designcontest.com is taking advantage of the University of California logo fiasco to advertise their low-cost design site. They’ve started a design contest for a new UC logo, with a tiny $249 prize. This costs them very little, but gets them a lot of free publicity (like this blog post or this article in the Houston Chronicle) worth far more than the prize costs.
Of course, since they did not make it clear that the real goal was a favicon (one of the tiny icons that appear in a browser bar), most of the designs being submitted are far too fussy. None of them are going to be picked up by UC anyway—this is purely a vanity contest.
But the idea of a design contest, with clearly expressed goals, is a good one. I hope that the UCOP is not so stuck in their not-invented-here mode that they refuse to see the value of an open design competition—one with a big enough prize to get some professionals interested, but not so large that it is a ridiculous amount to spend (i.e., not like the money they waste on business consultants to justify hiring new executives). Some good designers will be tempted to enter the competition because of the enormous advertising value of winning it.
If UC promised to create a public web site requesting comments on the top 10 designs, there would be even more interest by designers—it is a lot more likely that a good designer would make the top 10 than be selected as number 1 by the arbitrary and unknown tastes of the people at UCOP (especially since they picked such a loser the first time).
Involving faculty, students, and the general public in the decision-making at UC must be scary to the executives (since they go to great expense to avoid it), but it is necessary to rebuild a public constituency for the University, and contests like this one are a low-cost way to start that. It seems like designcontest.com knows how to go about getting positive publicity, while UCOP is only good at making stupid PR blunders (like the UC logo and raises for executives while laying off lecturers). Maybe we should replace UCOP executives with the people who run designcontest.com—it’s bound to be cheaper, and they can’t do that much worse a job.