The Huffington Post, which has been antagonizing writers and news outlets for years with its practice of not paying blog contributors and its aggressive aggregation strategy, can add another community to the list of the aggrieved. Graphic designers have come out en masse to attack the site due to a contest it launched in an attempt to get a Twitter icon done on the cheap.
Earlier this month, HuffPost Politics invited designers to submit logos to “The Huffington Post Politics Icon Competition.” The winning logo will be used to represent HuffPost Politics on Twitter and “all over the interwebs,” with credit—but no cash—given to the designer.
A few comments trickled in from readers angry that the news site was asking for “speculative work”—that is, using a competition or other incentive to get work for free, a practice many designers consider unethical. But the floodgates really opened on Monday, when AntiSpec, an organization that calls spec work “a cancer within the design industry,” started a formal campaign to get the word out and discourage designers from contributing to the contest.
“The Huffington Post, an AOL company, is seeking free design,” the editors at AntiSpec wrote. “Shame on them.”
Comments on both AntiSpec.com and the Huffington Post ranged from the disappointed to the infuriated. “With this classless design ‘contest,’ you're saying that designers' time is worthless, and you really don’t care about the quality of your logo (it's only the face of your company, after all),” one commenter wrote. “The tired lines: ‘you'll get exposure’ or ‘great for beginning designers’ which are bound to appear hold no water either. Have some respect for your company as well as the design industry.”
A number of readers posted an excerpt from a letter by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, arguing that “requesting work for free reflects a lack of understanding and respect for the value of effective design as well as the time of the professionals who are asked to provide it.”
In response to a request for comment from Adweek, Huffington Post spokesman Mario Ruiz provided a statement in which he said, "We asked fans of HuffPost Politics to submit suggestions for social media icon designs as a fun way of enabling them to express their passion for politics—and for HuffPost. As readers of our site know, we frequently engage our community with requests for feedback and suggestions. So while AOL Huffington Post Media Group employs an in-house team of more than 30 talented designers, we felt this would be a lighthearted way to encourage HuffPost Politics users to express another side of their talents. The post was in no way an attempt to solicit unpaid design services."
A few commenters did defend Huffington Post. “Perhaps this is an opportunity for someone who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to work for a large company to gain some recognition, which could well result in some (well paid) work further down the line,” one person wrote on the AntiSpec site—but they were largely drowned out amid the criticism.
“I really hope HuffPost wakes up sometime . . . they have potential,” wrote one reader. “This is just a mockery of the design industry.”
UPDATE: In an email to Adweek, Mark Collins, the creator of AntiSpec, responded to HuffPo's statement, saying, “There is nothing ‘lighthearted’ when it comes to the serious task of branding your business. To allow your online identity to be created by anyone with a copy of Photoshop is utter madness.”
Collins added that he had asked Huffington Post to cancel the competition, but received no response.
“The feedback from the design community is clearly negative towards HuffPost yet the spec comp remains open," he wrote. "It's time for HuffPost to grow a set, apologize, and drop this.”