Creative, battery-recharging, vacations
are a necessity - not a luxury

A large part of "Reaping the Rewards of Creative Independence" involves creating a well-defined balance in one's life. There does seem to be a tendency for independent creative professionals to work around the clock - especially when lots of work is coming in the door. As self-employed individuals, designers, writers, photographers and illustrators are not, for the most part, getting paid when not working. How does that situation allow for much needed vacations?

Vacations are not a luxury reserved for corporate cubicle inhibitors with great benefit packages. Annual holidays are a necessity for all workers. They are a time to share with loved ones and friends, reflect on past ups and downs in business, plan for the future of one's career, read a few good books, visit exotic locales and recharge one's "batteries."

Such escapes from the world of business do require advance planning - and occasional client hand-holding prior to the actual trip.

Nearly a decade ago, my partner, eight friends and I rented a 300-year-old villa in Italy for a month. The trip itself took a great deal of tactical scheduling. From a business perspective some financial planning was necessary to make everything happen without breaking the bank. A great deal of client "baby sitting" was required to prepare them for the fact I was going to be gone for just over 30 days. Project, marketing and advertising schedules needed to be coordinated around the dates of my adventure. For several months in advance it was necessary to remind my clients, on a weekly basis, of my impending departure. All of the early planning, and very agreeable clients, made the situation work out well. There were no major client emergencies or disasters. The world, and my design business, did not come to an end.

While abroad, I did make use of Internet cafes to check on emails that may not have been addressed by my simple automatic "out of office" reply. Very few required my immediate attention throughout the month-long vacation. Traveling with a gaggle of friends who owned businesses created a unique "business incubator" aspect to the trip. Being surrounded by the artistic, cultural and scenic beauty of Italy was the electric charge my creative juices needed to have a "jump start." My accountant even felt that a portion of my travel expenses qualified for consideration as legitimate "research and development" tax deductions. I returned to my design business refreshed and with a redirected sense of purpose.

With proof that being away from my home-studio for a month was possible, shorter trips (usually about two weeks) have become a regular occurrence at least twice a year over the past 10 years. There are most often opportunities each year to run away from home to a tropical locale, an overseas destination and several domestic getaway sites. Clients have learned I am not abandoning them. Projects are dealt with prior to my trips or scheduled around the dates. I do often inform clients that I will not be working on their projects a couple days prior to my leaving. With worldwide Internet access, crashing emergencies may be dealt with if necessary.

Of course, running my own business does also allow me to adjust the meeting of any business needs while on the road (or beach, or hammock, or pool lounge…). While residing in a Tuscan farmhouse last fall, I did allow myself daily early morning time to work cyberly on the promotion of my then soon-to-be released book, Identity Crisis! Each morning I would arise one to two hours earlier than my traveling partners and do the work I felt was required. I'd then prepare coffee as my partner and friends began to stumble downstairs. Our vacation time for the day would begin - without me being stressed about upcoming book promotion issues.

Just prior to leaving for the island of St. Croix this spring, I received a request for what appeared to be a fun identity project - with a fairly tight deadline. I explained to the potential client that I was leaving for two weeks. The organization representative responded that they really felt I was the designer to take on their project. I proposed accepting the contract to design the logo by putting in one or two hours of time each morning, prior to heading out to the pool with my pleasure reading book 'o the day. The client agreed, the effort worked out very well for all concerned, and I completely paid for my vacation by working while on vacation. This particular situation was another example of it being my business and I get to set the rules.

Most "independent creative professionals" take on that self-definition to embrace "creative independence." Still, some restrict themselves by using their business as an excuse for not enjoying their personal lives to the fullest by eliminating vacation travel as an option. Vacations are a must for any creative professional - and such trips can often be much less expensive than years of therapy!

This piece was originally posted on the Creative Freelancer Conference blog. Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, will make his presentation "Reaping the Rewards of Creative Independence" at the Creative Freelancer Conference, to be held August 27-29, 2008 in Chicago.

© 2008 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

Become a Jeff Fisher LogoMotives fan on Facebook

Not long ago I wrote blog entries on marketing one's design (or writing) efforts by way of social media/networking sites and online portfolios. Since then I've expanded my Facebook presence with a Page devoted to Jeff Fisher LogoMotives. Now my "peeps," friends, peers, clients and stalkers ("Jeff Fisher! Jeff Fisher!") can become official fans by way of the Jeff Fisher LogoMotives Page.

The page features photo galleries of my work, notifications of upcoming speaking engagements, a feed of posts from the Jeff Fisher LogoMotives blogfolio and more. I hope you'll stop by and take a look at yet another marketing and promotion vehicle.

© 2008 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

It's your business and you get set the rules

I'm amazed when I hear designers, and independent creatives, constantly complaining about the client who calls at all hours or sends emergency emails in the middle of the night. My immediate thought is: Why are you answering the business phone call, or responding to the midnight email missive, during personal time?

While there may no longer be real geographic boundaries to working independently, establishing a successful client relationship, and maintaining some degree of sanity, does require setting up parameters in regards to communications and time. Doing so may initially require some patience during the process of training your client.

Establish "office hours" for your business. The vast majority of businesses have set hours of operation. Why should yours be any different?

Early in my career, my office hours were 8:00 to 5:00; Monday through Friday. I certainly worked additional hours, but that didn't mean I had client contact before or after those times. In the summer I had "summer office hours" of Monday through Thursday; 8:00 to 5:00. I had no client contact on Fridays. It drove a few people crazy, but it's my business and I get to set the rules. Following Labor Day weekend I would revert back to the normal "office hours" and change my voice mail message to reflect that fact.

One year, after Labor Day, I went to change the message and suddenly realized that I didn't want to work (or at least have client contact on Fridays). My "summer office hours" have been my regular "office hours" for over a decade now. Again, it's my business and I get to set the rules.

A ringing phone doesn't require that you must answer it. That's why some brilliant person invented voice mail. My office hours determine when I will be answering my dedicated business line. If I'm busy with a project I may not answer the phone when it rings, but I will check my voice mail messages several times during the day and get back to the caller later. Caller ID, and dedicated rings for clients calling in, can also help keep business calls from infringing upon your personal life.

I don't have a cell phone. I had one for three months about 12 years ago and it drove me crazy. I hated being that connected. At that time, I'd run my business for about 18 years without a mobile phone and my business did just fine. Besides, I do love the look on a client's face when they ask for my cell number and I tell them I don't have one.

It's much the same with email. A client's perception that a 3:00 AM email is addressing an emergency situation doesn’t necessarily mean that it's a real emergency demanding immediate attention (as if you are actually sitting at your computer at such a time waiting for their email). I respond to client emails during my established office hours - and as timely as my schedule for that day allows.

Admittedly, there are exceptions to the "rules." An occasional true emergency may require an immediate response. I simply don't often find myself needing to respond to situations outside of my established hours of operation.

Being an independent creative does allow you to determine how you choose to establish the communication boundaries between clients and yourself. The limitations put in place may be very helpful in maintaining successful client relationships - and keeping any possible resentment of clients to a minimum. Remember; it's your business and you get set the rules.

This piece was originally posted on the Creative Freelancer Conference blog. Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, will make his presentation "Reaping the Rewards of Creative Independence" at the Creative Freelancer Conference, to be held August 27-29, 2008 in Chicago.

© 2008 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

Anniversary Logos

(Clockwise from upper left)

Just Out 25th Anniversary
Client: Just Out Newsmagazine
Location: Portland, OR USA

In celebrating a quarter of a century, editor and publisher Marty Davis requested an adaptation of the Just Out logo to represent this newsmagazine for Oregon's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities.

Read more about the Jeff Fisher LogoMotives redesign of the Just Out logo.

W.C. Winks Hardware 100th Anniversary
Client: W.C. Winks Hardware
Location: Portland, OR USA

The earlier Jeff Fisher LogoMotives design of an identity for W.C. Winks became the centerpiece of the design that will represent the retail hardware store's first 100 years.

Moore Street Temple Corps 75th Anniversary
Client: The Salvation Army/Moore Street Corps Community Center
Location: Portland, OR USA

A recognizable musical instrument, with diamond adornments, represents the 75th anniversary of a Portland, OR Salvation Army Center.

triangle productions! 14 Years of Tears and Cheers
Client: triangle productions!
Location: Portland, OR USA

Stylized images of the traditional drama and comedy masks make an appearance in this anniversary logo for a theatre company The logois featured in the book 100's Visual Logos and Letterheads.

All logo designs © 2015 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives. All rights reserved.

The practice: What’s wrong with spec work?

by Julia Ptasznik

Note: This article was written for and originally published in the Fall 2000 edition of Exchange, the semi-annual journal of the Toronto, Canada-based Design Exchange.

Something magical happens when a designer and client begin to work together. It’s like the bond that develops between director and actor, composer and lyricist or psychoanalyst and patient. In the design business, this creative chemistry should lead to breakthrough thinking around the design opportunity and ultimately to the design solution. But this relationship cannot begin to gel until there is commitment on both sides. It certainly cannot take hold in the speculative pitch situation in which the designer feels insecure and on show. And yet, in Canada and other countries, both public and private sector organizations persist in asking designers to develop creative concepts in competition with their peers for a set fee or on spec. What’s more, they often impose a totally unrealistic timeframe for spec work, and the set fee, if offered, bears no relation to the work involved because at this stage client and designer have not agreed on a scope of work for the project. …This article discusses the issue in the context of international practice.

Test-driving potential suppliers:
If you are a design professional, you are probably intimately familiar with requests for proposals (RFPs) which require not only schedule and financial estimates, but often full-blown creative presentations as part of a pitch for the job. If you are on the client side, you have probably heard of test-driving potential suppliers, or may even have done so yourself. This article should help both sides, as it provides a global perspective on the issue and suggests how to negotiate a mutually-beneficial working arrangement.

First, let’s briefly outline the main problems involved.

Spec work is a problem because:
1. It’s exploitative. It requires the designer to perform services free of charge, without any guarantee of compensation. Further, it is inappropriate for small-scale design projects, because the work performed often constitutes the entire project.

2. It’s unethical. It essentially amounts to buying new business and doesn’t fall far from bribery. It also fosters an unhealthy competition environment among designers and firms bidding on the same project.

3. It offers no future potential. Many designers hope this is going to lead to future ongoing business, whereas the reality is that clients who adopt this vendor selection method tend to apply it to every project.

4. It can lead to copyright infringement. There are numerous cases where a design house, initially told that they have not been awarded the project, has found its work used either in its entirety, or as the basis for creating the actual project, without the original designer’s knowledge, consent, and without appropriate compensation.

5. It negatively impacts the entire design industry. As long as there are designers providing services free of charge, the practice is going to continue to flourish and to erode the professional status of designers in all disciplines.

Speculating on design futures:
The increased demand for design services in the last decade of the 20th Century has brought about an increase in legal and ethical disputes. Apart from the issues of rights, liabilities, and ownership (which Eric Swetsky discusses in this issue [of Exchange]), the good old test drive, or speculative creative pitch, is making a comeback.

The practice of clients requesting creative work to be done before the project is awarded has its origins in advertising, where speculative creative, commonly referred to as a "pitch," is the mode in which agencies compete for multimillion dollar accounts. In these cases, the practice is considered appropriate, as the winning agency stands to earn millions of dollars, making the initial investment of time and effort well worth it.

However, when the project is a one-time, smaller scale, graphic design assignment, a free pitch essentially amounts to performing the majority of the required work up-front, without any guarantee of compensation. Consider the design of a logo. In addition to scheduling and budgeting the job, designers submitting comps for consideration have to go through the entire research process, evaluating the company and its competition, and determining and executing several appropriate solutions — which amounts to 90, if not 100, percent of the assignment. This type of arrangement, while extraordinarily unfair to the designer, is on the rise.

Global perspective:
In the United States, the practice has almost become the norm, especially for large conglomerates and governmental organizations. Just within the past six months, my own marketing communications consultancy has received three speculative creative requests. The most interesting example is that of a prominent international children’s advocacy fund. Here is an excerpt from the first two paragraphs of its RFP: "Bids are invited for the design, layout, typesetting, and print production of the [organization’s] 2000 Annual Report ... The designer [is] expected to present a design concept for the publication, showing the overall design and the treatment for each of the elements; when awarding the contract, both the concept and the price [are going to] be taken into consideration."

This amounts to at least 60 hours of work, above and beyond preparing the actual proposal and estimating the costs of the project. It is interesting that of all types of organizations, an advocacy group would make such a request.

USA-based design firms are not alone. According to Jack Yan, one of the most prominent contemporary type designers, founder of Australia’s leading type house, JY&A Fonts, and publisher of several magazines: "A lot of this ‘pitching’ happens [in Australia and New Zealand] as well. We frequently are involved in free pitches. I consider them a necessary evil to doing business and cannot see alternatives, given that our client market likes to play things that way."

Keith Williams of the UK-based design consultancy suggests that the local situation also mirrors that of the United States: "In the late 80s and early 90s, this was just the way it worked. You did the unpaid pitch, or the work never seemed to come your way." Today, government departments still entertain this practice, simply because they have the muscle to do so. Overall, he suggests that although the practice of UK companies requesting speculative creative has eased a little with smaller and medium-sized firms, some of the larger clients still encourage or even expect it. The irony, of course, is that the larger companies are the ones who can afford to pay.

While the practice is on the rise among the design profession, the advertising industries in some countries are beginning to recognize just how exploitative free pitches are. According to Ranajit Tendolkar, a veteran of the Indian ad industry and currently one of the principals of the Bombay-based Web design shop Pigtail Pundits, the free pitch practice is dying out: "These days, when asked to make a speculative presentation, many [local] agencies tell the prospective client that the presentation is not going to be free, and many clients accept that. These clients are professional enough to realize that the agency is spending valuable time, money, and effort, so they [agree] to pay a ‘rejection fee’—an amount mutually agreed-upon beforehand."

Designers’ position:
American advocacy groups have made their position on this issue clear long ago. For instance, the Graphic Artists Guild has a chapter devoted to speculative creative in its Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. The beginning of this chapter reads: "The Graphic Artists Guild is unalterably opposed to any artist being asked to work on speculation because of the inherent risks to the artist in such circumstances. Art buyers should not ask artists to work on a project unless a fee has been agreed upon in advance. Artists must be adequately compensated at any time they are requested to create artwork. Working on speculation places all the risks on the artist without a commitment on the buyer's part."

This position is in line with the Model Code of Professional Conduct created jointly by the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (ICOGRADA), International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), and International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI), headquartered in Belgium, Finland, and South Africa, respectively. The Code’s objective is to state the principles for an international basis of ethical standards related to the practice of design, be it graphic/visual communications, product and capital goods design, or interior design and architecture.

The remuneration close of The Code states: "A designer shall not undertake any work at the invitation of a client without payment of an appropriate fee."

Asking designers to submit creative before the project is awarded is just like asking a construction company to build a house before one decides to actually buy it.

The client perspective:
Perhaps Claire Burke, vice president of the New York, USA-based public relations firm Hunter & Associates, puts it best when she says that asking designers to submit creative before the project is awarded is "just like asking a construction company to build a house before [one decides] to actually buy it." According to Burke, free pitches may have their place in the advertising and public relations industries, but the practice is really not relevant to the design field. She points out: "There are other, more appropriate methods of selecting a designer."

Another interesting point of view is offered by Meagan Crosby Hayes, director of marketing communications of one of the States’ leading mergers and acquisitions firms, The Geneva Companies, headquartered in Irvine, California. Hayes notes that: "The process [of selecting a designer] is largely trial-and-error, and there are those who try to avoid the possibility of error by employing competition-like methods of designer selection. It is not something I do. Leaving the obvious ethical argument alone, it just doesn’t make sense from a business perspective. Having three different people or firms work on the same project at the same time is taxing on our own internal resources. First, we’d have to educate them as to the nature of the business. Second, we’d have to give direction on the project itself and monitor its progress. I’d much rather interview people, see their work, and make an educated guess as to who is better suited to a particular project. While I may ask them to pitch a concept, I wouldn’t expect them to execute it prior to formally engaging their services."

A disturbing case:
It seems that there isn’t a global consensus on the issue of spec work, among industry organizations or creative professionals. For example, Jeff Fisher of the Portland (Oregon), USA-based Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, an accomplished identity designer who has won over 130 industry awards since 1995, unequivocally states: "I do not do work on a speculative basis. If someone wants to ‘test drive’ me as a designer for future projects, they pay for my time at my usual rates."

What led to this non-negotiable position was a disturbing case of blatant theft — or copyright infringement — on behalf of one of Fisher’s clients. After the client commissioned and paid Fisher for a logo design, he requested that a few layouts of stationery be prepared on speculation, as he wasn’t sure he was going to produce them immediately. After submitting the work, Fisher was told that the client would contact him once he was ready to proceed. A month later, Fisher received a letter from the client company’s accounting department, written on stationery and accompanied by a business card Fisher had designed. The bookkeeper, having no idea the client had effectively stolen the work, was asking for some tax information. Fisher immediately took legal action, and was compensated for the work via an out-of-court settlement.

Fear of the unknown
Clients who understand what is involved in coming up with an effective design solution tend to operate along the same lines as Burke and Hayes. However, there are many clients who lack awareness of the design process. Some believe that new technology has made the process of developing creative concepts both faster and easier, whereas in reality it is only the tools that have changed.

It is also easy to see how clients could be uncomfortable awarding a project to a firm with whom they have not had previous experience, and how requesting a free pitch may seem like the easy way out. But consider this: Could you ask an accountant to do your taxes under the assumption that you will only pay for this service if you like the amount of money you get to keep as a result?

Selection criteria
There are other effective ways for a client to ensure that the selected designer is the best person for the job. If you are in the market for design, the best place to start is referrals from colleagues. If that is not an option, national or local industry organizations, such as the Design Exchange in Canada, can put you in touch with designers who specialize in the type of service you seek. In an ideal world, a portfolio review, client reference checks, an acceptable cost estimate, and last but not least, the chemistry generated between client and designer at a face-to-face meeting should be enough to make the choice.

If some clients still feel uneasy, Robbie Vorhaus of New York-based Vorhaus Public Relations, suggests that a paid pitch may be mutually beneficial: "Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we have a budget of $100,000. We may take $5,000 and divide it between three people or firms, thereby covering their initial expenses. The firm that does the best work wins the project."

If a client company has budgetary restrictions, it may choose to run a public competition, although that is another practice that is heavily frowned upon in the design industry. In this case, there are two suggestions to be made. First, it is a good idea to consult the local industry organizations and review their fair practices recommendations with regard to competitions. Second, it is important to make sure that the grand prize is commensurate with the market rate for the project at hand.

Taking action:
If you are a designer presented with an RFP requiring work on speculation, take the time to ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I willing to work for free? (Of course, there may be exceptions to the rule, such as bidding on projects that are enormous in scope or involve potential retainer-based arrangements.)

2. Do I want to secure new business by buying it, or on the merits of previous experience and accomplishments?

3. Do I empathize with designers who participate in speculative creative presentations, and do I care about how my participation in such schemes affects my colleagues?

4. Am I comfortable with the fact that doing a speculative presentation does not guarantee any future relationship with a client?

5. Am I vulnerable to the possibility of someone taking my work and using it without my knowledge, consent, or payment?

And here is one final suggestion. Most designers faced with a request for spec work think that they only have two choices — to do the requested work or to gracefully bow out. But, even if you are not willing to work for free, you should still submit a proposal and cost estimate, accompanied by a letter explaining your position on free pitches. Once alerted to how unethical this practice is, the client company may change its position. My firm consistently takes this route, most recently in response to the aforementioned RFP from the children’s advocacy fund. We have been awarded that job, despite the fact that other firms competing for it had chosen to submit the requested speculative creative.

In conclusion, to borrow from a well-known adage:
Designers and clients alike don’t get what they deserve — they get what they negotiate.

©2000 Julia Ptasznik

Toot! Toot!*: Designer and author Jeff Fisher
to speak at Create Chaos 2008 conference

Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for the Portland design firm Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, will be a speaker at the Create Chaos 2008 conference to be held October 13-17, 2008 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort in Orlando, FL. In his session, Tooting Your Own Horn!, Fisher will share tips and anecdotes about promoting oneself through press releases, writing articles and books, making use of social networking and social media, blogging, design competition submissions, and being prepared when the media calls to give your business major exposure.

Create Chaos 2008 is a five-day creative industry destination event produced to inform, inspire, educate, and connect creative professionals across industries through an all-inclusive event. Create Chaos serves as a spark to ignite a new renaissance by bringing together creative professionals across industry boundaries including: graphic design, advertising, film and video production, animation, photography, printing, Web, and publishing professionals.

Produced by Brahn Awards & Events and partners, the Create Chaos experience features the following conferences and events: The Creative Suite Conference, Printing+Paper+Packaging Design Conference, The Vector Conference, Stash Theatre, CreativeHeads Job Fair, The Web Design Conference, MGFest, The Pixel Conference, and more.

Registration for Create Chaos 2008 is now live on Attendees may register directly online, or download the physical registration form. There are a variety of registration options for attendees to choose from — full-conference registration, three-day registration or single-day registration — depending on areas of interest and budget. Prices and descriptions are all available online, along with a list of important pre-conference dates. This recession-busting conference reduces travel and registration costs by co-locating several conferences, allowing for All-Access, Full-Conference passes to be available for one price, with one badge.

Jeff Fisher has received nearly 600 regional, national and international graphic design awards for his logo and corporate identity efforts. His work is featured in over 100 books on the design of logos, the business of graphic design, and small business marketing. He is a member of the HOW Design Conference Advisory Council and the UCDA Designer Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, and served on the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board. His latest book, Identity Crisis!: 50 Redesigns That Transformed Stale Identities into Successful Brands, was released in 2007 by HOW Books. His first volume, The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success, appeared on bookstore shelves in late 2004.

(* If I don’t "toot!" my own horn, no one else will.)

© 2008 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

A life lesson in working to live

Do you "live to work" or "work to live?" It's a question that every independent creative needs to ask themselves.

Years ago, at the age of 35, I found myself being defined by my doctor as a "heart attack waiting to happen." I was working an average of 70 to 80 hours a week - sometimes much more with late nights and working on weekends. Work consumed my life. My personal life was almost non-existent.

I had allowed myself to become the "design department" for an advertising agency client that suddenly represented at least 80% of my business and income. When the principal of the firm said "jump," I leapt into the sky without questioning the command. I was doing some great work, but I wasn't sleeping, not eating well and my blood pressure was dangerously sky high. In fact, when my physician checked my blood pressure - three times - he thought his equipment was broken.

The doctor sat down and asked, "What the hell is going on in your life?"

I told him.

He responded that I needed to resign the major, all-consuming client immediately or I was going to have serious health issues, possibly a heart attack. I was stunned - and immediately my mind went to concerns about money.

It was frightening to request a meeting with the owner of the business to inform her I could no longer handle all of her design work. However, she understood completely and actually apologized for her business causing me undue stress.

I was a little freaked out about the loss of income due to resigning the account. Still, within a very short period of time, I had five new clients with a very manageable project load. The income situation balanced out; as did my blood pressure - which dropped 30-some points in a month without medication. My personal life showed great improvement as well.

The entire situation was a great life lesson. It helped me re-evaluate how I, as an independent creative, had been letting my work rule my life - instead of enjoying the life available to me as a result of being my own boss.

This piece was originally posted on the Creative Freelancer Conference blog. Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, will make his presentation "Reaping the Rewards of Creative Independence" at the Creative Freelancer Conference, to be held August 27-29, 2008 in Chicago.

© 2008 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives