The Obama for America campaign is asking graphic designers to show their support for Obama and his plan to put Americans back to work. Through a contest titled Art Works, the campaign has solicited designers to submit posters promoting the American Jobs Act. However, in a move that seems ironic considering the campaign’s goals, designers will not be paid for their posters. The top three submissions will win a framed copy of their own poster signed by the President, which is estimated to be valued at $195.
The Graphic Artists Guild has aggressively criticized the poster contest in an open letter written to the Obama for America campaign. The outrage over the contest stems not only from the obvious irony of asking people to work for free for a jobs campaign, but also from the very real issue of unemployment in the industry. Between 2008 and 2009, employment plunged nearly 11 percent. Employment fell another 6 percent from 2009 to 2010. Job losses in the industry have flattened in 2011, but employment remains well below pre-recession levels.
As with many industries, graphic design services rely on a healthy economy. Spending on marketing, advertising and promotion drive industry revenue. In addition to economic challenges, the industry struggles to compete with in-house design teams and easy to use, do-it-yourself design services online. Companies also commonly outsource design work to countries with lower cost workers, instead of hiring US designers. Even prior to the late 2000s recession, the industry grew slower than other professional service and design industries. (See the First Research Graphic Design Services industry profile for a full industry description and more insights into the industry’s challenges, trends, and opportunities.)
The Obama campaign has more than $60 million in cash and can certainly afford to pay for promotional posters. Then again, campaigns also rely on volunteers. What do you think? Should designers be paid for poster submissions? Or should posters be viewed as a political contribution and not an employment opportunity?