Today’s Portland design community buzz on Twitter is the City of Portland’s decision to make a design contest out of the Portland Online website. Many of us reviewed the RFP released for project last month and found the budget lacking ($10-20k for a 140,000 page site? Right.), which may explain why they’re moving forward with a design contest. No agency worth its salt wanted to reply to such a poorly proposed project with so little funding.* I know we looked at it and decided to pass.
But what really surprised me is that this contest seems like it’s been part of the plan all along. The public documents for the Portland Online Refresh Project show that the contest was part of the plan way back in March, which certainly wasn’t apparent based on the RFP released in June. Talk about misleading, not to mention disrespectful.
There has already been some great commentary on the situation, especially from Dave Selden and Rick Turoczy. Not only does spec work – work created without promise of compensation, and often as part of a contest or proposal response – require designers to create work with little/no input on the real needs of the communication problem, it also sets up a bad relationship with the client. They’re asking us to work for free. Oh, ok, not free – you’d get a credit on the Portland Online site. But no money. And still no insight into design goals, audience needs and requirements, technical limitations, or strategy for the future. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. But what do I know, I’ve only been doing this work for over a decade.
Now, I know I sound angry and I kind of am, but mostly I’m disappointed. Even if these were good economic times, a “design contest” for such a complex project is never a good or ethical proposition. Mostly, this is a slap in the face for professionals who already have to struggle against the notion that being creative should be free (or close to free). Now we’re getting it from our own city?