May 28, 2013

Thoughts on design crowdsourcing

My answers from a brief interview about design crowdsourcing for the Design Bureau Magazine.

Read more

May 4, 2011

If design was an iceberg

Multi-million dollar investments in contest-listing websites will inevitably prompt a more aggressive marketing push, but as long as self-respecting designers continue to differentiate themselves this won't affect client acquisition.

Read more

February 24, 2011

The disconcertion of spec

It's bemusing to see $1.78 billion retailer JCPenney crowdsourcing its brand identity to a group comprised of "the company's associates, several design agencies and two art schools."

Graphic designer Sara Tack asks the right questions:

"Is the time spent reviewing more than 200 submissions good business practice? How many hours did the corporation waste trying to come to a consensus, no-less review all the submissions? Did they think by having such a huge range of ideas that clarity would reveal itself? Who led this effort? Whose idea was it to create this process? Did this person(s) think they needed this effort to cover all their bases and prove they did due diligence? Or did someone think it would be ‘cool’ to involve all these people?"

Not only has a lot of valuable business time and effort gone to waste, but I'm confident that a boat-load of designers have been left unpaid, too. This is just one in a recent line of unnecessary logo redesigns.

Talking about the US retail giant, and for those who haven't read it already, there's an excellent article on the New York Times website about JCPenney's search engine optimisation. Worth a look.

In similar, but no less disconcerting news, Domtar Paper is holding a design contest. What troubles me more than the actions of $6 billion paper giant Domtar is how the results will be announced at the 2011 HOW Conference. It's sad to see design organisation HOW — "the creative and business resource for graphic designers" — giving such exposure to spec work.

Here's a snippet from the contest rules:

"Domtar reserves the right to not select a winner. All entries agree to transfer all rights of artwork to Domtar for promotional or any other use."


Update #1:
HOW Design editor Bryn Mooth responded in the comment thread to say, "We are reaching out to Domtar today to express our stand against spec work and explain why we’re passionate about it. We apologize for any impression that HOW endorses or is involved in this contest." Full comment.

Update #2:
April Messer of Domtar left a comment apologising to the design community, and said that the contest will be retracted. Full comment.

Speaking of spec advocates, you can now, unfortunately, count Jacob Gube's highly-trafficked web design blog Six Revisions in that bracket, after the publishing of this anchor-text-stuffed advertisement where (no doubt anticipating a negative response) "comments that do not follow the instructions on how to participate [in the contest] may be removed." I think Jacob made a mistake.

For those new to these parts, I recommend reading why AIGA believes that design competitions will not result in the kind of work a client deserves.

November 17, 2010

Responding to spec work requests

I rarely reply to the weekly email requests that ask for spec work. For whatever reason, today I did.

golden ticketImage via Crankbunny.

Here was the pitch.


I'm reaching out to you to let you know about this unique project to work with DJ Rusko.

Talenthouse has partnered with KarmaloopTV and top English DJ and producer, DJ Rusko, to offer graphic designers the opportunity to participate in a worldwide project for which they can receive global recognition for their creativity.

The project asks that graphic designers design the official "R" logo for DJ Rusko which he will use on all of his merchandise and marketing material worldwide during 2011. The selected designer will also receive $1,000 (USD) for their design.

To participate or get more information, go to:

If you have any questions feel free to send me an e-mail.

And my reply.


Thanks for the kind offer.

In return, I'm reaching back to let you know about a unique project opportunity for DJ Rusko.

The project asks that DJ Rusko record and produce a new music track — one that mentions my name and my title as a graphic designer. I'll play the track on my website to a worldwide audience, giving full credit. I'll also pay $1,000.

If I don't like the track, or if I prefer one created by another DJ (I'm contacting thousands of others with the same unique opportunity), I won't play it on my site. Nor will I pay the monetary prize.

To participate, have DJ Rusko send the completed MP3 file to my email address.

Kind regards,


Spec chat elsewhere:

October 20, 2010

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto

Blair Enns’ Win Without Pitching Manifesto contains solid advice for designers who deal directly with their clients.

Win Without Pitching Manifesto

In Blair’s words, “Only we present our work. Whenever our diagnostic findings, strategic recommendations, or creative solutions are presented to anyone in our client companies, it will be personnel from our firm that does so.”

I’ve worked on projects where my ideas were delivered to boards of directors through middle-people — be it a brand or marketing manager, for example. In those cases I wasn’t there to guide the decision-makers or to answer their immediate questions, and that greatly increased the back-and-forth where directors would relay their thoughts through someone else, like a game of Chinese whispers. Hardly ideal.

One general premise of Blair’s book is that if a design studio is asked to pitch for a client’s business, the studio should be paid to write the proposal.

“Doctors charge for MRIs. Accountants charge for audits. Lawyers charge for discovery. And we charge for our diagnostic work as well, whether it is a brand audit or discovery session that we conduct ourselves, or outside research that we commission.”

Win Without Pitching Manifesto

In exchange for your email address you can read the The Win Without Pitching Manifesto for free online or buy the hardcover on Amazon. It’s excellent.

More good books.

May 7, 2010

How to convince your clients they need a brand, not just a logo

Written by London-based brand identity designer Andrew Sabatier.

Coca-Cola logotype

Explain that you should be employed to find a brand idea that will form the basis of all the company’s branding (and perhaps even future business decisions) of which a logo should only be one expression, an idea that is likely to form the basis of a the brand’s overall approach. Such an idea may already be a defining characteristic of the business waiting to be celebrated in the branding.

Point out other brands your client admires that can be identified by branding elements that are not the logo. Some well-branded businesses can be identified by their colour, typeface, photographic, illustration, or even copywriting style alone, or (more commonly) a carefully selected combination of these elements. Try to point out the underlying idea that determines all these other brand elements.

Your client’s success is your success. Sell a process to your client; a process you’ll guide them through and that will enable you to decide on a brand identity solution together. This will help you to establish a long-term relationship with your client. If you deliver good ideas they will be more likely to consult you again to develop the brand ideas even further.

Avoid references to the word “logo,” rather talk about the marks of a brand of which there should be a primary “brand mark” (two words). Replace “logo” with “brandmark” (one word). This will help you and your client to think about the overall experience of the brand and not just the logo in isolation. Logos are only meaningful in context and they should be seen to add value to that context. It is unlikely that a logo alone will be able to add sufficient value to a business. Logos are best employed in a system of brand marks that determine a unique brand experience.

Avoid logo beauty parades. Don’t only show different logos; logos are usually abstract expressions of an idea. Show how the logo idea relates to other brand expressions of the same idea. Show how an idea works in other situations, not just on stationery. The better the idea, the more unique, adaptable, and valuable it will be, and the higher the fees you can justifiably charge. Dedicated logo designers are a dime a dozen whereas brand identity designers offer far more value and often dramatically improve business for their clients.

Coca-Cola photo by Antonino Tumminia.

August 11, 2009

AIGA President Debbie Millman on spec work

Cat Wentworth, the Bangkok-based force behind No!Spec, interviewed the newly-appointed AIGA President Debbie Millman.

Read more

September 9, 2007

Spec work: bad for client, bad for designer

Professional designers are continually being asked to provide free services in the mere hope of being paid.

Read more

David Airey
Brand identity design

Independent since 2005
Website hosted by Fused

13 Gransha Park, Bangor
Northern Ireland
BT20 4XT