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An Open Letter to Rick Warren about Spec Work

September 17, 2009 by

Editor’s Note: We closed the comments on this post as they took a turn for the worse. We explained our reasoning for closing comments and the rationale for this post in a follow-up entry.

Dear Rick Warren,

We saw your recent contest to design the cover of your next book for the chance to win $5,000.

It sounds like a pretty sweet deal. A designer could win some major acclaim, an awesome piece in their portfolio and a nice wad of cash.

Unfortunately, it’s not such a sweet deal. For the hundreds of designers who spent hours of time on your project, it’s a total loss. These kinds of projects communicate that their work is of little value.

As a double whammy, it’s not a very sweet deal for you, Rick. The quality of work you get is going to be sub-par (take a look—yep, that’s some mediocre work). One of the reason it’s sub-par is because the designers didn’t have the benefit of a working relationship with you the client where they could be privy to all the ideas, expectations, insights and everything else that goes into making a creative project work. In a nutshell: You’re not getting the best work because you’re not valuing the worker.

The best creative work happens in partnership. Not in disconnected competition.

Another reason it’s not so good for you is that you just used your position to take advantage of hundreds of designers who were hungry for the exposure. That’s usually called oppression exploitation. The church, of all places, shouldn’t be taking advantage of people. (Ed. Note: We realize this wasn’t intentional, but that doesn’t make it OK.)

We realize none of this was your intention, but we wanted to take the opportunity to do some education. Artists are frequently unappreciated and undervalued in the church. No other position in the church—administrators, accountants, maintenance workers, pastors, etc.—is asked to spend hours doing hard work and then submit to a competitive lottery for the slim chance of being paid. Respect artists by putting value in their work.


Design Professionals Weigh In
This contest falls into a category known as spec work, where designers are asked to provide work under speculation—essentially they work with no guarantee of payment, hoping the client will choose their work and pay them. It’s broadly frowned upon in the design community.

AIGA’s position says it well:

AIGA, the professional association for design, believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for the value of their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients.

AIGA acknowledges that speculative work—that is, work done prior to engagement with a client in anticipation of being paid—occurs among clients and designers. Instead of working speculatively, AIGA strongly encourages designers to enter into projects with full engagement to continue to show the value of their creative endeavor. Designers and clients should be aware of all potential risks before entering into speculative work.

For students and professionals, there may be a different line drawn on which of these constitute unacceptable practices. In each case, however, the designer and client make the decision and must accept the relevant risks.

That last line leaves the door open for disagreement. If a designer knows what they’re getting into, best of luck. But Debbie Millman, president of AIGA, clarifies the last statement:

We are against spec work. The reason for the line, “while recognizing that the decision is up to individual designers,” was to try and acknowledge how cultural and technological dynamics have changed. We are finding that we are more effective communicating with younger designers when we do not preach. Instead, we are seeking to educate the next generation of designers by clearly outlining the inappropriateness of a spec work.

Essentially the AIGA realized it was better to be less rigid in their dogma in hopes of convincing the next generation of designers.

This is a big issue, big enough that an entire web site is dedicated to No Spec, full of resources including 10 reasons not to do spec work and and an explanation of why speculation hurts. In a nutshell “spec requires the designer to invest time and resources with no guarantee of payment.”

Not a Simple Issue
This is also a complicated issue, one that we hotly debated among our staff. In the end, we didn’t all agree. Contests, individual choice to take a risk and even situations like our own guest blogging policy make this a murky issue for us. We realize that it’s not always a cut and dry issue.

But the bottom line for us is that we value creatives. The professional community has their own ethical stance on this issue, and we’d be remiss to ignore that. We do the same for other professionals employed by the church, so let’s extend that courtesy to artists.

We hope you’re willing to learn more about this issue and consider how it impacts designers. In the future we hope you’ll find a way to design your next book that empowers artists and gives you a better end product so everybody can win.

Thanks for your time Rick.

Post By:

Michael Buckingham


With the goal of making the church the most creative place on the planet, Michael founded Holy Cow Creative, the church’s creativity and design studio. He is also the creative director for the Center for Church Communication and Church Marketing Sucks. You can find him speaking at conferences such as HOW, Echo, and MinistryCOM. Check out his blog, Jesus Hates Papyrus, where he continues to help the church intentionally reflect Christ in how it communications.
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133 Responses to “An Open Letter to Rick Warren about Spec Work”

  • Jason
    September 17, 2009

    This is your oppression should you wish to accept it… Seriously, isn’t there some more important cause out there to fight? If you want an opportunity at acclaim, then take it, and if you don’t, then don’t waste your time. Are you going to make a picket line at WalMart when they have their next pumpkin coloring contest? Oppression is forced on an individual, not opted into. If you are a professional designer, then you don’t need the gig, but if you’re a talented kid with a dream, then reach for the stars! (said with the Disney music ramping to a crashindo!) the dude was trying to do something cool & you’re dumping on his party. Just my $.02.


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  • Joe
    September 17, 2009

    I agree with Jason. Rick Warren asked his followers on Twitter to design a cover and that the winner would get some cash. I don’t care what the AIGIBIGIASGDLMNOPQRS has to say about “spec” work. Nobody was forced to invest hours of time into the darn project. Heck, no one was even forced to read the stupid tweet. This is just another example of a Christian taking something way to seriously and instantly launching an epic war plan to save the earth from unspeakable horrors. Chill out dude.


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  • Barry Whitlow
    September 17, 2009

    RELAX PEOPLE-GOOD LORD. Thanks Pastor Rick for: #1-giving someone a shot at making some money. You could have simply hired a professional but decided to broaden the opportunity-BRAVO!; #2-thanks for tossing something into the creative ring that inspired true creatives to do what they would do anyway without any pay-create. PLEASE. Somebody. GIVE US MORE REASONS to create. You did that Pastor Rick. I love your heart bro. Thanks again.


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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    September 17, 2009

    I can appreciate the arguments in the comments–I think this is a complicated and often divisive issue.
    While I sympathize with the argument that people had a choice about entering this contest, it’s curious to me that we would discard the ethical guidelines of a major professional organization. Your church wouldn’t disregard your accountant’s code of ethics, or your laywer’s, so why your designer’s? I find that hard to argue with (and trust me, Michael and I did argue over this).
    If you truly value an artist, you should value their code of ethics as well.
    And frankly, I think the work speaks for itself.


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  • SD
    September 17, 2009

    It’s interesting watching the backlash against the backlash from people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about, find it impossible to see the other side’s view, and likely produced some of the mediocre work themselves.
    What troubles me even more is Rick’s “creative staff” suggested the “contest.” Any creative staff worth their salt wouldn’t suggest something like this. It would have been much more awesome if people nominated a designer who could treat this like a real project.
    I don’t blame Rick’s intentions behind the idea, his heart seemed in the right place. But steamrolling right over the cautions, as well as the general disrespect from Warren-worshipers who feel the need to vehemently defend him has been quite troubling.
    All in all, the reams of mediocre and downright ugly book covers speak for themselves.


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  • chilly
    September 17, 2009

    we take ourselves so seriously don’t we.
    wow…


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  • Duane
    September 17, 2009

    The fact that there is a code of ethics for graphic designers makes me laugh….really i’m laughing…seriously, i can’t stop. Because, as Christians, our code of ethics is scripture, and I can’t see anything that Rick Warren has done to contradict scripture! Seriously, i’m still laughing. But your open letter, does contradict scripture…if your brother slights you, go to your brother about it…an open letter is not really doing that! Oh, and as a 10 year Air Force veteran, I do know a little something about the real Code of Ethics! there’s my $.03 worth.


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  • Dan Sullivan
    September 17, 2009

    Every week, creatives spend hours of their time pouring themselves out for churches and go home without any pay. They are guitar players, singers, drummers, camera operators, ushers (creative? Ok maybe) Why do they do it? Why sell themselves short when bands that worked half as hard got a couple hundred bucks the night before at a nearby bar with a fourth of the audience? Now I know this contest is more like the lotto than volunteering at church, but I think you are getting WAY too Ben out of shape over this. A lot of your points are right if this were a soap company or something, but if Rick W wants to throw in the whole amateur design spin, let him do it and get your panties in a ruffle about something bigger.


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  • mrsking
    September 17, 2009

    i see both sides of the argument. but then again… at the end of the day you would think that mr. warren wants a book that looks like it will sell well. hey, most of us don’t want to buy a book with cheesy looking, WordArt type font and cliche waterfall or still meadow covers. it might be a great book, but you are less likely to give it a chance if it looks dumb. more power to talented kids with potential but that doesn’t translate into me wanting to pick that book up and buy it. at the end of the day, you want a product that looks like it will sell well and appeal to people.


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  • Barry A. Smith
    September 17, 2009

    I’m considering having a house design contest for my modern dream house, as well as a health care contest. Wonder hopw many doctors and architects will bite.
    Exactly.
    Enough said.


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  • Michael Buckingham
    September 17, 2009

    You’re right Duane:
    Matthew 10:10
    do not carry a beggar’s bag for the trip or an extra shirt or shoes or a walking stick. Workers should be given what they need.
    Actually Jason this isn’t a typical Christian move, but it is a typical reaction to not take a moment to see things from someone else’s viewpoint. That’s what I was asking people like you to do. The typical Christian move should be to care more about people, to see the hurt that a move like this could cause.
    It’s not cut and dry, I’d love $5k and one of Rick Warren’s books in my portfolio. And I can even dig the whole “find hiddent talent” bit. There is an upside, but the downside is very steep. It’s great for the one that wins, and often causes hurt to those that don’t.
    As far as volunteering, you’re missing one big point. Volunteering is something I initiate, it isn’t just expected. And…if you’re not taking care of your volunteers (not just the really good ones) shame on you.
    What many of you seem to miss, or ignore, or whatever is that creatives in the church feel left out, undervalued…we have to ask ourselves does this lift them up as a whole or does this continue feelings of not being appreciated?
    Let me also add this in, as the comments are just starting to come in. Often times I see these conversations turn disgusting. Whether you agree or disagree with my viewpoint…please above all else be kind to one another. Please. Spec work or no spec work we are commanded to love, so let’s find a way to have this conversation with that as our foundation.


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  • Chris
    September 17, 2009

    Whoa!!! You totally missed it on this one. I don’t know if funny or sad… Lighten up a bit okay.


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  • Carolyn
    September 17, 2009

    This is an extremely important topic in the profession. Remarks like, “don’t get so bent out of shape” show a lack of thought about the consequences of any contribution to a trend that can be damaging to an industry. When someone famous does something that is part of what many people think is a detrimental trend, then it’s a perfect opportunity for intelligent, thoughtful discussion and educating both clients and designers. The post here was pretty evenhanded and temperate, and responses in the comment section that are dismissive, rude, or resentful just make the commenter look bad or immature. The post acknowledges that Rick Warren probably had only the best of intentions; it’s not an attack. I think it calls for mature, thoughtful responses. This is my first time here; I know we all have an inherent tendency to be unkind when irked, but here of all places, I would expect responses, no matter what the disagreement, to be carefully written in a spirit of love.


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  • Rob Thomas
    September 17, 2009

    Michael,
    I appreciate your point of view on the matter… You put a lot of thought into it and you got me thinking about the issue now… which is the point of the post.
    On another note, I just checked out the 99designs site and saw the covers. As we speak, Rick is extending the deadline and ‘forcing’ his top designers to enter as well… at least he should be. :)


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  • dan Crask
    September 17, 2009

    When God wanted His tabernacle and temple built, he first called the artists… not the priests, not clergy or holy men – artists. The creative arts are no laughing matter to our Father.
    I learned that from “Art & The Bible.” Every Christian should, at some point in their faith journey, read Francis Schaeffer’s 2 essays on art in a little booklet called “Art & The Bible.”
    As an aside – I’m sad to read so many belittling comments from people about there being standards or this being an issue at all. Do you realize you’re commenting on a site that is all about design/branding/marketing?! Your complaints are no different than reading a complaint about there being a discussion about laundry on a Tide web site. Weird…


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  • Trish
    September 17, 2009

    The point that those outside of our industry can’t see is this is happening everywhere! As creatives we are being hit from all sides. It is not just a pastor with good, yet misguided, intentions, it is coming from every industry today, including cities, governments and even advertising agencies. This trend is putting a lot of people out of work. As a professional creative, we spend years learning via education and experience to perfect our trade. We have to know CMYK, Pantone, Vector, Pixel, RGB, png., eps., dpi, brand, marketing, balance, target audience, eye movement, gradations, alignment, color palette, grid systems, fonts, demographics, trademarks, copyright, kerning, tracking, leading, serifs, styles, trends, grayscale, layers, applications, and on and on. It has taken me years to learn that and more, and I am learning new things specific to my industry everyday. Our technology moves as fast or faster than any other industry. We spend the same amount of money on education as any other profession. We have as much passion for our careers as anyone else. Yet we creatives are seldom seen as professional, educated, experienced, skilled, knowledgeable, or technical. Unlike lawyers and doctors we are expected to compete with anyone with a computer. Yes, it does devalue us. It also devalues the final product which effects YOU.


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  • Chukka
    September 17, 2009

    “every week, creatives spend hours of their time pouring themselves out for churches and go home without any pay. They are guitar players, singers, drummers, camera operators, ushers (creative? Ok maybe) Why do they do it?
    Dan, I hear and appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t think your comparison fits. Guitarists, singers, drummers etc willingly volunteer their time knowing that their efforts help build the church and advance the Kingdom. And they do so never expecting any financial compensation.
    If you want to extend the concept of a design competition to other creatives, it looks something like this: Your worship leader invites 100 guitar players to get up early Sunday morning and come to the church sound check, but with the understanding that only the best guitar player that morning will actually get to play with the worship team. (And that he’ll receive $5,000 because he was 0.06% better than the 2nd place guitarist… even though the 2nd place guitarist got out of bed at the same time and has put in the exact same amount of work.)
    There is nothing wrong with asking creatives to volunteer their time to contribute to the church. But I agree with the original letter – if you have $5,000 available to compensate someone for their work, the most ethical practice is the same for any service-based industry: hire someone based on their quoted price, their reputation and their portfolio of previous work.


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  • Josh Mann
    September 17, 2009

    Barry–lame straw man argument. You think that is apples to apples? Honor the intellectual capacity of these readers as much as you want Rick to honor your ethical guidelines.
    Michael–is it not pretty clear that your opinion seems to be quite off from the majority of these readers? Thanks for sharing, it is after all your blog, however admitting when we “could have been wrong” could go a long way. Proverbs speaks of– Blessed is the man who is not offended easily–


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  • Sean Salter
    September 17, 2009

    And what happens after the artist wins the contest and gets the pay day?


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  • dave
    September 17, 2009

    I’m a professional graphic designer. During the past 15 or so years, I’ve been a paid employee, done freelance work, and volunteered or worked at deep discounts for religious nonprofits I’ve wanted to help.
    I also began my career being burned by working for spec, something that was tempting to do when I was young and trying to start a career.
    When it comes to these kinds of contests, I have mixed feelings. In my experience, there is a little difference between a design contest and working completely for spec, but I’m wary of anything that ultimately devalues the work of creative people. Sure, the designs that suck won’t be chosen, but there is a mentality out there that anyone who can click a mouse and has some cheap software can be a good graphic designer, and that isn’t true, any more than it’s true that owning a guitar and being able to pick out a couple chords makes you a concert level musician. Further, those ethical guidelines are written down to try to keep people from being taken advantage of (something Christians should always be concerned about, in my opinion), and it would be nice if someone of Warren’s caliber would actually strive to go above and beyond these guidelines, rather than disregard them or, more likely, not even bother to find out about them.


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  • Michael Buckingham
    September 17, 2009

    Actually Josh, if you look at the comments it’s pretty split, and that’s giving credit to the one line slaps. But for the record I’m not keeping score. I hope this is a conversation, not a competition.
    If you look at the submissions you’ll see spec work doesn’t bring quality.
    If you read the letter and my replies you’ll see that I realize there is an upside, but the downside is just too great.


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  • Maria
    September 17, 2009

    I applaud Rick Warren for trying to be creative and innovative. His intention to draw people in and to invite participation is great.
    However, as a professional designer, I am very uncomfortable with spec work and the appalling results. It’s amazing how no one would EVER think to ask a remodelor or dentist (or even a pastor) to participate in a contest like this, but it’s a common appeal to creatives. I guess the artistic gifts/call have never been as valued or respected as the medical, legal or even the construction field. Can you imagine a spec contest for ditch diggers? For accountants? For cooks (“10 of you will make us sandwiches, we’ll eat them all and pay only for the best one.”) Nope.
    If you think people need to “lighten up” or this is just being harsh, please don’t just dismiss this outright without taking a few minutes to skim the No-Spec website http://www.no-spec.com — even if you won’t agree with every point, perhaps it will shed light on how speculative work causes harm, not just to the design industry, but to clients who get inferior work.
    God has higher standards for the church, which includes paying the workman what he or she is worth. I totally know Pastor Rick didn’t mean any harm at all, and had only the best intentions. But just like if a person unknowingly uses a racially-charged term or unwittingly offends people, it’s part of being Christ-like prayerfully to consider these concerns to discover if there is a better way.


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  • Stefan Mumaw
    September 17, 2009

    I’ve made a living as a designer for the last 14 years, and I’m objective and seasoned enough to see both sides. Pastor Warren didn’t set out to do anything but reach out to a community with an opportunity. Completely understandable and not without precedent. On the surface, it’s a cool opportunity and a good marketing idea from Pastor Warren’s perspective. There have been thousands of “design contests” for everything from book covers to Fortune 500 logo designs. All Michael is saying is that there are consequences to the actions, and those consequences, while uncharacteristically mocked within this forum and often lost on most outside of the design industry, have effects on the industry as a whole. Michael is not worried about his financial well being. Judging by the quality of his work, he’s perfectly capable of continuing a living at his craft. He’s speaking for both the industry he participates in and the Christian brothers he shares a faith with. While many of the comments left here clearly view the issue of spec work as frivolous banter, it seems this perspective comes from a place outside of the industry, outside of those who do see the potential that spec work has on their livelihood and the livelihood of their colleagues. While many of you may not understand the issue, nor Michael’s perspective or fervor, I think it’s important to note that he didn’t write this to chastise a man clearly beloved by many and certainly a man given to His calling, but rather to bring to his attention the potential spec work has to handicap an industry that we all know he recognizes as a critical partner in the furthering of the Gospel in today’s society.
    While I’m tempted to try and explain the negative effects of spec work on the design industry, I fear that, too, will get lost in the translation and take the conversation away from where it seems Michael was going with it: that people, not just professions, are involved. And while it’s undeniable that it is their choice to involve themselves in the practice, it’s also their choice to participate in a myriad of other activities that would be harmful to themselves and others, whether they know it or not. That is their right. But that doesn’t mean that the church, and the men who lead it with an eye on encouraging and uplifting the body of that church, should encourage it.


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  • Nicholas
    September 17, 2009

    Ugh… If you’re worried about investing the time to submit an entry and coming out with nothing to show for it, then it seems pretty obvious that you shouldn’t submit an entry. Geez, stop complaining and just DON’T submit an entry.
    Personally, I think it’s fun to pull off of the normal daily routine and pull together a concept to submit.
    If I’m WILLINGLY submitting a design, no one is taking advantage of me. Put responsibility on the person it belongs to: The person CHOOSING to submit a design. No one’s cheating you.


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  • Jeff Fisher LogoMotives
    September 17, 2009

    Michael – Excellent letter. Thanks for sharing it in such an open manner. – J.


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  • Trish
    September 17, 2009

    Actually, Josh, it is apples to apples. Why do people think professionals in the design field are so inferior to architects and doctors? We are not I can assure you (I also have extensive knowledge in the architect field). Yet here we are jumping into the pit, savaging each other, for a single piece of meat. We are considered dogs when we are the same as those making bets and cheering us on on the sidelines. You do not think that is demeaning? It really isn’t about the competition, it is about working for free. If the good pastor had asked for people to send in samples of their work and then chose the best possible candidate from that, that is absolutely acceptable. But asking people to work for free is not.


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  • Sean Salter
    September 17, 2009

    If you want to extend the concept of a design competition to other creatives, it looks something like this: Your worship leader invites 100 guitar players to get up early Sunday morning and come to the church sound check, but with the understanding that only the best guitar player that morning will actually get to play with the worship team. (And that he’ll receive $5,000 because he was 0.06% better than the 2nd place guitarist… even though the 2nd place guitarist got out of bed at the same time and has put in the exact same amount of work.)
    Almost an accurate analogy, you are missing one point. The contest isn’t to lead worship in church, the concert is to perform in front of a crowd that paid a cover charge and the band promoter receives most of the profit for writing the songs.


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  • Nicholas
    September 17, 2009

    I like how one of the people riding the fence on spec work said: “There is an upside, but the downside is very steep. It’s great for the one that wins, and often causes hurt to those that don’t.”
    Wow… That’s life. If you haven’t learned to deal with disappointment by the time you leave grade school like everyone else, expect a rough pretty life.
    Why would you enter a competition with hundreds of competing entries if you hadn’t considered that you might actually (gasp!) lose?? You’d have to be the most arrogant, big-headed person. And in such a case, it would probably do you good to learn to deal with a loss.


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  • Nicholas
    September 17, 2009

    Ah! The lottery’s not fair because not everyone wins! It cheats them out of their hard earned money and gives them nothing in return!
    “Frustrate,” the little validation word required to submit a comment, is very appropriate.


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  • Sean Salter
    September 17, 2009

    So what happens to the artist after he wins and he gets his pay day?


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  • Michael Buckingham
    September 17, 2009

    Right on Nicholas. Couldn’t have made the point more clear myself.
    If you buy a bunch of lottery tickets every week thinking they will pay your rent you have been fooled and need to learn to make wiser choices.
    PS. There’s a reason you can’t pay for a lotto ticket with a credit card or food stamps.


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  • Trish
    September 17, 2009

    Nicholas, a design contest IS grade school. What people don’t understand is design is a business just like any other. We have bills to pay and kids to raise like everyone else. When your profession turns into nothing but contests where you have to do all the work first and then hope you get paid, maybe you’ll understand that we are not arrogant, but afraid. My profession, my passion, my life, is turning into nothing but a grade school competition. How do I support my children that way? How would you?


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  • Chukka
    September 17, 2009

    Dear Nicholas,
    I’m not sure whether you work in the design industry or not, but I’m going to assume you don’t because ‘pulling together a concept’ IS part of the daily routine for a graphic designer.
    The industry actually isn’t too concerned about any individual competition.
    One of the industry’s primary concerns is this: that the ‘lure’ for clients of using competitions to recruit designers will eventually result in a situation where the only way for a freelancer to earn an income is by entering competitions. And if this ever happens, ‘freelance graphic designer’ will become an unsustainable career choice due to the unpredictability of income. Freelance designers would have to also work other jobs, limiting their ability to develop their skills and their ability to specialise in certain areas. And as a result, quality across the whole industry would suffer a sharp downturn.
    Please understand that an individual competition has no effect on the industry – but that the industry does need to respond to the larger issue in order to ensure a sustainable future.


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  • Andrew
    September 17, 2009

    Challenging blog, Here are a few thoughts:
    - As a creative, does anything really ‘belong’ to us in the first place? Where does creativity come from and what did Paul mean by “what is more I consider all things loss for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus” – what is ‘all things’ anyway? It challenges me.
    - As followers of Jesus who make creative elements, should we ever not give our best? If it communicates truth, is there a price too high or low as payment that stands in the way? In whatever (all) we do….
    I do agree that there are poor designs and there are excellent designs. There’s a talent difference. I always, 100% of the time prefer and aim for excellent designs. I sometimes put God in boxes I’ve defined as “the best” or “this is excellence,” but I have also seen God use the mistakes, the mundane, and the poorly designed creative elements and in that there’s unspeakable beauty, even if my pride says otherwise.


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  • Trsih
    September 17, 2009

    When we compare our profession to another profession we get ridiculed, but it makes more sense to compare our profession to a game of chance? Guess that shows how pointless our arguments really are to people who really do not care about others. Very christian. Guess I will have to throw two degrees and 25 years of experience out the window and start over in some other profession. Is there room in yours? There will only be a few 100 thousand of us looking for ‘real’ jobs. I’m sure the economy won’t suffer for it. I apologize for being so foolish and arrogant.


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  • Sean Salter
    September 17, 2009

    seriously, what do people think happens to the person who wins after they collect their prize and their fame?


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  • Jaci Askew
    September 17, 2009

    I’m very frustrated with the people on this thread that are belittling the argument that Michael has articulated so well. It’s the same sort of response that I’ve gotten from Rick Warren’s “fans” on his facebook fan page. It’s an unwillingness to understand how this effects a large contingent of people. If you’re not investing in the design industry then I can see how you may not understand it, but now it’s been explained to you, so have the decency to not be close minded. Thank you, Michael, for a great article.


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  • Trish
    September 17, 2009

    Sean, I seriously don’t know. I’ve been doing this for over 25 years and don’t know anyone in my profession who got ‘fame’ from a contest. And $5000 may pay the bills for a month or two, but what about the rest of the year? What about the rest of their life? What about those who depend upon their income?


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  • Michael
    September 17, 2009

    If you are an artist and don’t like spec work, then don’t participate. If you’re a band, and don’t want to enter a battle of the bands competition, then don’t enter. If you’re a salesman and don’t want to work for straight commission, then don’t take that particular job.
    But neither are unethical or mean that holding such a contest means you undervalue artists.
    Your opinion is certainly valid, and your arguments may be a fair point, but they are personal (even if principled).


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  • John Briggs
    September 17, 2009

    I find a lot of these comments show a lot of disrespect towards Christian designers and artists. As brothers and sisters in faith, we should care for the well-being of each other. The author has come as close as he possibly can to bringing the issue directly to Rick Warren. He is not denouncing or angry with him. He is shedding light on the issue.
    Spec work is a sad reality for the design profession. I’ve never participated and I do not know of any trained and skilled designer personally that participates in it. Look at the examples for the contest. None of them even compare to the quality of his first books’ designs.
    Anwyay, lets respect each others professions for the sake of Christ. How one brother or sister is doing affects us all as the body of Christ. This letter was not an attack, more like a light to an issue that a percentage of us deal with on a daily basis.


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  • cole
    September 17, 2009

    umm yah don’t compare to a battle of the bands… you play your music that you retain the rights too. its not like once your done with battle of the bands you lose your music or right to play it. nope you continue playing your shows and such just as normal. now you win this spec stuff what can you do. can’t change your work cause you don’t own it anymore you just gave rick warren you work for them to do what they will. not to mention they get the free artwork from 100′s others.
    also is 5k a fair price compared to what it should be pay? i mean seriously how much money will this book make?? hopefully they give the person what they deserve for being the first thing anyone will see when it comes to this book. besides of course the bigg warren name


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  • Barton Damer
    September 17, 2009

    I think Rick Warren is doing a great thing here. I hate to shatter anyones ambitions, but a book cover design is NOT worth $5,000. It is a very generous reward to offer for a project that can be cranked out in a day or two. Rick has made a reward worth taking a risk for! I’m sure he set the amount high to attract “the best of the best” and not end up with something mediocre. The problem for me occurs when churches have done this for their logos, etc. and offer $300 to the winner. Lame.
    On another note, Rick Warren’s previous book cover designs are pretty conservative (from a creative stand point) so I’m not sure there is a lot of room for anything ground breaking in this competition.
    Someone like Rob Bell or Erwin McManus would probably yield more interesting results.


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  • beeveedee
    September 17, 2009

    While I only scanned thru all the arguments, it appears to me that no one mentioned that Rick Warren will draw profits off of his book. The argument of those performing in a church service (as works of service) falls apart because it’s not a business, profiting off of the performers.
    The advent of computers has only made design more accessible in the past 20 yrs but has not done much in passing on the knowledge of the craft of design and typography… and spec work will do nothing to help further the craftsmanship and profession of design.
    I am a graphic designer, and I cannot fathom if Rick has $5000 to pay for a cover, why not select a designer from any number of small firms or freelance designers, based on their portfolio of work. Why open it to the masses? I am so tired of people not realizing the time and experience and knowledge I put into my work, and not valuing that.
    Those of you commenters who don’t know the business of design, but can make things “look good” on your PC, just move along and keep your opinions to yourselves.


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  • Jeff
    September 17, 2009

    Barton:
    A book cover design isn’t worth more than $5,000. I beg to differ. Please, Hear me out.
    Have you ever heard the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”? There is a reason for the phrase…and that reason is so many people DO judge a book by its cover!
    Rick Warren will likely make boatloads of money of of this book. If I had to guess…probably millions, forgive me if I am way off, I have not looked into the numbers of his previous books. Out of all that money, $5,000 for the cover? $5,000 for the piece (that other than his name itself) will make the first impression to anyone who looks at the book?
    There are plenty of people who judge books by their cover, and Rick Warren is doing himself an injustice by not hiring a professional designer through a professional process just as he would his editor or the publisher for the book. Would he hold a contest to see who could proofread and edit his book the best? Why skimp on the cover?


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  • Chukka
    September 17, 2009

    I’ve already left a few comments, but let me go on the record with something… I’m not actually a graphic designer, I’m a brand manager (a hirer of freelance designers) who’s spent basically my whole career to this point in the non-profit sector.
    So sometimes I have decent budgets for projects, and at other times they are quite small. But I believe in the ‘no-spec work’ mantra because ultimately a healthy design industry allows me to obtain better quality for less cost. Many talented designers + high financial stability = the kind of market competition that keeps prices low. (Sorry for the blunt honesty, but with big dreams and little budgets, that’s just the way my world works).


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  • Chukka
    September 17, 2009

    Jeff:
    It’s true though, a book cover is worth less than $5,000. We’re not talking about the ‘value’ of the cover itself, we’re just talking about the ‘value’ of the designer’s time. Unless the designer is some world-famous artist, they have no right to expect that their compensation reflects the expected sales of the book. They can only expect to be fairly compensated for the time that they’ve committed to the work that’s assigned.
    To put $5,000 into context… that amount of money is going to buy me maybe around 35 hours with a quality designer (might not be true for every location, and obviously varies according to the calibre of designer).


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  • Sean Salter
    September 18, 2009

    I think quoting the bible too much in the debate can start to get into the area of spiritual manipulation, so I’m gonna refrain from that, but I will say. Leviticus, Matthew, and Paul cover business a whole heck of a bunch. Just sayin, I guess the Jews just get it more naturally :-P
    all kidding aside.
    Those who are quick to rebuttal Michael’s post have missed his point ENTIRELY.
    His heart and concern is not just for the artists, who are most likely ignorant about the issues, as well as Rick Warren who is selling his own book short.
    There are other solutions that are more beneficial for everyone involved. We can discuss them to the benefit of Rick, Artists, and The Lord’s KIngdom. Will you listen? Well, you haven’t so far.
    The biggest problem I see hear. One side who is trying and IS understanding Rick Warren’s heart, and the other that isn’t trying to understand and worse, refuses to listen.
    What ever you stance, opinion, or loyalties lay. Why not listen. At least have a discussion, ask some question, present your stance. A large group is not choosing to be offended, heck they aren’t attacking Rick Warren. They’re hurt, dejected, ignored, brushed aside, and forgotten. You scoff at us. You laugh at our hearts, our concerns, and our voice. Thanks. Awesome. And why should I go to church?
    A large community in the design community has issue. How is it addressed? Ignored and scoffed at by Rick Warren, and ignored and scoffed at by “model” modern american christians.
    Honestly. Its a losing battle and it is not worth fighting. There is NO point trying to express ourselves, our hearts, our frustrations, our concerns, and our desires to see the arts and design takes its proper place in the church as a means to communicate a message of amazing amazing love. Especially when its answered with little concern or care to rudeness, vileness and contempt.
    At one time I had hoped to see the attitude toward what I do change in The Church, ha! I was so naive and idealistic, I thought working for churches, christian NPOS, and Christian Colleges I could effect some kind of change. Boy I was wrong.
    I’m gonna stay where I am at now. In an amazing position at an amazing creative firm in the entertainment industry. Where what I do is respected by the people The Church has painted as evil. I’m gonna spend my energy serving them, working hard, improving my craft, and hoping God opens doors. These people treat me with more respect, kindness, love, admiration, and pay me damn well to boot!
    Church, who needs it? Now days its all about happiness over character, in fact its happiness, joy, feeling good, self comforting, me me me me, over ANY ounce of building GOOD character. Half the people I work with won’t walk in to your building because you treated them like crap when they did, and the other half won’t because The Church wouldn’t let them through the doors with out condemning them. You know what I tell them, don’t go, for the love of God, don’t go. You won’t find God amongst any of them, what you will find is a lot of pain, judgement, condemnation, and rejection.
    I encourage every talented, hungary, and bleeding heart christian to NOT work for their Church, NOT do work for christian companies. I tell them, go to school, get a job in the world, at a studio, marketing firm, etc. Work HARD, working hard, and being the best you IS serving God. Be a GOOD person, have good character, and if you want to do art for the church, do what GOD has given you vision to do, give it to the church for free, and walk out the door back to your job and work HARD.
    IMHO thats being the Christian you weren’t meant to be. Go be the salt, and get away from The Church as fast as humanly possible. They will whip you, beat, you, and eat your heart alive, and then make you feel like it was your fault.
    STAY AWAY, but if you must, go, worship, pray, and then run home as fast as you can.
    Church will kill your soul.


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  • Michael
    September 18, 2009

    if you are a designer and don’t want to participate, then don’t. if you are someone who wants the opportunity to practice your skills, potentially winning 5k, then go for it.
    we do not have to expect everyone in an industry to conform to our standards.


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  • michael
    September 18, 2009

    taking this post to it’s logical conclusion, then ANY contest that required some kind of skill to win would be bad.
    do poker players that pay to enter tournaments devalue the poker profession?
    would a woodworking contest devalue woodworkers all over the world?
    nobody is forcing people to enter or work for free. and suggesting that everyone who has entered is mediocre is not really fair.
    and the band analogy does work…musicians who win such contests OFTEN sign over rights to their songs in exchange for producing records and promoting shows. if you have a problem with spec work, then you have to have a problem with a battle of the bands.


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  • travis johnson
    September 18, 2009

    Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.
    Bro,
    If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. If you did want to do something, well…then, that would be describing Rick Warren.
    Besides, since this is Church Marketing Sucks and we are now talk about Rick Warren’s book, it’s obvious that his marketing…doesn’t suck, even if the sideswipe of Rick does.
    (yawn)
    Congrats on a needless backhand at a really good man.


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