AIGA urges the Obama 2012 campaign to reconsider its jobs poster contest

Editor’s note: The following is the text of a letter sent by Richard Grefé, AIGA executive director, to Jim Messina, campaign manager for Obama for America (Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign), and David Axelrod, senior campaign strategist, on October 21, 2011. It is in response to “Art Works: A Poster Contest to Support American Jobs,” which asks designers to work speculatively to promote the Obama administration’s jobs program.

AIGA is committed to supporting the interests of professional designers and strives to play an authoritative role in promoting and communicating standards for ethical conduct and professional practice in the design community. The full content of our letter has been republished here; as always, we welcome your comments and questions.

 October 21, 2011

Jim Messina
Campaign Manager
Obama for America
130 E. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60601

Dear Mr. Messina:

AIGA, the most established and largest professional association for communication design in the world, urges the Obama campaign to immediately:

  • Cancel the Art Works poster contest that trivializes the value of design by failing to compensate for it and assuming ownership of intellectual property rights, against standard professional principles, and
  • Consider the role of design in creating social and economic capital as well as innovation and growth, treating it as an economic driver instead of a creative indulgence, and involve the design community in integrating design into an economic strategy for strengthening U.S. competitiveness.

The recent “Art Works: A Poster Contest to Support American Jobs” demonstrates a lack of respect for the design profession, violates global principles and standards for professional design practice, contradicts the intent of creating jobs for American workers and asks designers to give up intellectual and creative property rights.

As executive director of the oldest and largest professional association for communication designers in the country, I speak on behalf of a profession that is central to innovation and creative value in the U.S. economy. We urge you to cancel the poster contest and consider alternative, appropriate approaches to achieving your need for great design that communicates effectively. No creative community in the world is as talented as American designers and as eager to be engaged on challenging assignments to enhance understanding of complex issues. For instance, over the past decade, AIGA and its members have been active participants in enhancing the citizen experience and clarity in the election process through the Design for Democracy initiative.

The Art Works poster contest asks designers to work speculatively, creating designs without compensation for an activity that has value to a potential client, against established global principles in communication design. We are quite certain that public relations consultants, political consultants, networks, telecommunication providers and advertising media are not asked to donate their services and turn their ideas, research and work over to a campaign that is poised to raise $1 billion without compensation. This demonstrated lack of respect for the value of creative endeavors is exacerbated by the stipulation that ownership of all the creative property submitted, whether or not selected, is transferred to the campaign. And it is particularly contemptuous to ask the creative community to donate their services in support of a jobs program for other American workers.

There are ways in which you can seek proposals from designers that do not violate the integrity of the profession (and the client) and we would be willing to work with you in developing a process to solicit ideas leading to retaining a designer to develop an effective design and program to advocate your messages.

The Obama for America campaign would also be well served to shift to a strategic perspective in involving the design profession by exploring with us the means to develop policy proposals to enhance the support of design as a key driver of innovation and economic growth in the U.S. economy. The government, in aggregate, is undoubtedly the largest single client for design services in the economy. Design provides a highly leveraged, relatively low cost means of enhancing the competitiveness of the nation’s products and services as well as a critical element in enhancing effective and efficient citizen-based government services. Recognizing this would follow the example of countries like Korea, China, Singapore and the UK in advancing productivity relevant to the 21st century.

If you choose to proceed with this contest, we will feel compelled to single it out as a reflection of your lack of respect for designers and your perception that design has little value, even while you are encouraging creating work for other workers and professions. Incidentally, it is also undoubtedly injudicious to seem to politicize the current NEA initiative entitled Art Works that is a well-conceived effort to demonstrate the value of art to communities.

Yours truly,

Richard Grefé
AIGA executive director

cc: David Axelrod

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.