Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
  
Opportunity or Opportunistic?

Uh oh, here we go again.

Recently, the United Nations launched a contest to solicit a logo design for its “2006, the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD)” campaign. The winner would receive $5,000 US. The contest rules and regulations were sent to colleges and design programs across the country, positioning itself as an opportunity for students to create an international logo for one of the world’s most well-known humanitarian organization.

Sniff..sniff…do I smell the foul odor of spec work here? Is there something wrong with this picture, or is it just me?

First, a brief excerpt from the press release:

The IYDD On the 23rd December 2003, at its Fifty Eighth Session, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2006, the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD). The General Assembly justified this resolution as a means to prevent the exacerbation of desertification and invited governments and other partners to support the successful celebration of this year and to raise public awareness of the issue in order to protect the biological diversity as well as the indigenous and local communities and the traditional knowledge of those affected by this phenomenon.

The LOGO This important year in the UN calendar calls for a unique logo to advertise our collective mission as a UN system and the goals we wish to achieve for the promotion of sustainable development in arid ecosystems and the protection of future generations. Within that perspective, we have decided to open the design of our logo to the public, in order to benefit from the largest spectrum of creativity and sensibility to the issue. The ideal design contemplated should be both simple in its overall conception yet creative in conveying the IYDD image and capturing the public’s attention. In that context, it should firstly succeed in communicating the goals of the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. It should also endeavour to suggest the concept of UN partnership and convey the principles of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as a tool for poverty eradication. This competition will be open to all participants being individual or corporate. Staff and Families of the United Nations interagency cluster will not be eligible.

Background Desertification is a worldwide problem directly affecting one third of the planet’s land surface. Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. It does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing, and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the land’s productivity. Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification. In addition, some one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk. These people include many of the world’s poorest, most marginalized, and politically weak citizens. Combating desertification is essential to ensuring the long-term productivity of inhabited drylands.

So let’s look at this opportunity. Clearly, the cause is legit and deserving of attention. For a design student, the opportunity to design a UN logo is difficult to resist — especially since the winner also receives $5,000 US, which is a fortune for most students.

But on the other hand, why is the UN targetting this contest to students? Is it because they realize that professionals would immediately decline the work, deeming it unethical? Is the UN being opportunistic in its method — trying to solicit as much design work from students as possible for just a measly $5 grand. The submissions they receive will be worth a thousand times that much in labor and effort.

This is starting to sound a lot like the Vancouver Olympic Committee’s (VANOC) contest to design the logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. That contest had a prize of $25,000 CN and was open to all Canadians. But the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) called it a sham, and first forbid any of its members to participate, but then backed off and settled for an official protest of the unethical practice by VANOC. We covered it briefly on Speak Up, but you can read about the incident and the response on the GDC website here, here, and here.

But to be fair, the Vancouver Olympic Committee was a for-profit organization, while the UN is clearly non-profit. Should that make a difference?

So bottom line — is this particular instance an opportunity or a scam? Is the practice unethical, or is it a fair and reasonable way for students to bid on a high-profile project that they would never have access to otherwise? Should the professional design community be involved and reply, or just ignore it?

+ Thanks to Robynne Raye for the topic and info.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2234 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Mar.02.2005 BY Tan
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Valon’s comment is:

Tan, I think this issue can go both ways. On one side - as you said - UN is a non-profit organization and for them to reach out to students for a logo I wouldn't consider it unethical. UN will use the logo to promote an idea and call for action for the betterment of the world in general. In other words they [UN] won't make any profit of the logo.

Say if the case was that a for-profit company solicited students for logo design for $5000 I would consider that highly unethical, because they won't only exploit students but they will deprive experienced designers from doing the job.

...I guess in case of UN I would give them the green light and say that it's ok for them to reach out to students. 5Gs doesn't sound that bad after all.

On Mar.02.2005 at 06:10 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I agree Valon — I'm on the fence as well. But then again, I wonder what other services the UN is soliciting contests for execution. Do they ask UPS and FedEx to compete for UN business in this fashion? What about healthcare insurance for their employees, or custodial/contract labor for their buildings and facilities, or accounting or IT services for their operations. In terms of media, do they handle media-buys or any other media services (web/advertising/PR) in this same fashion? I may be exaggerating a bit here, but is it really OK for an organization of their size to value design services in this manner — as opposed to any other professional service that they may use?

On Mar.02.2005 at 06:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

On a similar — I think — train of thought as Tan as to the discrepancies in soliciting design work: What's with the students? Sure, they are eager and willing, but to place parallel with other services, would they solicit PR options from a communications program? Or IT Services from DeVry students?

It is weird that design students are such a valid option for design work.

As far as the conundrum at hand: depends. What I think makes this a little bit iffy for me — and the part that I think is harmful not to the profession but to the process of design — is the selection of a logo when hundreds of entries are received. Seems like a very arbitrary way to select a logo. A lot of good ideas will get passed and the committee will select a poor solution. Great design needs to be "sold", you can't send it in an envelope and hope it gets picked, because it won't.

On Mar.02.2005 at 06:36 PM
Valon’s comment is:

hmmm...on a second thought, when you include all other services that will benefit in getting this project [IYDD] off the ground - it's definitively not OK to value design services [us] in this way. I guess I am getting side-tracked by their status of a non-profit organization and forgetting to value our field higher.

Now I am wondering how other non-profit organizations deal with this. I know most of them try to solicit services the same way UN is doing in this case. I wouldn't be surprised if UN takes advantage of their status and gets away with it.

I'm not sure I have a finalized thought on this one ~ I want to see what others have to say...I guess it's a catch 22 thing...

On Mar.02.2005 at 06:43 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>What's with the students?

Exactly, Armin. I think they approach students because they think that they don't know any better — hence, the opportunistic part.

Plus, there are probably dozens of design firms and agencies around the world that already donate pro-bono work to the UN — imagine how pissed you would be if you worked at one of those places and this happened.

>Now I am wondering how other non-profit organizations deal with this.

Also remember that NPO execs can often pull down some hefty salaries — well into 6 figures plus. Now I'm not saying that they don't deserve what they get paid — but why is design always singled out as being something that can be had for free or next-to-nothing? There's definitely a hypocrisy in how design services is often viewed by NPOs.

On Mar.02.2005 at 06:51 PM
ps’s comment is:

there are so many of these spec works flying around. lets face it. they'll get thousands of options for 5k... and some designs will actually be good. for some people it will be worthwhile to compete, for others its not. if you don't like it, don't take the project on. leave it up to someone who wants it. A bad thing for our profession? not sure, at least the $5k are higher than the $500 logos that graphic designers are cranking out left and right -- there is always a market for spec work and non spec. there is a market for the cheapo logo and a market for higher paying work. i think its more a matter of which game do you want to participate in. once you know that, you just weed out the stuff that does not fit your criteria. what would be appropriate is for aiga to approach the comittee and educate them on how it should be done from their perspective. maybe next time they'll do it differently.

On Mar.02.2005 at 06:54 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>if you don't like it, don't take the project on.

Peter, I don't think it's as simple as a "if you don't like the program, change the channel" kind of approach. I think certain practices do hurt the industry — and this is definitely one of them. Bad practices can be like viruses among NPO boards and other corporate exec circles. Individually ignoring the problem just makes it someone else's problem — but it doesn't make it go away. Sooner or later, we have to deal with it as an industry.

Discussing it as a group, and collectively uniting against acceptance of such practice is a good start. Yes, the AIGA could help educate, just as the GDC did. But the best way to end such contests is to stop them from working in the first place.

On Mar.02.2005 at 07:42 PM
RavenOne’s comment is:

As an artist and design student (I got my ba, but being a student never really ends... and my advertising course rocks)...I find it interesting that artists(and designers) seem to be on one hand held on a pedastel and on the other utterly undervalued. If you can create you're "SOOooo SPECIAL and TALENTED and CREATIVE" and yet... "Anyone can do it! Why should I give you $$?!"

It's a rather frustrating situation to be in...

Added to that, I'll admit to doing things for less money (or even no $$) just to try to get my name out there...

:

On Mar.02.2005 at 07:57 PM
ps’s comment is:

I think certain practices do hurt the industry — and this is definitely one of them. sure its hurts part of the industry. but i'm not sure if it hurts the industry as a whole. if you look at a logo as only a visual with not much else behind, then, we are heading toward commodity. and obviously there are organizations that look at a logo as just that. i'm not saying its right, but i wonder if we already missed the boat there. tan: if the first price would be, let's say 250,000 dollars, would that change anything?

On Mar.02.2005 at 07:59 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

My hope would be that an organization - whether corporate or non-profit - would be willing to hire a student or student team, and work with them until a solution is reached. I don't think having an open "competition" is a cost effective way to get an identity when you think of the amount of hours a student may put in this project, and then times that by 1000 (or more). And it would be highly unlikely that a student would get any feedback as to why their solution didn't work. This isn't my definition of an education.

As an instructor I've been approached by non-profits who have offered small amounts of monetary reward ($200, $300, and $500 winners) to student designers, with the crown jewel being the produced work. Students worked in teams of 3 or 4. The experience was rewarding, even for the students who didn't place in the top three. And the non-profit got some great collateral that they will be able to use for many years.

I'm not on the fence about this issue. It just reminds me of a grade school Cake Walk where the "prettiest Cake" wins the prize.

Thanks Tan, for taking the time to make this issue public.

On Mar.02.2005 at 07:59 PM
Bradley D’s comment is:

I too am torn about this. I am pleased to see the UN offering what I would consider a reasonable amount of money to students for a logo. Now, whether they are providing an opportunity or simply being opportunistic is indeed the iffy area.

The real challenge here is that we are dealing with students and money—no less a considerably large chunk of money for most students. I agree that this kind of farming of student talent by NPOs can be, at times, quite shameless. I also agree that as a profession we should do what we can to curb this impulse among NPOs.

That being said, we also have to realize that students do not typically consider themselves part of the design 'industry', and generally salivate when they hear the words 'logo design and five thousand dollars' used in the same sentence. I don't if many of my own students who would be concerned with the well-being of the design profession (something which they feel they have yet to become a part of) at that point.

Trying to make students aware of these issues is difficult. Especially with this preconceived value of 'real work' and the almighty 'resumé'. I imagine that many students would submit a logo for free based only on the promise of being part of something as far-reaching as the UN. For this reason I applaud the UN for their financial incentive—I have seen far worse.

Now, if we can somehow come up with a way to combat all of those issues then we will have a good springboard to really make the NPOs take notice. Until then they will more than likely continue treating design as they currently do.

On Mar.02.2005 at 08:07 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

ps- money has nothing to do with it.

On Mar.02.2005 at 08:07 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>if you look at a logo as only a visual with not much else behind, then, we are heading toward commodity. and obviously there are organizations that look at a logo as just that.

I see your point, though I think it's a whole other discussion. The amount of money is not the point — it's the method that's questionable.

>As an instructor I've been approached by non-profits ..with the crown jewel being the produced work. Students worked in teams of 3 or 4.

I worked on similar projects when I was a student — I think many of us have. Clearly, the intent and process for projects like that have much more integrity — similar to internships, where on-the-job-training is the intention, not cheap labor.

On Mar.02.2005 at 08:43 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> if the first price would be, let's say 250,000 dollars, would that change anything?

> money has nothing to do with it.

Ethically, no… but

I think it would change everything. It raises the stakes not only for the student contestants but more importantly for the UN. I can bet you half of those 250K that their selection process would be much more rigorous and that would lead to a better understanding of each entry (I am theorizing that for the possibility of getting a quarter of a million dollars at least a written objective would be a requirement from each contestant).

$5,000 means: we think this is fun, you should enter our contest.

$250,000 means: we are taking this seriously, you should enter our contest.

On Mar.02.2005 at 09:12 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

well, yeah, this is sorta sleazy. but, it's so common of a practice out there that it's hardly a big deal. it's a PR scam - "let's get the kids in on it! it'll drag in lots of publicity and everybody wins!!!" that sort of stupid thinking.

what really happens is they end up most likely geting a bunch of really amateurish student logos. they're stuck having to fork out the money for one and then they never use it, because it doesn't work. the student who did it gets humiliated. then they go out and try to hire a professional designer to do it for free because they blew their wad on paying out the contest money. of course, the designers get pissed because they were snubbed intially and won't do any probono. the cleint has to pay through the nose. i've seen this scenario play out a dozen times. it's always a disaster, but they keep trying it.

the reality is that it's a bad idea for everybody - everyone loses - the student, the client, the future designer. usually the PR/marketing dude who came up with the idea gets canned, too.

just avoid these things like the plague. eventually people with more than an ounce of experience gets promoted to the position where sound decisions are possible. it's called attrition.

On Mar.02.2005 at 09:17 PM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

I'm not on the fence, because spec is spec. What blows my mind here is, honestly, how many talented designers/design firms would offer up their services pro bono for the project and strive to work with the UN to push it further than either group could make it on their own? I imagine quite a few, considering how international/high-profile it is. On top of the fact that it'd just be nice to support the UN in this endeavour.

What annoys me about spec is not the money, it's the idea that the design process works well going one way: we write a short design brief, then you go do that design thing (no, we won't take your calls) and come back with something. Then, we can reject it out of hand without further discussion, because we all know how many projects come out right on the first shot.*

And, I'm sorry, but the $5K sounds more like a dress on a pig or a carrot on a stick than honest pay or reward. Ultimately, everyone makes their own choices concerning this kind of contest, and it doesn't make a person evil. It just seems harmful in the long run for those participating...and for those who aren't.

The non-profit/for the UN thing doesn't change any of this.

*there are other reasons, as well

On Mar.03.2005 at 12:21 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

Now that I'm thinking more about the situation, it's probably a good way for the UN to screen the designs for maximum non-controversiality, too.

"I like this one, it says: 'Yeah, that's what I would've done.'"

"Ooh, this one looks like it's worth $5,000."

On Mar.03.2005 at 12:24 AM
ian’s comment is:

on-the-job-training is the intention, not cheap labor.

if only it were true in this case. i don't think there is any "iffy" to the fact the u.n. is looking to bank on some cheap student labor. why pay a professional to do it when a student will break there back for the opportunity?

i did it when i was a student. spend countless hours working on a "design contest" to ensure your work was selected, both for the experience and the bragging rights it would give you in an interview. wish i would have know then it was a waste of my time.

robynne raye is right on: if it set up so the students can learn from the experience then i'm all for it. but no student who submits a logo to the u.n. is going to get any feed back about their logo and will leave the experince thinking they submitted great work and it didn't get selected. when chances are it wasn't great and was probably off in some way or another and they will never know why.

i agree with art chantry - avoid these like the plague!

STUDENTS: DON'T FALL FOR SOMEONE TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR SITUATION, EVER!

what amazes me is in an article on speak up a few weeks, maybe months back, some one asked "how many solutions do you submit to a client?" personally, i was surprised how many people said "there is only one." but i think the magic number that pretty much everyone settled on was 3. the point was that anything more confuses the issue. there are a couple directions which make sense.

i currently work in a shop that thinks we have to send out 10 logos in round one (yes, that was 10 not 1) and follow that up with 5 revised. then one final. the problem is we have done that exercise up to three times for one client. that's over 40 logos, oh and this is after they have 20 some logos from an earlier design shop before we were in the picture.

i should mention that none of the designers agree with the way this is set up and fight it everytime we start with a new client. but it's how the owners think it should be done. then we wonder why they can't decide on a logo? maybe because we over saturated them with so many options none of them make sense any more.

which brings me the long way 'round to my point. think how many fucking logos the u.n. is going to get out of thier "contest." how can they possibly end up with a good logo?

this cracked me up too:

The ideal design contemplated should be both simple in its overall conception yet creative in conveying the IYDD image and capturing the public’s attention.

what the fuck does that mean? is it me, or is that statement completely backwards. A logo should be extremely creative in its conception, but simple in its execution in order to clearly convey the iydd image and capture attention.

what a shame. i really believe in helping non-profits in their causes and this sounds like a great cause. but the way they are asking for help makes me not want to help them.

On Mar.03.2005 at 01:06 AM
ian’s comment is:

the $5K sounds more like a dress on a pig or a carrot on a stick

ha ha! well said, well said!

On Mar.03.2005 at 01:09 AM
Devil's Advocate’s comment is:

I really feel somebody should play devil's advocate here..

Come on people, I know our profession is terribly valuable and important and everything, but it's only a logo. A picture. It won't decide whether their project ends up a success or a failure. I don't think there's any harm in a non-profit organization trying to save some funds here for more important issues. I'd personally feel quite bad making a large profit from them. If they offered $250,000 it would mean $245,000 less for the good cause.

If this was about a for-profit company it would have been an entirely different story, but in this case the end fully justifies the means, IMHO.

On Mar.03.2005 at 04:49 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

I don't think there's any harm in a non-profit organization trying to save some funds here for more important issues.

I think that's a misconception — if you don't market yourself the best way possible, how are you supposed to increase awareness, value, communication and in-turn help the people that the organization claims to be working for?

On a related issue (vancouver2010.com), as was brought up on the GDC listserv yesterday: it seems “all references to the logo, logo contest etc. have been removed from the site which leads me to believe they did not get what they wanted through the contest and are in fact sheepishly hiring a firm to do the work.”

- Dave C.

stay tuned.

On Mar.03.2005 at 07:25 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

I hardly see this as an opportunity for students (um, aside from that lucky one who gets $5000). For anyone doing identity design, especially a student learning the ropes, the process one follows is extremely important in determining the project's outcome. A contest teaches them absolutely nothing about defining the problem, establishing criteria, identifying decision-makers vs. influencers, managing the project, presenting the work, staging implementation, and a whole boatload of other issues.

The lure of $5000 (which would buy a lot of mac & cheese for a hungry student) will no doubt entice more than a few to give it a go. But I hope that instructors would put this into perspective for them, and help them understand that it's more closely aligned to a crap shoot than a design project.

On Mar.03.2005 at 08:53 AM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

This is open to anyone, not just students.

What's really disappointing is that such an important organization, with such an important issue at stake, should go about publicizing it in such an unprofessional manner, ie centering it on a logo derived from a mail-in competition, rather than by working with a designer or design agency to produce an integrated communication program. The UN's approach is designed for failure.

But I'm not sure this is intentional. It may be because the official in charge of publicity has no experience of commisioning publicity, and doesn't know the "field" of designers/agencies available, and who would be able to do the best job. The person in charge may not even be aware of how to go about drawing up a short list of candidates. They may come from a background of political studies or scientific research, rather than business, public relations and marketing.

Another explanation may be that a logo competition will deflect the stigma of "-centric" favoritism, while the rest of the design and communications work can later be handed out without tender.

They might just as well have a competition for a new typeface for the "unique mission", or a competiton for a slogan, or a competition for a color scheme for the campaign, or a competition for photographs of deserts, etc. All these things will have to work together in a campaign, and letting the "logo" drive the agenda is not the best way of managing design.

On Mar.03.2005 at 08:57 AM
Jeffrey Gill QCis’s comment is:

I don't think there's any harm in a non-profit organization trying to save some funds here for more important issues... If this was about a for-profit company it would have been an entirely different story, but in this case the end fully justifies the means.

Your Honour, I object to the opinion expressed by the Evil One's Counsel. The fact that the UN are trying to save money is not the issue; it is the way they are trying to save it that is raising the hackles of my colleagues.

Furthermore, it is a well-known tactic of the opposing counsel's client to insist that means can be justified by ends. Your Honour, it is manifestly true to anyone of reasonable intelligence, and especially to my esteemed design colleagues, that this is not the case. I petition the court to disregard this and all further statements from the Devil's advocate

On Mar.03.2005 at 09:01 AM
Valon’s comment is:

> Come on people, I know our profession is terribly valuable and important and everything, but it's only a logo. A picture.

Did you just call a logo a Picture ?!

> Sooner or later, we have to deal with it as an industry.

I know this issue has been brought forward before, but why don't graphic designers get licenced same way architects do? Also, do companies solicit work from student architects!?

> tan: if the first price would be, let's say 250,000 dollars, would that change anything?

Absolutely! First off, with that kind of budget they will have to go to professionals and get the right solution. I am not saying students are not capable of such a thing, however doing a logo or any type of design work without ever meeting or at least talking on the phone with the client, it's a waste of time for both parties.

On Mar.03.2005 at 09:03 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>This is open to anyone, not just students.

You're right, Nick. But I think the amount of money and the fashion in which it was distributed to colleges shows that it was seen as being more appealing to students and teachers who might have taken it on as a class project.

>But I'm not sure this is intentional.

A few people here have proposed that this whole campaign is the result of a misguided, uninformed UN bureaucrat. I don't think that's the case. Remember, this is the UN, not some hicksville municipal council. There are probably thousands of some of the most qualified, educated, and experienced people in the world working in those buildings. Including a PR and marketing department that's likely filled with top-notch ex-private sector agency people who speak 7 languages each. Remember that the UN has the resources and power to conduct research and produces studies and findings on economic, social, political, industrial, and scientific issues around the world. It's unlikely that this initiative is the result of some doddering, naive government worker, as characterized.

>but why don't graphic designers get licenced same way architects do?

Ha! I'm not diving into this Valon. Nope, not again.

On Mar.03.2005 at 09:43 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

"Including a PR and marketing department that's likely filled with top-notch ex-private sector agency people who speak 7 languages each."

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a PR maneuver. If the logo design process for the program is a contest, then it can be 'news', which can be reported on, which draws attention to the program. I think this is one reason (of many) why these contests won't ever go away.

On Mar.03.2005 at 09:55 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

there seems to be some sort of concensus building here that it's ok to enter these things if it is some sort of "educational" experience. i couldn't disagree more. having done these contests before as a student and as a "professionsl" (particularly getting established), i can see no positive experience at all in participating in this stuff. all it seems to do is devalue your efforts and (at best) treat you to premature rejection (at worst) teach you that your work is worth nothing. what possible educational experience is there in destroying enthusiasm?

like i said, avoid this stuff like the plague. there is no value participating in a design project whose sole purpose is to point out that the design process has no legitimate worth.

On Mar.03.2005 at 10:54 AM
Valon’s comment is:

I know, I know...that's an issue I've ran across so many times and still do. I just wish to see one day that after 4 years of study you have to do another year of some sort of internship, apprenticeship, that would lead [or not] to your license.

Tan, I'll stop here. I won't even try to heat up this place with this issue.

On Mar.03.2005 at 11:08 AM
Valon’s comment is:

> like i said, avoid this stuff like the plague. there is no value participating in a design project whose sole purpose is to point out that the design process has no legitimate worth.

Amen to that!

On Mar.03.2005 at 11:22 AM
tuffy’s comment is:

Also, do companies solicit work from student architects!?

Many architecture students have the opportunity to enter contests that are the equivalent of this. HOWEVER ... the end results are concepts, and perhaps the opportunity to work with an (licensed) architecture studio, engineer, contractor, etc. as the winning concept is developed into a final solution. These are usually conducted through a professional organization such as the AIA

or NCARB

(like our AIGA).

Perhaps we, as an industry, should encourage clients (corporate, NPO) that any future competitions targeted toward the student sector, should be treated in the same manner. We should also educate these clients (current and potential) on the importance of process in a project such as this.

As for this particular situation (UN), I personally think every aspect of this was done with great intent, and without the understanding of what a successful solution requires ... at the very least some sort of interaction between client and designer.

On Mar.03.2005 at 11:22 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

I wonder how Maya Lin would feel about all this.

On Mar.03.2005 at 11:56 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

If contests devalue the design process and provide clients with mediocre results why do organizations still persist in pursuing the contest route for logo development? Could it be that a mediocre, or bad logo really has no effect on the success of a campaign such as the one outlined by the UN?

Two years ago I followed a logo contest to see what the outcome would be. http://zoelledesign.com/CIECA.jpg" target="_blank">Here is the final logo. It reminds me allot of http://zoelledesign.com/logo.gif" target="_blank">this. I don’t mean to publicly flog the logo’s designer, but the logo fails on so many levels. If memory serves, the winner received a vacation with spending money, recognition at a convention, passes to a well known amusement park, and a car rental with a gas allowance. Is the aftermath of this contest really felt by the entire design community? Or is it as Dr. Phil would say, “It’s not about you!”

On Mar.03.2005 at 12:27 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Is the aftermath of this contest really felt by the entire design community?

If I may present "really, really bad typography" as a valid argument that diminishes the design community I would vote "Yes". Unfortunately, that is subjective, right? Damn it. I withdraw my statement — but not the intent.

On Mar.03.2005 at 12:33 PM
Pat Broderick’s comment is:

There was a similar controversy here in San Francisco a few years back when MUNI (the SF public transit agency) offered the chance to redesign its groovy 70s logo to a class at the Academy of Art College. I believe there was some sort of cash prize for the selected logo, I don't recall the amount. The winning entry (a line drawing of a shield with wings, if memory serves) was shown on the news, but the resulting outcry from the local design community shamed Muni into quietly shelving the logo.

On Mar.03.2005 at 12:35 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

i really do think these contests are driven by public relations and marketing departments. on the surface, it would seem to be a wonderful to get the public interested in their organization and gather publicity of a positive sort. it really seems like a great idea and i've known many businesses who do these contests in all honesty and great nievete (sp). it's not really done with exploitive or evil intent. it's just really stupid and ignorant.

here's a challenge - name one contest to design a logo (or anything) that came out with all parties being pleased and good quality work being done (and the oscars don't count. that was an insider rig.) i personallky can't think of any. but, i can sure start listing disasters.

design is all about process. design process can't be purchased like a product. contests eliminate process.

On Mar.03.2005 at 01:18 PM
thanle’s comment is:

Apart from the fact that these practices are completely devoid of any ethics and aid in the dilution of value our unique talents command, they further support the perception that this effort is simple and requires little or no strategic effort.

Worse still...there's no mention (at least in the excerpt) about copyright ownership. I'm not sure how the international law reads governing contest submission, but this is a significant issue. For many of us, copyrights are integral in securing residual revenue and help ensure our work is protected from infringement, misuse or other situations that may devalue our work.

From strictly a financial point, $5K is pocket change for complete copyright ownership, NPO or otherwise. To give up all claims of ownership to this work is ridiculous. Proven agencies would boisterously scoff at even the mention of total copyright transfer in this scenario.

This reason, by itself, may be the real motivation behind the student solicitation push.

On Mar.03.2005 at 01:56 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>there's no mention (at least in the excerpt) about copyright ownership.

Here's what it says:

"DISCLAIMER

Once the design is formally assigned to the IYDD it becomes the property of the UNCCD, as focal point for the year, and the name of the artist will not be accredited in future IYDD publications. The works submitted to the UNCCD cannot be returned to the artist, and the original winner logo may be subject to change in the final launched version."

So, not only do you give up ownership, you give up any claim to credits, and they can change and do whatever they want to the artwork without your permission.

But it's not unusual for clients to own copyrights for identities — just so you know. These UN conditions, while unreasonable, are common. It just that most firms get paid more than $5K, and it's not a contest.

On Mar.03.2005 at 02:40 PM
ian’s comment is:

i believe this represents the final word on the subject:

design is all about process.

design process can't be purchased like a product.

contests eliminate process.

On Mar.03.2005 at 03:00 PM
Greg’s comment is:

The problem here isn't licensing, or money, or the targeting of "hapless" students, it's in the last word: contest. Logo "contests" or art "contests" are so ridiculously subjective that it is akin to entering a raffle. "Step right up and try your luck for $5000!"

Anyone who isn't willing to subject design to a process is completely ignorant of design as a whole. Chances are they will get a crappy logo, and it won't matter in the least to them, because they won't be able to tell. It will be something to put at the top of some report, and the student who "wins" will look back in five years and wonder how they could have let such an opportunity go, where a universally recognized name could have gone in their portfolio but they're too embarrassed to put the logo in.

It doesn't help that design studios scream at the top of their lungs "Experience! Experience! You must have Experience!" It drives these "competitions" because students have to pad a portfolio to even receive a look in their direction, and then you complain that the practice devalues design?

On Mar.03.2005 at 03:11 PM
Bennett Holzworth’s comment is:

We had a similar discussion on Be A Design Group a few weeks ago. The non-profit was Radio Paradise and the discussions that came from this surprised me. The prize was only $500 and "world acclaim" for this contest. Radio Paradise has their own discussion board and several designers voiced their objections to the contest. Most of the "non-designers" didn't see the problem. Some of the familiar arguments were made. "It's just a logo!" "If you have a problem with it, don't enter." and "It is a designers way to give back." The sad thing is that there was an equal amount of designers that didn't have a problem with this contest both in our discussion on our blog and the discussions on RP.

This point has already been illustrated, but I will state it one more time. These competitions take the design process from a fluid conversation to a thousand abrupt and ill-informed statements. Hardly the most effective way to communicate. The Radio Paradise competition is over and they are reviewing the entries at this point. Here is a quote from their website. "We're still sorting through the hundreds of entries in our logo contest (well over 1000 if you count multiple entries by the same person)." If Radio Paradise can get that many entries, can you imagine all of the entries that the UN will get. So many wasted hours people will spend designing logos that will never get used. The idea of multiply entries just shows that these contests just promote quantity instead of quality.

On Mar.03.2005 at 03:24 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

would they solicit PR options from a communications program?

They would if a PR program could be delivered as a discreet entity, i.e., a single, pre-made package. Remember those Dodge Neon “Hello Neon” billboards about ten years ago? A very good campaign. From a student competition (although one more valuable and better run than a blind submission arrangement.)

I know this issue has been brought forward before, but why don't graphic designers get licenced same way architects do?

licensing prohibits someone from doing something without the license. What, specifically, would someone be prohibited from doing without a license? If a marketing director sketched a logo would she be prosecuted? Would spec’ing type without a license be illegal?

I’m curious how people feel about Print magazine having students compete to design a cover.

On Mar.03.2005 at 03:40 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

Gunnar: That's an interesting point regarding the Print student cover competition. I don't have the same problem, and now I have to figure out why. I'm curious as to what other think and hope people will post replies.

On Mar.03.2005 at 04:43 PM
Pat Broderick’s comment is:

I don't have the same ethical issues with Print's student cover issue as with the UN thing. As a periodical, Print is ephemeral -- the cover artwork is only on the stands for a month, it's not being used as part of Print's permanent identity system. Besides, that one cover a year is reserved for student work. Student entrants are competing with one another for the chance to be on the cover, not undercutting working professionals by doing what could be a lucrative assignment for nothing. If Print made every cover a competition, then that'd be a different deal.

Creatively, however, I wonder if there isn't that same issue of a one-sided design process leading to cliched or less-than-exceptional work. It seems to me that there have been a lot of runner-up Print student covers featuring T-squares vs. G4s, or pencils vs. computer mice, etc. etc. etc.

On Mar.03.2005 at 05:15 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

in all honesty, i have to admit that i've always thought that student cover thing for print was exactly the same problem. however, i deeply respect print magazine, so i've never brought up that example when talking about issue with others.

perhaps some self-reflection on the part of the magazine and the role they play in this problem may be in order. tradition (aka - "we've always done it that way. what's the problem?") is really not an excuse that can be tolerated anymore, or we'd all be paying taxes to england, still.

On Mar.03.2005 at 05:54 PM
Bennett Holzworth’s comment is:

I don't have a problem with the Print cover design contest. I like Robynne am not sure why I feel this way, but I will give it a shot.

The magazine cover is a completely different beast than a logo. It is only used once and then they move on. A logo on the other hand will be used for years. I think magazine covers, especially for design mags, tend to be closer to art than a logo is. They are a little more concept and style based and less strategic. It also for our own industry and we, the consumer, understand the cover for that magazine is reserved for students.

The students should be very familiar with Print and their covers of the past. They know the client and the goal. It is a fairly decent exercise in creative thinking for a student. Even if they don't win, hopefully some of them come away with a good portfolio piece.

I agree with Mr. Chantry on the outcome of the contest. The solutions tend to be very cliche. I wonder if this is because that is what won the year before.

On Mar.03.2005 at 06:17 PM
Valon’s comment is:

> licensing prohibits someone from doing something without the license. What, specifically, would someone be prohibited from doing without a license? If a marketing director sketched a logo would she be prosecuted? Would spec’ing type without a license be illegal?

Gunnar, I think that's where it should stop. In other words a marketing director can sketch out something, but not complete or finish the piece. That's where we come in. I believe licencing would create a better understanding of what we do, and not everyone could do something without a licence. Overall, the field of graphic design would be respected more and things like contests and such would not exsist at all...

I wish I didn't open the door to this in this post...

On Mar.03.2005 at 09:58 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Valon, I'm slamming the door shut. We don't need to go there again. It's an endless argument.

And I just have to point this out cuz it's been bugging the hell outa me the whole length of this thread, the United Nations isn't a Non-Profit Organization; it's a Non-Governmental Organization. No NPO; Yes NGO. Non-profits don't have armies.

(Apologies for being picky.)

And I completely agree with Art Chantry's statement about process.

On Mar.04.2005 at 12:58 AM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

The design community is being rather hypocritical here.

After all, there is another kind of logo competition that is judged on mail-in content, with no regard to process, which we openly endorse.

That's right, our beloved design awards competitions.

Logos there are judged in isolation as discrete objects of virtue, just as the UN will be judging its entries.

On Mar.04.2005 at 05:42 AM
thanle’s comment is:

I agree with Nick that award competitions suffer from the same subjective myopia as design contests. Judges review a smattering of creative work without having any real sense of the strategy behind them.

However, award competitions are (in my opinion) a completely different animal because a) there's no expectation of usage beyond publication, b) there's no surrender of copyright protection or rights, c) everyone involved in its creation gets credit for their effort and, d) it's used as a promotional vehicle for winning entrants and a method of recognition.

Contests that solicit creative work clearly demonstrate a lack of respect for the professional service creatives offer, the robust process that's required to effectively perform our unique function and show the total indignity some companies have toward the value of our talents.

What if someone asked a three dozen contractors to each build a home knowing only one would be picked and it would be selected without regard for the quality of the craftsmanship, the integrity of the builders or the value of the property? How many builders do you think you'd get?

On Mar.04.2005 at 06:45 AM
vibranium’s comment is:

As the Bishop said:

We was too late!

Sorry I missed this one....

On Mar.04.2005 at 09:00 AM
David V.’s comment is:

Tan’s comment is:

A few people here have proposed that this whole campaign is the result of a misguided, uninformed UN bureaucrat. I don't think that's the case. Remember, this is the UN, not some hicksville municipal council. There are probably thousands of some of the most qualified, educated, and experienced people in the world working in those buildings. Including a PR and marketing department that's likely filled with top-notch ex-private sector agency people who speak 7 languages each. Remember that the UN has the resources and power to conduct research and produces studies and findings on economic, social, political, industrial, and scientific issues around the world. It's unlikely that this initiative is the result of some doddering, naive government worker, as characterized.

Tan, I think you're severely overestimating the resources that any one org within the UN has. Yes, the UN as a whole has considerable resources, but not every project has access to them, and many are underfunded, understaffed, and poorly organized. For all we know this could be ten people in a basement room at the UN building, desperately trying to give Desertification the attention it deserves. Someone says "hey, we could have a design contest for the logo!" and the next thing you know there's a contest, without any consideration for ethical/professional concerns.

Besides which, I just dont see it as being such a bad thing, in this case. They wont make a red cent of profit off this logo, they are without a doubt underfunded (especially now 5 years into a Bush admin) and they are trying to educate the world about what will be one of the major global challenges of the 21st century. I say give them a break.

On Mar.04.2005 at 11:06 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Tan, I think you're severely overestimating the resources that any one org within the UN has.

Yes, of course I was overexaggerating to make the point, David. Truth be told, the true scenario probably lies somewhere between mine and yours.

But the key lies in the end of your statement..."without any consideration for ethical/professional concerns." I agree that the UN's campaign is meant for good, and was launched with good intentions, in a manner that they probably thought was appropriate. But nevertheless, if the contest inadvertently takes advantage of students and conflicts with our professional ethics — then why turn a blind eye instead of educating the organization so that, hopefully, they'd reconsider the practice for the next time?

A little 'ol harmless education is all it'd take.

On Mar.04.2005 at 12:20 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Logos there are judged in isolation as discrete objects of virtue, just as the UN will be judging its entries.

Nick, that's pretty much where your parallel ends and the only similarity one can draw between a contest like the one in discussion and design awards. Nothing hypocritical about what has been said so far. Designers "blindly" judging logos is extremely different from UN staff "blindly" judging logos — design jurors (supposedly) have the expertise to discern good from bad logos with little to no explanation necessary.

On Mar.04.2005 at 12:35 PM
Valon’s comment is:

> Valon, I'm slamming the door shut. We don't need to go there again. It's an endless argument.

Steven, I didn't want to go there but it's was so tempting - I'm keeping the door shut, and I promise I won't open it...until it pops-up again, of course.

> For all we know this could be ten people in a basement room at the UN building, desperately trying to give Desertification the attention it deserves. Someone says "hey, we could have a design contest for the logo!" and the next thing you know there's a contest, without any consideration for ethical/professional concerns.

David, I think that's where we should come in, educate the clients and the public, & instead of UN saying "hey, we could..." they can say "hey, we have to find a design studio that can do this within our budget". UN wins, the field of graphic design wins, designers win ~ we all win...ahhh Utopia.

arrghh...Steven, I can't help but touch the license...i'll controll myself though.

On Mar.04.2005 at 06:04 PM
gregor’s comment is:

This type of "contest" is used in all sectors, including many lesser known agencies and design studios: in the case of the latter, your successful design lands you a contract or job.

Whether soliciting students or professionals in this manner, it's simply unethical, period. Whatever logic the U.N. pursued in making their decision to proceed on this path isn't important. What is important is for designers as well as design students to call them on this practice and not reinforce it through participating.

I get a handful of contacts each year -- again, from all sectors -- requesting a comp for an ad, brochure cover, or any number of things, with the grand reward of a contract or payment for the design. I always respond, "sure and the time I spend on the comp is billable hours, I'll include an invoice with my comp," and politely indicate that soliciting for designs in this manner is unethical.

the response has always been, with only one exception, the obvious: "we won't pay for the design unless it's selected for use," followed by some fairly inadequate justification of the practice.

On Mar.04.2005 at 07:05 PM
Valon’s comment is:

Ok, here's the crazy idea.

What if all us graphic designers make a "black list" database of companies that request this type of work, so what happens is that when companies find out that there is a database like that they won't request spec work or unethical contests, because they will get themselves in the List that all designers will be aware of. In other words no designer will work for them because of their reputation.

So... all of us will get our forces together and make up www.DesignBlackList.com....

Or...to be politically correct, we can create www.DesignList.com where we post thoughts and comments on companies we do work for. Next time a job comes around, we check the list and know what others have said about the company. Sort of epinions.com for Graphic Designers.

hmmm....

I think this is really unethical on my part to come up with an idea like this, but I don't have any other thoughts on how to get around this issuse other than bitch and complain about it.

I think that's it from me.

On Mar.04.2005 at 09:52 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Valon:

The thought, or a very similar one has crossed my mind more than once. A couple friends and I had several discussions about creating a site that with the goal of giving designers the ability to rate agencies, studios, and clients not to work for. The intent was not to be bitter about negative experiences we have had, but to go give freelance, contract designers, and those who run small boutique studios the power of knowledge and choice through intelligent commentary on work place/client experiences. A bit of turning the tables in the decision making process of who works for who and why: no we ain't gonna grovel for work from dysfunctional environments, we can make informed choices about where we work and for who based on our collective experiences.

I think that's a dialog worth being public.

Your idea isn't far from that: personally I don't think your thought on this is unethical at all. More so it's a step that gives power to those in the industry who have the least but do the most: designers, production artists, epro, etc.

The bottom line is we have all had great experiences, and some negative ones. I think, in some large we way we have an ethical duty to each other to keep ourselves informed of those experiences, much the way my fine artist friends keep each other abreast of which dealer doesn't pay their commissions on time, don't pay them at all, charge to high a percentage, and so forth.

On Mar.04.2005 at 11:37 PM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

>design jurors (supposedly) have the expertise to discern good from bad logos with little to no explanation necessary.

Nonsense, Armin. They just pick what looks cool. If you start arguing that there are qualifications which allow judges to bypass "process" and choose by instinct, you allow clients to say "well, I'm the best qualified to judge, because I know my business and my customers best." You are also supporting the myth of elite genius (the award-winners from whom awards competition judges are selected) against the hard-working rank and file; with this view of design merit, it's easy to say, "oh, a genius student or a genius amateur could certainly come up with a design better than most journeymen professionals".

On Mar.05.2005 at 07:18 AM
thanle’s comment is:

I think, in some large we way we have an ethical duty to each other to keep ourselves informed of those experiences

gregor/valon: I think you're on to something and agree this is part of different discussion. The Graphic Artists Guild (www.gag.org) publishes the "Contract Monitor." Though sporadically updated, it lists companies that and situations where talent purchasing companies require (by contract) all transfer of copyright for any and all work produced for them; a practice the guild is heavily opposed to.

A similar list/site could be developed to identify slow/no pay companies, spec work, difficult experiences, etc. The challenge is creating something useful that won't turn into a giant bitch session for everyone to vent their frustrations in.

On Mar.05.2005 at 07:51 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Well. I think it's great. I encourage every student reading this to enter. I would have.

How is this different—in spirit— than the Speak Up poster contest? (Which was also great.)

On Mar.05.2005 at 08:57 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

uh.... "blacklists" can get you sued. it's too easy to prove damages, as there is a direct correlation to money lost. the laws protect the wealthy.

so, don't even think about it.

however, a PRIVATE list is safe so long as nobody knows about it. except then there's no point.

On Mar.05.2005 at 12:14 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Steve, you may find it interesting to read Lewis Hyde's The Gift. I think there's a huge difference in submitting a design to a community that you are part of, such as Speak Up or the AIGA-- in the spirit of the gift -- and this type of contest and spec work practice we see in the industry.

thanle, you're right - a commentary or rateing site is an entirely different and larger discussion than is appropriate for this articles forum.

and yes, Art, you're right as well. I've always had a bit of an anarchistic edge so I've never worried terriby about that. But I think should such a resource be made, it should be made with legal guidance that addresses the serious potential of legal suits.

On Mar.05.2005 at 12:50 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Maybe if graphic design contests were handled in the same way that architectural design contests (ie, the Vietnam War Memorial) have been handled we wouldn't be so opposed to to this. I think there is a difference when it comes to doing something for a non-profit organization with international exposure such as the UN. I don't find this as unethical as if McDonald's was asking for the same thing.

On Mar.05.2005 at 04:29 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Out of idle curiousity, is any specific action about this particular contest going to come out of this post--a letter signed by many graphic designers to the contest organisers, perhaps--or is that someone else's job & this is just a bitchfest?

On Mar.05.2005 at 05:06 PM
Valon’s comment is:

> uh.... "blacklists" can get you sued. it's too easy to prove damages, as there is a direct correlation to money lost.

Art, that was one of my concerns. Also,my other concern was that I am afraid a list like that can stain some companies that due to the lack of knowledge may end up asking for spec work. Many small-business owners have no idea about graphic design, so they'll do anything to get a logo and a site up and running. These guys may not be as guilty as say someone that knows it's unethical and still goes after students to solicit work.

So here's my question: How do we go about educating everyone once and for all about what we stand for. I know AIGA has done a great job doing that for years now, but how much has it reached out to companies and organziation that use our services?

> Out of idle curiousity, is any specific action about this particular contest going to come out of this post--a letter signed by many graphic designers to the contest organisers, perhaps--or is that someone else's job & this is just a bitchfest?

Good point. I hate to complain about something and just sit and watch as it happens.

On Mar.05.2005 at 05:24 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Out of idle curiousity, is any specific action about this particular contest going to come out of this post...

I think we should have a contest and the person who writes the best statement of protest gets all the signatures. everyone else get's nothing.

seriously though, it sometimes takes a "bichfest" to move an issue into action. Just takes a tad bit of initiative. Any single one of of us could take it beyond "complaining," Although I think this has been an interesting thread to watch an witness the dialog in progress where people are influencing each other's thoughts on this issue: a forum operating at it's best.

Thanks Tan for taking the initiative bring this thread to life by writing the post.

In this case, I don't think the specific case of the UN is the core issue. Rather the practice of spec work masquerading as a contest or the not so uncommon request for unpaid design work as a requirement in the bid process for a contract, or job application, is the root issue.

hey, I'd be willing to sign such a statement of protest. I may even be willing to collaborate on it's authorship.

On Mar.06.2005 at 12:36 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

hey, I'd be willing to sign such a statement of protest.

Me too. Although I don't personally care enough to do more than that.

Gregor, I agree that this is a good thing to talk about. It's just that people seem to be getting awfully fired up about this, but I kind of doubt that it will ignite anything regarding this specific contest.

On Mar.06.2005 at 04:09 AM
David V.’s comment is:

Just out of curiosity...I wonder if people would react differently if it were a contest for elementary school students and the prize were a $5k college scholarship.

On Mar.06.2005 at 09:55 AM
gregor’s comment is:

ust out of curiosity...I wonder if people would react differently if it were a contest for elementary school students and the prize were a $5k college scholarship.

no. I say that a as a parent who has designed elementary, middle school, and high school logos, auction programs, newsletters and other materials pro-bono for the schools my kids have gone to. schools rely on high quality collateral here to win the heavily sought after annual auction crowd dollar. Look at it like this: we (my spouse and I) go to an average of no less than 10 fundraising auctions per year - for schools, non-profits and arts orgs. My inlaws probably top at 20 yearly. we're no longer ion the age of cute student drawn pictures on invitations and logos - although I wish we still were. At least here, it's a bit more strategic and in some cases blood thirtsy than that.

If any of my kids schools offered this as a contest among the school's students I woud be the first of many to object given:

**the manner in which such contests affect esteem issues, foster unhealthy competition for this age group, and are prone to favor the privileged (i.e. the kids from moneyed faamilies tend to have more technologically and arts able children at the elementary and middle school level.

**the state of arts instruction in the schools doesn't make this be an equal opportunity for all students.

that's just the tip of the iceberg on the school issue...

On Mar.06.2005 at 11:39 AM
gregor’s comment is:

I kind of doubt that it will ignite anything regarding this specific contest

you're more than likely right on this Jeff, and it's more than likely not to ignite anything regarding the broader practice of spec work.

with that said, I'd venture to say that we (not you personally, but us, as in designers) are part of problem until we raise voice in some significant manner on this issue. and it doesn't need to be an agressive voice as in blacklists, it can also be an educational voice in the sense of informing the public of professional and ethical practices. but then, oy vey, we'd have to agree on a statement of ethics.....

On Mar.06.2005 at 12:27 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> How is this different—in spirit— than the Speak Up poster contest? (Which was also great.)

We didn't even have a 5K prize.

On Mar.06.2005 at 02:34 PM
gregor’s comment is:

(sorta) on topic once again, ran into this while viewing the Paris Graphic Designers Meet-Up site:

logocontest

the prize?

*your logo will be used

*your name will be used in the credit section of the offending company's web site for one whole year.

*reference to your portfolio

*contract opportunities w/ the offending company.

jeez, the worst of both worlds all in one: a contest and unpaid design work

On Mar.06.2005 at 06:12 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

I like the part where they state only one rule: no orange color

Ha Ha.

On Mar.06.2005 at 07:13 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Although I don't personally care enough to do more than that.

The original intent of this thread was to encourage discourse, which it has. And please thank Robynne — it was she who brought it to my attention.

I think the issues that have been raised affects more than just the UN, and is indicative of a wider industry problem that affects NPOs, NGOs, our profession, and our profession's education programs.

Where should we start? Should we write a letter to the UN? Sure, but like VANOC, it'll only be ignored or the UN will plead ignorance and point to their good intentions, etc. Should we elevate this to Ric Grefe and the AIGA? Sure, but it'll just be one more form letter sent by Ric to the UN, followed by a form letter in response pleading ignorance and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Those types of efforts all feel futile to me.

I think the best thing that could come out of this was an intelligent discussion that might have possibly persuaded some readers to think differently — to perhaps reconsider next time there's a contest or solicitation of this nature. I think that's happened, which is a testament to this blog and those who have posted.

But for those who say talk is cheap, I think the best action in this case is inaction. Encourage non-participation of these things. I still believe that a boycott of these contests speaks volumes more than letters of outrage.

I dunno, what more do you think should be done? I'm open to suggestions (except that blacklist thing, which has libel written all over it).

On Mar.06.2005 at 08:34 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>they state only one rule: no orange color

I think we should all submit logos, all in orange.

On Mar.06.2005 at 08:39 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Well then, thank you Robynne as well. Blacklists or rating sites are an extreme position. And like I said in an earlier post, some friends and I have thought about it -- but we never acted on it as such an activity is beset with problems.

Ric Grefe and the AIGA is not necessarily the most effective path as really only a small percentage of designers are tuned into the AIGA, or GAG for that matter. While if escalated to the attention of Grefe and should he take action, it would send a broader message in general about the issue overall, but the likely audeince to witness any exchange between the AIGA and the UN would be limited to a relatively small subset of professionals. Fundamentally any dialog about the issue addresses not only those who hold contests or request spec work as part of an application process, but also is a larger educational outreach about professional ethics and guidelines simultaneously.

Inaction or non-participation, seems to be a partial answer, and maybe the best we can do given our busy lives. Perhaps calling such contest organizers on the unethical implications of the practice (in a manner that isn't necessarily confrontational, but educational) to our professions standards and alerting our own personal circle of design colleagues to do similarly is a next step.

As more and more people enter the profession, full-time jobs become fewer, and freelance/contract work becomes even more prevalent, I think we're going to see this issue popping up with increasing frequency.

Can't recall where I read it - maybe in a recent edition of Print, an article on the AIGA national site, or maybe even here on Speak Up -- but trends show that the number of available full time jobs in the design profession will show insignificant increase over the next 10 years and the number of practicing designers who are freelancing will increase exponentially (sp?).

Subsequently by taking designers out of the agency and into the home office, standards loosen and it becomes an open field for any number of unethical practices to florish - the issue in this thread being only one example. That's where being connected and informed falls into place.

I think that due attention to this issue now is very important to how this plays out in the profession later. Although, critical, I don't think it needs to be an obsession or crusade.

On Mar.06.2005 at 09:26 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

There's always exceptions to the rule, but in general I would be happy if people would just not enter these types of competitions. A larger concern: educators blindly lead their students into these types of contests.

Now then. I can crank out a half dozen lame orange logos. Anyone else?

On Mar.06.2005 at 10:12 PM
gregor’s comment is:

pms 021 u fired up and ready for action.

On Mar.06.2005 at 10:18 PM
thanle’s comment is:

Agree that we, the professional design community, have a certain responsibility and non-action is probably the safest form of notification and protest. However, until the conversation is had at a broader, more public level, our general efforts will be limited to only those companies we have individual exposure to. We all know successful promotions require...promoting. AIGA, GAG and other organizations (news media, etc.) have the marketing muscle to take this to a higher level. There also needs to be an effort to educate the educators about the ethical concerns surrounding these events.

All in all, it's a substantial communication effort that requires lobbying and dialog that is stronger when our entire profession unites against it. We can light the match, but it will take many to stoke the fire.

On Mar.07.2005 at 06:29 AM
david v.’s comment is:

Robynne Raye’s comment is:

Now then. I can crank out a half dozen lame orange logos. Anyone else?

Uh...I believe that color is now referred to as "saffron". :P

On Mar.07.2005 at 09:16 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

this thread pretty much restricts references to this sort of "contest" scam to the non-profit world (like the u.n.) however, i'm finding it becoming common practice among the for profit world and even among designer organizations (the print student cover being a time-honored traditional slap in the face). i've seen design groups, web sites, magazines and major coprorations like starbucks do this scam.

how often have we delivered "cpec" work to clients only to find that they asked the same of a half-dozen other designers? how far is the next step to a "contest"? we've pretty much set the stage and now we've all got to act in this scenario.

so, it's not some little problem that will be ignored into obsolesence. it is a standard industry practice that is only going to get worse. so, i think we should all prepare for the contest being the norm in the future. as long as we see ourselves as powerless contractors at the mercy of anybody with a checkbook, we're goibng to have to live with it.

On Mar.07.2005 at 11:54 AM
david v’s comment is:

yebbut, hold on a minute, does anyone really think that Print does the "student cover" contest to save money? Do you really think they're sitting around saying "shoot, we need a cover but we're tight on cash. Hey...what if we did a "contest" and gave the cover as a "prize" to some sucker student? Brilliant! bwoohahahaha!"

I mean, are we saying that any contests of any kind are forbidden if it involves a prize that might have been given to a designer as contracted work instead?

(There's gotta be someone reading this who works for — or knows someone who works for — Print, i'd love to hear from them on this)

On Mar.07.2005 at 12:02 PM
gregor’s comment is:

this thread pretty much restricts references to this sort of "contest" scam to the non-profit world

well yes, a lot of folks have mentioned this in the NPO/NGO context but there's also quite a bit of reference to the private sector as well which includes the design studio/agency world. I'll try to locate the article I read about job projections in the industy that I mention in my earlier post and post that later as I firmly beleive the two (spec work and the increase in freelance designers ove the next 10 years) will be linked substancially.

does anyone really think that Print does the "student cover" contest to save money

absolutely not. I'm sure they think they are doing some student the favor of a lifetime.

but it's still unpaid design work. period.

On Mar.07.2005 at 12:33 PM
david v.’s comment is:

gregor’s comment is:

does anyone really think that Print does the "student cover" contest to save money

absolutely not. I'm sure they think they are doing some student the favor of a lifetime. but it's still unpaid design work. period.

Actually, I think they are doing some design student the favor...well, perhaps not of a lifetime, but its a nice feather in your cap. And I still say that the line has to be drawn between having a contest instead of paying for design work, vs having a contest for its own sake. Do you really think they're taking bread from the mouth of a designer with this contest? Are the Print in-house designers laid off for the month that the contest is running?

On Mar.07.2005 at 12:49 PM
gregor’s comment is:

actually I think they are setting a standard for other organizations, businesses, etc., to follow. so, sorry I don't look at any one of these in isolation necessarily but as part of a larger whole. Organizations such as, but not limited to, trade publications or the UN take the lead and others follow suit.

On Mar.07.2005 at 01:06 PM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

It never hurts to explain one's position. The guilty party may well be reasonable, and the ethical problem may never have occurred to them.

A few years ago, Myfonts.com (a distributor of mine) ran a new logo competition. I pointed out to them the problem with this sort of thing, and they had a hard time understanding it. Eventually they stuck with the original logo. Perhaps the contest winner wasn't quite as marvelous as they'd hoped, or perhaps they had qualms.

On Mar.07.2005 at 02:56 PM
Valon’s comment is:

The way I see it, contests will be around forever. Forget about blacklists, writing and signing letters, and other things that will make us look like a mad group pissed off at something.

Tan put it best:

But for those who say talk is cheap, I think the best action in this case is inaction. Encourage non-participation of these things. I still believe that a boycott of these contests speaks volumes more than letters of outrage.

On Mar.07.2005 at 07:23 PM
gregor’s comment is:

I for one give up.

On Mar.07.2005 at 07:34 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>I can crank out a half dozen lame orange logos. Anyone else?

Bring it on, boys and girls…

remember — arrows, atomics, and orange.

On Mar.07.2005 at 07:53 PM
Valon’s comment is:

I for one give up.

Gregor, I assure you that if that person had to choose between a design contest and designing a logo for a weeks food, he would go for desiging the logo, because it's certain he will get paid...I don't have a problem him getting paid with food.

I don't think that guy likes contests either.

On Mar.07.2005 at 08:12 PM
gregor’s comment is:

I for one give up.

we can still have asense of humor!

On Mar.07.2005 at 08:14 PM
Valon’s comment is:

O yea man, I know, I sounded little harsh up there...forgive my 10 coffees today.

On Mar.07.2005 at 08:20 PM
gregor’s comment is:

Valon: no problem - I've had more than my share too - it's Monday, trying to get a week's worth of work done in 2 days before vacation and still make a couple prize winning orange logos :)



On Mar.07.2005 at 09:20 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I chose to focus my attempts to recommendations like an arrow, a lightning bolt and a spiral. Some of my best work to date, I think.

On Mar.07.2005 at 09:44 PM
gregor’s comment is:

damn, i forgot the rules: arrows, atomics

is a zipper close enough to an atomic arrow?

no wonder I'm so anti-contest

On Mar.07.2005 at 11:25 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

Tan, Gregor, Armin: Good job with the 021! Very funny.

On Mar.07.2005 at 11:38 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Oh no, you don't get off that easy Robynne. Come on, let's see some lame orange logos.

On Mar.08.2005 at 11:18 AM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

Remember that little home remodel thing I was telling you about? Believe me, I'd much rather be in the studio designing orange logos. Promise to post ones that are so bad they'll make your eyes hurt, Be patient my friend!

On Mar.08.2005 at 11:34 AM
david v.’s comment is:

ok, I know I've been the devil's advocate, but I wanna play! ;)

i think I got the arrows, atomic and orange all in there. Although I prefer to think of this color as "saffron", thank you very much.

On Mar.08.2005 at 11:38 AM
Rob’s comment is:

I think while we take a cynical view of this particular contest, I feel it differs quite a lot from true spec work, and it seems to be a general way of life at the UN to involve the general public in the issues of the day. And if designing a logo opens the eyes of students to the problems of the world, maybe it's not such a bad idea.

Here's another logo held by another arm of the UN and the thinking behind it from their web site.

The UN Secretariat of the PFII and the UN Department of Public Information are launching an Indigenous child and youth art competition for the design of a logo for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues...“Let us all listen to the voices of indigenous peoples, and act as their partners to protect indigenous rights, particularly those of indigenous children”.

And for International Youth Day 2004 here's the winner of their logo contest:

(You can view the logo here by clicking on the link "Prize winning logo of the citywide Youth Logo Contest")**

Now that's something a professional designer would have loved to had a shot at doing.

Maybe, despite all our legitimate concerns about spec work, what the UN really wants is a student design. Maybe it's not about avoiding paying one of us 'real' designer's to do the work....And while Tan honestly asked 'Why the UN targetted students?" for this competition, no one really anwered the question. We all jumped on the NO SPEC WORK bandwagon and overlooked that the UN does these kinds of competitions all the time and not to take advantage of designers or artists (however old or young) but simply to get them more involved in the world around them. And hey, if it takes a potential prize of $5,000 to get students more intersted in issues facing our world at large, I'm not sure I'm all that opposed to it.

Having taught design at the college level I found many students that have no clue what's going on in the world at large. Once when I mentioned the West Bank and the Middle East and got mostly blank looks, I was just shocked. How could any twenty-something not know about those problems that seem to make the front pages of US papers on a daily basis?

Oh, and from the press release the winner also receives:

The winner will be announced on the 20th of April 2005. • The winner will be invited to unveil the design at the opening ceremony of the Third Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC3) that will take place at the beginning of May 2005 in Bonn, Germany. • The winner will receive a reward of USD 5,000. • The winner will be credited with the design and a section on the IYDD website will be devoted to the artist and her/his logo.

And if you really are interested in stating your opposition to the contest you can share your concerns here.

One final item I just noticed, and changes the course of my opinion about the particular contest:

(again from the press release):

"This competition will be open to all participants being individual or corporate..."

So, while it may have been sent to students, they may be competing with ethically-challenged pros, so it will be really interesting to see who (or what) wins the final prize. Winner to be announced on April 20.

**(Editor's/Tan's note: sorry, Rob, but your logo pdf was too large and wreaking havoc w/ the posting page. In the future, folks, please make sure the images you post are generally around 300 pixels wide max. Thanks.)

On Mar.08.2005 at 05:14 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Rob--

I have to respectfully respond to your post by repeating what I wrote earlier (with added emphasis):

For anyone doing identity design, especially a student learning the ropes, the process one follows is extremely important in determining the project's outcome. A contest teaches them absolutely nothing about defining the problem, establishing criteria, identifying decision-makers vs. influencers, managing the project, presenting the work, staging implementation, and a whole boatload of other issues.

I hope that instructors would put this into perspective for students, and help them understand that it's more closely aligned to a crap shoot than a design project.

On Mar.09.2005 at 08:29 AM
Kevin’s comment is:

To add a dumb note to a lengthy and intelligent conversation, I would do this if I had the time. Remember boys and girls, information wants to be free....

On Mar.11.2005 at 04:44 PM
Carl’s comment is:

Not to mention, the pay would be more than most of us would ever see for a logo design anyways...

On Mar.13.2005 at 12:46 PM
gregor’s comment is:

information wants to be free....

that's a bit of an anthropomorphism. none-the-less, we're far from any utopian social structure: within the context of the economic systems we work in, standards and ethics are there for our interests and protection. spec work and contests, and our participation in them, weakens outr ability to survive as designers.

the pay would be more than most of us would ever see for a logo design anyways...

depends on who you're desiging for I suppose, but I wouldn't venture to say most of us. I'd hope most of us are able to receive the rate appropriate to the skill level it takes to create logos and identity.

On Mar.13.2005 at 03:21 PM
joe ’s comment is:

any news on the winner yet?

On Apr.20.2005 at 02:02 PM
felipe gil’s comment is:

UN agencies declare Mr. Krishen Maurymoothoo from Mauritius the winner of the IYDD Logo competition.

On May.18.2005 at 09:14 PM
felipe gil’s comment is:

That’s what they say on their website. But they have not unveiled the design. yet?

On May.18.2005 at 09:15 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Behold! The winning logo.

[Thanks to Matt for the update]

On Jun.08.2005 at 09:11 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I like it. It's nice — especially in how they handled the large amount of text.

But it does look a bit like a Nigerian restaurant...

On Jun.08.2005 at 10:22 AM
Carmen’s comment is:

It seems to me that people in the profession are forgetting his/her roots. In college or portfolio school students vie for the opportunities to build a resume off work that either non/for profits bring them. Is that opportunistic for the company? Absolutely not, rather it is reciprocity for services rendered. Many degree seeking students from other fields work in the same manner: an unlicensed architecture student will have to intern for pennies to learn the ropes. At the same time he/she enters contests funded by companies to hopefully win money(sometimes commissions). At the same time, the university or professional school is hounding them to enter competitions that will make the school look good.

This type of student/client relationship is a good thing.

Lastly, for those upset...competition from the non-seasoned artist/designer is also good thing. I doubt any of us see a dent of true competition coming from this rookie group and a loss in pay because of it. And if so, kudos to them!

On Nov.09.2005 at 05:36 AM