Downtown Oakville BIA cancels contest after Twitter pushback and contact from RGD
No Spec is written in white font on a plain red background
The Downtown Oakville BIA has cancelled its sign design contest after receiving pushback on Twitter and feedback from RGD.


On Twitter, the BIA posted its call for creative thinkers to design a new sign for downtown Oakville. After immediately receiving negative feedback from local creatives, the BIA issued a tweet in response, saying that they "sincerely apologize to the creative community" and "thank [them] for [their] knowledge & response." They also stated that they "would love to chat further on how [they] can improve [their] practices around contests such as these" and invited community members to directly message them.


In an effort to share knowledge and constructive feedback around speculative issues in the design community, RGD emailed the BIA with their Ethical Best Practices for Design Competitions/Contests.


An excerpt from RGD's email

"RGD created these guidelines for companies and organizations who want to engage their publics and raise awareness without compromising on professional and ethical standards. The guidelines offer alternatives to the classic competition/contest model while still allowing you to run a competition/contest that's fun and achieves your end goals.

You can access these guidelines online for free.

We commend you for listening to the creative community and recognizing that contests that ask for free work are unfair to all stakeholders."


Oakville BIA's response

After receiving RGD's email, the Oakville BIA responded with the following comment.

"Our design contest was meant to be an opportunity for the local community (all ages, non-professionals and professionals alike, at their discretion) to contribute to their community in a fun and creative way via this temporary installation and was not intended to disrespect any individuals or groups. As a not for profit, we often rely on in-kind services. However, out of respect for the concerns raised by the RGD, we decided to discontinue the contest."


Final comment from RGD

RGD felt is was necessary to respond to provide additional information on in-kind services and pro-bono work.

"We definitely understand. As a non-profit ourselves, we rely heavily on in-kind design services. It's not the idea of having a designer work for free that's "bad," but rather it's the process by which the design/project is obtained that can be problematic. For you to receive the best work you possibly can, and for a designer to be able to do that for you, there needs to be a mutual agreement on deliverables, campaign goals and organizational values, and you/the designer should be able to meet and talk throughout the process to ensure everyone is on the same page. The traditional contest model unfortunately tends to skip most, if not all, of these steps, and it often leads to unsuccessful campaigns.

That's why we encourage organizations to explore alternative contest models, e.g. asking your publics for inspiration and then giving everything to a designer to create the final product, or having your publics vote on their favourite designs. You can find more detailed information on these models in our Best Practices for Competitions/Contests."


In conclusion

RGD commends the Downtown Oakville BIA for listening to the creative community and recognizing that contests that ask for free work are unfair to all stakeholders. RGD encourages all organizations and companies seeking design work via contests and competitions to explore contest models that are fair, responsible and respectful of the value of design. These can be accessed for free in the Ethical Best Practices for Design Competitions/Contests.



If you come across a request for spec work, you can:


Get in touch with RGD anytime if you'd like to help by joining the Ethics Committee, sharing your own no spec letters or articles or offering ideas on how RGD and our industry can combat this exploitative practice.