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.

19 responses to “Why the Nuclear Electricity logo competition was a Bad Idea”

  1. directionman says:

    Hear Hear!!!

    I wasted valuable man hours in a competition like that…
    Funny, they never re-branded even after hundreds rushed to meet that deadline :(


  2. Thanks for bringing up something that has been bothering me for quite a long time. As you have stated it needs to start with the designers and developers.

    Once we understand our worth and create our own rules and then the rest of the public will have to go by them.The idea of every Tom, Dick and Harry claiming to do any design or development work just because they learned some unit in Uni further depreciates the value of designers in the eyes of the consumers.

    Ever wondered why Doctors and Lawyers are respected? Simple…they have associations where they set their own rules of the game for the public to follow.

    It’s about time we come together as designers and developers:D

    • True. Something needs to happen soon. But I get the feeling that it wont be easy, given that most people would rather leave the waters unstirred.

      The least we can do is start being truly professional in what we designers do, and we ought to be able to defend our design decisions. No more throwing punches in the air. We must be able to hit the mark and deliver.

      Once we start engaging one another, then an organic community will form. I look forward to that day.

  3. Allan says:

    LOL. Huston you’re nuts. Ebu do that logo bana

  4. NYAMBAI LUKIO says:

    I have designed a logo but when will I get the result? Optimistic.

  5. Denis Ochora says:

    if we are professionals in the art of design, then we prove that fact, not breathing out words depicting fear of competition.

    Fellow Kenyans and other Nationalities, enjoy competition,

    Fears! aside

    • Design is not like sport where professionals are proven by competing according to a set of rules (in front of a panel of non-professionals, if I may add).

      The design rules are largely undefined on this side of the planet, so when one raises concerns and tries to make the required rules clear, it doesn’t help when you come in and apply an unrelated idealistic scenario to the current problem.

  6. martin Ndege says:

    I like all these comments. It long overdue the association of kenyan designer ought to have been there since the time training started. I even dont do some design for competition because at the end of the day nobody appreciates what you have done. There should be a control of designs cos any dick and harry can do the work if they have a computer and art gallery in their systems. I am looking forward to a time when the designs will be done by qualified designers who are members of the association. Typesetters are not designers at any given time. Can there be a control please

  7. PUBLICITY says:

    The Nuclear Electricity Project Committee decided to engage the public in its quest for a logo competition. The aim for this was to give the public an opportunity to be associated with the establishment of a nuclear program in the country.Nuclear will serve as a source of reliable and affordable source of electricity for all Kenyans. This does not mean however that it will replace the existing sources of energy. It will be a complementing factor to the rest.
    Questions have been raised relating to dirty bombs. Hiroshima a key example. The form of nuclear energy that will be brought to Kenya cannot make a bomb. The enrichment process only reaches to a percentage of 5% unlike 90% for making a nuclear weapon.
    Kenya opting to go nuclear is not a governments choice alone. It is an international choice as well.Nuclear is beyond all boundaries of states.
    The project appreciates everyone’s effort in participating in the competition since it has shown that there is need for nuclear. The competition is still in the selection process and will be communicated once a confirmed decision has been made. We are all looking towards a developed Kenya for the future.
    Something to ponder about: Every time a person gets on a plane to a destination of their choice, it is always a risk but we still book flights even after major accidents have occurred or even the climate is not favorable. Why? Because trust has been built into the companies knowing that for every mistake,measures are taken immediately to make sure the safety of all people is upheld.


    [email protected]
    Facebook Page: Nuclear Electricity Project-Kenya

  8. I believe the open competition by NEPC is what we Admen call Crowdsourcing… which is an advertising activity based on the premise that todays consumer wants to be involved rather than talked down at. We are in the era of the Consumerspace and not the Marketplace. And someone at NEPC knows this and that’s why they opened the logo design to the public. So that we all feel that we built it together as Kenyans. So its not a waste of time for competitive creative like me… its a adrenaline rush. I treat it wa any other advertising pitch.
    As i write this, i am at NEPC to collect my cheque for the logo i submitted :-) peace

    • zazu says:

      @omondi-If your collecting your cheque as you allege(Thank you) but let the company call the media and the handing over be conducted in the open.
      That way,even your profile would be decorated!

  9. sorry for the typos …i am typing using my phone.

    • zazu says:

      Its time for organizations to answer questions.Ever since i started doing the design competitions rarely has a winner ever been announced,save for one or two instances.
      If we go these companies account books,how do they account for the monies they had promised to give to No1,2,and 3.since no winner is ever announced.
      Im suspecting somebody now has taken these joke too far in the expence of dedicated hours of creative works n designers!

signed. martians.™