To Spec? Or Not to Spec?


A talented friend of mine recently posted this invitation from the Richmond city association, RVA:

Show us your talent, and your creativity could be displayed all over downtown RVA. Just use the new RVA Downtown logo, or some variation of it, to create original artwork showcasing your love of RVA or what creativity in Richmond means to you. You could be one of the top designers chosen to have your art turned into a street pole banner displayed in downtown RVA—along with up to $500 in your pocket.

You can check their site out here:

I noticed that the VCU BrandCenter is listed among the organizations that will judge this work. As a VCU board member (and designer of the school’s identity system) I wish I could support this well-meaning endeavor. But I can’t.

My post on Facebook about spec work generated over 130 “likes” and 50 comments today. It’s clear that speculative work is despised in the design community. The AIGA’s stance – and ours, too – is simple: Work developed without fair compensation will “compromise the benefits of effective design for both clients and designers.” When an organization seeks speculative design work they demonstrate a profound disrespect for the design community and the value of experience and creativity.

My suggestion to RVA? Take that $1000 they have for prize money and offer it as an honorarium to the best designer they can hire in Richmond. Or, if they want a range of options, offer a $500 honorarium to three different designers – perhaps someone new, someone established and a promising student.

They should not Buy Viagra harness the web as giant pool for free work, but instead as a way to gain insight from people on the designers’ proposed solutions. It would be a great way to spark a dialog about the role of creativity and design in the city’s revitalized downtown.

So why am I picking on a simple, well-meaning crowd-sourced design competition ? Emerging systems of web-driven participation are changing the dynamics of the profession. And timeworn distinctions between producers and consumers of design are blurring>new models of creation are exploding everywhere.

I also recognize that individuals have the right to pursue any creative endeavor they wish.

But our roles as creative leaders are different. We must be the voice that always defends designers, building a more public and professional understanding of the value of their unique knowledge and abilities. We should reject any project, even well-meaning ones, if they turn designers into exotic menials seeking “prizes” of “up to $500 in your pocket!”

I found this claim on the RVA website:

Richmond’s past, present and future is the story of creativity in action. Today, it’s home to some of the nation’s most innovative individuals, businesses, organizations and neighborhoods.

That’s true. Among other proof, The Martin Agency walked off with the Ad Agency of the Year title in 2010, besting agencies in New York as well as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And every other city in the country.

If RVA also hopes to be another champion of Richmond innovation, making sure the hard work of the city’s designers gets paid for wouldn’t be a bad start.

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