How the WECA logo design competition exploits and devalues creatives

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Some people might say that I hold one ruddy wild principle: I believe that people deserve to be paid for their creative work.

“Wooooaaaahhhhhh”, I can hear you thinking. I know, I’m groundbreaking. Now I wish I could end this blog here, but I can’t, because it turns out that West of England Combined Authority (WECA), and one of our many Mayors, Dan Norris, do not share this principle – so you’ve got another XXX words to read on the WECA logo competition, why it is spec work, and how it exploits and devalues creatives.

To find out more about what spec work actually is, read our accompanying blog, what is spec work and why does it suck?

(For the sake of this blog article, I’m going to refer to that person as The Creative, and collectively, The Creatives.)

 

What the fluff is WECA (for non-West Country folk)

Did you know that Bristolians have 3 Mayors? The Lord Mayor, a ceremonial role elected by political groups within the city. The Mayor of Bristol, currently Labour’s Marvin Rees, elected by the people of Bristol every 4 years and leader of our city council.

And the WECA Mayor – also know as the Metro Mayor – former MP Labour’s Dan Norris. WECA combines Bristol, Bath, and the county of South Gloucestershire which covers a substantial area nestled next to the two cities – and coincidentally is where I grew up.

I know, I know – I always refer to myself as Bristolian when secretly I’m actually South Gloucestershirian.

WECA was formed to support regional projects, like our transport network that pitches itself as the new TfL.

 

A picture of Studio Cotton in Bristol for our About page blog
A photo of our lovely old office in lovely old Bristol

 

The WECA logo competition

At the beginning of this year WECA launched a logo design competition for their new transport network, the West Country’s own TfL. The prize? There is no prize.

“To take part, all you have to do is draw, paint, sketch or design what you think the new West of England Sustainable Transport logo should look like, and send it to us before 12 February 2022.”

Creatives from all across Bristol, Bath and my beloved South Gloucestershire were all invited, to work for free, on a commercial project. Also working on this project:

  • Dan Norris, Metro Mayor
  • The WECA transport team
  • The WECA PR/marketing team who thought it was a baller idea to run this competition
  • A design agency who have already been commissioned for the project
  • The printers who will be printing materials with the new logo
  • The sign makers who will be making signs with the new logo
  • And many moreeeee

This competition is open to everyone, but we’re particularly keen to receive entries from up-and-coming design talent from our colleges, universities and young people.

And you can bet your tooshy that they’re all getting paid. You know who isn’t getting paid? The Creative.

  • Include the words ‘West of England Sustainable Transport’ in a clearly legible format.
  • Consider using a clear symbol that you’d like to see across the region to signal the public transport network.
  • It needs to be easy to reproduce. So simplicity is key – avoid anything too fiddly or detailed.
  • Consider that the logo and/or symbols will need to work at different sizes, large and small. From station signage to social media. Something bold and clear will stand out,
  • Your design will need to work in black and white, as well as colour.
  • The logo will need to be easily legible and clear to everyone.
  • It should represent what you want the transport system to stand for; so make sure you explain your inspiration and ideas as well as sending in your design.

Aime pondering how to make the mayor see that the WECA logo design competition is bad for creatives, while standing on a Bristol dock wearing a bright pink dress

 

My email exchange with Dan Norris, Metro Mayor

I’ve already laid out my case for why spec work is proper shitty in our accompanying blog post, how it damages the creative industries, and here how one of my regional leaders is endorsing and embracing this exploitative and damaging practice.

But because I’m not all-mouth and no-floaty dresses, I wanted to try and do something about it. So here’s my email exchange with Metro Mayor, Dan Norris.

 

Email 1, 10th January, from me

Hello Dan & friends,

I own a creative design business based in central Bristol, so I’m going to start by asking a simple question: why do you believe that creative individuals and business like mine do not deserve to be paid for our contributions to commercial projects?

Your competition is an insult to the creative industry that thrives in the West Country.

This is a classic example of spec work , it’s not a new phenomenon and you should know better and do better. I really want to assume this is a genuine mistake or oversight, in which case it seems like you’d benefit from a little education.

Spec work, including ‘design competitions’, is exploitative and devalues creative contributions and the people who made them. I’m struggling to even call this debacle a competition, despite your marketing, since it is missing a key component of a competition. A gosh-darn prize.

Spec work is something that I actively campaign against, including raising awareness with creatives in the West Country and beyond about these grotesque practices.

I usually start by looking at the prize on offer to create an example, but again given the lack of prize, this is quite difficult. But let’s be very very very generous and say the ‘exposure’ on offer is actually a more appealing £100.

Let’s also say you get 100 entries from “budding artistic amateurs to seasoned graphic designers”, and each one spends a very conservative average 8 hours on their design and entry.

WECA then receives 800 hours of creative work for 12.5p per hour. For reference, the going rate for a mid-level graphic designer in Bristol is around £35 per hour, which means you’ve set the value at about 0.3% of the market rate.

When it comes to design ‘competitions’ I ask you to empathise with the competition losers. Sure, 1 person will receive the ‘prize’, but 99 people just gave you 8 hours that they could have spent working to pay their rent, contributing to their West Country community, enriching their lives, or just doing whatever the fluff they want. Instead, you want to take that away. You want to remove 792 hours from West Country residents so you can save money and have something to tweet about.

It also sets a precedent for not paying for creative work. When it’s a Park Street cafe asking for a mural, I usually don’t put too much emphasis on precedent given they don’t have much reach – but I feel like this is where WECA is proper kicking its creative residents in the tootsies. Like I alluded to at the beginning of this email, how I can I expect my clients to pay for our graphic design services, if our region’s Mayor believes it should be free?

And finally, it’s always the creatives who are shafted. WECA staff will be being paid to work on the sustainable transport scheme. The sign makers, printers and media companies where the new logo will feature will all be paid.

If you have any morals, pay your creatives. Stop this non-competition and apologise to the West Country’s creative industry.

If you’d like to discuss this further, or seek the input of the owner of a creative studio in Bristol – my number is [number removed].

Regards,
Aime Cox-Tennant

 

Email 2, 16th February, from Dan Norris

Dear Ms Cox-Tennant,

Thank you for your email regarding the West of England Sustainable Transport logo competition.

I’m hugely excited to discover the brilliant ideas that I know exist in every section of our local population.

As the information makes clear this competition is asking entrants to inspire the logo not design it professionally.

The Combined Authority held a normal procurement process with professional companies to find an agency to create the new brand.

They are part of the judging panel and the winning entry will then be used by professional designers to evolve into the logo for West of England Sustainable Transport. That of course is a piece of work that takes skills and knowledge not least to ensure any logo is disability compliant.

The guidelines state that submissions need to be no more than one A4 page long, with a maximum of 200 words explaining the idea. We’ve had lots of designs from young and old alike.

As it is the West of England people who will be travelling on our public transport everyday, I am really keen they are instrumental in our logo’s creation reflecting the huge local pride in our amazing region.

Yours sincerely,

Dan
Dan Norris, Metro Mayor for the West of England

 

Email 3, 16th February, from me

Hello Dan,

I strongly disagree with your statement that “the information makes clear this competition is asking entrants to inspire the logo not design it professionally”.
The competition does not exclude professionals, and an earlier version of the promotional text specifically and explicitly encouraged professionals to enter.What’s more, it still reinforces the notion that I thoroughly described in my first email – creative work is valuable, and creatives deserved to get paid. Even when their creativity is ‘only’ used for ‘inspiration’.
It’s sad to hear that you think receiving ‘lots of submissions’ is something to be proud of. You’ve received extensive hours of creative work that you haven’t paid for. You’ve set the precedent that creatives do not deserve to be paid for their contributions.
This is still spec work by definition. It meets the criteria for spec work, and your excuses are all commonly associated with spec work.
I highly recommend educating yourself and your team using a multitude of resources, including https://www.nospec.com/.
I get that you’re “keen they are instrumental in our logo’s creation reflecting the huge local pride in our amazing region.” – but that’s a complete false statement. ’They’ won’t be instrumental in the logo creation. The winner you exploited would be instrumental, the judging panel would be instrumental.
Thank you for taking the time to reply, even if your response is disheartening, and your attitude towards paying your residents for their work is exploitative, immoral, apathetic and gross.
Regards,
Aime
I’ll update this article if I ever hear back…

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