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Entry no.: 876

28 May 2006, 6:08 PM

Comments: 0

Design On design contests

And why the term “design whore” is too elegant

Following the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games identity scandal, Canadians banned spec work. And they banned it good:

As a result of the situation and others that preceded it, the GDC (Society of Graphic Designers of Canada) changed its Code of Ethics at its annual meeting on May 6-7, 2005, so as to leave no doubt as to its stand on design contests. The GDC no longer allows any member participation in open design contests for commercial purposes on speculation, either as an entrant or a judge.

GDC is—as far as I know—the first graphic designers' national organization to not only instill the idea that free pitches are wrong, but to actively enforce it across its body of members.

From now on, GDC members cannot undertake any speculative project for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used. Members may take part in limited design competitions where each participant is provided equal and adequate compensation. The Society has separate guidelines for pro bono work for charitable purposes.

The Graphic Artists Guild and the GDC both recommend that if a competition is held, the hosts should first put out a request for portfolios, then after reviewing the work, select a group of finalists who are best suited for the job. The finalists may be asked for rough sketches for the project at hand if they are paid adequately and equally for their work. Finally, when a single designer or firm is finally selected, that winner should be paid fees that are commensurate to current market value. The designer will retain rights to the work.

In order to change the tone for a second here to something more tongue-in-cheek, I'll quote Andy Rutledge from his Redesign Competitions: looking for a commitment or just a roll in the hay? post on DesignView:

I’m hosting a competition. I need a partner with whom to have a serious relationship but I don’t want to invest any time or effort in finding the right woman; I shouldn’t have to. I’m a great man and any woman should be proud to be with me, so I’m holding auditions. I’d like for all interested women to visit me and show me your “wares.” I’m definitely looking for someone with a hot bod, and not afraid to show it off. Extra points for staying the night and letting me sample your attentions and enthusiasm.

One lucky winner gets a $400 wedding ring and the prestige of having me for a partner (‘cause I look good). The rest of you just get screwed. Awright, who’s with me?

  • * *
    This is the basic translation of every redesign competition invitation for any company who has ever held one. Is it apparent now just how disrespectful such competitions are toward those they solicit? Given this clear context, how many of you are still willing to defend this sort of behavior? Aw c’mon, I know you’re out there. I read your apologist responses and defenses of these competitions all the time.

But after his colorful opening comes a bitter closure:

Yes, it’s very definitely a joke on all involved. The problem is that the joke is also on the design profession as a whole. Every time one of these competitions is held, it tears a little more at the fabric of our profession. Every designer who participates in one of these competitions steals a bit more credibility from the true professionals in this industry.

The term “design whore” is not even applicable to the image that is thus created. Whores are professional and whores get paid. What do you call someone who doesn’t even have the self respect to expect or demand payment?

A designer? Say it ain't so.

Sad. Awful true.

In Romania the situation is very different from Canada. There is no national graphic designers' organization. The design industry is still in its infancy. Many graphic designers I meet—including the greenest juniors—are incredibly fond or downright hypnotized by shiny overstatements and words like 'consultancy,' 'strategy' and 'branding,' obliviously neglecting their true main profession: graphic designer. There are no rules and ethics is perceived as a luxury fitted only for the few.

In this conditions, design steps right into advertising industry's footsteps, repeating the same mistakes and heading for the same deplorable dead-end they're swamped in: free pitch as the de facto norm.

I wrote about spec work here on in the past, but this is an important issue that needs to be revisited every once in a while. And so this post's purpose is not to freeze spec work practice as from tomorrow. This is not possible.

This post's purpose is let designers know that providing spec work and participating in free pitches is wrong and it undermines not only how design is seen, but—slowly—what design is as a profession.



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