Free Radical Tregs and Staples

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by: C. Sven Johnson

I recently used the scientific term “free radical” to describe a blogger whose writing I enjoy. I used that descriptor to mean someone who doesn’t think about issues and problems the way others studying them might. It is, in my opinion, a very designer thing; and I don’t mean that in the applied arts context.

It’s easy to say that because even among professional “designers”, it’s not necessarily the case that someone developing products will maintain their objectivity. One of the things I never wanted for myself was to be pigeon-holed as a particular type of designer. It’s relatively common for designers to fall into categories: car designer, toy designer, shoe designer, aso. In my way of thinking, it seems contrary to what we should be doing. The moment I become too comfortable designing something, I want to move out of that comfort zone because I fear that remaining inside it is detrimental to how I might think about a product; detrimental to innovation. Sometimes not knowing how things are done is a good thing, imo.

Anyway, while in school it was already apparent which people would likely gravitate toward and remain within comfort zones. And sometimes it was pretty obvious when a student would likely never find or even bother looking for a comfort zone. Mark Trageser was such a person.

I doubt anyone reading this blog knows of Mark (or “Tregs”), though you might see him and think him somehow familiar. That’s because in one of the early episodes of “The Apprentice“, Tregs was the unintimidated designer helping contestants with their toy ideas.

Seeing him on television brought a big smile to my face. I knew he was working in the toy industry, but I never saw Mark as someone who would stay inside a comfort zone let alone inside corporate America. Watching him interact with the contestants, however, it was apparent he’d not changed much. He was – and I suspect still is – a free radical even among designers.

Recently I hooked up with Mark via LinkedIn. He sent me an email saying he’d left Mattel to set up his own design business. No surprise.

Why mention him here? Well, as is apparent, I’ve been discussing competitions (reLink 1, reLink 2). As it turns out, Tregs sent me a link to a competition in which he’s a finalist: a comp for Staples (Link). Now I’m not going to ask you to vote for him (today is the last day, btw), but I do want to point out that Staples is making it worth a professional designer’s time to enter their competition by offering a prize worth the effort. Here’s some portions from the applicable rules and regulations:

Grand Prize (1): $25,000, awarded in the form of a check and the opportunity to receive an exclusive global licensing agreement so long as there are no intellectual property rights or marketing issues with the invention (ARV $25,000). In the event that the Sponsor, in its sole discretion, determines that the Grand Prize invention is not one that Sponsor wishes to commercialize, then only the $25,000 cash prize will be awarded. Finalist Prize (5): A 3-day/2-night trip for two to New York City, NY, on a Sponsor-specified date in April 2007, to attend the Grand Prize Event. Trip includes round-trip coach air transportation from the major airport nearest to the Winner’s residence, round-trip transfers between airport and hotel, and standard double-occupancy hotel accommodations (ARV $1,500 each). Runner-Up Prizes (4 –for those Finalists who do not win the Grand Prize): $5,000, awarded in the form of a check. Semifinalist Prize (15): A $100 Staples® Gift Card. Gift card may be redeemed at any Staples® retail store location in the United States.

In the event Sponsor decides to develop the product of the Grand Prize Winner, any Finalist, or Semifinalist prize money awarded shall serve as the guaranteed advance on royalties. The Exclusive License Agreement shall have terms in accordance with what is described here. Under the Exclusive License Agreement, Sponsor shall pay royalties to a Prize Winner (“Licensor”) in the percentage indicated below based on the Purchase Order Cost, which is the cost to Sponsor of the Licensed Product when Sponsor has the product manufactured (“Licensed Product”) by the manufacturer or distributor (this is called FOB Factory – it is the price the manufacturer or distributor charges Sponsor before it is loaded onto any mode of transportation for shipment to Sponsor). The royalty levels are as follows: Grand Prize Winner, eight percent (8%) Purchase Order Cost, Finalist, six percent (6%) Purchase Order Cost, and Semifinalist, four percent (4%) Purchase Order Cost. All royalties, based on Sponsor’s Purchase Order Cost (FOB Factory) shall be paid within thirty (30) days of the end of each fiscal quarter (Sponsor’s fiscal year is roughly February 1 through January 31). Included in the royalty amount is Sponsor’s right to use the product name or trademark used by the Winner, so there is no additional compensation for the name.

[While the entries themselves become Staples property…] Ownership of the invention shall remain with the entrant unless otherwise agreed in writing with Sponsor.


Not perfect, but definitely the best I’ve seen. Hats off to Staples for treating people fairly. This prize is easily comparable to what many professional designers get paid for a project (and we get neither royalties nor very many rights when we’re work-for-hire).

The point here is, Staples isn’t insulting creatives by offering a prize that is out of proportion to what they’re potentially getting {and taking}. There’s nothing “Web 2.0″ about that position. It’s just being fair.

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