Canada asks student designers to work for free

Canada is preparing to celebrate it’s 150th anniversary in 2017. Events like this take some planning, so thinking ahead, they’re looking for a logo to support the celebrations.

They’ve chosen to ask students of the country to send in designs and kickstart their portfolios with an exclusive opportunity of a lifetime. Here’s a guy introducing the contest:

However as Ian Glover of Graphic Designers of Canada puts it in an open letter, Canada’s design community is:

“very disappointed and concerned… While on the surface competitions may seem like a way to engage a community, they are in fact a direct way to exploit a community under the guise of engagement.”

That the contest:

“is designed to lure hundreds, maybe even thousands of students into providing their intellectual property to the government with no reasonable compensation for their patriotic and creative effort… This contest sets a poor example for our youth: that our own government doesn’t value their intellectual property.”

It was only hours earlier in a post about the recent Everett logo contest winner that expressed my fear that rather than learn from the errors of that contest, others would follow in it’s footsteps.

On the face of it, offering the design task to students seems a great idea, it gives upcoming passionate designers and artists the chance to win a big national contest and launch their careers on a high. It also ticks the public engagement boxes and avoids awkward questions about how much they’ve spent on a design.

But Ian Glover is spot on, this is leveraging the good will of the students, asking them to offer their ideas and thoughts for no more than a chance to win $5000. It’s exploitative and there’s no other way to describe it.

A Chequered History

This isn’t the 1st time the 150th anniversary logo has made headlines in the design world, the process has some history. And it’s an ugly, ugly history.

The government spent in the region of $40,000 promoting a set of 5 logos that could become the anniversary design. Interviews and poll were conducted but no clear winner was chosen.


The trouble I think was that they were ugly as can be. Professional Canadian designers to to the internet to express their disgust and even came up with some alternatives in desperation to ensure none of the shortlisted designs made the cut.

99designs 'winner'
99designs ‘winner’

It also receive attention from a rather unpleasant part of the internet in the form of an alternative design competition on the atrocious 99designs website. You know there’s an issue when the team at 99designs think their community will enter an imaginary contest.

The winner seen here is a bizarre mix between a maple leaf and a smiling goose.

I hope they listen to their own design community, but if not I suspect they’ll end up with a useful enough logo, I just wish they’d be prepared to invest in good design instead of holding this kind of contest.

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Kieran Harrod is a freelance designer based in the United Kingdom. more…


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