ico-D stands against crowd-sourced competition for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 logo

11 February 2016
ico-D reaffirms the Council’s position to advocate for design value and best (not spec) practices for design.


“ico-D strongly believes in the value of professional design and fair compensation for design work.” 

—ico-D Best Practices papers 

In response to the controversy over the withdrawal of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 logo designed by Kenjiro Sano, and the subsequent open call for a replacement design, the International Council of Design (ico-D) strongly reiterates its stance against speculative work, emphasising the detrimental effects of crowd-sourced competitions to both designers and clients.

ico-D has consistently stated its position against speculative (‘spec’) practices, most noteably on January 2015 to support the #mytimehasvalue social campaign carried out by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) of Canada, whereby student representatives of RGD issued a call to the creative community to speak out against a similar situation surrounding the logo for Canada’s 150th Anniversary by sharing the message ‘My Time Has Value’.

ico-D is a Council of independent Member organisations—a global network spanning over 65 countries that share common positions, commitments and standards around design. ico-D Members create a unified voice for the global design community and drive high level dialogue on the leading role design plays in society, culture and the economy.

It is the role of ico-D to set and maintain global standards of professional practice for design—standards that support the best interests of both designers and their clients, and ultimately, global design value.

Competitions that ask designers to work creatively without payment or protection not only are in breach of these standards of practice—disrespectful of the individual designer, the delicate ethics that exist around the designer-client relationship, and the design process itself— but degrade the quality of design produced.

When clients, whether they are corporations, governments or institutions, try to bypass the professional design process to save time or money, it is them who ultimately pay the price for their choices.

It is no coincidence that the world’s leading companies invest heavily in their branding, sometimes with budgets in the millions, developing valuable corporate design assets. These companies are offering the best return on investment to their shareholders and know that resources invested in professional branding are fundamental to their marketability. This principle applies as much for digital technology as it does for international sporting events.

We understand that design is an elusive thing to many. From the outside it might seem a little like alchemy. Why is something so simple as Nike’s ubiquitous ‘swoosh’ one of the world’s most marketable symbols if anyone could draw a similar shape in a few seconds? The assumption behind speculative design competitions is exactly this: that anybody could by chance create a powerful visual symbol. But we know this to be untrue.


Professional designers undergo a shared process with their client to achieve exceptional outcomes. Designing is a dialogue; it takes time, expertise and experience to develop a meaningful symbol that resonates with a targeted market segment. Talented designers seek innovative solutions that are unique to each project; good design inspires, builds and fuels better design.

When the professional design service isn’t valued—in the case of speculative practices: by offering non-designers a viable stake in ‘designing’ a logo—everyone becomes vulnerable to this short-circuiting of a hard-won and proven process. This not only debases the quality of the result, it fuels conditions that perpetuate an overall disregard for, and lowering of, the quality of design worldwide. This is a disturbing prospect to imagine on a large-scale.

In light of the call for design spec work for the new Tokyo Olympic 2020 emblems, ico-D would like to encourage the Olympic Committee to respect Japan’s outstanding graphic and visual tradition and aim for a visual identity of value matching its aspirations for the event.

This is an issue that is universal to design practice. Many ico-D members actively discourage speculative practices with their own national policies in their respective countries. An example of this is the recently published open letter from our US Member, the Professional Association for Design (AIGA).

—read the Open Letter by Executive director Richard Grefé Against Crowdsourcing Logo Design: an Open Letter from AIGA to the Tokyo Olympic Committee for full details.

what is speculative practice?

Speculative practices (also called ‘spec work’) are defined as: design work (including documented consultation), created by professional designers and organisations, provided for free or for a nominal fee, often in competition with peers and often as a means to solicit new business. In harmony with ico-D’s code of professional conduct for designers, ico-D recommends that all professional designers avoid engaging in such practices. [1]

What is the difference between spec work and pro-bono work?
Pro bono work is defined as the work of a professional designer offering their services free of charge to a non-profit or charitable organization. It is a valid way for designers to give back to the community, support causes they believe in. Pro-bono work is quality work that respects the design process but is not remunerated.

—read A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Pro Bono Work by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) of Canada.

ico-D’s position on speculative practice
ico-D strongly believes in the value of professional design and fair compensation for design work. ico-D discourages all practices that engage designers in any kind of speculative, unpaid work, including competitions. Such practices undermine the value of design and the professional standing of designers.

why ico-D discourages speculative practice
Many of ico-D’s Member associations and others have articulated their disagreement with speculative practices and have launched programmes to raise awareness of:

• the detrimental impact on the quality of business outcomes from such practices.

• resulting restraints on developing the status and standing of design as a   respected profession, 
and the detrimental impact on the economy. 


ico-D maintains its support of best (not spec) practices, values expressed in the ico-D Best Practices papers and thus stands in solidarity with design students and professionals worldwide and in opposition to the global usage of speculative practices in soliciting design work.

Visit ico-D Resources and other articles on spec work:

ico-D stands against crowd-sourced competition for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 logo (Japanese translation)

ico-D Best Practices paper: soliciting work from professional designers

capital D for design value and best (not spec) practices

Design Community Dismayed by Decision to Crowdsource Tokyo Olympics Logo


Read the Japanese translation of this text:







多くの人にとって、デザインはわかりにくいものなのでしょう。一般人から見れば、デザインは錬金術のように思われるのかもしれません。至るところで目にするナイキのシンプルなロゴ「スウッシュ」は、誰でも簡単に真似できるにも関わらず、なぜ世界で最も市場価値の高いシンボルになっているのでしょうか? デザインの一般公募の裏にあるのはまさに、「誰でも強烈なビジュアルシンボルをふと思いつくかもしれない」という思い込みです。ところが、これは大きな間違いなのです。




































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[1] As per the 2011–13 25GA Report Bylaws, ico-D Best Practices paper