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After crowd-sourcing, we have… star-sourcing!

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The fact that the designer Philippe Starck works for free for some public authorities causes controversy among design professionals. AFD received numerous messages about this issue. Replying to critics in the weekly Designfax 786, Philippe Starck explains: “To me, it seemed fair, civic and consistent with my desire to be of some small service to as many people as possible.”

Wikipedia‘s French site states that "collaborative approaches, social or altruistic, exist, using specialized networks or the public." In terms of design, AFD observes that what is mostly sought in crowd-sourcing is "an economic approach to execute a job at a minimum cost."

An article (NOV. 29 2011) “Invent the bike of the future with Philippe Starck” in the daily Liberation explained how "The people of Bordeaux are invited to answer a questionnaire regarding the famous designer Philippe Starck and his design for a bike of the future that will best meet their aspirations.” An article in Le Monde newspaper (JAN. 24 2012) “A new Navigo pass designed by Philippe Starck in 2013  (public transport travel card for the Paris area) announced that the new travel card will be designed pro bono by the designer Philippe Starck.

The common point of these articles is the provision for free or discounted design that leads to or causes dumping. Philippe Starck‘s website claims that he has graciously “dedicated his talent to offer Parisians a functional and elegant card that can be sustainable, in parma and silver.” Philippe Starck explains that his "goal was to grace this common yet valuable – card with his signature design style so that Parisians become proud of owning one and aware of the value of public transportation as a common good".”

Civic Duty

What is it to be fair and civic-minded for a designer? Does it mean working for free? Perhaps, for charity organizations with a purpose to help the elderly, the disabled, the poor… But is it appropriate to work gratuitously for a city or public authority? If so, does that mean that those who charge for their work are not civic-minded? Doesn’t the simple act of running a design business in France while responsibly paying taxes, constitute in itself an act of good citizenship?

Is it fair and demonstrative of good citizenship for a public authority to hire designers without paying them? Is design more useful to public authorities if it is free? Spending public money in design seems very complicated to explain. Why does Jean-Paul Huchon, President of the Region Ile-de-France (Paris area), feel the need to twitter "I reassure the worried people that the new Navigo card was made courtesy of Philippe Starck"? Why does Michel Duchene, deputy mayor in charge of traffic and parking in Bordeaux, say that "the designer […] works without charging the city"? Do our vanities prevail over our reason?

Should budgetary provisions for design be raised based on the notion that a more talented designer will be commissioned thus ensuing a more qualitative design solution? Is it more expensive for public authorities to hire Phillippe Starck? How can a client ensure the finest result on a commission? While generalised policies or answers are elusive, the French public procurement code allows awarding contracts by bringing out talent and quality while controlling design fees and copyright costs.

Unfortunately, French public procurements too often require designers to provide design proposals without fair compensation.
It is not acceptable that a public authority should support free pitching, simply convinced by its legal services or by a specific designer himself.

If professionals tolerate such conditions, why would public authorities prohibit such practices? Working for free is not reserved to stars. Replying to a tender for free — to free pitch — can also be seen as acceptance of not charging fees. To acquire the power to say ‘no’ is complicated for designers. Indeed, but doesn’t the inability to say ‘no’ & the ensuing acquiescence provoke a lack of understanding from a clients’ perspective? Isn’t this potentially more devastating? How can public procurements and design projects be built & managed with efficiency, clarity & justness? This is slippery territory for the designer or public entity alike.


If the designer’s role is to make his ideas or creations tangible — even in the instance of benevolence — what of the negotiation of their future copyrights? Should pro-bono design be seen as a marketing strategy, a form of self-promotion with the goal of further or more profitable contracts? Would free design lead to higher copyright royalties, placing the designer in a stronger position to negotiate? Could it be argued that the designer reserves the right to maintain a strategic intent while responding to a tender without fair compensation?

Wouldn’t it be appropriate for public authorities to understand the impact of such decisions, despite that these may be caused, in part, by designers themselves? Clearly, uncompensated design projects don’t cost much. This goes without saying. But what is the greater cost of dumping and ‘grand civic gestures’ that lead to the discontent of all? Who is it better to annoy, the citizens or the entrepreneurs, taxpayers all, on their way to the polls?

Are the Starck-branded Navigos or bikes better for consumers than those designed by lesser-known talent? Is there room for an open debate on the aesthetics of Mr. starck’s ‘parma and silver’ design solution? Starck himself provides a ready-made reminder that he graces the card with his talent. It would appear that the aristocratic Starck is indeed comfortable in his role as king of media stunts.


The designer Philippe Starck wishes to show solidarity to a "maximum number of people", yet he seems to forget his own community of professionals. There is irony in this, since he has built his success on the principles of professional designers: to use expertise to create & produce an original design in exchange for design fees and royalties. Long live solidarity! AFD would be delighted to welcome Mr. Starck if he would like to make a generous donation to fund the trade association for the advocacy of his profession.

Designers can help to improve their business conditions by disseminating the AFD Charter for public procurement toward their public authorities.

Communities can do an act of good citizenship by adopting the principles of this Charter, executing simple and fair conditions: publish fair tenders, which translates by paying for the proposals of consulted designers and negotiating reasonable payments contracts. This is not a sign of weak negotiation skills, regardless of star factor.

In keeping with all professional designers’ organizations worldwide such as Icsid, Icograda or Ifi, which represent designers’ economic, social and cultural interests, the AFD condemns free labor.

From original text Après le crowdsourcing, voici le starsourcing by François Caspar-AFD,
English Editorial Assistance by Louise Holloway-AFD


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