Logo contests get a lot of bad press. Is it justified? After all, companies hosting a contest can gather tons more ideas than if they worked with just one designer, and contests offer amateur designers the chance to gain experience.
What’s bad about that?
Quite a lot, actually.
The supposed positives are preached over and over by the companies that sell design contest listings, and a recent post from Steve at The Logo Factor freshened thoughts on the topic. He’s responding to a spec work debate (broken link removed, 2015) where George Ryan, the owner of eLogoContest.com, fights his corner.
Here’s an excerpt of the debate, with a few thoughts of my own.
“We regularly have “designers” attempting to pass off ripped work as their own, thanks to our viligant community of designers these “designers” are usually reported and banned within minutes of posting the work, let’s see that happen with a conventional studio!”
— George (elogocontest)
“On any logo design contest site, that’s ANY site that uses the contest model, I can guarantee that copied logos will eventually find their way into the submissions. To say that this happens ‘regularly’ at conventional studios, or with fairly established freelancers is, to be charitable, nonsense. It doesn’t.”
— Steve (The Logo Factor)
Quite an odd assumption for George to make. On many occasions Steve has seen his logos ripped off and submitted as contest entries.
“If you are starting out as a designer, or are having a dry spell, design contests can be a readily available way to bring in some quick cash.”
“Judging by the number of contests that are abandoned without any winner being accepted, and the sheer volume of designers participating, the chance of an individual making any ‘quick cash’ is almost nil. Especially if they’re going to put any effort, and the required time, into their entries (which goes a long way to explaining why so many copied logos and purloined clip art designs make their way into submissions).”
Design projects can take weeks or months to finish. Quick cash isn’t a term I’d use to describe effective design.
“…regardless of what the critics say, the skill of the designer DOES make a HUGE difference in winning a contest.”
“In terms of the best design winning one of these contests, and judging by the winning designs themselves, the client is often unversed in what makes a good logo, how that logo will reproduce over a wide range of media, and even the difference between vector art and bitmap generated designs. Without any one-on-one interaction, they remain unversed throughout the design process, unaware of the technical and visual issues with the designs they’re viewing. Bottom line, they pick crap logos.”
As Steve suggests, a client isn’t just paying for pretty pictures. Design is mainly problem solving, and decoration is just a part of the process.
Logo contest chat elsewhere
- NO!SPEC articles
The thing that contest originators don’t understand, however, is that the contest model is just as much a lottery for them, too. Without meeting with the contest entrants, and seeing their past work and experiencing their personalities, the contest originators put themselves in the middle of a very risky gamble. Based simply on a submitted image, it is impossible to determine whether or not the designer has the knowledge and background to guide the project to an efficient (or even successful) conclusion.
- When a “contest” is not a contest
The only thing worse than a client, or potential client, who does not value the efforts of a professional graphic designer, is a designer who doesn’t appreciate the value of their own time and work.
- Are logo design contest sites even legal?
…what if these sites are breaking a ton of laws, in jurisdictions all over the world, as well as running afoul of state and national lottery and gaming laws? A little far-fetched? I thought so at first, but after fairly intensive research, I’m beginning to think otherwise.
- 99designs: Bullshit 2.0
To summarize: you’re doing spec work for third-world prices with no option for copyright retention. Everyone wins! Oh wait, except you.
- Logo design contests are bad for business
You, as the client, should know that your designer values your business. They’re not providing you with a design based purely on aesthetics, and one that took perhaps 30 minutes to create. They’re looking deep into your business plan, your company mission, your background, your way of dealing with people, and many other aspects your working practices.
Cover illustration by Noah Woods
If you’re a designer who needs more work in your portfolio, try offering your services pro bono to local businesses instead of entering contests. You’ll be lending your talent within the community for a good cause and improving your skills with clients, too. Feedback is also guaranteed — something that’s far from certain when you respond to a contest listing.