Why are design contests unethical?

By January 28, 2015 Design No Comments

Recently The Government of Canada has initiated a design contest for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. In their words they are “getting canadians involved”. They are offering a prize of $5000.

What does this say about our government and why are design contests good or bad for designers and the clients involved in them?

Isn’t our government supposed to be creating jobs? When the government needs a new building do they hold a construction contest and whoever’s building looks best is used and the rest destroyed by dynamite? But wait, that doesn’t apply to the design world– design is digital, it’s made up of thin air, it’s not made of atoms. Designer’s should want to enter the contest for exposure, right?  Design is fun! Young hungry designers should put in 10-20 hours of work on a logo that might be picked by an untrained non-professional client because they clearly know what makes a good logo and they know what they are looking for. No need to meet face to face with a designer multiple times hashing out concepts and going through careful revision phases…

Why are internships and contests so prevalent in the design field and other digital fields? There is an illusion that designers don’t mind working for free to get exposure. This is a fallacy and both clients and designers need to be educated on the ethics of the situation.

Spec-work actually hurts the clients in most cases as much as it hurts designers. Clients are not professionals and therefore cannot do the proper market-research required for design projects and really they often can’t pick a good design out of a batch of random ones. What are they basing their choice on?  The prettiest colours?

Design projects such as this can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so the government is setting the bar extremely low and extremely devaluing designers across the country. Why in this country should one go to school for 3 years at $3000 – $4000 per year to earn a degree and be trained by paid professors to then enter the field only to find themselves having to compete with hundreds of other designers for contests such as this in which their work may not be chosen at all, and if chosen will only yield them 10% of the compensation that would normally be offered for such a project. It’s ridiculous and short-sighted.

For more information on the pros and cons of spec work visit http://www.nospec.com/.


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