NEA’s Open Call for Logo Design Builds Awareness & Improves Understanding

NEA's Open Call for Logo Design Builds Awareness  Improves UnderstandingEarlier this week, National Endowment for the Arts(NEA) chairman Rocco Landesman announced the NEA’s open call for a new logo design to convey its focus (tagline?), “Art Works.”

Designers, you’ll find the RFP here, The deadline is February 26th,with the winner gets $25,000. Much better than the take from typical design crowdsourcing ops like

The announcement, made to students at Miami’s architecture and design high school, gave the NEA a wonderful chance to take center stage. That’s an opportunity usually left to the programs it funds. Landesman described the NEA’s needs here:

These two words – “art works” – pretty much sum up everything we are about at the NEA and I hope you will see them everywhere. Art, artists, and arts professionals work to change the communities they inhabit: they are placemakers and help create livable, sustainable, complete communities. I look forward to having a logo that conveys that.

You know that contests are all the rage — from America’s Giving Challenge to Chase Community Giving — but this is an interesting amalgam of contest, crowdsourcing and flat-out PR. I think it’s a brilliant communications campaign. Here’s why:

  • Most of us only have a vague idea what the NEA actually is and does. This contest is a powerful platform for Landesman and colleagues to build understanding of its value.
  • Art Works is the NEA’s thoughtfully-conceived brand. They’ve done the planning to ensure that its relevant and this contest is a wonderful way to build its network of messengers.
  • And it’s news (new, time sensitive), so will be spread by traditional and non-traditional media (like me).
  • The contest gives the NEA to talk about itself this week, while the submissions are coming in, at the deadline and when a winner is selected. That’s several points of entry into the news cycle.

I’ll be tracking the coverage and response this campaign generates for the NEA, and will share back with you. Meanwhile, what’s your take on this strategy? Does it work for you?…

NOTE: Please read the comments section. AIGA has come out strongly against this practice of soliciting graphic design work on spec

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Nancy Schwartz on February 4, 2010 in Case Studies, Graphic Design, Nonprofit Communications | 4 comments
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  • Ivan, thanks so much for sharing your point of view.
    After the very thoughtful comments came in on the 99designs post, I definitely got that point.
    That being said, I’m writing here about NEA’s successful communications strategy. You’re so right in emphasizing that success should come at no one’s expense, including graphic designers. Thanks for stressing this.
    However, I have to tell you that I’ve already heard from a few designers strapped for gigs and thrilled to throw their hat in the ring here. Guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

  • I was both surprised and dismayed to see the NEA engage in this sort of call for unpaid speculative design work.
    The AIGA’s response laid out the problems:
    1. The client, in this case the NEA, loses out on the collaborative process with a designer. Blind calls for graphics work result in superficial designs, and designs that can only be judged superficially. Speculative calls don’t result in quality work.
    2. The best designers do not work for free. The NEA is cheating itself out of the most competent professionals for a chance of getting something on the cheap. In most cases, an experienced designer has to be brought in to clean things up. Note that I’m not saying experienced designers are expensive — but the ones who have the relevant experience, regardless of the prices they charge, do not do speculative work.
    3. A call for speculative work devalues designers and graphic artists. This takes a little more explanation, because it was addressed in the comments for your earlier post on 99 Designs [] but clearly didn’t come through. I’ll quote from the AIGA letter as they offer great analogies:
    “There are few professions where you ask all possible candidates to do the work first and then you will choose which one to pay. Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you and you would then choose which one to use and which to pay or dentists to work for free until you decide which one you like. We realize that there are some creative professions with a different set of standards, but those are mostly ones like advertising and architecture where the billings are substantial and continuous after you make a selection of a firm and the work presented in the competition is often conceptual, so that you are not receiving the final outcome (the advertising campaign or the building) free up front as you would be in receiving a communication design solution.”
    I’m not a graphic designer by trade; I largely work with nonprofits on web programming, strategy and social media, so I’m not arguing this out of self-interest. But I do think designers should be paid for their work, just like you are paid for yours.
    I really hope you’ll reconsider recommending and lauding these kinds of speculative contests in the future, Nancy.

  • Christie

    Really? You think it’s a good communications strategy? I wasn’t aware exactly of what they did, and now I know they’re a cheap organization that does not value the professional services of a grahic designer. Therefore I am not interested in supporting them whatsoever.

  • Texas A&M

    Your blog keeps getting better and better!

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