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Sign the Freelance Isn’t Free Petition!

31 Aug

Legislation has been introduced to the New York City Council that would make it easier for independent contractors to collect from deadbeat clients. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, (NYC Council Bill 1017-A) was introduced by Councilmember Brad Lander,  who represents Brooklyn’s 39th District. This first of its kind legislation is endorsed by The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Freshbooks, The Graphic Artists Guild, and others, and it would protect independent workers against nonpayment and late payment. It’s poised to pass, but Freelancers Union needs one final push to hold deadbeat clients accountable for bad business practices in the City of New York. Sign the petition and join Freelancers Union in a Labor Day Thunderclap campaign to let the world know that #FreelanceIsntFree!


An Olympic Mistake: Tokyo Crowdsources Logo for 2020 Games

30 Nov


If you follow this blog, you know my opinions on crowdsourcing and speculative work, which I share with AIGA and the Graphic Artists Guild. Candid Thoughts on the 2020 Olympic Logo is a critique by Ian Lynam, Art Director of Neojaponisme, of a version of the 2020 Olympic Logo. In one part, he lays out a strong case against contests and spec work.

The post is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the takeaway:

Why can’t the Tokyo Olympic committee afford to pay someone for something that is going to make them a lot of money whether Tokyo wins the bid or not?

Mr. Lynam also shares his thoughts on competitions:

I hate design competitions, and moreover, I hate student design competitions. Sure, it may help that student get a job after school, but design competitions are a form of speculative labor. We don’t participate in design competitions with my design studio, and I actively encourage my students to not participate in design competitions, as well. School should be a time for exploration and experimenting in the laboratory, not aping market rules, visual trends, and reductive thinking.

Mr. Lynam’s criticism of the logo, which was done by a college student, lays out strong arguments for why a professional designer’s expertise is worth the investment, and his comments on the competition provide a good explanation of why designers—and clients—should avoid crowdsourced spec work.

Milwaukee’s Flag Is a Lesson in the Dangers of Crowdsourcing

8 Jun

My friend, Tom Shamy, turned me on to an excellent TED Talk by Roman Mars, on the dearth of well-designed city flags.


The Beer City Flag is a Show of Bad Banners.

Mars does an excellent job in his presentation on explaining the foundations of flag design, and critiquing some examples. However, in what I assume is an unintended bonus, one of the points he makes is a perfect lesson in the dangers of crowdsourcing.

He describes the city flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin as, “one of the biggest train wrecks in vexillological history.” The flag is the result of a 1955 contest, which no one actually won, including, it would seem, the good people of Milwaukee. A politician (yes, you read that right) used parts of several submissions to create the final version, which tries really hard to symbolize everything significant to Milwaukee, and in doing so even includes a second flag! Not having learned their lesson the first time, Milwaukee ran a contest in 1975, and again in 2001. (Remember, folks, three strikes and you’re out.) The latter contest received 105 entries, but the Milwaukee Arts Board couldn’t agree on a winner. Mars’s response to this bureaucratic gridlock, although I doubt he intended it as a warning against crowdsourcing, actually nails it:

“Good design and democracy just simply do not go together.”

Exactly. Good government may come from getting input from constituents, assembling it into a bill, arguing its merits in both houses of the legislative branch, and passing it into law. But, good design comes from hiring professional designers, and paying them fairly for their expertise, instead of soliciting a slew of free ideas, to be reviewed and picked over by committee, and reassembled as its members see fit.

Gap learned this lesson the hard way back in 2010, when they pulled the plug on their much-loathed new logo. The update received a huge outcry on social media, not to mention a reaction from AIGA denouncing the use of crowdsourcing in the project.

The Milwaukee flag is a perfect example of a state government exploiting the citizens who it is supposedly there to represent. Maybe members of the Milwaukee design community should fly the flag upside down in protest? If they did, it certainly would make it look any worse, and it would be a fitting distress signal as crowdsourcing eats away at their livelihoods.

Pratt Institute Responds to My Letter Against Crowdsourcing

5 Jun

Expressing my disappointment to Pratt Institute for crowdsourcing the design of a new mascot (please see my last post) received a lot of attention, and a response from Helen Matusow-Ayres, Pratt’s Vice President for Student Affairs. To her and Pratt’s credit, it’s unusual that letters like mine get a response, and I thank them for their professional courtesy. Ms. Matusow-Ayers explains that the mascot design is part of a larger identity project, which is being handled by a professional design firm, and I see that those details have been added to the competition information. While this helps Pratt to appear more transparent to the community, it still doesn’t change the fact that the competition sends a dangerous message: Crowdsourcing and speculative work are acceptable business practices. Ms. Matusow-Ayers’s message, and my reply follow. (Click each image to enlarge)

Pratt Mascot Design Competition

Pratt Mascot Design Competition

Pratt Sets a Terrible Example by Crowdsourcing New Mascot Design

1 Jun

I am a proud graduate of Pratt Institute (ComD/Graphic Design, ’92), where I received a solid education from some of the world’s top creative professionals. But, I could not be more disappointed that my alma matter is using a competition to crowdsource the design of a new Athletics Brand Identity for the Institute. It’s shameful that Pratt is engaging in this practice, which is harmful and damaging to designers.


My letter to President Schutte and Vice President for Student Affairs Matusow-Ayres. (Click the image to enlarge and read it.)

It is unacceptable that one of the top design schools in the world is asking hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, and staff to work for free, with the promise that one of them will receive only a fraction of the fair market value of their work. As a member of AIGA, Freelancers Union, and the Graphic Artist’s Guild, as well as a freelance designer, I know firsthand how unfair crowdsourcing is to designers, and how harmful it is to the industry and economy. In fact, the AIGA Position on Spec Work, and the Graphic Artists Guild Code of Fair Practice for the Graphic Communications Industry state each group’s specific opposition to it.

I’ve written to President Thomas F. Schutte, and to Vice President for Student Affairs Helen Matusow-Ayres, asking them to cancel the contest, and conduct the project ethically and fairly. If you would like to join me in expressing your disappointment, you can email them, and tweet to @PrattInstitute and @GoPrattGo. Pratt should be setting a much better example for its community, especially its students.

Correction: An earlier version of this post omitted the Twitter handle for Pratt Athletics, @GoPrattGo. It has been added.—JC


Get Paid Not Played: Squeaky Wheels Roll into Albany

24 May

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Did you know that NY is the first State to pass a bill to help freelancers get paid? It happened last year, when the Assembly voted in favor of the Payment Protection Act (S4129/A6698). The bill never made it to the Senate, but this year we’re determined to get it into law. That’s why a busload of Freelancers Union members got up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday, May 22, and traveled to the Capitol with The World’s Longest Invoice, detailing $16 million in unpaid wages being picked from the pockets of indy workers.

Sure, that’s a big number, but it gets worse. Deadbeat clients stiffed NY freelancers to the tune of $3.7 billion in 2010, and in turn cheated the Empire State out of $323 million in tax revenue. Those funds were badly needed to keep roads safe, schools running, and libraries open, to name just a few necessities that go beyond the independent workforce.

Why else should you care about this? Freelancers now make up one third of the American workforce, and that number is rising. In this tough economy, today’s staffer (you, your relative, your neighbor) can very easily be tomorrow’s freelancer. You have the power to say, “This isn’t right. The work was done, you’re using it without paying for it, and the people of New York State won’t let you get away with that.”

This bill lays the groundwork for bringing change to the outdated labor laws of the US, which were enacted to protect our grandparents, and great-grandparents. When NY passes it, we will be the first state—but surely not the last—to give freelancers the same protections under the law that traditional employees have if they don’t get paid. We will be able to report non-payment of wages to the State Department of Labor, which will make deadbeats pay two things: our invoices and penalties for not paying in the first place.

Convinced? Great! Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your NY State Member of Assembly and Senator to support the Payment Protection Act (S4129/A6698). If you or someone you know have faced non- or late-payment, share the story. Be sure to mention that this is bipartisan legislation, and if you’re in a Republican district, say that it’s sponsored by Sen. Golden (R), and has 6 Republican co-sponsors: Robach, Lanza, McDonald, Grisanti, Zeldin, and Ball.
  • If your representatives support the bill, thank them! Be sure to ask your State Senator to get Speaker Skelos on board. His support is crucial to get it passed.
  • Ask your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to do the same.

I’m working to get this landmark bill into law with Freelancers Union, where I’m the Member Representative on the Board of Directors, because it’s an exciting and important opportunity to expand crucial protections to American workers. Join us in our fight to pass the Payment Protection Act and bring fairness to Empire State workers. Help us make history in Albany.

NYC Wants You to Spend $6 Million

16 Mar

The City of New York is about to spend $6 million of taxpayers’ money, but this time, there’s a twist: taxpayers get to tell them how. If you’re a member of Freelancers Union (I’m on the Board of Directors) and came to the October and March Monthly Member Meetings, you heard me speak about Participatory Budgeting, an experiment that only one other US city (Chicago) has tried. In a nutshell, it gives people the power to decide how a certain amount of public funds will be spent. This month, voters in four New York City Council Districts will vote on which capital projects will be funded from a total budget of about $6 million, and by doing so will provide support for their neighbors and communities, an idea that Freelancers Union Members call New Mutualism.

Participatory Budgeting in New York City started last fall, when several assemblies were held for people who lived and worked in each of the Districts involved. Attendees broke into groups, brainstormed ideas, chose their top 3, and presented them to everyone. Over the following few months, volunteers and Council Members’ staffs researched the suggestions, determined their feasibility, and developed a selection to be put on the ballot. Now, the chance to choose which projects get funded is here.

Voting will take place from March 25 through April 1 in each Borough except Staten Island (click for specific dates, times, and locations):

While Participatory Budgeting isn’t limited to Freelancers Union Members, it’s an important chance for independent workers to interact with the New York City Council, which is taking notice of us. Last month, Speaker Christine Quinn mentioned Freelancers Union and Sara Horowitz in her 2012 State of the City Address, and the Council has pledged to contribute $100,000 in funding for a health clinic that will bring low-cost care to Freelancers Union Members.

On the Ballot in the 39th District are freelancer-friendly projects like a Carroll Gardens Library community space, where your networking group can meet, body weight fitness equipment in Prospect Park, so you can work off some stress caused by that big looming project, and bus countdown clocks to help get you to your next meeting on time.

So, practice a little New Mutualism this month by spending your own money: cast your ballot in the Participatory Budget Vote. Your community, your neighbors, and you will all be better off.

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