How should designers respond to design contests?

Be respectful, but be direct.

The third post in my ongoing series on spec work and design contests.

So when faced with a design contest, how should designers respond. I’ve been thinking about this recently as I watch the slow unveiling of the horribly misguided Columbia Flag Design Competition. So here’s what I think...

Be an advocate. When you see a design competition, speak up. Every design competition is an opportunity to educate the community about how powerful the design process can be when it’s done properly. Share the AIGA position on spec work. Remind the organizers that a contest very rarely results in a successful design. Use our voices on social media to let the organizers know design has value. Be respectful, but be direct: Design competitions are never a good idea.

It’s not about the money. Remember that the primary objection to design contests is about respecting the creative process. That doesn’t always involve spending big bucks on a design firm. Designers and agencies will often donate services or discount their rate for something they believe in. But even if these firms work for free, they will still follow a creative process that involves identifying — and solving — creative problems.

Talk to young designers. Design competitions often prey on young designers (and students) who don’t understand that they aren’t being fairly compensated for their work. They’ll be told that it will be great for their portfolios. Or it will open doors for them. It’s up to us to teach young designers about their creative rights and educate them about spec work.

Don’t participate. This seems pretty straightforward, but one way to stop design competitions is not to participate. And encourage other designers to avoid competitions, too. A design competition relies on participation. And sadly, many designers don’t realize that they are being manipulated to work for free.

Respect other creative professions. One way designers can fight spec work is to support the rights of creatives in other professions. Designers need to support the rights of photographers, illustrators and writers whenever they can. Design competitions aren’t the only place that businesses and organizations are undermining the value of creative work.

Don’t be counter productive. As tempting as it is to flood the contest with joke entries, don’t. Don’t harass people on social media or in person. No need to boycott anything. Remember that you can stand for something without putting other people down. A design competition is an opportunity to educate the community on what design can be. It's our job to take advantage of that opportunity.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is writing more blog posts. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

What I love about Draplin...

This man loves to create.

I saw Aaron Draplin for the fourth time on Thursday night when he came to the Half and Half in Columbia. Over the last years 15 years or so, between CCAS, AIGA South Carolina and Converge SE, we’ve had a bunch of awesome designers come through Columbia… DJ Stout, David Carson, Chip Kidd, James Victore, Seymour Chwast, Michael Beirut, Sean Adams, Sagmeister… and that’s a really incomplete, partial list. 

But Draplin is one of my favorites. 

What I love about Draplin is how much he loves to make things. Other designers are passionate about solving business problems. Or challenging convention. Or tackling large international clients. But Draplin loves to create things. Sure, he solves problems for clients, he challenges conventional thinking, he has some large international clients. But the thing that really seems to drive Draplin is putting things out into the world, which I really do feel makes him unique among the big names in design.

(It's also the reason why Draplin's work is known beyond the design world. Field Notes is loved by people all over the world and they love Draplin, too.)

If he comes to a town near you, see him. You won't be disappointed.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he attends lectures. (Because he is so much fun.) Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Martin Luther, content strategist

95 reasons to reform the church!
(#15 changes everything!)

Almost 500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenburg in Germany. This act, intended to provoke discussion and debate, sparked the Reformation and fragmented the Christian church.

Over the next few decades, Luther spread his message through a variety of methods, taking advantage of the latest technology, the printing press. He wrote letters, books and sermons. He translated the bible into German to better reach his target audience. He created devotional materials for families. He composed hymns to reach the masses. He gathered his followers together to have discussions which they then shared with other Protestant reformers. His message of reform spread though Europe, inspired followers and provoked discussion.

Martin Luther was the first content strategist.

It’s not hard to imagine Luther using today’s technology to spread his carefully crafted content. Tweeting to his followers.* Retweeting fellow reformers. People live tweeting his sermons. Blogging on the latest topics. Sharing posts on Facebook — “95 reasons to reform the church! #15 changes everything!” Putting music and videos on YouTube. Authoring free ebooks. Sending email newsletters. Podcasting.

Martin Luther used content to change the world — almost five centuries before the creation of the internet. And his lasting impact, 499 years later, is a testament to the power and longevity of powerful and effective messaging.

* I can imagine Martin Luther complaining about how hard it is to get verified on Twitter. 


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he geeks out about all things historical. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

How to get quality images and logos from clients

Just copy, paste and send.

I constantly struggle with getting high quality images from clients to use in printed materials. Typically, my struggles fall into one of two issues:

  1. Poor image quality. Images that are too small, edited or color corrected poorly.
  2. Vector files. Clients don't understand what a vector file is and why you need it.

I was tired of explaining it repeatedly so I started writing some standard text that I can copy and paste when I need to explain these concepts to clients and partners. As I worked on them, I realized that other designers could benefit to having a copy of these explanations.

Request high quality Images

Most designers try to explain image size with resolution, file type or file size. This goes completely over the head of most users. Now that most digital cameras — including phone cameras — generate appropriately large images, we can just ask for the original, unedited image. We also need to make sure they understand that they can't just grab the files off of Facebook or Instagram.

Next time you need an image from someone, try this explanation:

In order to make sure your image looks its best, please provide us with the highest quality image you have. This should be the file that comes directly off your camera or phone. Do not edit or crop the image. Images downloaded from Facebook or Instagram will not reproduce well. The file will likely be a JPG or PNG file.

Getting Vector files

Vector files are tougher. The concept is foreign to most users who don't understand the difference between vector and bitmap. Here, I think the best bet is to educate them that a vector file is a special file format and try to steer them to the designer or communications department.

Most of the time, when I need a vector file, it's a logo. So I wrote several versions of my vector explanation. The first version is specifically for logos:

In order to ensure your logo will look great, we require a vector version of your logo. A vector file is a special type of image file typically created with Adobe Illustrator that can scale to various sizes while maintaining quality. A vector logo is typically saved as an EPS file. Note that JPG or PNG files are bitmap files and cannot be vector files. Vector files are typically provided by the designer or company that created your logo.

A second version of this copy can be used when you are working with a non-designer in a larger company that has a dedicated communications team:

In order to ensure your logo will look great, we require a vector version of your logo. A vector file is a special type of image file typically created with Adobe Illustrator that can scale to various sizes while maintaining quality. A vector logo is typically saved as an EPS file. Note that JPG or PNG files are bitmap files and cannot be vector files. You can typically get a vector version of your logo from your communications department.

Sometimes, I need vector artwork for other projects. So I wrote a third version that is a little more generic.

In order to ensure your artwork will look great, we require a vector version of your design. A vector file is a special type of image file that can scale to various sizes while maintaining quality. Vector artwork is typically saved as an EPS file or a PDF. Note that JPG or PNG files cannot be vector files.

Copy and paste!

Feel free to use these descriptions next time you are requesting artwork. Hopefully they will help you get the files you need and save you time. 

I've started a page in the resources section for these (and possibly future) copy and paste snippets. I'm already thinking about snippets to explain font issues and IMDL files.

Please let me know how they work for you. Based on feedback, I may refine and update them. Reach out on Twitter (@sketchbookb) and let me know what you think.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he looks for ways to be more efficient. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.