A Mini #MilanUncut Reader

#milanuncut logos by Zerofee

As some of you will know, a debate has been unfolding on the Twittersphere among journalists and designers about the issue of designers pay. The debate became known by the codename assigned to it by twitter users: #Milanuncut (a name derived from UK Uncut, the British anti-government cuts protest group). It revealed a number of things, many, perhaps not that surprising (the royalty system rarely works in the designer’s favour, many designers do a lot of speculative work for free in lieu of royalties that may never materialize, manufacturers who commission designers often do not pay any form of advance or day rate etc. etc.) but by bringing them up together in the context of the Milan Furniture Fair, it enabled those in the industry to reflect upon the situation, and designers in particular, to think about how they value their work.

At the bottom of this post I have brought together some links to in-depth articles mentioned during the debate. I have also added a link that enables you to download the chapter of my book Thinking:Objects that covers how designers deal with being commissioned as it touches upon many of the issues raised. Finally I would like to add these thoughts into the mix:

Creatives have a long history of undervaluing their work early in their careers, and having it undervalued by others, especially due to its “pleasurable” nature (as if enjoying your job should mean you should be paid less!). The #milanuncut debate occasionally became rather venomous, painting manufacturers as exploitative – fair only in some instances – yet designers have to accept that they are their own worst enemy by accepting poor deals and are also being exploitative by passing on their losses to unpaid interns.

There is, it seems, an underlying cause to the undervaluing of designers by some manufacturers that perhaps has not been widely considered in this debate. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the Italian model was that designers (many who trained as architects) would try to strike up long-lasting relationships with the owners/directors of companies. In the best cases, their discussions would be as much about culture as business. They would explore what Enzo Mari calls “The Project”, meaning not the specific product they were working on, but the broader philosophical question of “what shall we place into the world and why?”. These deep relationships of shared values appear to have been replaced with a shallow pick-and-mix of product ideas from the hundreds that designers pepper these manufacturers with on a daily basis. These ideas can no longer be rooted in the values or context of the manufacturer, because the designers have not experienced these personally, and therefore become based upon a superficial notion of what is “now”. Manufacturers need to be prepared to focus their minds as well as their money upon what their business is “about”. They must have the conviction to ignore those designers knocking at their door offering cut price services, and concentrate upon quality of engagement, and building a coherent philosophy. This is surely what produces design that furthers culture, rather than degrading it.

Click the links below for further reading:

Book excerpt:

Thinking:Objects chapter on working to commission

Newspaper and Magazine Columns:

Designs for Life Won’t Make You a Living by Justin McGuirk for The Guardian

The Big Gamble by Hanna Nova Beatrice for Form Magazine

Designers Are Poor by Kieran Long for Icon Magazine

A Serious Business by Dan Fox for Frieze

For Young Hopefuls, Milan Offers a Place to Break In by Julie Lasky for The New York Times

Blog Posts:

Letter to Designers by Gionata Gatto on Klat Magazine

Milan Uncut: A Few Thoughts by Alasdair Thompson on Smow

Squared by Jenny Voyce on Design Trends

Articles relating to the issue of unpaid internships:

Anger as Coates Offers Unpaid Work at Practice by Andrea Klettner for Building Design (registration to BDOnline needed to view)

The Internship Myth by Emily Sands-Bonin for The Guardian Comment is free

HMRC Not Doing Enough to Stop Illegal Unpaid Internships, Says Pay Watchdog by Shiv Malik for The Guardian

Okay, It’s Time to Put Interning in Perspective by James Howell for Spiked

The Dilemma of Internships by Holger Jacobs of Mind Design

Please submit recommend additions to this list to me at tparsons[at]saic.edu

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