Anchorage designers unhappy with centennial logo contest

The city of Anchorage will reach its centennial milestone in 2015 and to commemorate the momentous occasion there will be many community events leading up to the grand finale in July. The centennial committee has begun preparation for the event nearly 3 years before the centennial and early on they’ve decided a logo is high on the priority list.

A different and controversial approach is being taken for the development of the centennial logo. In September, Mayor Sullivan announced that the city would be holding a design competition where the winning logo will represent the centennial on all marketing material and the winner will receive a $500 check.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Alaska chapter has not taken well to the idea of a design contest. AIGA Alaska President Erin Hamilton said in a letter to the mayor, “This practice violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide.”

Hamilton based her argument on the fact that design requires interaction between the designer and client to create the most appropriate and responsive work. She said by asking designers to create something for free the city is showing a lack of respect for the design and designers.

Hamilton said saving money is likely a big part of the reason the city chose to do a design contest but they may have had good intentions of using the contest as a way to encourage interaction with the community as well. Hamilton feels it is having the opposite effect though by cutting out the collaborative part of the process. “Developing a logo in itself is a very involved process,” Hamilton said, “including a great deal of research and communication with the client.” She says this competition doesn’t allow for that kind of involvement.

This is an increasing problem in the design industry, especially with online sites like 99designs.com and crowdspring.com. These sites allow an organization to post a job with a set prize amount for the winning design. AIGA Vice President Colleen Shannon called these sites “logo mills” and although she disapproves of the city’s contest tactic to create the centennial logo, she said it was better than using one of the mills.

Shannon says not all contests are inappropriate. They’re great for youth soccer teams or church barbeques where the work is pro bono and done by amateur designers.

The city projects the economic impact of the centennial will be more than $1 million worth of business generated by the various events. Hamilton said a logo is incredibly important in a high profile project like this, which may have even drawn professional designers to the project as pro bono work. “That would be the win-win way to do it,” according to Hamilton.

Susan Duck, a special assistant to the mayor working closely with the centennial, said she didn’t find the controversy a problem, just a difference in opinions. She said they do respect AIGA and their decision but the contest will continue as planned.

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