Members of Portland's much-lauded "creative class" are shaking their heads in shame this week over a contest to redesign the official Portland city website. The city wants any and all of Portland's talented graphic designers to re-do the Portland homepage and top banner, but whoever wins the contest won't get paid or guaranteed a contract for a future redesign. Instead, the city will place a link to the designer's personal website on the front of each of PortlandOnline's 140,000 pages.

"It is unfair and a slap in the face to Portland's creative class to ask them to work for free," writes local creative consultant Lizzy Caston in a letter to the city she posted online. "And for what? Credit? Page views? Give me a break. People in Portland want to save their mortgages and rent, pay their staff, and be recognized and respected as professionals. Not treated like they are in an elementary school coloring contest."

Designers also piped up in a long, heated comment thread on Pop Art.


Out with the old!

Mayor's office spokesman Roy Kauffman says the design contest is meant to aid small designers, not anger them. "This design contest is in no way a sleight on the value of the work our design community creates," writes Kauffman via email. "Instead, the design contest was, and is, an opportunity for any Portlander to take part in a small, but essential, piece of a very big project." Not having a contract with money attached means the city does not have to go through the typical Request for Proposals (RFP) process, which could give big design firms an advantage. Four other PortlandOnline website redesign projects (check the FAQs on that site) are issuing RFPs and paying designers for their work.

Working with no budget for the "Refresh" contest to redesign the main page and banner, the contest coordinators figured that designers would be happy with the advertising and heightened Google hits that would result from being listed on the city's website. "This gives us a lot broader opportunity for community to get involved. I see this as the first step for getting a lot of good designs to the table," says contest coordinator Laurel Butman.

I say, why do you need to hire a fancy pants designer at all? Portland Online should just steal the page design of some of the city's already highly successful websites. Like those of Silverado, Embers or Menomena.