Design Contests (Working for Free?)
~ 3 Minute 40 Sec. Read
My friend and Graphic Designer, Steph Ochrey posted a link to this Huffington Post article on Facebook today. It was titled, “Students Tell Government They Won’t Work For Free On Logo For Canada’s 150th Birthday“. Click the title or image below to read the article:
The topic of designers entering logo contests and “working for free” is a very controversial topic. I wanted to share my thoughts on it. My boyfriend and I were having a conversation yesterday on how there is such a fine line between the understanding of movements (in our case we were discussing Feminism) and how bringing a group together to protest is beneficial but how far are they trying to take it? For our conversation we were debating the points of view of women who say “we can wear anything we want and shouldn’t be judged” vs. women who tear apart a guy wearing a t-shirt with pin-up fictional super hero characters. Is he exploiting women by wearing a t-shirt with sexy women on it, even if they are cartoon? Or are the women judging and tearing apart the man for his taste in t-shirts? There are always such fine lines between the arguments.
The same way not every Feminist has the same opinions, not everyone who has used the hashtag “#MyTimeHasValue” has a complete agreement and understanding to what they consider right and wrong. Is it fair for all of these people to make such a big statement when they don’t necessarily know what they are fighting for? What should they be fighting for?
I try and decide my positioning on it by asking myself: “Should this situation be accepted?” and if not, “What would make this situation acceptable?”
I understand the viewpoint of students who have been trained and certified in the Graphic Design world (being one myself). Personally, I have finished my program, received my Diploma, and I am now in debt with student loans. I put my time, effort, and money to get an education so that I would be able to join the work force and get paid as a Graphic Designer. I have spent sleepless nights, had projects that have taken days to finish drawn all over by professors, and have learned entire software so that I could call myself a designer. And now, being fresh out of school find it difficult to find a job in the industry when I have no industry experience, only school projects.
That’s when we are targeted by these large corporations. “Enter our design contest, it will look great on your portfolio!” It’s tempting when you think you will get the recognition you are looking for. I am designing a logo for the Canadian government?! That’s huge! And then you realize; 1. The winner will be the only one recognized, 2. The winner will be the only one getting paid. This means, students who truly believe in their work and have determination will work best to their ability and only one design will be chosen in the end. Making the rest of the people who have submitted feel inadequate and underachieved. Not to mention, they spent all that time on their work with no pay.
The fine line that I have considered here is the contest running itself. There is a video attached to the article which mocks this type of “spec work”; relating it to someone asking for 3 chefs to cook a meal, only to select one of them as the winner. I will place that here:
I agree with this video but that’s not to say there should be so much backlash to the contest running. It should be up to the designers to enter them or not. If that chef scenario was true, do you think anyone would join it? They would have to use their own ingredients, a significant portion of their time, and their skill set for no guaranteed reward. We all watch contest shows such as Hell’s Kitchen or The Voice but the difference there is that all of the contestants are gaining exposure. How many times have you been sad when someone has gotten voted off? If you were in that industry, you would now have someone to look out for and maybe hire simply because you saw them on television. These contests don’t showcase the potential talent they only showcase the chosen one.
That being said, there aren’t many restrictions to these contests either. Mostly anybody can submit. That’s why the outcome is usually so terrible. People that have had no training in the area are the ones who end up entering. Basically, in the end, the design contest you held to find that one outstanding logo has been ridiculed by designers everywhere. So what I say is: kids, join these contests! Designers, don’t!
I understand why the confrontation happened although I do feel a bit of sympathy for the contest holders, sometimes. These industry working Graphic Designers are protesting because they know their work is worth a lot more. People have this belief that logos can be done in an hour and their company will suddenly have a strong identity. That’s wrong. The British Petrol (BP) logo was worth $211,000,000. Who knew designs could cost that much?
What people think when they see a logo, “My 10-year-old could make that”. But would that 10-year-old know which software to use? Would they know which file type to save it as? Would they know the steps to take to enlarge the logo? Or to shrink it down proportionately? Not only is there an art to Graphic Design, but there is a real formula. That is what people don’t understand.
You are paying for the educated to give you everything they already know you need. You are paying for your input and your modifications taken into consideration so there is a bit of you in the design. You are paying for the concept of these logos getting implemented into the entire identity package of business cards, letterheads, and other stationery.
If the protestors of “#MyTimeHasValue” all got together to actually determine a goal, I hope it would be this: Don’t join these contests. All of us that value our work will be spending our time either doing work for charity, making passion projects or finding that one company to invest in us. Eventually, your portfolio will grow. We don’t need to shut down the contest we just need to prove that it is worthless. If the outcomes are all horrendous then one year some bright bulb will have the idea, “Hey, what if we paid an actual designer this time around?” And that is when the movement means something.
For now, let the 10-year-olds make submissions. Perhaps the winner really needs the money. To him, this contest could be a miracle. For us, we can do better.