Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Graphics Collective: Here's the Idea, Let's Discuss

Thank you all for responding to my Craigslist posting! The response was healthy, I think around 100 so far. I take this as evidence that there is a desire and need for creative individuals to belong to something bigger and more inspiring than the lonely game of every man for himself survival.

The easy part is describing the utopian vision, harder indeed to work through the details of making it work. I had the idea a while before I posted it, and so I have thought it through to some extent, and will lay out my ideas so far here. PLEASE, the main purpose of this blog is for us to begin to discuss this as a group, so RESPOND. Even if you just agree with everything and have no major contribution, say so. If you disagree with everything, say so, but say why and what should change. No one is going to be thrown out for this.

General Principle

The Collective ought to function as a virtual (i.e., no physical, central office) design firm. The key difference is that there is no owner or small group of owners. This means nobody is putting up money to get started, but it also means the workers in the Collective are not selling their labor to a capitalist whose main interest is to profit from said labor. Americans have been taught that this is communism, and that communism is inherently evil and inhuman. If this is so, then the Brooklyn Food Co-op, the public school system, kibbutzes in Israel and Alcoholics Anonymous, to name a few, are all communistic, inhuman organizations! That's absurd, of course, so we should breathe easily as we move forward in the discussion. Nobody is being asked to give up any individuality or independence. In fact, quite the opposite: through group effort, we become freer to be ourselves.

This is not to say there will be no profits or desire for profits. Profits will be needed in order for the Collective to grow and get stronger, to become more and more indispensible to its members. Long-term goals might include things like health care coverage and other benefits for members. We will need practical things that cost money, like accounting and legal services.


As I stated, there will be no boss. I am not the boss! If I take a leadership role now, it is for the obvious reason that I am the founder of the group, but I have no wish to be an autocrat with special powers.

We will, as a group, select leaders who will serve the group. Leadership will be restored to its proper function: as service to the community. No abuse of leadership privilege will be tolerated, however, proper application of leadership duties must be respected. More on that later.

I propose to select a small group of leading members at the outset, based on experiential strength and willingness to serve. This group will facilitate making all final decisions needed to get started, and will serve as leadership for initial projects. I propose that we have regular elections for leadership posts, and ongoing discussion of leadership duties, etc. A disciplined discussion forum needs to be implemented.

Initiating Work

One of the most difficult questions facing us is, how do we drum up work for the Collective? Since individual members are likely to keep their private work separate, the danger is we end up with a nice-sounding enterprise but no work!

I propose to advertise for a commission only sales rep to join the Collective. Later we may be able to pay a salary. Also, I wonder if offering a finder's fee to any member who directs work to the Collective would be effective?


When work comes in it will be assigned to a project manager who will generate estimates and timelines, distribute tasks to appropriate personnel, and manage the workflow through completion.


After cost estimates are approved and up-front payment received from client, the project manager (or financial officer as case may be) will disperse money to individual members working on the project. Profits will be deposited in the Collective account.

Money Management

This is one aspect I don't have solid answers for, and welcome all ideas, especially considering its vital importance. We need a way to assure that the Collective account is safe from embezzlement or other abuse. I'm not an accountant, but maybe there's some way to require all dispersals to be double countersigned or something. I have an accountant who might be willing to give us some pro bono advice on this. All suggestions are welcome.

Meetings and Elections

We should have regular meetings, some online perhaps, but in-the-flesh meetings occasionally I think would be important. We should hold elections for leadership positions regularly. I propose that positions should have a 6 month duration, elections to be held every 6 months.

Fairness & Disputes

I foresee that there may arise disputes as to work distribution, payment and any number of other matters. We need to work out an adjudication system as a group.

Creative Principles

This is central to my reasons for trying to start the Collective. In this matter I will express myself forcefully. I have seen major changes in the nature of the creative industry. I started well before computers arrived, for instance. More importantly, I've seen a struggle for control that creatives have lost. The result has been devastating to the general quality of work and, perhaps more poignantly, to the level of fulfillment available to creatives. I don't want to duplicate these conditions in our Collective. This must always be a "creatives-first" organization. We will always endeavor to provide clients with solutions that fill their needs, however, we should not become puppets to overweening clients who want to exercise undue influence simply because they are paying for our time. On a group vote, we should not hesitate to resign accounts that have become burdensome to our creativity.

Remember: the most successful creatives have not become so by allowing clients to force them into making mediocre work. We must aspire to become both a model of collective power and of creative integrity.

Please stay tuned to this page for more to come. I welcome your contributions.

Sincere regards,

Ty Cumbie