The Blurred Lines of Attribution

BDAV President, Lindsay Douglas, discusses when it is appropriate to give credit to individual team members – or other designers involved in your project – for their work.

Designing as a team is an integral part of making a design project come to life. A team environment fosters a sense of togetherness and allows professionals from different disciplines to collectively build ideas from the ground up, challenge each other and lean on individual’s expertise. However, when we are working collaboratively in a team with other professionals such as fellow designers, interior designers and landscape architects, when is it appropriate to give individual team members credit?

As building designers, we are bound by law to give our co-designers credit but it should also be our individual obligation to find constructive ways to attribute credit to all parties involved in a project, and shine a light on the talents of the entire project team be they builders, architects or interior designers.

So, what is attribution? Attribution is a moral, ethical and professional imperative – an unspoken code of conduct. It is simply giving credit to the creator. It is acknowledging authorship – when sharing a photo to social media, for example, we always credit the photographer. The same goes in building design.

It is not just our moral obligation to our fellow designers, it’s also the right business practice to support our colleagues in the industry.

Designers must consider a few key things before working on a joint venture or a project with multiple designers. According to The Moral Rights Act, design must be attributed whenever reproduced – whether in plans, models, buildings or photography – when published online or on display. Your design team should be aware of these regulations, as copyright is automatic when taking material form. Under the Copyright Act, the author (building designer) of a work (plans or drawings) has a right of attribution of authorship in respect of his or her work.

Here are a few suggestions on how to respectfully – and legally – credit a co-designer:
1. Tagging a co-designer when you share images of your work on social media (which not only credits their design but increases your own exposure).
2. Crediting a co-designer on your website, with a link to their website.
3. When discussing examples of your past work with new clients, give credit to your co-designer’s contributions to the project.

My advice is to sit down and talk openly and honestly at the beginning of the project about how you will work together, and how you will give credit to each other when the work is complete. The best time to clearly outline how you will make attributions is when you are first defining the scope of work, fees and responsibilities.

In my experience, discussing how you are going to recognise the contribution of others is one of the most important conversations in your initial design meetings. Unless it is a design area you individually create, all parties should agree on how to credit others.

And working collaboratively is not only about how you carve up the tasks and take ownership within a design project. You should view it as a learning opportunity – to meet new clients, network and have industry professionals challenge your way of thinking.

We become dependent on each other for success, and success is important. Successful projects and pleased clients translate to referrals and new business opportunities. Success that could not be reached without designers challenging your thinking and building on your ideas – so give them a little credit.

More information on morals rights and copyrighting – including the BDAV Moral Rights Practice Note, BDAV Copyright Practice Note and Copyright Council Fact Sheets – go to the BDAV website at www.bdav.org.au.