Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Free design for AOL's @HuffingtonPost? I say no. I support the AntiSpec campaign.

Free design for AOL's @HuffingtonPost? I say no. I support the #AntiSpec campaign. 

This battle cry went up through the Twitterverse in the design community. And it worked.

AntiSpec is a very recent site/campaign (weeks old?), aimed at bringing the design community together to respond to the problem of spec work. I caught wind of it and "added my face" / signed up for their mailing list.

(Some background from their: "Working on spec is when a single designer or agency design for free in the hope of winning a project." Also covers crowdsourcing/design contests where a small amount of money and/or "lots of exposure" is dangled as a prize.)

This Huffington Post thing hit the yesterday - basically a contest to design their Twitter logo. Anti-Spec rallied the troops. And 24-hours later, Huff pulled the contest, and didn't quite apologize but attempted to explain (read the Update at the bottom of this page for the play by play). It unfolded in a similarly dramatic way as the Gap logo fiasco last year, which for the design world, is going to go down in history like New Coke and Classic Coke. But this was an organized and targeted effort from a small army with social media weapons (a preestablished hashtag and message), and hence happened much more quickly.

Because the Gap log mess unfolded more organically, it was a lot more complicated and took "longer" (something like 8 days, instead of something like 1). With the Gap thing, the design community and much of the rest of the social media world instinctively gasped and said "WTF, Gap?" all at the same time -- Gap backpedaled in a bunch of silly ways before yanking the logo. Though this Huff thing had much the same feel in terms of a branding faux pas.

Huff's statement about "engaging the community" with their fun little project may well be what they had in mind. And they may be truly surprised and confused by the negative response to what they did. They may have thought they were doing nothing wrong (though with their reputation with regard to paying or not paying their bloggers...) But you gotta wonder what the heck they thought was going to happen.

A much better way to "engage the community" would be to have your established branding / logo in place, then having a contest to create a fun / special / temp version of the logo to use for a short time for a holiday or some other notable reason (a la what's done internally with the Google Doodle. Or even Reddit, whose primary alien logo changes frequently in response to the news of the day). No one jumps down Google's throat when they occasionally have contests for kids to submit their own Google Doodles. Instead, they get all kinds of warm fuzzy social media love because people are charmed by it. That's because they're saying - "Here's our brand. Have fun with it." Not "Please define our brand for us."

It was interesting, both watching this unfold and being one of the voices.

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