Bianca Elzenbaumer, of the Brave New Alps collective, writes in her dissertation: “Being passionate about one’s work, jumping from one […] project to the next […] keeping several commissions going at the same time, accepting work even when underpaid, establishing bulimic work patterns […] doing without sick pay, paid vacations and unemployment compensation, having no or only minimal social protection […]: this is what working as a designer involves today for many between the ages of 25 and 45…”
This situation is all too familiar to many of us. Precarisation broadly refers to insecure, uncertain and difficult living or working conditions. In Slovakia, the concept has not yet been fully adopted and is rarely associated with the art and creative industry.
Elzenbaumer also puts precarisation in the context of socially engaged design practice. She writes: “It is widely accepted that designers, at some point, will necessarily need to make a choice between financial stability and meaningful work.” Designers often consider this situation to be their personal problem, blaming themselves for insufficient assertiveness or the inability to work effectively. Toxic working habits and self-exploitation have become standard in our profession. The silent approval of this condition by claiming that we are committed to our work, is a failed attempt to open our eyes to a serious systemic problem.
It is difficult to find a way out. With this in mind, Brave New Alps, which works internationally, has created the Precarity Pilot initiative. A lot of interesting information on this topic in design can be found there, including ideas on how to organise one’s design practice from a financial and career point of view. It also contains sets of questions to help us manage our personal motivation and models. Much of this information is very stimulating and helpful, but not all of it can be applied to Slovak conditions. Suggested pricing proposals (from design associations in Germany and Italy) reveal a radically different socio-economic context (the fixed price for a poster being €3,000 and the rate of pay for a fresh design graduate being €191/day).
The threats resulting from the precarious working conditions faced by designers is exacerbated by the fact that, generally, little is paid for design in Slovakia. However, it should be emphasised that low financial rewards are only one component. To improve the situation, it is important to talk openly about this topic. Connecting and sharing can help, both at the professional level (the Union of Graphic Designers, SDC...) and in the community. Precarity Pilot could prove to be a great example of such an initiative.