Why the Nuclear Electricity logo competition was a Bad Idea

A few days ago, a friend of mine tweeted me a link. Curious, I clicked it. It led to a page that announced and described an opportunity for individuals and/or firms to win bounty (25k – 150k) for submitting a new design for The Nuclear Electricity Project Committee. Sounds great, right? Yes, I agree… It sounds great, but it’s not! Let me attempt to repaint the picture for you.


The Status Quo

The reason Africa is still “dark” is because its diamonds are still buried deep, unable to shine in the light of day. The untapped potential is literally inestimable. We may not make any significant contribution to Moore’s Law, but truth is, when it comes to creativity in the arts, design, and writing code, we are well capable of matching the world’s best minds.

So why exactly are logo competitions like these a bad idea? I assure you that I have nothing personal against the Nuclear Electricity Project Committee. They just happen to be the example I was forced to directly refer to, and with no malice intended. Here’s why:

1. It’s a development oxymoron

I applaud the Ministry of Energy for its efforts to realize the country’s Vision2030 by providing affordable and reliable electricity via the Nuclear Electricity Project (I admit though, the word “Hiroshima” keeps popping up in my mind). That is a move towards development at a level that is obviously too high for me – a mere designer and coder – to engage in. However, from my worm’s eye view, a move such as the one they’ve made to acquire their logo is equivalent to shooting themselves in the foot, developmentally speaking.

One of the most untapped resources in Africa is the human resource. The creative field particularly holds enormous potential for creating employment and for generating income for countless young people who are growing up in a very visual and experience-oriented world. Africa, I believe, has an opportunity to offer the world not just a different approach, but a different perspective. The world will look for it, and the world will pay for it. Before that happens, however, things will not just fall into place. Creatives in Africa need to define their niche’s worth. Nothing hurts the creative field more than designers being made to look like a bunch of desperate rabbits who are not engaged in the development of products and/or brands from the start, but who can occasionally be brought in with the lure of a carrot to tweak and tinker.

My fellow designers can therefore either rush for that hanging carrot, or choose differently for the sake of the future of design in our country and continent. I couldn’t put this in better words than Cameron Koczon of A List Apart:

You’ve been given a blank check. On it, you can write an hourly rate, or you can band together as a community and change the way design is perceived, change the way products are built, and quite possibly change the world.

2. It’s a waste of creativity

The nature of good design is such that the artwork cannot be divorced from the person/product for whom the design was made. Take for example the Wangari Maathai Wallpaper we released in our previous post. The way the tree and the dates have been combined into a design would make no sense if Wangari’s photo was replaced with Kibaki’s (no pun intended).

Therefore, once a brand has been designed, it is hardly ever reusable. In fact, this is explicitly stated in the rules and regulations of engaging in the competition:

7. Any material, graphic software or other items prepared by an entrant in the competition shall belong to and remain the property of NEPC.

What a mighty waste.

3. It’s a waste of valuable time

In places like the US, designers and developers charge per hour. That’s rarely the case in Kenya, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the time a designer invests in a design is worth enough to earn him his bread at the end of the month. So just imagine how many man-hours and money will have gone down the drain if by the end of this, 100 designers will have spent at least 10 hours at a rate of approximately Kshs 1000 per hour (not to mention printing and delivery to NEPC offices).

4. It propagates the short-term hustler culture

If you’ve been working too long to remember what our education system is like, let me give you a subjective overview. Kids flock to primary school, backpacks full, and spend eight years preparing for a national exam. Half of them never make it to the high school exam, which they take 4 years to prepare for. Only 10% of those who do make it to high school make it into a public university, and from what I’ve seen with my own eyes, 90% do whatever it takes just to pass exams and get a 2nd Class Upper.

At the end of all that, they are flushed into the job market. Then a respectable organization offers bounty for a logo competition. Perfect!!!

Probably explains why there are so many startup competitions every year but it’s hard to find one product that a random guy at Kencom would recommend to you if you walked up to them.

Signed. Martians.