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Thank You MIchael Bierut and Pentagram.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on June 8, 2006

So I get back at 1AM last night from six great days in Costa Rica birding (saw 255 species and about 20 “life birds” that I’ve never seen before, including the Scarlet McCaw, come into the office to see the actual INside Innovation magazine (and boy, is it terrific thanks to the wonderful writers at BW and designers at Modernista), turn on my computer and WOW, blasted by Michael Bierut and the hoardes of graphic designers for “spec” work. Whoa, am I on the wrong side of history here? Or is Michael? There are are two conversations we should have here. The least im-

portant, I believe, is the one shaped by Michael about the contest itself. It is causing more heat than light. First some facts. The winner of the contest, the creative ad agency Modernista, pitched its concept for IN and developed its prototype on spec--but was paid for its subsequent work in designing the actual magazine. If I had a million bucks to give them, I would. Katie Andresen, Bruce Crocker and co-founder Gary Koepke did brilliant work. They were true partners with us. When you see the magazine, you'll understand. The reality, however, was that we had a tiny budget to launch a new magazine so we paid them what we could. This constraint was important in the way we shaped our design of the magazine.

David Albertson, a wonderful West Coast magazine designer, asked for and was paid for his initial pitch.

That leaves Stone Yamashita and IDEO who are innovation consultants and not magazine designers. I wanted them in the contest because they are in the same intellectual space in terms of innovation and their clients are our readers for IN. They were also outside the box--outside the norm--and I was hoping for something new and fresh. In short, I was hoping to learn much from both of them and I believe they were hoping to learn a lot from partnering up with us in this first stage of developing a new magazine. They delivered amazing prototypes with novel approaches to a new magazine on innovation. We both learned a heck of a lot working together and they are taking their ideas and prototypes back to use with their clients. That was sufficient payment for them and its OK by me. Indeed, I would argue that this is real compensation and the little money that we could offer these consulting firms at that point was really beside the point.

I use to joke with industrial designers that they needed to demand much more money for their work. They were paid so little that they made less than a second-rate New York shrink. So I find the heated discussion set off by Micheal a bit ironic. I also find the way he framed the events a bit disingenuous. Bad boy!

The larger issue here is the one about business models. I personally know graphic designers who were on welfare for years when times were very bad in the late 80s and early 90s. I understand their position on spec. But in a very competition world, as so many have found, value is not created by rules or prohibitions but by what one brings to the game. Architects, writers, industrial designers, painters, journalists, baseball players, screen-writers and many other creative professionals understand that. Heck, the entire business community around the globe understands that.

Michael decided not to play, even though he would have been paid to play, and now he's complaining.

Well, excuse me. Got to get to work on Issue # 2 of INside Innovation. I hope it will help educate people how to use design thinking to innovate.

Reader Comments

Michael Bierut

June 9, 2006 12:27 AM

Bruce, thanks for weighing in to a conversation that must have taken you aback upon return from vacation. I swear I didn't intend to ambush you.

Let me be clear: if I'm complaining, it's that your previous posts here on your blog appear, to any reasonable reader, to uphold spec competitions as an "innovative" new model for commissioning design. You say as much in the following passage:

"We broke lots of rules designing IN — and started changing culture at BW along the way. We opened the process by holding a contest and asking four players to pitch their concepts. You're not supposed to do this in mag design land. You're supposed to choose one brilliant design shop first and work with that firm all the way through to the end. Our Art Director was kind of stunned when I first proposed the idea...But I wanted to open the process and choose among many new ideas so I opened it up. And we asked three out of four to do it on spec (OK, we didn't have much money either to launch something new). The spec thing is a no-no in AIGA but it turned out it wasn't an issue — the three players who did it on spec said they were willing to do so because the process created new IP that they could use with their other clients."

You're influential, I think we all hope that IN will be an influential voice in the world of design and business. However, I'm someone who already receives enough calls from potential clients who eager to get something for nothing, not as some new way of "creating intellectual property" but because they're...well, cheap. Am I wrong to consider the prospect of even more such requests, based on this precedent, unwelcome?

All that said, you may have noticed that the discussion on our site has gotten subtler as it went along. You hit the nail on the head with your observation that "value is not created by rules or prohibitions but by what one brings to the game." Designers who is opposed to working for free should make sure they have something unique and compelling to sell.

(N.B. Although you reference Pentagram in your headline, my views in this case are strictly my own.)

Andy Rutledge

June 9, 2006 2:30 AM

I find it silly and a little amusing that you keep referring to how small your budget was for this launch; as if that has any bearing on the ethics of your effort. It doesn’t, but I guess that’s as good an excuse as any to explain away the contempt you show to the design profession in this episode.

All you’ve done is make it more difficult for designers and agencies to be paid for their services in the future. As consolation, you are to be congratulated on your magazine so cheaply bought. I hope it works out well for you, but I won’t really ever know. I won’t be subscribing.

Andy Rutledge


June 9, 2006 10:32 AM

this week’s Celebrity Death Match brings us Bruce Nussbaum vs Michael Bierut – applause! – but behold, dear readers, and let us zoom out of this muddy arena for a second… let’s take the journalist's perspective. – what do we see now? we see one of the classical conflicts between management and design. both want the same thing – but both have completely different ways of getting there. – and here is the lesson to be learned from the IN-launch: the key to a productive cooperation between the right brain world and the left brain world lies in the differences! do not expect a Bierut to be like you – and a Nussbaum neither – embrace the differences – that is what they are telling you in couple therapy too – and then create.
think about it, gentlemen. - it is the differences that matter. - you have come so far – do not ruin it at this point.
thank you Bruce Nussbaum. thank you Michael Bierut.

William Owen

June 9, 2006 11:20 AM

Bruce, you say in an earlier post on lessons learnt during the launch of INside Innovation (Lesson 5), on Cost:
“We cut our costs sharply by open-sourcing the design and having a contest for the very best design.” *
Let’s leave the open-sourcing euphemism at the door, shall we? You are in effect, whatever your best intentions, encouraging businesses to select design by competition and obtain ideas for nothing. The problem here is not just one of money, but the way that speculative pitching corrupts and distorts the exchange between designer and client. The curse of free pitching is that it degrades the value of ideas and the value to the client of working with a designer to think and draw and model their way to a solution. It focuses attention on the object of design and not the process.

I don’t know many designers with a brain in their head who don’t get frustrated that their ideas and ways of thinking are unappreciated and that these are often applied in too narrow a field or too late in the process to have their full effect.

But speculative pitching tends to perpetuate that tired and closed old model of take brief, believe it, rush back to studio, create response, present back to the client and cross fingers. Heh presto! Here’s the magic solution! Innovation can’t happen like this.

I can happily accept that in the INside Innovation case the process was much more open and discursive, but unfortunately pitches usually work. You really are being naïve if you think that promoting the idea that it’s clever to get designers to give away ideas for free is also a way of championing “design thinking in business innovation”.

I’d like to offer you an alternative model.

Last December the BBC’s New Media team invited proposals for new ideas for broadband distribution of BBC content and community development. Out of 135 responses in London, 10 companies were selected to spend a week in March, at an offsite Innovation Lab with BBC people, to work up and present their ideas to commissioning executives. We were each paid just over $9000 for our trouble, which might not make us rich but more than covered costs. The teams worked collaboratively as well as competitively, sharing ideas, and working closely with the client. We retained the IP and the BBC took an option to take successful presentations forward, with their originators.

Everybody gained, including companies that failed to get further commissions. That’s how to innovate: work closely with the client; develop strategy, brief and concept; engage in a transparent and fair exchange of value.

*You actually say ‘cost our costs’ but I think it’s fair to assume you mistyped cost for cut.

Nathan Philpot

June 9, 2006 2:00 PM

Like it has been already stated, spec work is done in other business models. I think spec work is not done in the graphic design world because we don't charge enough for jobs we are hired to do.

When we are hired we charge a certain amount for that work. I think designers could do spec work, but we must raise our prices on jobs we are hired to do to make a profit. To make up for the time, money and talents used to do spec work.

In other words, we don't do spec work for free, we charge clients who do hire us for the spec work done for the clients that didn't hire us.

Other business models do not do work for free. Business cannot do work for free and remain profitable. But it is true, the other types of models mention in NB's blog above do spec work.

I have worked in these other types of models and have seen the spec work and seen how much they charge for jobs they get paid for. And they charge a lot so they can cover the loss done for spec work.

Designers are always talking about good design is good business. Well this is business, charging those who will pay, to make up for those few that won't pay.

So we just have to raise our prices. So we make enough profit to cover our time and talents used for spec work.


June 9, 2006 4:31 PM

I appreciate your position Bruce, but I think there's a difference between fostering true innovation in design, and just gaming the rules by having a contest. A contest is certainly an innovative way to select a designer, but it's not likely to get very deep into your magazine process (who's talking to your editors? your other designers? your production, sales, and circ staffs?).

Michael is right to worry. You are taking advantage of a more connected marketplace, in which it's easier to find parties who will rationalize the terms of your contest. Stone and IDEO wanted to develop some new IP for their clients, others maybe wanted some press, maybe they were desperate for some work.

All your innovation does is force designers to adapt to "winning" contests. They will have to adjust their focus and tactics to appeal to clients like you, at the expense, I would argue, of true innovation. Who innovates in contest format? Was there a contest to invent the phone? The Net? Even most market-driven innovation (as corporate as you choose), would fail an "American Idol"-like competition.

With all due respect, you may have gotten some pretty layouts, but I seriously question how much "design" they contain, given the circumstances.

William Owen

June 9, 2006 7:36 PM

I can do misprints too. For "but unfortunately pitches usually work" read "but unfortunately pitches don't usually work like this".

Joe Moran

June 9, 2006 7:40 PM

I think this was said several times on Design Observer, or at least alluded to, but here goes:

Most of the business people I know always look at their bottom line before they ever consider innovation or "design" as an advantage in the marketplace.

So, of course they would be very pleased with free or spec work. Who can blame them? This is capitalist America. We're all looking to "get the best deal" we can. (Look at the success of Wal-Mart.)

It’s the design community who should chastise designers who cheapen our industry by giving away their creativity for free. Especially at the high level that has been exposed here.

I've lost some respect for those who were involved and that's not a good feeling.

And I'm guessing other high profile business leaders (potential clients of designers) are watching/reading about what just happened and the ripple effect is already in motion. SYP, IDEO, Modernista, etc. will probably make a lot of money over the next few years and all retire happily. But for someone who's just starting out (like me) I can only hope this practice is not thought of as a successful or desirable way to employ design innovation or do business - from both sides of the coin - in the future.

But I have a feeling it will be. And that makes this whole subject even more disheartening for myself and my fellow designers (especially those of us who may want to open our own business someday).


Adam Gillitt

June 9, 2006 11:01 PM

How condescending of you to refer to Mr. Bierut as a "bad boy" for questioning your ethics and motives in running your spec contest! When you operate a large public enterprise such as yours, every move is going to be watched closely by your peers, and by the people you are claiming to help. I, for one, will not be subscribing to your magazine, and I hope others will do the same after seeing your attitude toward design. You're not someone I want championing my cause... I'd much prefer Mr. Bierut's support, thank you very much.

Andy Rutledge

June 10, 2006 2:51 PM

Bruce, you say that if you didn’t have this bakeoff, you “probably would have gone with… or some other large, established magazine design shop.” And you say you would have missed the opportunity to get to know and work with some wonderful other people.

Hogwash. If you are, as you say, truly interested in innovation you should have made a truly innovative move instead of hosting a bakeoff and picked a proven innovator, rather than magazine designer, and dedicated your budget and trust toward working with them to produce this innovative magazine on an innovative model. Done that way, with all involved beholden to one another, the results would likely have been extraordinary and truly innovative.

Here’s the thing about design and innovation: nothing inspires dedication, motivation and even inspiration itself like trust. When we designers are offered trust worthy of the grave responsibility we’ve been given, we invariably move heaven an earth to produce worthy results. That’s how you commission inspired, excellent design; you invest your trust and offer responsibility.

By your non-committal approach you communicate a lack of trust and you imply little to no responsibility. The result of such paltry investment is usually irresponsible design. This is neither innovative nor admirable. So kindly don’t use demagoguery to explain away your lack of trust and lack of commitment to innovation. It just rings hollow.

Joe Moran

June 10, 2006 11:07 PM

I had a conversation with a non-designer friend who made a pretty good point. While what Business Week did in the development process of its newest imprint might be “unethical” to us design types, designers should really be upset with the actual designers who participated -- and not the publisher or the journalists involved.

And I can see her point. What business / consumer isn’t going to try to get the best deal out there? (Look at the success of Wal-Mart.)

However, I’m thinking about my profession / business in the future.

I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now. I still consider myself to be starting out as a designer.

What if I want to start my own firm someday? How is the ripple effect put in motion by this process and subsequent article ( and highly publicized in a high-profile business magazine & blog ) going to effect my ability to negotiate fees 10 years from today?

Imagine this scenario: Some future business owner (industrialist, telecom, healthcare, investment analyst, etc.) just starting out, reads about how INside INnovation was developed. They think to themselves, “Why pay designers some ‘ungodly fee’ when we can hold a contest and only pay one firm to actually do the creative work? We’ll get more input for less money out of pocket. A real win-win situation. A ‘great deal.’ ”

What if this practice is seen as innovative? Most business people I know don’t consider design and innovation until they can see a direct benefit to their competition’s bottom line, let alone their own.

So, I’m disappointed in creative firms who have cheapened their own profession and craft in the eyes of the non-creative business community by giving away their creative talent. Also, I’m disappointed because the firms involved weren’t thinking long term for their fellow designers -- only short term for their own business’s bottom line. I’ve lost respect for them and that’s not a nice feeling.

IDEO, SYP, Modernista, etc., will probably all retire very happily. I’m going to be dealing with the repercussions of their actions.


A Lost Client

June 12, 2006 3:19 PM

Dear Mr. Naussbaum,
From the business side. I'm an entrepreneur transitioning my family business and developing a line of furniture. I read your posts about Inside Innovation with great interest as I saw they paralleled my experience trying to make something great with (very) limited resources.
I also considered providing designers the opportunity to submit spec designs. It seemed some designers are desperate for work that they'd work for free, one design firm even offered to.
This forced the question; why would someone (me) pay for design work when designers offer it for free?
Here is my theory as to why this is happening and why designers are so upset;
Supply and demand. I think there are far too many practicing designers just as the demand for and value of their work is declining.
For my business, we decided not to work with any designer. We did not see the value they could provide for the amount of time we would have to spend working with them.
So how did we do the design? Well, many of the firms we talked with highlighted how their process assured successful results. So we researched design processes, constructed one that fit our needs and limitations and executed it ourselves. We learned that much of great design is not talent, but time consuming work that anyone can accomplish if they spend the time.
How do we know the design is great? We used the same tools designers do, focus groups, lead user studies and interviews with potential customers. From these we’ve had universal enthusiasm for the design, some customers even highlighting the design as their main reason for desiring the furniture. If all goes well we’ll be on the market in a year and designers can see one example of how design has become the new “desktop publishing.”
Please don’t say that “design is innovation “ because I don't belive designers have the exclusive rights to creativity.

catherine Morley

June 18, 2006 4:53 PM

"The reality, however, was that we had a tiny budget to launch a new magazine so we paid them what we could."

Look, I'm not as eloquent writer as those joining in above, so I'll be brief.

The reality is that ... if you were budget strapped, with a little bit of effort on your part, in the position you are obviously in, with the subject matter your are going after with this new mag (with industry eyes on your new venture), you could have easily searched around for sponsors to pay a decent return to all designers involved.

The reality is that ... you gave as ‘little’ as you felt you could get away with.

I can't speak for all designers, but knowing the reality, I see red. I spit red.

Your blog has been created in order to ... present industry news ... and/or ... to listen ... ?

To me, your answer above clearly states you are not listening, but handing out excuses.

In my opinion (and looks like I’m not alone) this is a total muff-up on your part. Deal.


March 14, 2011 12:49 PM

Which Golf Clubs Are Better - Steel or Graphite ?


March 20, 2011 9:23 AM

I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.


March 25, 2011 7:51 PM

I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.

March 26, 2011 11:54 AM

Thank_you_michael_bierut_and_pentagram.. Very nice :)

2010 Toyota RAV4 pictures

April 5, 2011 3:08 PM

Thanks For This Post, was added to my bookmarks.

April 22, 2011 6:25 AM

Thank_you_michael_bierut_and_pentagram.. Retweeted it :)

April 24, 2011 12:30 PM

Thank_you_michael_bierut_and_pentagram.. Great idea :)

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