The Huffington Post Spec Design Competition

It’s not just small companies looking to save money by seeking free/cheap design, sadly spec work occurs at all levels.  The Huffington Post was bought by AOL for a reported $315,000,000 back in February 2011.  Plenty of cash on the table to hire a designer to create a logo, right?

A logo is integral to a company’s branding and demands extensive thought and research.  So why is The Huffington Post asking their users to create their logo.


“Do you know your way around Photoshop or other design programs? Have a cool idea for a logo that screams ‘awesome politics coverage’?”


Oh dear!  It’s not all bad though, there’s a prize for the winner; they get credit for creating it… WOW. The ‘losers’ get absolutely nothing. The Huffington Post however gets hundreds, if not thousands of completely free design hours.

The AntiSpec campaign starts today. Please hit the Tweet button.


It’s been a crazy 24 hours since the first official AntiSpec campaign kicked off.  Did it work? What was the outcome?  I’ll break it down below which will also help me regroup as yesterday was manic.

1. AntiSpec received 13,000 unique visits yesterday.  Clearly this shows the passion of the design community.

2. HuffPo received 8 pages of disgruntled comments on their post.

3. Twitter chatter for AntiSpec went crazy.

4. Adweek wrote an article on this campaign and contacted myself for comment.

5. Numerous publications posted about the campaign including Politico and Forbes Magazine.

6. The Huffington Post was forced to make a statement and they closed the spec competition.

Illustration used with permission by the talented Jeff Couturier

Statement by The Huffington Post

“The entry period for this competition has ended. Thank you to all of those who entered. Stay tuned to see the competition finalists in the coming days.”

“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.”

AntiSpec response to Adweek

I find HuffPo’s statement a little blah in all honesty.  Here’s my comment to Adweek:

“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.”

“The feedback from the design community is clearly negative towards HuffPost yet the spec comp remains open. It’s time for HuffPost to grow a set, apologise and drop this.”


It seems a complete retraction from HuffPo isn’t going to happen.  However they were forced to respond which is something we can all be proud of.  More importantly maybe they will think twice before asking for free design.

I am humbled by the support shown and you are all part of the AntiSpec campaign. Power to the little people.

If you spot any spec work occurring online then please hit me up.  This is just the beginning.

Best regards,
Mark Collins




What can YOU do? Make some noise but please keep it clean. We have right on our side and the moral high ground.

Make a comment on The Huffington Post website.


Jade's avatar

It’s odd that they went this route. Daft.

Posted by Jade on 15 August 2011

Gatelys's avatar

good god no!

Posted by Gatelys on 15 August 2011

kyee's avatar

Not surprising. Their site design is horrendous.

Posted by kyee on 15 August 2011

Stewart Curry's avatar

Link’s not working for me

Posted by Stewart Curry on 15 August 2011

Arpit Jacob's avatar

No Way. Way to get work done for cheap.

Posted by Arpit Jacob on 15 August 2011

Craig Coles's avatar

Seems like such a lazy approach.

Posted by Craig Coles on 15 August 2011

Michele Melcher Illustration's avatar

Shame shame shame on them.

Posted by Michele Melcher Illustration on 15 August 2011

George Lewis-Jones's avatar

There must be a more effective way to tackle this problem. We are problem solvers, are we not? Lets put our heads together and come up with a effective, permanent solution guys.

Posted by George Lewis-Jones on 15 August 2011

David Elliott's avatar

Whilst I’m not in favour of large enterprises trawling for free creative work, the Huff Post appears to be inviting anyone who wants to design an icon for their Politics tweets to send them ideas. They’re not asking people to rebrand HP or AOL. 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. HP could, alternatively, hire a big agency with their big bucks and let the agency take the money and credit for the work of an intern designer.

Posted by David Elliott on 15 August 2011

Kim Hubbeling's avatar

Idea - is there a square version of the AntiSpec logo we can all submit to the contest?

Posted by Kim Hubbeling on 15 August 2011

Melissa's avatar

If you don’t want to provide free work then don’t submit a design.  If you hire an individual designer or agency you’re reduced to select from the design ideas of just a few people.  This opens it up to so much more creativity.  I agree with David, this also potentially gives the selected designer a chance to receive so much visibility.  It’s not like they’re asking someone to put together an entire style guide.  This seems fairly harmless, and an anti-anything campaign for something like this seems like a wasted outreach effort.

Posted by Melissa on 15 August 2011

R. Gallegos's avatar

David, you’re making HuffPo’s argument for them. The point is still this: no, they are not asking for a big rebranding. They don’t have to hire a big agency. But it is still reprehensible for a company of this (or any) size to exploit talented (or even marginally talented) designers for free work. This is a small rebrand of one part of their visual identity. So, why not shell out a smaller but respectable rate? They don’t need to go agency-budget for this.

It’s as if you think the only options are free or agency. There are tons of freelance designers out there.

They could do the same contest, but have people post links to their logo design portfolios. HuffPo can pick the best 10 and have users vote on who they’d like to see design the new logo—the “prize” could be an actual fee, in line with what a design of this scope would be. They’d get the community involvement they want, a designer would make some money, and HuffPo gets a new politics logo. Win/win/win.

The way this is going, HuffPo pays more in paper clips per year than they are willing to pay for a new logo for what will undoubtedly be their most visited site section over the next year. If that’s the future of design, then good luck to all of us.

Posted by R. Gallegos on 15 August 2011

Antony McEvoy's avatar

Umm, I wonder if they would expect their journalists and editors to work for free?

Perhaps they thought it would be a bit of word-of-mouth promotion, I hope this backfires!

Tut, tut!

Posted by Antony McEvoy on 15 August 2011

Daryn St. Pierre's avatar

I have a logo concept that screams ‘awesome politics coverage’. It involves a giant middle finger.

Posted by Daryn St. Pierre on 15 August 2011

Andrea's avatar

Maybe the word “free” in “freelance” is confusing people. Perhaps we should call it Paylance.

You would think that it is impossible to find a decent designer. With the advent of the web and web searches, it’s easier than ever- and yet somehow, there’s always some company who thinks that it’s okay to ask people to create something for nothing.

As if the ‘credit’ for having created it is worthy of the job. We already GET credit, regardless if they pay us, or if they even use it. It’s our work, remember? Big Duh, there.

“Hi, mortgage company? Yeah, I don’t have cash this month, but I created this super slick logo for HuffPost.”
“click. (silence) “
“... Hello?”

Posted by Andrea on 15 August 2011

Jim Pond's avatar

One word says it all. Exploit.

Posted by Jim Pond on 15 August 2011

Inspirationfeed's avatar

I cannot believe a professional company can’t hire an agency or a designer. This is just embarrassing!

Posted by Inspirationfeed on 15 August 2011

John Boland's avatar

“Do you know your way around photoshop or other design programs?” Really, does knowing programs make you an effective logo designer? Not really but that has now become the code for being a graphic designer. Plus do this work for free and you may win. This a a sad state of affairs.

Posted by John Boland on 15 August 2011

Anthony's avatar

Quite disgusted that such a large brand name would stoop so low as to request spec work.

What a waste of a professionals time.

Posted by Anthony on 15 August 2011

Ben Nash's avatar

I hate spec work. I hate clients who ask for spec work. I refuse all spec work. However spec work is not the same as crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is an amazing tool. Use it, don’t spec it.

Posted by Ben Nash on 15 August 2011

Monna's avatar

The use of the internet is so out of hand.  Companies such as this would have gone straight to a RFP or just outright hire a designer 10-15 years ago.  As they say, pay peanuts you get monkeys, pay nothing, you get nothing!

Posted by Monna on 15 August 2011

Helen Davies's avatar

Not only are they asking amateurs to design the branding, but they’re asking amateurs to judge it but they haven’t taken the time to put together a decent design brief.  They are hoping for a miracle.  It’s the shotgun approach to design.

Posted by Helen Davies on 15 August 2011

Ryan's avatar

Seems conceptually appropriate – amateur logo for amateur journalists. Maybe they put more thought into this than we think.

Posted by Ryan on 15 August 2011

Haughty Designer's avatar

If you asked a load of developers to create a (simple) backend for a website; for free, for exposure, you would get little to no response.

The fact that spec work exists so rifely in the graphic design community is an indictment of the graphic design community and nothing else. Sad, sad, sad that you are all beating the drum, when people within your community are proliferating the very issue you seem to think is a problem.

The reality is that exploitation doesn’t just happen by companies giving out spec work, but also by the agencies which win large branding contracts and pay low wages to most of their designers, and exploit interns. The design field is (largely) broken, and filled with terrible management practices.

Good luck to you all.

Posted by Haughty Designer on 15 August 2011

Danni's avatar

A professional creative won’t put good time into it. So most of the contestants would probably be amateur or non-pro designers. And as any professional designer knows, even something as simple as Apple’s apple has a lot of thought and revision in it. Maybe they’re counting on volume (thinking, “Someone’s bound to get it right!”).

I’m surprised HuffPost went this route. Kinda believed in them. Ah well.

Posted by Danni on 15 August 2011

Trish's avatar

why don’t they hire an unemployed designer? they don’t have to go the big design company route at all. and doing that would so help their image. the company is literally worth millions. it is the least they can do.

Posted by Trish on 15 August 2011

Miguel's avatar

Unbelievable…. again.

Of course I sign against this.
But I think it is the ‘designers’ who sign up for this who must be stopped. They are a disgrace for the branche.

Posted by Miguel on 15 August 2011

Paul Murray's avatar

It’s not only sad to see the Huffington Post attempting to get work for free, but also sad that people will probably swallow their bullsh*t and offer it. Strangely, I’m not surprised by any announcements of established companies and organisations ‘crowdsourcing’ their design work now.

It’s not enough for professional designers to refuse to enter such contests, it’s the amateurs with pirate software and no real knowledge of design fundamentals that are fuelling the growth of such contests, and because most businesses wouldn’t know good design if they saw it, they’re continuing to become the first and only option many of them consider.

Posted by Paul Murray on 15 August 2011

liz's avatar

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what everyone is so upset about. No one is forced to participate in a crowdsourcing contest—if you don’t want to work for free, you don’t do the word. Period. Sure, it’s free work and a lot of hours put into the process, but it does seem like a good opportunity for designers who may want to get their name or work noticed. Not everyone has access to the companies who hire agencies or firms—this approach makes getting your hands on a big prospective project more attainable, no?

It would, of course, be grossly unethical and reprehensible if anyone was getting manipulated, misled, or cheated. But it seems that everyone who participates knows what they’re getting themselves into. What’s the issue?

Posted by liz on 15 August 2011

jono's avatar

Perhaps they are looking for new talent for hire…

Posted by jono on 15 August 2011

Margie's avatar

I’m confused as to the mission here. Are you anti-crowdsourcing in general or just with design projects like this? Lots of news companies do crowdsourcing these days, it’s their Big Thing right now. I hear about it at all of the conferences and on the journalism blogs. 

I’m wondering just how many companies you plan to target on crowdsourcing issues?

Posted by Margie on 15 August 2011

ennerbawm's avatar

People aren’t necessarily upset about that, it’s the fact that Huffington post is trying to do this at all. Were it not for this and the design community being so tightly knit, this would have gone over someone’s head and Huffington Post would be ripping off a naive designer. It’s all about awareness.

Posted by ennerbawm on 15 August 2011

Shelley's avatar

Given that the Huffington Post was built with thousands of unpaid writers and defends that practice, it doesn’t seem incongruous that they would do the same with designers.

I believe in the anti-spec fight, but with HuffPo, I think any protest will fall on deaf ears.

Posted by Shelley on 15 August 2011

JasonFCJ's avatar

Why don’t we DDoS (not literally) their little contest? Get everyone out there to submit a logo designed in paint, using comic sans, or just their existing logo?
Make the effort of going through so much crap more expensive than if they had hired a freelancer?

Posted by JasonFCJ on 15 August 2011

Edward's avatar

If you don’t see the negative implications of crowdsourcing you have simply missed the boat. These contests are the reason creative professionals are devalued and underpaid. Huffington Post is receiving tons of free work to could have been awarded to an agency or individual and someone might have actually been paid for their efforts.

I’m not against anyone getting noticed for doing great work, but I am against my next potential client telling me that they have decided to “crowdsource” their new logo. Hence, making my profession and my skills worthless. Get it?

So Liz, David, Melissa, and whoever else thinks this is a good idea, it is, of course, grossly unethical and reprehensible because everyone who works in the creative biz is getting manipulated, misled, or cheated

Kim Hubbeling, I like your idea. I’ll be happy to submit an ANTISPEC logo.

Posted by Edward on 15 August 2011

UneekGrafix's avatar

Really. I mean, really? Boo these people. Might as well put up a Craigslist post about this too.
Thank you for cheapening my profession and talking food off my table.

Posted by UneekGrafix on 15 August 2011

Edward's avatar


You obviously missed the part where they were bought for $315,000,000. I suppose you think the nouveau riche shouldn’t pay taxes either.

Posted by Edward on 15 August 2011

jamEs's avatar

This doesn’t shock me from HuffPo. This is the same company that uses thousands of writers create blogs for them, yet many are unpaid and are only offered “exposure” for their work through their website. There is actually class action suit against them for this very thing

Posted by jamEs on 15 August 2011

Keith Mclean's avatar

Scope of the project and precedent for this type of thing aside, the fact is that they are taking advantage of designers, especially young and naive designers who see it as a means of getting future work. Spec work does not lead to actual paid work, only more free work. Doing good design for a respectable rate over a long period of time is going to give you a portfolio AND the credibility that comes with being paid for your work. Obviously there’s no shortcut to that, but that’s what this type of thing is presented as. Exposure won’t put food on the table.

Posted by Keith Mclean on 15 August 2011

Chris Taylor's avatar

Because we all know Photoshop is the program used to design versatile logos . . . WTF!  Hats off to you NoSpec!

Posted by Chris Taylor on 15 August 2011

ArtChemist's avatar

HuffPo, you crazy.

Posted by ArtChemist on 15 August 2011

Al Kirby's avatar

Seems someone already beat us to it…

Posted by Al Kirby on 15 August 2011


absolutely absurd!

Posted by REID ROTHENBERG on 15 August 2011

Sarah Kettell's avatar

Although I have entered design contests in the past, I am completely behind the anti-spec movement. I admit that It seemed fun and exciting back then, especially the ones that promised lots of money as the prizes, but I understand the issues it creates.

I think that there are times and places for this kind of thing. For example, I’ve seen neat contests aimed at teens. Chances are, you’re getting a lot of teens who just have a hobby entering those types of things. They CAN be fun. And I’m not talking about big work here, like company logos or anything. Just fun little “design this little thing” type contests. Also, a big forum I used to moderate on had the idea of allowing the members to customize the site by entering banner images for their favorite forum sections, where the members would then vote on them. THIS was cool because it was personal, and had a community feel that was enhanced a lot after the banners had been chosen—something that wouldn’t have been the same if an outside designer was hired to do this. It wasn’t anything official, just fun. Granted, some of the banners were not the best quality, but that wasn’t the point.

However, when it comes to huge companies looking for important things that they could afford to pay for, I don’t agree. It’s a way of disguising serious work as “fun” and trades the feeling of accomplishment you’d get from a paid project for the feeling of accomplishment through winning (similar to passing a level in a video game). Not to mention that a lot of their entries will be poor quality, unless there are some talented designers who really know what they are doing willing to spend a bunch of their free time on this chance.

If companies want the community to participate in something like this, why not ask for resumes and/or examples of work already created, then select an individual from their readers to work on it with them in the proper, paid context. They COULD ask for ideas the person has to be included in brief paragraphs as well, instead of forcing the person to create a bunch of stuff and waste hours.

Of course, I’m referring to this particular case—not to sites where design contests are promoted, like 99designs. Total different issue.

Posted by Sarah Kettell on 15 August 2011

Daniele's avatar

As designer I understand your concerns. Even if I’m only two week into this company I feel the pressure to change our approach to design and designers… Few minutes ago we release this statement:

“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.”

Read the rest of it here:

I understand it’s a small thing but I’m sure this initiative wasn’t supposed to offend anyone.

Posted by Daniele on 15 August 2011

Danny Whitehouse's avatar

Nice work guys. Why the heck do they want something for free with all that cash?? The cheek!

Posted by Danny Whitehouse on 15 August 2011

David Elliott's avatar

“So Liz, David, Melissa, and whoever else thinks this is a good idea, it is, of course, grossly unethical and reprehensible because everyone who works in the creative biz is getting manipulated, misled, or cheated.” Thanks for that Edward.

I didn’t expect many to agree with my earlier comments, but neither did I expect so much hyperbole from folks on high horses.

I don’t see how offering an alternative viewpoint makes me obviously gullible, misguided, misled or disloyal.

Professional designers can argue and arbitrate all they like, but patrons are not typically commanded by artisans and since the means and the desire to create design work are pretty much freely available today, there’s no monopoly any more on the capability to produce design work. The quality is of that work is subjective - and another issue.  I just don’t see a lot of point in pursuing campaigns that want to shut the barn door because it’s not fair.

I value my creativity and experience highly and I enjoy using them to help my customers communicate more effectively. Thankfully, I have enough work to get by without pitching speculatively. But I’m not representative of every designer, nor would I presume to be. In different circumstances, I might seize the chance to get exposure through HuffPo’s competition, irrespective of how many people disputed the principles or legitimacy of that offer.  I am certainly not qualified to castigate one side or the other, but in that respect, I guess I’m in a minority.

Posted by David Elliott on 15 August 2011

RE's avatar

It’s a catch 22- If they went the traditional route only a select few people in the world would have access to that job. But now this may change someones life. There are tons of design competitions where the losers go home empty handed (maybe a free trip to San Fran) why is it different for a major corporation. I can’t count how many times you hear actors, actresses, musicians, performers, hair stylists, chefs etc do what they do FOR FREE before being discovered. In undergrad I was doing things for free all the time for the University. I forgot sometimes that I was paying the institution for the privilege to be there.

Posted by RE on 16 August 2011

Conzz's avatar

Great work. 99Designs next in the crosshairs surely?

Posted by Conzz on 16 August 2011

kittydejong's avatar

never ever design for free if you value your profession..
if you pay peanuts,  you get monkeys….

Posted by kittydejong on 16 August 2011

Andrea's avatar


I’m sorry, but I worked as a chef for 5 years. No, chefs do not work for free. Line cooks don’t even work for free. Stagieres (french term for an underling, basically a culinary intern) work for free, sometimes. Or low pay.

However, what the intern, stagiere, or other person who is just starting out in the industry, gets in return is supposed to be far greater- they get the opportunity to make mistakes and be forgiven (can you do that with your paying clients?!) they get the opportunity to learn from a seasoned master, they get the opportunity to hold a position, learn it well, and move up in their ranks as they demonstrate ability and skills.

As a student, you are paying for the opportunity to educate yourself. No one is paying you to go to school, because you are the one who ultimately should be reaping the benefits. DUH. Anyone who gets paid to go to school is someone so talented they get a scholarship!

Design competitions are considered spec work too, and they are largely considered unethical for the same reason. The respected design competitions are the ones that request designers or companies to submit work that was previously created… such as the AIGA BoNE show. Nobody is expected to create something for the BoNE show. Rather, they submit work they’ve created previously. Just because a person doesn’t win, doesn’t mean they lost hours upon hours of effort spent creating something for a contest.

Do you see the difference?

Posted by Andrea on 16 August 2011

jsfain's avatar

but isn’t this just the current social media way? Reality shows and funny video shows have all trawled for free content for a while.
If a designer doesn’t want to contribute - then don’t. Or use the opportunity to approach huffington and get a legit design in place.
Too many high horses here.

Posted by jsfain on 16 August 2011

Kristy's avatar

They have deleted a lot of comments from that entry. There were at least a 130 comments last time I looked yesterday and now there are only 74.

Posted by Kristy on 16 August 2011

Tom, NewEvolution's avatar

Wow! Great work.

Posted by Tom, NewEvolution on 16 August 2011

Mark's avatar

@Kristy: Thank you for pointing that out.  I think they have mass deleted comments to keep that post from hitting their home page under the popular section. Underhand tactic to simply delete your users comments after they have taken time to make a point.

Posted by Mark on 16 August 2011

Jason's avatar

I think this entry sums it up.

Posted by Jason on 16 August 2011

Kristy's avatar

@Mark yes they are heavily controlling comments now. They have not approved any of my comments calling them out on the deletions.

Posted by Kristy on 16 August 2011

Bubba's avatar

You’re the geratset! JMHO

Posted by Bubba on 20 August 2011

Lulubelle Dyslexia's avatar

DEES-GAAHZ-DEENG (a sad attempt to capture ms huff’s charming accent).

Posted by Lulubelle Dyslexia on 20 August 2011

Tony's avatar

I really liked the article.

Posted by Tony on 24 August 2011

80s Rocker's avatar

This is a bunch of BS and Huffington Post should not have to retract anything.  It is there business and they can decide what is the best way to get new logo that they want to.  This is a really good opportunity to discover some new graphic artist without much experience that probably would not have been look at if they went the normal route.

This show AntiSpec campaign is totally unAmerican and goes against the freedoms we have to run our businesses the way we want to.  If you do not like it then don’t submit a logo design for consideration, otherwise shut up and let those that do want to participate use the talents God gave them to create some really nice logos for Huffington Post to choose from.

IMO it is a shame they gave in close down the competition.  it was a great idea and thank to this effort you have cut it short stopping other creative people from getting their ideas submitted.  Huffington Post needs to get some balls and re-open the contests and not close it till they had planned to.

Posted by 80s Rocker on 30 August 2011

Dominic Falcao's avatar

Same arguments on both side keep recurring. Established graphic designers are annoyed that they are being undercut on price, aspiring designers feel that ‘experience’ and recognition are locked in some non-starting chicken and egg dilemma.

The terms ‘undervalue’ and ‘worthless’ dominate antispec comments, ‘opportunity’ dominates the pro-huffpo crowd.

Truth is, graphic design is subject to the same economic restraints and market forces as any profession. If mechanics started to offer their skills for free, not because they were financially comfortable enough to do so, but rather because their lack of establishment or qualification in the market meant that they could not ask for more, the argument would be against allowing them to provide this service on public safety grounds, not on grounds of ‘devaluing’ the profession. There is no ‘safety’ issue for huffpo accepting free work. As for asking for free work - they get what they pay for, they’ll get their car fixed, but noone’s promising it won’t blow up and kill them.

Enjoy the mixed metaphors.

Viva la Crowdsourcing!

Posted by Dominic Falcao on 06 September 2011

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