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Communication Design

Designer Jonathan Barnbrook Releases David Bowie “Blackstar” Graphics for Noncommercial Use

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 29, 2016

In remembrance of David Bowie, designer Jonathan Barnbrook has released the graphics used on Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, for non-commercial use. Barnbrook announced the release via Twitter, and on Bowie’s Facebook page. The Facebook post describes the release as a tribute to Bowie: “Barnbrook loved working with David Bowie, he was simply one of the most inspirational, kind people we have met. So in the spirit of openness and in remembrance of David we are releasing the artwork elements of his last album ★ (Blackstar) to download here free under a Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.” 

The post encourages fans to use the artwork for t-shirts, tattoos, and other artwork, but cautions that the license prohibits the use of the elements in anything that will be sold. 

Barnbrook is an award-winning designer and typographer based in London. His studio has designed books, corporate identities, CDs, websites, and motion graphics, and distributes original typefaces through VirusFonts. Barnbrook worked closely with Bowie on a number of projects, including the design of packaging and collateral for the albums Heathen, The Next Day, Nothing has Changed, and Blackstar. In an interview with Dezeen magazine, Barnbrook acknowledged that the Blackstar album design marked Bowie’s mortality: “The Blackstar symbol [★], rather than writing ‘Blackstar’, has as a sort of finality, a darkness, a simplicity, which is a representation of the music.” 

Below: Some of the graphics available for download. © Jonathan Barnbrook

Blackstar graphics © Jonathan Barnbrook

Design Community Dismayed by Decision to Crowdsource Tokyo Olympics Logo

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 22, 2016

At first it seemed that the Tokyo Olympics were on track for building a strong identity for the 2020 games. In July 2015, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee unveiled a logo designed by Kenjiro Sano, a compilation of flat shapes that created a stylized Didone T, combined with a red sun identifier for Japan. The logo was an homage to the simple graphics created for the 1964 Tokyo Summer and 1971 Sapporo Winter Olympics, and was a refreshing contrast to the energetic, hand-script driven identities created for the Beijing, London, and Rio Games. However, the development of the Tokyo Olympics identity went into a tailspin when Belgian designer Olivier Debie accused Sano of plagiarizing Debie’s logo for the Théâtre de Liege.

The Tokyo Olympics Logo vs Theatre de Liege logoWhen Debie and the Theatre filed a joint plagiarism lawsuit against the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Olympic Committee scrapped Sano’s logo. However, the committee’s solution to finding a logo was equally controversial. In mid-October, the committee announced it was crowdsourcing the logo design via a contest, essentially resorting to spec work. The winning logo designer would be awarded 1,000,000 Japan yen ($8,250) and two tickets to the opening ceremony, but would relinquish all rights to the logo in perpetuity. Numerous designers and arts organizations reacted with dismay, and the AIGA issued an open letter asking the committee to reconsider its decision.  

AIGA’s letter to the Tokyo Olympic Committee, written by former executive director Ric Grefé, referenced AIGA’s opposition to spec work. First, the letter pointed out that the contest asked designers to contribute hours of unpaid work in the hope of being compensated. Secondly, by opening the contest to the general public rather than limiting it to trained designers, the Committee was disrespecting the design profession and devaluing the work of designers. Third, the reward offered for the winning logo is far below a fair fee for a mark that will generate vast licensing income. Grefé concluded by pointing out that the copyrights for the logo should properly reside with the designer, and not with the committee “in perpetuity.”

Grefé’s eloquent letter pointed out that the logo contest belies Japan’s strong design history: “Japan has a universally admired graphic design profession and legacy, imbued with stunning visual imagery, strong typography, yet simplicity, directness, and elegance in its highest and best form… we believe that you are compromising one of the powerful messages others in the world perceive as emerging from Japan: a strong graphic and visual design tradition, innovative visual explorations, and respect for every profession.”

Despite the controversy, the Tokyo Olympic Committee proceeded apace with the logo contest, garnering 14,599 submissions. (That resolve was not a huge surprise. The logo for the Tokyo Olympic candidate city bid had been crowdsourced similarly.) In early January, the committee announced that they had narrowed the selection to four submissions, which are undergoing an intensive review to ensure that the designs do not infringe on copyrights or trademarks. 

The committee also responded to AIGA’s letter, stating that they felt the contest process was “a good opportunity” to engage the Japanese people. By engaging the President of the Tokyo University of the Arts to chair the selection committee, and involving 20 designers who are members of the Japan Graphic Designers Association (their equivalent of AIGA), they felt they were providing enough oversight to ensure the selection of a high quality design. Lastly, the Committee pointed out that the transfer of intellectual property rights complied with the Olympic Charter issued by the IOC, and has been standard practice for Olympic Committees.

In their follow-up on Eye on Design on January 17, AIGA opined that the Tokyo Olympic Committee simply didn’t understand the issue with work on spec. AIGA concluded that while they hadn’t expected the Committee to end the contest, they hoped that other organizations would “use their power and influence to create  change for the greater good in the future, and not just make the decision that benefits them at a particular moment, regardless of the wider, global implications.”

In the meantime, the Tokyo Olympic Committee plans to unveil their final selection in March. Sano, the designer of the original Tokyo logo, continues to insist that he did not plagiarize Debie’s logo. Debie, however, has withdrawn his lawsuit, citing prohibitive legal costs. Debie’s potential to recoup his costs may have been hampered by his failure to register the Theatre’s logo design as a trademark.

Below: The logo design contest requires applicants to show their submissions in a variety of formats. 

Tokyo Olympics logo submissions requirements

Holiday GIFts, Courtesy of Creative Mornings

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 15, 2015

Creative Mornings, the global network of free breakfast talks on creativity and technology, posted a wonderful freebie for creative professionals during the month of December[L1] . The “GIF Channel” is a wall of GIF animations on themes relevant to freelancers and agency staff: waiting for feedback or payment, finishing a long project, or searching for motivation. The organization curated a collection of GIF animations, and has invited viewers to share a GIFt with their clients.

If you’re unfamiliar with Creative Mornings, their website is worth bookmarking. Their “Talks” page features links to over 2,600 Creative Mornings talks, filterable by city, theme, length, and language, pulled from their YouTube channel. Recently, they’ve published a channel of their most popular podcasts. If you’d care to check out a live Creative Mornings event, their “Cities” page links to local event pages.

Creative Mornings screenshot

Fashion House Appropriates Sacred Inuit Design

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 03, 2015

In November, Canada’s CBC Radio reported that British fashion label Kokon to Zai (KTZ) stole a sacred Inuit pattern to print on their “Shaman Toweling Sweatshirt.” As it turns out, a descendent of the shaman who created the design is a producer at CBC North, which broadcast her story. Salome Awa told CBC radio that her great grandfather created the image in the 1920s for a protection parka made of sealskin. The design is considered sacred, and by Inuit tradition, only the shaman is permitted to wear the design. Since no one at KTZ contacted her family for permission to use the pattern, Awa speculates that the fashion label saw the image in books or in a film documenting the travels of the explorer Knud Rasmussen, who met the shaman.

Although KTZ didn’t initially return Awa’s telephone calls, they eventually pulled the design and issued an apology. Awa credits the outcome to the negative publicity generated by the broadcast and news stories. This isn’t the first time the fashion house has been in hot water for appropriating indigenous design. In early February, KTZ was accused of lifting the pattern on a dress from the work of Crow designer Bethany Yellowtail. Yellowtail took inspiration for her fashion design from beadwork inherited from her grandmother. Adrienne Keene, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, points out that cultural appropriation in the fashion and design industries shows little creativity: “It was our people who did the heavy lifting creative work for you. We designed these images. We have the knowledge and understanding of what they mean and how they can be appropriately used.

Treading the fine line between cultural inspiration and insensitive appropriation can be difficult for designers. On her blog Native Appropriations, Keene asks that Native businesses be supported, and that designers understand “…that our cultures aren’t free for the taking.” In her article “A Much-Needed Primer on Cultural Appropriation” (Jezebel, 11/13/12), Katie J. M. Baker recommends doing some basic research on the religious and cultural significance of designs and products. Those wanting a deeper understanding of the complex issues of cultural appropriation can check out Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law by Susan Scafidi. Scafidi, a leader in the new field of fashion law, covers the grey area of communal authorship not protected by US copyright law.

Below: KTZ’s current line of apparel features designs heavily lifted from Native American cultures, including a pattern which closely copies the work of designer Bethany Yellowtail (center dress).

Dresses from Kokon to Zai Fall 2015 line

Ad Agency Video on Spec Work Belies Reality Facing Creators

Posted by Rebecca Blake on November 18, 2015

A video and blog post on spec work produced by Toronto advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo is burning up the Internet. In the video, an actor approaches different businesses unfamiliar with work on spec (for the most part) and asks for free products or services – a cup of coffee, a breakfast, architectural design, picture framing, and personal training. The incredulous reaction from the business owners doesn’t deter the actor, who trots out business jargon to justify his request: “You guys can make me a spec breakfast, right? And if I enjoy it, I’ll make you guys my ROR, my Restaurant of Record…” He even pushes the personal trainer to give him the intellectual property rights to the training techniques. The video concludes with a challenge to ad agencies: “It’s time we all said no to spec.”

As Adweek reported, the video was created by the agency founder Zak Mroueh for presentation at Strategy magazine’s Agency of the Year event.  Mroueh told Adweek that Zulu Alpha Kilo hasn’t done a pitch requiring spec work in five years, freeing up time and resources to work on clients’ brands rather than on generating new business. The strategy seems to have worked for the agency; they reported that they’ve tripled their staff and gained high-profile clients such as Google and Corona.

It’s heartening to witness an ad agency pushing back on spec work. Unfortunately, the equation is quite different for the professionals contracted by ad agencies to create content. As reported in numerous publications, such as Mashable, New Business Intel, and the LA Times, ad agencies are increasingly turning to crowdsourcing to generate content for their clients. The Mashable article’s glib description of, “hordes of talented people” who are “willing to work on the cheap and on the fly,” belies the experiences reported by many professionals. Requests for work on spec or free have skyrocketed (see our articles on “Spec Work Documented on Social Media” and “Artist Dies of Exposure”), undervaluing the illustration, design and animation professions.

“There’s a double standard being applied to the professionals who create the content that drives the advertising industry.”

Crowdsourced content is being leveraged by a new breed of ad agency, such as Victor & Spoils. Victor & Spoils, which launched in 2009, prides itself on being an agency which collaborates with brand fans – or as their website describes them, “lunch ladies” – as well as seasoned advertising pros, pulling in fan feedback on brands at the outset of the creative process. The agency relies heavily on crowdsourcing. A 2009 article on Wired.CO.UK described how the agency used platforms such as crowdSPRING, 99designs, and GeniusRocket for projects ranging from brand strategy work to TV spots. (The agency even used crowdsourcing for its original logo and website design.)

Victor & Spoils also utilizes their network of professional creatives to generate content. In the Wired article, agency founder John Winsor described their process: 50-100 of their “creative department” are invited to contribute to a project, and from the submissions, 6-12 finalists are selected to compete for the final product. Only the finalists and winner are compensated. Of course, the participants give up any pretence of ownership of intellectual property; the agency’s terms stipulate that any contribution is work-for-hire. Winsor complains that only 10% of the creative output is any good, requiring “strong creative direction” from agency staffers.

The crowdsourcing model used by Victor & Spoils isn’t unique. Talenthouse (“the world’s largest creative department”), Tongal (“The World’s First Studio-on-Demand“), and GeniusRocket (“A creative video agency powered by a curated crowd”) all rely on content inexpensively provided via crowdsourced projects. The trend makes the acclaim of Zulu Alpha Kilo’s anti-spec video bittersweet. It’s inspiring to see the video which casts a spotlight on spec work receive so much recognition. However, if the example shown by Victor & Spoils reflects a growing trend, there’s a double standard being applied to the professionals who create the content that drives the advertising industry.

Below: a screenshot from Zulu Alpha Kilo’s video. This guy can’t believe he was asked to work for free.

Zulu Alpha Kilo no-to-spec video

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