Creating best practise in Indigenous graphic design

In 2013 I wrote a post titled Indigenous Issues + Graphic Design. I was responding to a question I’d been asked by someone about if it was okay if they (a non-Indigenous graphic designer) would be allowed to do ‘Aboriginal style’ illustrations for an educational company.

tl;dr: No, it’s not okay. This afternoon I saw my first “we’re a rugby team, submit a design and we’ll choose the best one for our jersey” post of 2018, and again (for probably the fourth year in a row) I’m cranky. Why?

Because competitions like this mean that Aboriginal artists all over Australia are working for nothing in the hopes of getting their designs on a jersey. Also, because they’re very often not paid a proper artist fee but are paid in a couple of tickets, a photograph with a player, and if they’re lucky a jersey or two. This. is. not. okay!

So what is best practice? It might look like –

  1. Write a brief (which includes a statement of an artists fee)
  2. Ideally, invite just 3 or 4 artists to submit portfolios.
  3. Choose an artist
  4. Hold a face-to-face briefing with the artist
  5. Let the artist develop the concept design
  6. Artist can provide two or three rounds of progress designs to get feedback.
  7. Once concept design has been approved by the client,
  8. The artist submits final artwork for printing

The above steps don’t have thirty artists from across the country working away for free hoping their design will get chosen. It also includes an explicit artist fee and licensing arrangements.

What should be artist fee be?

  • For an original commission, fit for a specific purpose, I wouldn’t allow my designer to work for less than $2000.

What about copyright and licensing?

  • Given the club holds all the risk – getting collateral printed – I wouldn’t be expecting on-going licensing.
  • I would expect however an exclusive license with limited usage for the original purpose it was designed for – ie. jerseys, printed program, marketing materials, etc.

What’s in a brief? 

  • The client should be clear about what they want in an artwork
  • Does the design need to address a theme for the year?
  • What colours should it incorporate? Are there any specific illustrative elements that should be included (eg. certain animals)? Provide the artist with some previous examples of what worked.
  • The client should provide a style guide that tells the artist how the logos need to appear and which colours will need to be used.

The responsibility of artists – be professional

  • Have an updated portfolio in electronic form as well as paper
  • Be findable – on search engines and social media, and networking (join an Indigenous Chamber of Commerce and get networking)
  • Understand your value and don’t undersell your work
  • Be professional – know how to follow client briefs (design is not art)
  • Know how to prepare finished art (that is, be able to use Adobe Creative Suite / Cloud)
  • Learn about artist and designer rights and responsibilities

It’s not just sporting teams 

It’s not just the sporting bodies that are guilty of design competitions. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of our community organisations do it. But unless you’re specifically going for a child’s drawing aesthetic and involve your local primary school, design competitions are unethical and do not support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and businesses.

The future – it’s up to all of us

Sport is such a wonderful part of peoples’ lives. And the Indigenous Rounds of major sports is a wonderful way to recognise Indigenous Peoples’ contribution to Australian sporting life. However, while it’s exciting to be part of ‘it’, it’s essential that everyone in the transaction understand the long-term impact of exploitation.

In 2018, it’s time to do it right.