Jerry Ketel

The city should know better

In creative, design, Portland on July 13, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Recently, the City of Portland put out a call for creative firms to submit free ideas for the “the city’s online Web presence,” Portland online. This is a slap in the face of Portland’s design and creative community. Essentially, they are asking for free ideas without context, without strategy, without an overall goal of what the Web site wants to accomplish. The request makes the assumption that all they really need is a fresh new look and viola, they’ll have a pretty new website. The Web designers in town should be incensed. Web design is much more than a pretty skin over HTML code.

I am going to assume that the city has a caretaker team of programmers who are probably over worked and don’t have the time to develop ideas on their own. I will assume that the City of Portland doesn’t have budget to properly pay a solid team of professionals. It is an easy leap to imagine someone in the Portland Building saying, “Hey, I know, let’s have a contest, we’ll get free work!”

This is simply the wrong way to go about designing an important communication tool in our fair city. The idea of this kind of contest is a perfect example of how much the city fathers value the contribution of the design community in Portland. I am certain that there is a very good Web design firm here in town who would work for pennies on the dollar to help the City of Portland to polish its presence on the internet. Not only would they provide design look and feel, but they would provide navigation and strategic expertise. This is Portland after all, craftsmanship is in our DNA. Our community wants to be a seen as a creative magnet in the world—it is a source of pride. So why don’t our elected leaders get that?

This is not the first time that we as a community have been rebuffed by the leaders of our community. Last March, I sat through a speech Sam Adams gave in front of the members of the Portland Advertising Federation. In it he pinpointed the four target industry clusters for the 5-Year Economic Development Strategy for the city: Clean Tech and Sustainable Industries [CTSI], Software, Activewear, and Advanced Manufacturing. You will notice that the creative industries are represented by software and activewear only. When I asked how the we as a community could help Adams said, “You can help us with branding.” I hope that doesn’t mean a another contest.

Now is the time for the Portland creative services industries to rise up and plant a flag in the sand. We need to be recognized for the contribution we make to our city. We should start by writing letters and emails to the city about this disrespectful contest. And then we need to join together and strategize how we can become a force that cannot be ignored. It is time.

Jerry Ketel

  1. I agree! I was shocked to hear this news… It is a complete slap in the face to the creative community and completely devalues the importance of great web design. Especially since so many agencies are hurting right now and could really use the support from the local economy. Boo City of Portland. Boo.

  2. […] Director of Portland”—of Leopold Ketel & Partners takes some time to weigh in on the PortlandOnline design contest—and appears to have started a new blog, to boot. This is simply the wrong way to go about […]

    • I changed the sign off. It was a joke that I meant to take off. No need for distraction. This post is will go up on the PAF blog tomorrow.

  3. It’s demonsrative of a culture that increasingly sees design as decoration. I couldn’t have said it better. Bravo.

  4. Having participated in the conversation all day, it seems there IS $$$ allocated for this project. The City wants to engage the entire pdx community in crafting their online presence. A noble endeavor but short-sighted in this contest approach. AIGA, the professional association for design (of which I serve on the local board) has a clear position on the matter –

    That position may not include “doing work fir pennies on the dollar” as you altruistically suggest but could include a solution that mutually benefits all involved in what could be a reasonable price were matters properly discussed and arranged with whomever the work was awarded to.

    We’re all for making this city the best it can be, but that MUST include the proper respect for what web professionals bring to the table. Without the proper and necessary conversation around this matter, to, in this case, benefit the city as a whole, I’m afraid we’ve all done each other a great disservice.

    Let’s gather and discuss. Look for a town hall invite from AIGA in the next coming hours. Let’s work together (design & city) to forge a union (not literally) that moves us all forward…together.

  5. I agree with this. The whole time I was at Stanford, the MBA students would use similar tactics to try to get free web and design work. The other one I love is job postings in which potential employers offer to pay cut rates so that you can get a project “for your portfolio.” They don’t realize a cheap site is rarely good for one’s portfolio.

    Unfortunately, there are people out there doing the work and taking these jobs. It is a supply and demand issue. But at the same time, there are plenty of laid-off carpenters out there & I don’t see any contests going on: build me a house in exchange for this web link…

  6. Great post Jerry,

    It is a slap in the face to the Portland creative class. But it is also a backhanded compliment. I cannot imagine the cities of Kansas City, Denver or New Orleans attempting to “crowdsource creativity” (as @KimBrater puts it) with any confidence they will receive work of high quality. In this sense, the PDX creative community is a victim of its own success. The “city fathers” asked for good work for free, simply because they thought they could get it.

    But the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” also holds true here. As you said, asking for free work without the proper deep dive into the context and goals ensures that any strategic changes to the status quo will only be skin deep cosmetic ones. Just because the economy is tough at the moment, doesn’t change the fact that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

    With everyone in Oregon tightening their belts at the moment, the move is understandable but shortsighted. The creative class of the Rose City deserves better.

  7. Well said, Jerry. I’ve long been frustrated by design contests and spec work, since they often boil down to a company or organization looking to get free work done, and because they send a message to everybody outside the community that it’s ok to ask designers to work for free; apparently we love to do uncompensated, conceptually vacuous work.

    It’s disrespectful to the design community as a whole, and any designer who actually submits for this contest ought to spend some time re-evaluating their values and what’s actually important to them. Likewise, this is just another example of how the City of Portland is totally insensitive toward the design community. We need the City to help us, not screw us.

  8. Honestly, I think people believe one can type “Command D” and a design magically appears. Ignorance on web projects seems to be the largest culprit. You are asking for people to make something that works… is used… serves a purpose.

    Why don’t they hold a contest to design that new Columbia River bridge. I have some rad ideas for that. I don’t know how structurally sound it will be, but it will be wicked cheap and look DOPE!

  9. Thanks for this, Jerry. It IS time.

    If Portland truly does value the creative community — and to be sure, it’s heavily used the town’s burgeoning “creative class” as a marketing point — then it should treat that community like its work is in fact valuable.

    Obviously, the economy sucks, and the City’s budgets have shrunk accordingly. By that measure, it makes civic sense to see what can be done for as little money as possible. But the other side of the coin is the City’s clear (and you could argue, cynical) knowledge that there are enough hungry, under-employed designers out there who’d consider working on proposals with no hope of compensation, and be satisfied with a mere site credit if they’re successful.

    This really is an institutional dis on the design industry. Once the high profile gigs happen for free, all of our work is valued accordingly.

  10. We definately should put a stop to this. Or definately focus on the cons. The Portland branch of the AIGA is hosting an event (if they can put one together to discuss this issue)……

    AIGA hosts a townhall around redesign contest

    Come discuss the City of Portlands concept contest for a redesign of and the implications (and possibilities) of crowdsourcing, spec work and the democratization of design. AIGA is feverishly working to put together an event for early next week where the City and the design community can come together to discuss the pros and cons of the contest approach to the redesign. All are welcome to attend (though space may be limited). This is intended to be an open and professional discussion on the matter; inflammatory input will not be tolerated.

    Event format details are still being worked out.

  11. […] members of the Portland graphic design and Web design community responded. And it wasn’t favorable. Because the contest carried with […]

  12. […] members of the Portland graphic design and Web design community responded. And it wasn’t favorable. Because the contest carried with […]

  13. […] members of the Portland graphic design and Web design community responded. And it wasn’t favorable. Because the contest carried with […]

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