Rochesterfest2010 logo

The above design was accepted and posted as the ‘official button design’ for the 2010 Rochester, MN Rochesterfest. The design itself follows a long tradition of ‘competition buttons’ that have plagued the Rochester community for decades. The following letter is an adapted AIGA sample letter for speculative work that I posted on the Rochesterfest Facebook page in hopes to correct this long standing tradition of decreasing the value of creative work within the community.

The AIGA, the professional association for design, does not support work created ‘in hopes of winning a prize.’

The approach the Rochesterfest Committee continues to pursue year after year is one that compromises the quality of work you are entitled to and also violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide.

AIGA, the nation’s largest and oldest professional association for design, strongly discourages the practice of requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a competition in order to be considered for acceptance on a project.

There are two main reasons for this position:

1. To assure the client receives the most appropriate and responsive work. Successful design work results from a collaborative process between a client and the designer with the intention of developing a clear sense of the client’s objectives, competitive situation and needs. Speculative design competitions or processes result in a superficial assessment of the project at hand that is not grounded in a client’s dynamics. Design creates value for clients as a result of the strategic approach designers take in addressing the problems or needs of the client and only at the end of that process is a “design” created. Speculative or open competitions for work based on a perfunctory problem statement will not result in the best design
solution for the client.

2. Requesting work for free, in the form of a competition, demonstrates a lack of respect for the designer and the design process. Requesting work for free reflects a lack of understanding and respect for the value of effective design as well as the time of the professionals who are asked to provide it. This approach, therefore, reflects on your personal practices and standards and may be harmful to the professional reputation of both you and Rochesterfest.

There are few professions where all possible candidates are asked to do the work first, allowing the buyer to choose which one to compensate for their efforts. (Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you, from which you would then choose which one to pay!) Designers realize that there are some creative professions with a different set of standards, such as advertising and architecture, for which billings are substantial and continuous after you select a firm of record. In those cases, you are not receiving the final outcome (the advertising campaign or the building) for free up front as you would be in receiving a communication design solution.

There is an appropriate way to explore the work of various designers in the future. A more effective and ethical approach to requesting competition work is to ask designers to submit examples of their work from previous assignments as well as a statement of how they would approach your project. You can then judge the quality of the designer’s previous work and his or her way of thinking about Rochesterfest and the City. The designer you select can then begin to work on your project by designing strategic solutions to your criteria while under contract to you, without having to work on speculation up front.

You can learn more about the AIGA and ethical approaches at the AIGA web site.

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