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German Art, Design, and Taxes

On of the major discussions that was part of the MFA rewrite research I did for UIC was what is the difference between art and design. While in the US, the question seems mostly academic. In Germany, the distinction has implications for your tax rate. According to Dr. Wolfgang Schonholz, Professor of Communication Design at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, the difference is a 7% reduction in taxes.

If a designer can prove that the quality and content of their work is artistic, he or she can be categorized as an artist and thus receive a 7% tax rate. If a designer's work is mediocre, he or she is put in the business category and has a 14% tax rate. Dr. Schonholz has served as expert in legal tax cases to prove whether a designer/artists work qualified as art.

Some additional highlights of our conversation include:

  1. It seems that design in Germany is mostly an elite activity. Meaning that its focus is on elite designers (as defined by the Art Directors Club Germany) designing for an elite target of highly educated people with good taste.I did not get a sense that there is a strong user-centered design culture, although there should be a target identified in the creative brief.
  2. Although agencies do pro-bono work, there is not an emphasis on civic design projects like those of Design for Democracy. There is a sense that Germans are used to looking to the state for solutions not assisting the state in providing solutions.
  3. Students resist strategic thinking in Hamburg University as well as my students. They want to go straight to a "solution."
  4. There less crossover between business, the academy, and government. He seemed surprised that I have a traditional academic background, moved into industry, moved back into academia, and is/was involved with the government. This is a new concept for a German. Note: This has been reiterated many times by Germans. Academics stay in the academy. Business people in business. Government people in government although they may go into a policy thinktank.

This is my impression based on the conversation, but if I spoke with someone from a design center, I assume I would get a different impression of German design.




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