Canberra is the capital city of Australia. It is a city that has everything - except its own definitive typeface.The first line, of course, drew my suspicion — Canberra really “has everything”? But beyond that, the “design competition” sounded more like a competition to see who will do the most spec work.
Therefore, to celebrate the city's 100th anniversary, the University of Canberra challenges the world's top typeface designers, typographers and graphic artists to create a typeface that reflects the style, spirit, character and prestige of Australia's capital.
Design brief, entry form, details and conditions are at: www.canberra.edu.au/typeface
Please feel free to forward this invitation to other top typographers and designers.
The entrant awarded first prize in the competition will grant to the University of Canberra an exclusive, royalty-free and irrevocable license in perpetuity to use the winning typeface for the purposes of publicizing the City of Canberra or the University of Canberra, or for any purpose associated with the publication, exhibition or promotion of the competition, or for any similar purpose, without further compensation to the entrant.But that’s not even the sneakiest thing. The landing page for the competition makes it sound as if this project has some official sanction:
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. … It seems logical therefore that our Centenary should celebrate one of the most essential skills exhibited by this city’s government ministers, politicians, apparatchiki, judiciary … [D]espite the plethora of printed words, this city that otherwise has everything, has no exclusive and definitive Canberra typeface. To remedy this lack … the University of Canberra has launched The Canberra Centenary Typeface Design Competition.But as the terms & conditions reveal, it does not:
The University of Canberra has no imprimatur to recommend the winning typeface be adopted by the Australian Government, ACT Tourism or the University of Canberra.So what is this really? Mostly a marketing effort for the University of Canberra, built on the free labor of gullible typographers worldwide, who apparently live in countries where landlords and grocery stores accept payment in Exposure, the favorite alternative currency of the creative & design disciplines.
Maybe things work differently in Australia, but here in the US, people get paid to do their jobs. Including type designers. This “competition” is nothing of the sort. It is simply an invitation to do a large amount of speculative work in the hopes of getting paid — an arrangement that any self-respecting designer would reject. I would be very surprised if any of the “world's top typeface designers” accept your “challenge.” This one certainly will not.I got a long reply back from John Astley, who seems to be the competition organizer. As for how the prize was established (emphasis mine):
[W]e have some excellent typographers and typeface designers in Australia, but not enough of them to justify the $10K (I originally asked for $20K because a substantial first prize was essential to attract publicity). When you think about the vast number of fonts available online, many of them free or for a small donation, it brings into perspective the fact that the least heard comment in Advertising and Publishing is "Hey, is that the Typographer's new Ferrari?'As for those onerous licensing terms:
Should the University of Canberra or Australian Capital Tourism choose to use the winning typeface, I have no doubt that a dialogue will be opened with the winner and any modifications or alterations would be at commercial rates.Hear that? There might be some more money for you! But despite Mr. Astley having “no doubt” about this “dialogue [being] opened,” it is not part of the official terms & conditions. Draw your own conclusions.
I don't enter or judge competitions of any sort, but that's just me.
As a member of the Ontario RGD, I am allowed to enter competitions but not to do spec work, which the RGD defines as free work done in the hope of securing future business:
That kind of thing has a long history, especially in the advertising business (“pitching”).
I do some things for free, but generally for a cause I support.
Personally, I think these Canberra folk should hire, and thereby help develop, local talent.
But this Canberra thing? Yecch. And I think most competitions are similarly dodgy. When MoMA wanted a new development plan about 10 years back, it invited a dozen or so architects to compete and paid them all a fixed fee to help compensate them for their work. That shows a decent regard for professionals' time and trouble. Most competitions aren't so scrupulous; they're like Lotto for creatives.
Not all of the above are considered speculative work.
It's not uncommon, but it's seldom public.
As a graphic designer who also does (very) amateur type design after hours and on weekends I'm interested in this competition for a couple reasons:
I think it takes a position of privilege to be able to reject this competition, when you have no access to other means of being seen… and making your way into the nebulous world of professional creative work (as in I'm not JFP by any means, skill or profile wise). I recognise how it also takes privilege to be able to enter these competitions in the first place (as in I don't need to work two jobs so I have free time to do this [for now]).
- As a 'brief' which provides impetus to do practical type design
- The chance at a first break into professional type design
- Potential Income (despite the unfortunate risk of not being paid…)
My feelings currently lean towards not entering because the sheer volume of work they are asking for is beyond me within this time frame… and oh I don't want to have wasted my time.
Wei Hang, would you work under such conditions? Would you consider it a 'position of privilege' not to have to work under such conditions? Or would you agree that no one should have to work under such conditions, and that workers should organise to ensure that no one does?
It's nice that you have seen people grow and develop and have work recognised but my experience doing graphic design has been one of increasing precarity — internships, short term contracts, no job security, let alone doing quality and satisfying work — is this the price to pay to do "creative" work (work that may have no demand depending on the subjectivity of the worker)? Making money and success in type design feels more like trying to make money from art.
It's true that the tools we have access to for disseminating work are more powerful than ever, but unfortunately I find the means to subsistence from this kind of work failing.
Some flaws in your scenario: in this case, our Canberra restaurant doesn't make immediate profit from the labour of 10 people, only 1 — of course they are benefitting by increased quality offered by competition publicity. Each worker also gets to take everything they've made to market or repurpose for other use — and actually they're working on their own terms already (not under a boss, at home, or at work, with their own tools and so on).
The conditions you outline are exploitative and no one should have to work under those conditions. I don't know what kind of organising type designers are capable of… and against whom?
Personally, given the difficulty in making money from graphic design let alone type design, I personally see it worth entering. It's a sad case of accepting the best of the worst for me.
given the difficulty in making money from graphic design let alone type design
I know plenty of people who make a living from design without entering such competitions. If you want to make a name for yourself, and see competitions as a way of doing that, then enter competitions that are not organised to enable corporate entities to obtain assets for less than those assets are worth. After almost twenty years making a living from type, I still enter the TDC competition on a fairly regular basis, because it is generally respected in my profession and having one's work selected is satisfying (even though it ends up costing a lot of money in entry and hanging fees). As I would hope this discussion makes clear, competitions like that being organised in Canberra are not well respected.
Sitting in front of a computer all day is not good for your health, but it beats working on an assembly line, and is safer than being a soldier, cop, firefighter, cabbie or running a convenience store.
If you invest as much time and effort in studying type design as people invest in studying for many other careers, you will have no difficulty in making money.
Now, with Reading and KABK offering training and education, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur, but can get a job as an employee.
IMO, the font industry will continue to grow and prosper, despite all the doom and gloom about the ongoing challenges type designers face from Google, piracy, deep discounts, etc.
And here is the proof!