Monday, May 12, 2008

Design in the Nations Capital

I received notice that the local chapter of Registered Graphic Designers is getting together to look at how to improve the buying practices of the federal government. The plan is to have a "town hall" meeting later this week. I have been invited along with other representatives from different firms here in Ottawa to take part in this forum in order to establish what can be done to raise the perceptions about the importance and value of design. The intent is to get advice from a hired lobbyist who will present the designer audience options on how to best appeal to the Fed's on better rates and more competitive hiring practices.

I was notified that the underlying issues that are impacting our design community include the very low rates that our profession has to compete against. This is primarily due to "low ballers" who regardless of how low the bar is set will bring the hrly rate even lower. The policy is to accept the lowest offer. This is a threat to anyone who is competing on cost and has difficulty differentiating with other capabilities or service lines. I gather the freelancer is likely exposed here to some slugging it out with aggressive costing offers from others who are either new entries into the market or the opportunities have become very slim from the client side and this has caused extreme downward pressure on those competing for fewer opportunities to slash their rates to maximize their chances to sustaining business.

Both scenario's point to an unfortunate environment for individuals who rely on engagements and have become accustom to a standard of living based on government procurement . I have been fortunate working over the years with many clients within government. We have a good grasp of the demands on our clients to act in the interests of the public to ensure the Crown receives value.

Three areas of risk that have set the criteria for this low rate/hiring debacle.

1. The organization has to make an investment in the "design imperative" and understand "design value". Where within this administration is design leadership? We know pockets exist but the idea of central design leadership is absent from the organization. Who is our government's "brand manager"?

2. Design versus technology. This gets at the core of the problem. The technology faction has smothered the value and importance of design. This may be the Mac versus Microsoft metaphor. Technology has
put very clear silos around design. Design for example is the "skin" on a web site. This suggests the designer is responsible for the elements on the cover not the architecture, development and technology aspects. These competencies fall to the technologists.

3. Designers today need to be on a team because clients want integrated solutions.

Education has to be a core objective going forward. Designers need tp assert two or three core reason's that clearly inform and impart to their market what the value of design means. Consensus on what value design brings is the first step in re building the market. Combine design education from the private sector with a central design Czar or program that is in charge of the public service brand and extends to industry recognition for excellence and celebrates great achievements in all things design in Canada.

The board for this program would be made up of industrial design leaders, graphic design, fashion people, architects, brand experts and others who make their living in the design community.

Two countries that celebrate design as a core value: