Say No to Free Pitching

Free pitching is a term used to describe the supply of design services without payment.

Free pitching may be initiated by a customer who requests the provision of free services, or it may be initiated by a designer who provides free services in the hopes of later payment.

Free pitching is condemned by professional design organisations around the world.

Free pitching undermines the value of design services and destroys the professional standing of designers.

Free pitching has many forms

On the client side there are many ways, both obvious and disguised, in which designers are encouraged to provide their skills for free. In general a professional designer should avoid providing their skills for free except in genuine cases of charity or in competitions where there is no intent to avoid the purchase of professional services.

On the designer side designers initiating free pitching as a marketing method is a very messy area. It is a continuum that ranges from the blatant to the apparently innocuous. It includes actions such as deliberately trying to displace existing professional relationships by providing free design, the provision of design concepts within a tender or a request for quotation, participating in a design ‘competition’ to ‘win’ a public project, and handing over brain-storming sketches at an initial client meeting to select a design consultant.

It would be a rare designer who could say that they had a completely clean slate.

Free pitching is stealing your time

A further complexity is the existence of well-established traditions such as public competitions in the field of architecture for major public works. And the agency pitches that are a media cliché in the advertising industry.

Precedents such as these make it very difficult for a professional body to establish a clear rule. The DIA's Practice Note PN008 Free Pitching and Design Competitions includes guidelines for running design competitions to avoid situations that take advantage of designers. The DIA has been successful on many occasions in having competition conditions changed to provide fairer treatment of designers.

Young designers trying to carve a niche in a market with well established players face strong temptations to free pitch. The best advice is to think clearly about the extent to which you are undermining your ability to sell your services in future dealings with the customer and the degree to which you are destroying your professional credibility. Spending the same time and resources on an existing client relationship or the broad search for clients prepared to engage you on the strength of your folio is likely to yield more certain returns.

Professional designers lead by example

The onus is on experienced designers to lead by example. They have the folios and commercial experience to avoid free pitching. They are more likely to be in a position to explain to a customer why they don’t provide services for free and why it is likely to result in a poor commercial outcome for the project.

The following chart has been prepared to help you visualise whether you are dealing with a free pitching issue.

View free pitching matrix

DIA Policy on Free Pitching

Along with many other major professional design bodies throughout the world, the DIA resolutely opposes 'free' pitching.

More importantly, the DIA opposes all types of pitching – for reasons that are explained here in more detail.

To read the complete document, you may download it below:

Say No to Free Pitching (PDF - 635KB)

About the Design Institute of Australia

The Design Institute of Australia is the organisation working for the future of the design professions in Australia. It is the only multidisciplinary organisation of designers in Australia. It speaks for all designers. Since 1947 the DIA has been actively improving the community recognition and status of designer. The DIA promotes the value of design and designers to industry, business, government and the community. It provides a vibrant networking base on a state, national and international level.

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