Earlier this week the competition to design a new logo for the plagiarism-plagued Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games came to a close after organizers received nearly 15,000 entries from people vying to win JPY 1,000,000 ($8,250) and tickets to the opening ceremonies. While we don’t doubt that the Olympic Committee had good intentions with an open-call contest, we feel compelled to bring them up to speed on AIGA’s strong stance against spec work. To that end, our executive director recently sent this letter to Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee.

Dear President Mori,
It has come to our attention that you have launched a crowd-sourced competition to design the emblems for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. As the largest and oldest professional association of communication designers in the world, AIGA would like to urge you to reconsider this course.

Japan has a universally admired graphic design profession and legacy, imbued with stunning visual imagery, strong typography, yet simplicity, directness, and elegance in its highest and best form. We understand the controversy that has already placed shadows on the identity for the games. Yet, we believe that you are compromising one of the powerful messages others in the world perceive as emerging from Japan: a strong graphic and visual design tradition, innovative visual explorations, and respect for every profession.

Competitions that ask designers to contribute their creativity and hours of work without remuneration in the hopes of their work being selected are against the global standards of professional practice for communication designers. In essence, a compromise of the ethics of the profession that protect the interests of designers, clients, and the potential for extraordinary outcomes. The reason for this is that any remarkable design is the result of a designer working with the client to create an outcome that captures all of the interests and needs of the client and the messages to be illuminated. This cannot be done without a collaborative engagement with the client in advance of designing the results.

Secondly, if the competition is open to the broader public rather than trained and experienced professionals, it demonstrates both disrespect for a universally respected Japanese profession and also suggests that the interests of the committee are served as easily by those with little experience as those with judgment and skill.

As a third matter, while the committee takes advantage of thousands of hours of creative talent without compensation (which denies the value of creative enterprise) from those who submit designs, the selected design is compensated at a rate well below what is appropriate for a mark that will be reproduced literally millions of times, providing the Committee with the means of extraordinary levels of licensing income. It is very likely that the rewards to the designer for the mark that will provide global value to the Committee that is considerably less than the legal fees simply to restrict the designer’s reward. Is this fair and appropriate?

Finally, the intellectual property should remain with the designer, while the committee contracts for the perpetual rights in use it may wish to have.

We applaud the vision for the games, which reflects the generous and expansive optimism and perspective we associate with Japan. And we believe the criteria for the selection of the emblems are very appropriate—particularly symbolism, originality, and aesthetic sensibility. As a process for arriving at the finest mark, we believe seeking a statement from professional designers on how they would approach the project, supported with other examples of their work, and then engaging a professional designer to develop ideas with the Committee would be the appropriate course—one that respects the profession and is most likely to lead to a lasting and memorable mark for the games.

Richard Grefé
Executive director