Victoria’s design strategy.

Background: Creative Victoria (part of the Victorian Government) is seeking submissions to help shape the creative industries strategy 2020-2024.

It’s important that Victorian graphic designers submit by August 30. You only need to read the comments on Creative Victoria’s wall to realise the voice of graphic designers is drowned by the other creative industries (which include among others arts, culture, screen, music, games development, fashion and publishing).

There are many ways to submit, from adding a comment to writing a submission. By the time you read this the DBC will have lodged the submission below. It would be good to get your support for the direction taken in this submission. This could be as simple as taking a point from our submission and agreeing with it on the wall.

Today we share our submission:


Open letter to Creative Victoria:

The Design Business Council aims to help Victorian graphic designers manage their business better. We do that by researching, writing, mentoring, teaching, and networking.

Over the past decade, we’ve worked with thousands of designers in hundreds of studios across Australia. Business mentoring most often includes access to job, and company profit and loss statements. Our analysis shows the three levels of government – Federal, State and Local – are collectively the largest buyers of graphic design services in Australia.

This means the Victoria Government, as a client, greatly impacts Victoria design businesses. While Creative Victoria can develop ways to encourage the use of design in Victorian businesses it is within their power to change the way the government uses design. We encourage Creative Victoria to make this a priority.

What we know:

We know government is one of the lowest fee-paying clients across all areas of graphic design. Design services are often put to tender, and tenders are often rewarded based on price. Contracts are regularly negotiated based on cost alone, and budgets are reduced year-on-year. We see this in the analysis of job profit and losses we conduct with design studio owners.

We know governments are slow to pay for services delivered. The payment cycle of government departments, and the reluctance to pre-pay a portion of an estimate, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the cash flow pressures of small business. Personal experience, and the experience of our design studio clients, indicates government contacts regularly ‘forget’ the purchase order or necessary paperwork, thereby pushing the payment to the next payment cycle.

We know the government workforce is transient and there’s little budget for inhouse training. That means designers spend time and effort educating marketing and communications contacts about the value of design only for them to move and take that learning with them. The cycle begins again.

We know Government contracts are one sided and not consistent across departments. 85% of Victorian design businesses employ less than 5 people and have limited access to reasonably priced legal advice. Studio owners are regularly required to sign contracts that are not in their interest. Although government guidelines state contracts can be altered as needed there is an imbalance of power. Large government departments with lawyers are a force against a three-person design studio. (See Appendix 1.)

We know that the purchasing / procurement departments often influence decisions by making purchases based on price rather than criteria. This not only makes purchasing design services difficult, it is myopic. This decision making only considers the bottom line impact and ignores the social or environmental impact of design. (See Appendix 2.)

We know that governments try to own designer’s intellectual property regardless of whether it is of future value or not. Again even though it is recommended that departments justify why they are claiming intellectual property, most have a standard contract that automatically claims intellectual property and all source files. Staff within government departments don’t understand the value intellectual property has in a creative business. (See Appendix 3).

We know – from our research into design maturity – governments largely don’t value design. If rated on the Design Maturity Ladder,  Victorian government departments would rate at a level one or two; buying design as a transactional exercise. That differs to local businesses where many value the impact design makes to their organisation. (See Appendix 4)


As one of the largest purchasers of design in Victoria, the Victorian Government should lead by example. That includes:

  1. Educating their workforce about the value of design. Government contacts do not understand the value design can offer by improving the social, environmental and financial outcomes of a project.
  2. Government procurement practices need to be rethought. Getting the lowest possible price by gouging suppliers has no place in the more modern procurement approach of co-creation and cooperation.
  3. Victorian Government has the chance to lead the country by publishing guidelines for use of design. The guidelines should demonstrate how government departments can progress up the design maturity ladder. Imagine a ‘design centric’ government.

Reminder: Deadline  to submit your view or support ours is August 30.


Appendix 1: Department of Justice

Personal experience. As part of discussions about design and intellectual property with a Communications Advisor at the Department of Justice, Carol Mackay used a Victorian Government guideline document to prove Government Departments were required to justify claiming intellectual property. The response was: “it’s only a guideline, we don’t have to abide”.

Appendix 2: Purchasing process

Personal experience. Over coffee, one of my long-term Government clients shared the process for gaining approval to proceed with a $15,000 project.

After getting the three mandatory quotes, his job included sorting the submissions to ensure all used similar language and could be compared/assessed by non-design personnel. He then explained the process to gain the approval of his direct manager, and then three separate departments (including purchasing and finance). The paperwork and the approvals took a full day of negotiation between departments.

For that government agency the process was more important than the work. The decision was based on price.

Appendix 3: Abuse of intellectual property.

Mackay Branson design vs Magistrates’ Court of Victoria says it all.

Appendix 4: Design as a transactional exercise

Design Business Council Design Maturity research demonstrated design is being used to a high level in some Victorian businesses. The research demonstrated local businesses profited from design integration. For instance, VicSuper averaged an 80% level of maturity in their use of design across all their business activities.

Our experience working with design studios who have government clients indicates most Victorian Government departments sit around 10 or 20% maturity. That’s in a large part due to purchasers of design lacking an understanding of design value.

A presentation of the Design Maturity Research is available on request


Want to discuss any of the above? Email Carol or Greg.


Carol Mackay

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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council she uses her experience, and research, to help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement  paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

In 2018 Carol co-founded the Clear Communication Awards, and the Business of Design Week. Both will be run in 2019

An archive of her design work at
Her current work can be viewed at and

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