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Embracing Marginalization
by David C. Baker

Something else to consider is using this new platform as a primary means of training art directors and creative directors. The skill required to give rapid, concise feedback without stepping in and fixing it yourself is a skill that requires careful development.

Finally, there’s much to be said in favor of internationalizing your work by using sources outside your normal purview.

Not wanting to pontificate about something I’d never actually used, I decided to experiment with one of the services.

I wrote a thorough creative brief and set a $500 prize for an identity development. Over the course of 7 days, I received 137 entries from about 30 different entrants. I dismissed most of the work without comment, but then provided feedback to about a dozen entrants who provided solutions that were in the ballpark. Then I narrowed it down to two designers, finally awarding the “prize” to a very strong entry. The designer supplied the files in perfect Photoshop format and the funds were exchanged.

Since this was an experiment, I asked to have a side conversation with the designer, who turned out to be a male with a college degree in the field, working at a full-time job in the industry in Buenos Aires. He did this work on the side. He was thrilled with the money, and I thought he did excellent work.

The difficult part of the experience primarily stemmed from designers who didn’t pay any attention to the brief, designers who supplied alternates that were merely minor iterations of what had already been rejected, and the whining that occurred when designers felt like I hadn't provided enough feedback to get them back on the right path.

As noted above, it’s too early for this to be having any ill effect on your business, but it’s another signal in a long progression of them that there is change ahead. Here’s how you might approach this:

First, it would be safe to admit that you are going to need to adapt personally if you want to avoid the slow marginalization of the industry itself. We may disagree with the pace of change, but I don’t believe we can disagree with the direction.

Second, as an individual you cannot hope to stem the tide. Even as an industry, we’ve shown very little solidarity in presenting a unified front. The solution is typically a compromise about what’s right for your client, for you and for the industry. Each situation is complex and one-size-fits-all is ludicrous and certainly impractical.

Third, we ought to avoid hypocritical perspectives on this issue. Responding to spec creative requests, ignoring the financial implications of client demands that create scope creep, arguing for telecommuting, using stock photos and providing unpaid internships all approach similar compromises that we have found ways to live with, conveniently or otherwise. Let’s not get high and mighty until we’ve really taken a look at how we’ve already responded to marginalization in the industry.

Fourth, there’s a difference between standing on principle or fearful posturing and reacting from anger. Pause for a second and consider your own reactions. I’m finding that some reactions are simply from pent up anger and hurt at how their clients perceive them. That’s not terribly productive.

Fifth, be careful about selective morality. It’s no more immoral to give away your work than to charge a lot of money for work that isn’t effective.

Finally, why is this happening? Ultimately, because prospective clients have learned that they can ask for it. Why can they? Because individuals and firms are so poorly positioned that they are largely replaceable with a wide availability of substitutes, meaning that largely their expertise is the craft, not the craft repeatedly applied to similar circumstances. And expertise comes only from repeated application. Unfortunately, there’s such an insistence on variety and challenge that designers often can’t effectively be irreplaceable experts, instead more closely approximating replaceable doers enchanted that the client will at least pay something.

Sometimes I think prostitutes may be better at business than designers: Their prices don’t waver, they don’t do spec work and they get paid up front. CA C. Baker
David C. Baker (, author of Managing (Right) for the First Time, is a leading management consultant for the creative services field. Through ReCourses, Inc., he has guided hundreds of firms through management issues, difficult transitions and growth.