Design the Boston MBTA Map — For FREE!

So the MBTA is having a friendly little “contest" for people to design a new "T" map, ostensibly in celebration of National Transportation Week. How sweet and fun!

Let’s get real here, people.

This is speculative (“spec”) work, pure and simple. The MBTA wants to harvest ideas for a future map from entries, but doesn’t want to pay a red cent for them. The winner gets nothing but kudos and the “privilege” of having their map displayed on the MBTA website and at the State Transportation Building for an unspecified period of time.

Meanwhile, the MBTA gets it all:

"All submissions shall become the sole property of the MBTA. The MBTA shall own the entire copyright in all submissions selected, in whole or in part, for use in the final map design.

Competitors whose submissions are not selected, in whole or in part, shall grant to the MBTA a worldwide, perpetual, gratis license to reproduce and/or use the submission in any way, in any medium now known or hereafter devised, for any purpose, including but not limited to publication, exhibition and archive of the competition results.

Submissions will not be returned to competitors after the contest and access to the submission will not be allowed at any time. Therefore, it is important that competitors photograph their submissions and/or retain at least a copy of the submission materials. Once received, submissions become the sole property of the MBTA.”

That’s right: the MBTA owns everything, lock, stock and barrel. You, on the other hand — no longer owning the rights to your own hard work — probably can’t even put it in your portfolio.

Simply put, this competition is insulting to designers and cartographers — skilled practitioners of a difficult and complex discipline of design — who deserve their talent to be recognised and rewarded. There are plenty of amazing professionals in America who make their living out of designing maps — good, usable, beautiful maps — all of whom would love to work on this project, and would do an excellent job of it.

As long time readers of this blog know, I’m not a big fan of the current MBTA map, and I’ve already done my own redesign of it, which I’m actually very proud of (seen above and in more detail on my design blog). My map isn’t the perfect square that MBTA design standards require, because I made a conscious decision to show and name all the Green Line stations. Eventually, I was going to get around to making a square version, but not now. Not now that I know the MBTA is looking for free ideas for their map. If the MBTA likes my ideas for their map — and they’ve surely seen enough of my body of work to know that it’s good — then they can bloody well pay me for it.

(For more on spec work and why it’s bad for the design industry, visit


This design is and always will be ©2012 Cameron Booth

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