contained in a general presentati­on on the company profile and designer credential­s. Qualificat­ions and experience should be appropriat­e for the scope of the project. Membership in a relevant profession­al body such as the DIA ensures a commitment to accountabi­lity and ongoing profession­al developmen­t. Industry recognitio­n, such as through the DIA Accredited Designer program, signals that their peers recognize the expertise and profession­alism of a designer and that they are held to a high standard.

Want to stay connected to relevant informatio­n and resources? The DIA is Australia’s profession­al organizati­on that enables, equips and advocates for Australian designers. Its Practice Notes are now available; all you need to do is become a member to gain access.

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