Design is an Industry, Not Just a Hobby


Chances are if you’re reading this, you know our job economy has been steadily declining for the past few years. Perhaps you have a friend or family member who has been struggling to find a job… and maybe one of them is a young designer, a freelancer, or someone just looking for more possible portfolio pieces… or maybe that someone is you! I’m guessing that you also know Obama is our current president and have at least some knowledge of his job plan to create jobs now and to keep fighting for job creation in the next four years. A lot of what our current presidential candidates like to focus on is job creation, so what happens when someone at their level of celebrity makes a huge faux-pas?

Obama for America, a community organizing project of the Democratic National Committee for President Obama held an “Art Works Job Poster Contest” back in November of 2011. The contest was one that supports the idea of creating more American Jobs. Sound interesting? Maybe. This campaign sought out submissions from artists and designers across the country to convey why they support Obama’s plan to create jobs and why they would re-elect him to continue to fight for jobs, but why did Obama for America choose to not hire a designer or agency to create one of these posters? This contest could have been used as an example to drive design as a role to create social and economic capital, but instead demonstrated a lack of respect for the design profession and contradicts the original intent of the contest: to create jobs for American workers.

Now I’m not saying Obama for America is the only organization guilty of it, but they were in the spotlight and could have chosen to make a difference when it comes to design contests and spec work. If you aren’t sure what Spec(ulative) work is, it’s when a designer or agency designs for free in hope of landing a project. The Art Works Job Poster Contest received thousands upon thousands of entries within its time frame. For all the work they put into it, only three winners received a copy of their poster printed and signed by our president with a limited edition of their poster sold in the store, with the money going back into the campaign, which already makes billions on sales and donations.

What the majority of the designers didn’t know, along with those who enter yearly T-shirt design competitions for companies like Delia*s and Forever 21, is that these competitions trivialize the value of design by failing to compensate fairly for it, and assume ownership of intellectual property rights. If you’re a new designer and you know it’s tough starting out with a limited portfolio, don’t get involved with contests that won’t allow you to put your work into into it. Don’t let a crowdsourcing website take advantage of you! You will put in hours and hours of work, only to hand over your rights to your work and receive no compensation or feedback or any exposure unless you are the sole winner. Be a design hero and don’t work for free in the hope of getting a project.

Are you a fresh, new designer who is hungry for work? Become an intern! Contact local design agencies and see what you can do for them. Still a student? Find some portfolio reviews where you’ll be able to receive valuable feedback by industry professionals. Attend conferences and local meet ups to get to know other designers within your area, as they’ll become great resources for feedback. Get in touch with charities and volunteer your time. It gets you experience and you’ll feel great doing something good for people who truly deserve it.

Do your part and let your fellow designers and others who might become clients some day know that there are ways for them to seek proposals from designers or agencies that would not deteriorate the integrity of our profession. Let’s make sure that we help others understand that design is an industry, not just a hobby. If we lead by example, others will follow and we can become a force of positive change for our industry.