Will Mark Cuban’s Design Contest Succeed?

fuelingIf you haven’t heard, billionaire, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has entered the crowdsourcing arena with his controversial call for free designs for the team uniform… or is it controversial? If you ask any professional designer what they think of design contests and crowdsourcing, prepare for a very passionate verbal beat down. Most will scream that these practices are destroying the design industry and lowering fees among smaller clients. Others are not so quick to agree. “I’m not interested in clients who want logos for $100-$200,” said one designer. “There will always be small clients who can’t afford the fees a professional will charge, and that’s okay, ” he continued. “There are clients who just want a simple logo and others who know they need branding and a designer who can work with them to create that brand… and it will cost money!” That seems to be the question about Mr. Cuban’s belief that the team’s fans will supply a winning logo for his team. Is he looking for a simple logo, or a brand for the team. Either he has enough money that he’s not worried about branding the team, the logo will be good enough for a sports team that needs no branding as the merchandise will sell to fans no matter what, or, as such a savvy businessman, he doesn’t know about designed branding.

Cuban Calls for Designs

On May 13th, Mr. Cuban placed the call for submissions on his blog. This (verbatim, including grammar and punctuation) is what he wrote:

The Mavs are going to re-do our uniforms for the 2015-16 season… if we get a unique and original design. What’s the best way to come up with creative ideas ? You ask for them. So we are going to crowd source the design and colors of our uniforms. You know what an NBA uniform looks like. You know what the Mavs colors are for today and the past. We want some new ideas that stay true to our logo and at least close to our current color schemes. Show us what you got ! How do you participate ? You post your ideas/pictures/graphics/videos/photos directly on this blog. Yes we want every one to see them. Steve Jobs said “everything is a remix” . Uniforms probably more so than even technology. So we want every post to inspire other ideas and posts. Who will own your design ? The minute you post it, the Mavs will. If you think its horrible that the Mavs own your design. Do not post. If you think its cool that the Mavs could possibly use your design and you will have eternal bragging rights , then post away. If we really like your design and you , I may even throw in some tickets. If we don’t use your design, it will still be here on this site for now and ever more for you to glance longingly at. If your design is close , if not identical to other designs and we pick one of the other designs, for whatever reason, then thats just the way it goes. If we don’t choose any of the designs,including yours.then we don’t choose any of the designs. That is life in the big city. Move on. This is your chance to get bragging rights and put your signature design on the Dallas Mavs and the NBA. This opportunity will last till the last day in May. Let’s see what you got

The post received over one-thousand comments. Some from fans, eager to contribute, but the majority are people not being so kind to the idea of a billionaire asking for free work in such a straightforward manner. Kudos must be given Mr. Cuban for doing his own dirty work and writing the blog entry without any proofreading. Most people of his wealth and business standing would just turn it all over to a PR firm while he goes about the daily headaches of running his vast financial empire. It was, however, his words of outlining the ownership and contributors having no expectations if they lose or win that seems to be the most upsetting to opponents of design contests. One has to admit that in light of the legalese of design contest terms, Mr. Cuban makes it easy to understand what contributors can expect.  You have to admire at least that honesty. Eric Freeman (Ball Don’t Lie), writer for Yahoo Sports, sees some brilliance in Cuban’s running of this initiative:

While the ethics of not paying the designer are questionable (to Cuban’s credit, he’s upfront about the arrangement), this is a great way to ensure the Mavs will end up with the best uniforms possible. For one thing, it’s not a contest, so the team isn’t obligated to choose a lackluster design in the name of fan outreach. Plus, as we learned when the New Orleans Hornets announced their new existence as the Pelicans, fan designs can often be better than their professionally commissioned counterparts. And if the Mavs do get a great uniform out of these submissions, they’ll likely get something unique and avoid some of the same-ness that typifies sports jerseys. At the very least, Cuban has made a bold move to bring new ideas into the design process. It’s an open question as to whether the best designers will want to hand over their ideas for free, but it’s nice to see an owner who considers other methods of finding the best solution to a problem.

As Mr. Freeman is not a professional designer, his opinion may not hold certain considerations, especially with a statement such as, “fan designs can often be better than their professionally commissioned counterparts.” It has never been proven that this is the case. There is one certainty in Mr. Cuban’s plan and that is, whatever logo is chosen, he will then have to spend money on having it professionally “tuned up” into camera ready art. No doubt, that will be paid to a company in China, that will also produce the uniforms and merchandise.

Is Crowdsourcing a Real Threat?

Stirring the pot a bit, Alec Lynch’s article, “7 Logos That Should Have Been Crowdsourced” focuses attention on some recent redesigned logos that brought huge criticism from designers all over the globe as “horrid solutions,” “giving in to design-by-committee” and over priced pieces of crap.” As expected, while commenters agreed the logos were horrid, they put down the idea of crowdsourcing them. A surprise to many designers was the recent Fraggle Rock 30th Anniversary design competition, sanction nonetheless, by the Jim Henson Company. Many lamented that the late Jim Henson would never trample artist’s rights in such a way. Apparently those left behind to run the company thought nothing of it.  The rules were simple — the company owns everything submitted The prizes, were laid out as such:

The winning design will be featured and produced in elements of Fraggle Rock’s 30th anniversary merchandise line, which will be promoted and sold on their online store. In addition, the winner will receive: A private tour of The Jim Henson Company and attendance to Fraggle Rock’s 30th anniversary party (travel and two nights’ accommodation in Los Angeles for two provided) A framed copy of their artwork A feature on Henson.com and Henson’s Facebook page $2,500 Eight runners-up, as selected by The Jim Henson Company, will each receive: A feature on Henson.com and Henson’s Facebook page A framed copy of their artwork $500 People’s Choice The highest voted artist will receive: A feature on Henson.com and Henson’s Facebook page A framed copy of their artwork $500 Additionally the winner, eight runners-up and the highest voted artist will each have their winning submission featured on CafePress for 30 days for creatives to create multiple types of merchandise including t-shirts, iPhone case, bags and types of wall art consisting of posters and banners.

©Jim Henson Company

The official rules were standard legal mumbo-jumbo but upon closer inspection, the winners would see their lives thrown into a Lindsay Lohan-like upskirt shot by the following:

6. Publicity Release; Use of Personal Information. By accepting a prize, all winners agree and acknowledge that Sponsor and any of its designees, clients, sponsors, or licensees may, without any limitation or further compensation, use his/her name, voice, biographical data, likeness, picture, entry materials, photograph, Work (in whole or in part), city name and audio and/or video recording of him/her in any and all media now known or hereinafter devised, throughout the universe and in perpetuity, for the purpose of advertising and promoting the Contest or for any other promotional purpose, except where prohibited by law. By participating in the Contest, entrants will be sharing their personal information with Sponsor. Personal information collected by Sponsor will be used for administration of the Contest and awarding the prize and as set forth in the Privacy Policy.

The first battle was the comments from professional designers vs. the fans who saw this as their lifelong dream and a chance for immortal bragging rights. The second battle was after the voting and the unprofessional back-biting and insults were thrown at the winner by other contestants not picked for their… er, fabulous artwork. In fact, one look at the quality between the winner, runners-up and the entries following the prize positions gives a hint at how many pieces of crap the Henson Company now owns. There is, however, one evident fact — the winner was of professional caliber, as was a couple of runner ups.  Beyond that, other entires are unusable.  If you click onto Cafe Press, where the merchandise from the contest resides, you will find the winning entry was apparently short-lived. There are, however, many uses of the runner-up art. They did say they had the right to use anything and everything.

©Jim Henson Company


Is There Room For Everyone?

A friend of mine works for 99designs, while another connection works for designcontest.com. Both of them have always had some honest and informative discussions with me when I write an article on crowdsourcing. Interestingly enough, as with the arguments aired by many professional designers, they say that crowdsourcing has a place within the industry. My friend at 99designs once said to me, “there’s room enough for everyone.” I have to admit the simple truth is, she was right. Mr. Cuban will find his winning design and chances are, he will be kinder to the winner of the contest than his waffling statement of possible tickets if he “likes” the winner. That winner will have his or her 15 minutes of fame and “eternal bragging rights” but even that will be short-lived as the uniform changes again, a few dribbles down the court… or road. As with the recent changes to the Microsoft, bay, Wendy’s and other iconic logos, there are no eternal bragging rights. The design industry will go on and new ways of paying for work or not will continue, whether a design contest with the best intentions is how it is done, or that lone businessperson who sits across a desk, telling some designer how working for free is an “opportunity” and promising “lots of money later on.” Mr. Cuban’s words only echo that of the highest design professional — “If you think its horrible that the Mavs own your design. Do not post.” I’m afraid that’s the only choice professionals have when it comes to crowdsourcing.

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