Designer Drama at the Vancouver Police Museum

I like to make up rapper names for people I know. Admittedly, it can get out of hand but sometimes awesome gangsta signs are born. Yesterday I said to J.:

You know, you should go by TicToc from now. You should get a big clock and wear it around your neck on a thick gold chain.

J. came back with:

What, you mean like:

The Vancouver Police Museum down the block is having a T-shirt design contest and this gangsta sign combo would be perfect:

You probably don’t know this but there is some T-shirt contest drama bubbling over at the Police Museum. The director, Chris Mathieson, received a couple of emails from professional designers telling him to stop his unethical contest.  You can read about this and find his open letter in response at his blog

Essentially, some designers hate contests because it entails speculative work.  “Spec” work is labour done in hopes of getting paid; this often takes form in a bid for a project. People are divided about this subject and there are ongoing vigorous debates on the net.  Designers on both sides are having fits over a Crowdspring, a spec work global marketplace where buyers put up a project and “creatives” submit work done according to guidelines. Creatives only get paid if buyers select their work. Critics accuse the the company of enabling slave labour while supporters call it a democratization of design.

You can read more about this at There is also a group called  Spec Watch that scrutinizes contests, watching for copyright theft and other abuses.

But forget all that for now.  What would “No Spec” advocates say about a local T-shirt design contest by a non-profit organization? Here are three points that I consider reasonable to some degree:

1. Contests exploit people by getting them to work for free

2. Designs that don’t win might get reworked and used later without credit or compensation

3. Non-profits still make profits and they should pay for work

What do I think of all this T-shirt dramaz?

1. The designers that emailed Chris M. are dumb. They chose to take issue with a non-profit institution that commemorates dead cops.

2. Chris M. is smart to write an open letter of response to the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. In some circles  spec work is a hot topic, and addressing it will get more exposure for the museum and attract more T-shirt design entries (which were his initial goals). Take me as an example. I’m not submitting my gangsta police museum design but I drew one with them in mind which means they are on my radar. I am also blogging about it which means at least one other person (J.) has thought about the museum too.

3. People enter contests for many reasons and know that winning isn’t certain. Let them decide what to do with their time.

4. No Spec advocates should judge contests on a case by case scenario because some contests do good and not all who run contests are crooks.

5. I can see how a contest can be lucrative for a sponsor and why designers are on edge.  In 1970, Container Corporation of America (CCA), company that produced recycled paperboard, sponsored a contest to raise environmental awareness. A young design student named Gary Anderson submitted three arrows in a loop – the now ubiquitous recycling sign – and won. CCA tried to trademark the symbol but failed and the recycling sign has stayed in the public domain.

Gary Anderson (right) in 1970. Source: Wikipedia

Möbius band. Source: Wikipedia

The recycling sign is based on the The Möbius strip or Möbius band, a mathematical object which has a surface with only one side and one boundary. Can’t wrap your mind about why a band of twisted  paper is so special? Watch this Youtube video:

The Möbius strip or Möbius band (pronounced UK: /ˈmɜːbiəs/ or US: /ˈmoʊbiəs/ in English, [ˈmøːbi̯ʊs] in German) (alternatively written Mobius or Moebius in English) is a surface with only one side and only one boundary component.

Some designs, like the recycling sign, are brilliant, intuitive and can change the world, and that means money and power. There is much noise in the discussions amongst designers on spec work but the real anxiety stems from imagining oneself designing something on par with the recycling sign and not being compensated to one’s satisfaction in fame, money and power. Recognition and getting paid is easy to understand while power, in this context, is control of copyrights and licenses.

But forget all of that clothing dramaz, recycling crap and power trips. Let’s get back to my gangsta designs and more importantly, what did J. think of them? “Do you think they are funny?” I asked.

TicToc took a look and he say:

S’ Okay.

Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Early gangsta doodles. Working out the kinks in joints and digits.


, ,

4 Responses to Designer Drama at the Vancouver Police Museum

  1. Ben July 21, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    Just wanted to say I love this post. Very interesting.

  2. Erica Lee July 22, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Haha I thought your design was really funny!!

  3. Lionel July 23, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    Zoe, why you keep drawing my face????????????? lol

  4. Hipster Designer August 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Most designers opposed to so called “spec work” take issue because their chosen field is completely saturated with workers. In an age when designers are a dime a dozen, even good ones, why shouldn’t the designs themselves be available for the same price? Maybe it’s their crippling debt, usually due to very high tuition, or perhaps it’s the result of having an addiction to the latest and greatest macbook pro. I dunno, I haven’t got a problem with doing a free design here and there. I design things because I love to do it, and not because it pays well.

Leave a Reply