I like designers. A lot of my friends are designers. Sometimes I even pretend I'm a designer, especially around Christmas when my wife asks me to make cards to send to friends and family.
And so my blood simmered just a little when I found out that Yahoo! just held a contest offering to donate $20K to a non-profit environmental group of the winner's choice in exchange for an icon it could use to flag "eco-friendly things you can do on our network."
In other words, Yahoo! asked graphic designers to help build its brand and cement its eco-cred — out of the goodness of their hearts. According to the "promotion's" official rules:
NO MONEY, PRIZE HAVING A MONETARY VALUE, OR OTHER COMPENSATION WILL BE AWARDED TO THE USERS WHO SUBMITS THE ICON THAT IS SELECTED BY THE PUBLIC IN THIS PROMOTION.
Even better,the company dangled that classic spec-work carrot — free publicity — with the promise that the winning icon would be seen by 500 million people.
Something is terribly wrong here. I'm guessing Yahoo! felt it was blazing some social media trail by opening its brand to others' influence. But when a business juggernaut like this gets others to increase the value of its brand in exchange for warm fuzzies, they're being intellectually dishonest.
I'm glad Yahoo! gave designers an opportunity to support a charity. But Yahoo! is no charity. Yet they bid for two philanthropic contributions from graphic designers: first, for themselves, second for a non-profit.
Of course I'm happy a non-profit benefited here. But what does that leave winning designer Leah Dickey? A happy feeling and post on her site about the win? Yahoo! should pay her the cash fee she earned for services rendered and value created. Just ask AOL's "You've Got Mail" voice talent.
Look, I'm happy Yahoo! is trying to be part of the solution. But let's tell the truth: this isn't just about warming hearts. It's about good business. And to the extent that this bit of design, for which Ms. Dickey was not truly compensated, helps Yahoo! build its brand with a half billion people, that's worth much more.
See all the entries here.