It has come to my attention that the City of Portland’s web redesign of its 140,000 page website is going to be done by contest. The winner will receive a web link, notice in a press release and no monetary payment.

On review of the city’s documentation, it appears that the next phase will involve hiring accessibility and usability consultants to make the free design work well. Those contracts will be awarded through competitive bids for handsome sums.

The obvious disconnect at the project management level between design and function shows such a lack of understanding of what design is and how you get there that it boggles the mind.

To me this is wrong in so many ways.

  • It is a violation of the city’s policy of living wages by asking for goods and services to be provided to the city for free.
  • Good design is the result of a lot of hard work, including research into site history, stakeholder input, interviews.
  • Doing work on speculation is an unethical business practice frowned upon in the visual design community, including AIGA, the Graphic Artists Guild and more.
  • If you’re going to have a contest at least compensate the winner, dammit! A web link and a press release is not enough.
  • Portland is famous for its Creatives, many (if not most) of whom are not working right now. They need economic stimulus too, and a link on the city’s website will not pay any bills.

I am sick and tired of people thinking designers just have fun all day messing around with paints and Photoshop and don’t need to be paid. I have years of skill, experience you can depend on, in addition to tons of talent and I have learned every bit of it the hard way. I don’t give it out for free, unless you do.

What is Spec? And Why is it Wrong?

Spec work, as contests without payment are, is a practice that has long been considered unethical by the graphic design community. Although it is common for architectural and public art projects to use contests, the end result is payment and or promotion in a city-published print marketing piece.

Please see these websites for more information about spec work.

The American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) has this to say about spec work:

AIGA believes that doing speculative work seriously compromises the quality of work that clients are entitled to and also violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide. AIGA strongly discourages the practice of requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a speculative basis in order to be considered for acceptance on a project.

Read the AIGA’s position on spec work

How do you feel about it?

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