Graphic design and free creative pitching. An agency opinion.


The annual Design Industry Voices survey, compiled by Fairley Associates, Gabriele Skelton and En Pointe Marketing, shows that 49 per cent of those surveyed said they were making more free creative pitches to prospective clients than at this time last year.

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And more than a third (36 per cent) said they were making more free creative pitches for existing clients. And nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 per cent) said that clients were expecting more work for free. This is a rise from last year’s figure.

As professional graphic designers we are always aware of the potential to be asked to participate in a free creative pitch process. This raises many issues for designers as business people and for the industry sector as a whole, and for me raises the fundamental question: ‘How do we raise the profile of our industry as a whole and protect our own work and our own creative thinking while all around us are busy putting their credentials and ideas together?’

The answer we have to accept is pragmatic and simple. We're not enamoured with it but we are old and grizzled enough to know it’s going to go on happening for a while yet.

There is, however, another issue we have with the idea of the 'pitch' as a means of procuring creative services. We do not believe that the pitch process is anything other than bad for designers, clients and the work. The work that usually ends up winning is not necessarily the best solution for the client even though it is the best response to the brief in the pitch. Such briefs typically ask you to respond to a list of criteria: an identity must be ‘dynamic’ or reference ‘diversity’, for instance. So the respondents engage in a box-ticking exercise to address these criteria and the winner is the one that does it best.

There is another unfortunate development in our world of graphic design, brand and visual communication: the buying of design via competition. Sites such as now exist where anyone can remotely submit a design to a faceless client who can essentially pick on the basis that ‘I showed my husband and he likes green’, and probably procure it for $99.00. 

Perhaps pitching is the only way we, as designers, can prove our worth in the face of this potentially disruptive new model. All we can say ultimately is that if we do pitch for free, then we always participate in good faith bringing the commitment and integrity we hope underpins all of our projects and we hope will be mirrored in the client’s motives and behaviour.


Sable&Hawkes are a graphic design company based in Cambridge. We deliver brand positioning, visual identity solutions, creative direction and corporate and promotional design in print and online.