Obama for America recently asked designers to submit poster designs to a contest, to support the American Jobs Act. Among the posters submitted, twelve will become finalists, with three posters emerging the victors. View the contest here.

The winning posters will be printed and sold, with proceeds benefitting the 2012 Obama campaign. The winning designers will receive their poster framed and signed by the President.

This is spec work. Read up at no-spec.com if you’re unfamiliar with the practice and why it’s wrong. In designers’ eyes, it’s an incredibly unpopular and unfair way for a business or organization to get design work. I’m often very vocal against it, like many designers online. I’m proud of the small army we’ve become in educating/attacking those who take our profession for granted.

And I don’t see a problem with this Obama contest.

Why? I feel it’s a very special case. Some designers are insulted by the irony of the campaign asking for free work to support a jobs bill, and I understand the point, but I don’t think it’s being evaluated in the right context. This is work for a political campaign. Campaigns are fueled by donors, and volunteerism, and making people feel like they’re a part of the cause. Campaign jobs are often done for pay that is far lower than a comparable job in the private sector, if they’re paid at all — a sacrifice made for something you believe in.

The Obama 2008 campaign was built on the back of the supporters, and good design. Thousands of people gave up money, time, effort, sweat and tears to fight for a candidate they believed in. I don’t see how this is really all that different than asking for monetary donations. By entering, you’re donating your time to the campaign. If you win, you’re donating the sales/rights of your poster to the campaign.

If Obama were say, Moleskine — a private company — looking for freebie work instead of paying a designer (which is currently happening and is receiving far less outrage) then I feel the outrage would be appropriate.

Sure, Obama could easily ask three designers to donate time, but this contest will make all designers who participate feel like they’ve contributed something to a cause they care about. Many of the posters will hit the internet, and act as a viral campaign both for the Jobs Act and the campaign. A few lucky designers will be able to claim the winning poster as their design, and know they’ve helped put a few thousand bucks in the coffers for the 2012 run. They most likely wouldn’t have been able to donate that kind of cash otherwise.

When it comes to speaking out against spec work, I’ll meet you at the front of the line and be as loud as anyone. I think it’s a terrible practice 99% of the time. Many in the design community have spoken out about this, and I understand and respect the many designers who’ve offered their voice. I just feel that since the proceeds are going to a political campaign, it’s not deserving of the outrage it has received. To me, this is the 1% of the time where it’s not a terrible thing.

What are your thoughts on the contest?

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Ricky Salsberry is an interactive designer working in Chicago and the editor of The Donut Project. In his spare time he reads/rants about technology, watches hockey, wrecks his bike, and designs some more.