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.