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When Crowd Sourced Design Competitions Go Wrong

If you aren’t living in Chicago at the moment, there’s a good chance you might have missed the city’s first major design scandal of the year. First, the City Clerk’s office announced a winner for the annual contest, open only to students, to design the next year’s city sticker (a “city sticker,” for those outside of Chicago, is a sticker you have to buy every year for $75, on top of your registration, that allows you to park on city streets, even at meters, without getting a ticket). The 2012-2013 sticker seemed like those before it: an innocuous, hand-drawn, rough-around-the-edges affair. However, worries started circulating that maybe there were hidden gang signs being flashed therein. So the City Clerk, Susana Mendoza, decided to pull the win away from the 15-year-old who designed it, promising to pay the $1000 bond prize money herself to lessen the blow, and bumped the runner-up to first place. Then, of course, the runner-up decided she didn’t want to win like that, and asked that her illustration not be used. So here we are today, with the City Clerk’s office announcing that it “has decided to design the 2012-2013 vehicle registration sticker in house.” All of that explained, it seems to us that this perfect storm is why crowd sourced, open invitation design competitions, no matter how adorable and child-enlightening they might seem, have the potential of backfiring in a very public way. And how much of the city’s money could have been spared if they’d just gone in-house or hired-out in the first place? Of course, the whole thing could have been worse, like in Vermont.

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