The Question of Credits

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While having dinner with a former teacher of mine (turned great drinking buddy) we discussed designers’ websites, the different ways portfolios can be shown, and what made some sites memorable. The topic of using credits on sites, or rather—lack thereof—came in to question. It seems a good amount of designers don’t have credits on their sites. He and I asked, why?

A couple years ago when I entered work in for Print’s New Visual Artists issue, the staff at the time had reservations on whether or not they would make my feature project the CNN Grill (something that was created between five of us at COLLINS:) or instead showcase something more personal and singular in its authorship, like a book jacket or an illustration I did.

The concern? Big projects, with big budgets, and lots of people, tend to get sticky in its authorship. My colleagues and I, obviously with different titles and levels, all simultaneously and collaboratively bled together for that project. It’s been rightfully made clear by the senior members of the team that it’s just as much mine as it is theirs. So, while I respectably understood the staff’s concern, I was strangely confused when it was brought into question. I wondered, do other people feel this way, too?

The complication? The objective of many design studios is to maintain the integrity of the leader’s voice. Sometimes a designer is simply given an idea to make, perhaps left out of the ideation process, and ultimately creates work that feels like The Studio. That’s where things get tricky with authorship. At COLLINS:, the theme is about partnership and collaboration; there’s no “one” person. The staff is small, senior, very opinionated, and eager to push one another to do their best. You’re expected to have a voice, to exercise that voice, and to do so, eloquently, in a variety of ways. And because we work so closely, and in such a rapid way, the work becomes incestuous.

Recently, my former creative director, John Fulbrook, and I were discussing our roles on the many projects we’ve done together—and more questions arose on this topic. When somebody sees a project he and I did, do they consider it John’s work because his title was Art Director or Creative Director? Or do they consider it mine because my title was Designer? He suggested the latter. I suggested the former. These questions undoubtably arise for me while looking at a designer’s site (even with credits). And I’ve had my fair share of questions by peers.

But what about the designers who don’t put any credits on their site? Why is that? Entitlement? Insecurity? Spite? And what influence does that have on the viewer? Does it give the suggestion that they might have done the work in the corner of their own genius, without anyone’s help, collaboration, or direction? And if so, do they do it in order to help them get the work they want from potential clients? Credits can definitely muck up a site, so perhaps it’s purely an aesthetic choice? While I think it’s important to put credits on a website, and just as vital to make them observable, I do agree that the appearance of credits can “dirty” a site up.

Feeling stumped, I asked a friend who, coincidentally, is undecided on whether or not she’s going to put credits on her new site. Her argument in favor of putting credits: “Do I do it just out of principle? And if so, is that a good enough reason?” I tend to think it is. There are too many designers not crediting, and too many designers not getting the credit they deserve. If nothing else, doesn’t it spread the positive karma that the graphic design gods might send us? Why isn’t it good to show the “love” to our peers in the industry? Don’t we want them to get work, too? And don’t we want to maintain good relationships with our peers, colleagues, and clients?

I have so many questions! However, I can’t find one good reason not to credit appropriately. Designers, illustrators, art directors and everyone else—I would to love to hear your thoughts on this sticky and complicated subject.

[Ed. note: This article originally appeared on Tim’s blog.]