I would personally summarise ethics as conducting oneself in a transparent and moral manner. AGDA defines ethics as professional conduct expectations in the client/designer/subcontractor relationship. This covers:

  • A designers obligation to the client (best interests, conflicts of interest and confidentiality).
  • A designers responsibility to other designers (free pitching, existing commissions, plagiarism and criticism of others’ work).
  • Commissions (details for securing and accepting commissions and subcontracting).
  • Fees (charges, free pitching, reductions, other financial interests and selection of another designer).
  • Design competitions.
  • Self-promotion (content, credit and use of designer’s name).

What is free pitching and how does it affect the industry as a whole?
Pitching is the competitive provision of design services (including concepts) for a client in an attempt to win new business. Therefore, free pitching is when the designer does not get paid for these services/concepts. Free pitching can come in many forms and can be either client or designer initiated, such as (and not limited to):

  • Design competitions where the chosen designer’s “prize” is publicity.
  • Handing over design concepts with the premise of potential future paid work.
  • Deliberately providing free design to displace other designers.

Free pitching can also be referred to as speculative work (spec work), predatory pricing and unpaid competitive tendering.

DIA claims free pitching “undermines the value of design services and destroys the professional standing of designers”. In short, by providing services for free, a designer is identifying and communicating their time, skills and product (design) is not worth paying for, which in turn, destroys both a designer’s credibility and the design profession.

DIA also discusses how design is commonly considered as an industry and not a profession. Many other fields in which people gain qualifications and have representative bodies, don’t require any form of pitching – think doctors, accountants and tradesmen. For example, try asking three accountants to complete your tax return, pitch the completed outcome and provide the paperwork to you, for free, in a bid to gain future business (or that you will tell your friends how great they are).

Further arguments against free pitching also outline that pitching delivers:

  • work designed to win the pitch, rather than provide the best solution,
  • an undercut of the financial viability of design,
  • unexperienced and less qualified designers to the process, providing a poor representation of the design profession, and
  • higher freelance rates for paid projects for designers who accommodate free pitching but still need to earn a viable income.

A great resource I came across was NO!SPEC, which is a group of designers whose aim is to educate both designers and clients on the negative effect of spec work. This site outlines that design organisations across Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK all fundamentally oppose spec work, and provide consistent advice that a designer should not undertake any work without adequate compensation.

Lastly, the DIA classifies free pitching as unprofessional and asks the conclusionary question: “Are you in the business of winning pitches, or designing?”.

Why is it important to have a code of ethics in the graphic design industry?
Just like any other profession, a code of ethics is important in order to establish the appropriate and acceptable behaviour of a professional group, in order to reflect its values. A code of ethics in the graphic design industry is especially important as it identifies graphic design as a responsible profession, it also identifies what is ‘fair play’ and sets the standards of professional service and conduct. This benefits the client as they can gain a better understanding of how their designer should carry out their business and why.

What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark or patent?
Copyright © is the legal rights to the expression of a concept or idea, but not the concept or idea itself. Copyright is automatically granted to the creator and can provide protection of websites, photographs, graphics and illustrations. If work is created for an employer as part of a day-to-day job, the copyright belongs to the employer. If working as a freelancer for a client, the copyright is often identified in a written agreement.

A trademark is the legal rights to the concept or idea itself, and can cover a logo, phrase, colour, sound, scent, shape and aspect of packaging. A trademark doesn’t have to be registered (TM – unregistered trademark), though it’s legally more difficult to stop others from copying or imitating the trademark. A registered trademark ® comes at a cost, and needs to be applied for and approved. A registered trademark is easier to defence against infringement in a court of law.

A patent protects an invention and how it works or functions, it also comes at a cost and needs to be applied for and approved.

What measures do you need to take as a freelance designer to protect your creative output?
There are a number of measures I can take as a designer:

  • Do not copy other people’s work (even temporarily to express ideas).
  • Understand copyright licences for images and fonts and use them legally.
  • Include a copyright notice and symbol for my designs.
  • Advise confidentiality if providing concepts to a client before an agreement is in place, ie “all ideas are presented in confidence and are owned by me”.
  • Search the trademarks database available at IP Australia to make sure I am not infringing any registered trademarks.
  • Ask for documentation to confirm the client owns the copyright when asked to modify a design.
  • Identify in the agreement (signed by myself and the client) who owns the intellectual property (IP) rights – if I am giving them up, I should include a clause on folio use for myself.
  • If I own IP, I should keep track of the renewal dates.
  • Understand it is up to me to protect my own copyright.

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