Shame on you Nashville Symphony

Please Say No to Spec Work and Logo Contests

Stephen G Jones
Mar 23, 2016 · 5 min read

I want to take a moment and make a couple points in regards to “Logo Contests” to the general public, Nashville creatives and the Nashville Symphony.

First of all, let me state that I am a self-employed graphic designer residing in Nashville. I have also attended and enjoyed multiple programs at the world-renowned Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony.

The Nashville Symphony has recently decided to use “crowd-sourcing” to redesign their logo. This means that instead of paying one designer or agency to help identify problems, strategize and create a visual identity, they will instead be casting a wide net by “…inviting local artists and designers to submit their ideas via the Nashville Symphony Logo Design Competition.”

This means that the Symphony will receive multiple entries from creatives in Nashville with no guarantee of giving compensation to these artists and the revocation of rights to ANY work submitted. In the creative industry this is called “speculative work.” If your design is selected, the compensation equates to a $2500 prize package.

To Nashville Creatives and Arts Educators:

  • Any self-respecting graphic designer with dignity will likely spend their time on projects with clients that will pay for those services. I’ve often felt that these contests were taking potential work away from hardworking creatives. These contests aren’t taking away potential paying work from designers if the organizations don’t value the work enough to pay rightful compensation for it. This is why I urge all of my creative counterparts, young and old, novice and experienced to join me in saying no to these types of competitions. Having taught design at the highest undergraduate level, it is obvious that design competitions and speculative work are encouraged at the post-secondary level. As design educators, regardless of a student’s skill level, we should condemn these types of projects and instill value in our profession from the initial stages of education. This practice devalues the profession and services in which many of us have spent ridiculous amounts of money and time honing and crafting. We are enabling it to continue if we don’t stop it at the university level. Even if the artwork submitted is selected, it will rarely lead to additional work from that client. If the work was free initially what do you think they will pay you for further work? We can and should do better on this front.

To the Nashville Symphony:

  • Logo contests actually hurt the end product. If you are holding design contests for creative work you are not only doing a disservice to the design industry and it’s value in business, but you are doing a disservice to yourself. The website says it well.

Through contests designers can’t undertake proper market research required by the project, and as such can’t produce the most effective outcome for the client, who then chooses on the basis of “the prettiest design.” Designers are the ones with the training, the ones with the marketing experience. They should be able to know all there is about clients’ needs, to be able to guide clients and produce the most appropriate work. You wouldn’t tell your lawyer how to defend you in a trial, or tell a mechanic how to do his or her job. You research their history, hire them, then let them work. That’s what designers’ portfolios are for — giving clients the best opportunity to hire the right person.

Apart from promoting free labour, you impede the designer from earning a proper salary. Would you work for free with the hope of possibly being compensated? Also consider that contests largely attract inexperienced designers who are under pressure due to unreasonable time restraints and competition. You run the huge risk of ultimately receiving poorly executed designs that inadequately represent your business amongst your competitors and for future customers. It could end up costing you in the long run in terms of lost revenue and other factors. A professional will work toward developing effective tailored design solutions reflective of their years of training and experience.

I am extremely disappointed in the Nashville Symphony, an arts institution, for directly shitting on the creative people in this city. You could have sought out a qualified agency or freelancer and offered the $2500 prize package in exchange for the work and likely found a taker. You may have even been able to find someone to join your list of donors/sponsors to create it for you pro-bono. You could have received great creative work with the attention and care it deserves, yet you were greedy and wanted a catch all approach which says to the public “Design isn’t worth anything.” I understand that funding your operation is costly, but I’d say after looking at your Annual Report from 2014/2015 that $2500 in payment for your first impression is a small price to pay.

Excerpt from the 2014/2015 Annual Report

Updated 3/24/2016:

I want to thank everyone for sharing the article I posted about spec work and logo contests recently. I also want to thank the Nashville Symphony, who has heard our concerns and changed their stance. Here is their gracious response below:

“Thank you, Stephen, and everyone else who has expressed their very valid concerns regarding the Nashville Symphony’s logo design competition. We hear your concerns, we understand them, and as a result we have decided to cancel this competition. Offending and upsetting members of the creative community in Nashville and beyond is the very LAST thing we wanted to do. We have learned a TON from this discourse, and we are grateful to you for your candor.”

This is proof, that together if we hold our profession with the highest regard, that we can change the perceptions of it, and that together we are stronger than we ever are alone.

Stephen G Jones

Written by

Brand Designer, Amateur Writer, Beer Lover and Tottenham Hotspur Supporter

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