Logo design contests get a lot of bad press, but is it justified? After all, companies hosting a contest can gather tons more ideas than if they worked with just one graphic designer, and novices are offered the chance to gain ‘real world’ experience.
What’s bad about that?
Quite a lot, actually.
The supposed positives are preached over and over by the companies that sell the contest listings, and a recent blog post from Steve at The Logo Factor re-ignited my thoughts on the topic. He’s responding to a spec work debate where the owner of eLogoContest.com, George Ryan, fights his corner.
I’ve included some of the debate below, along with a few thoughts of my own and further spec chat elsewhere.
“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 a strange assumption for George to make. Steve, on many occasions, has seen his logos entered unlawfully as contest submissions.
“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).”
Logo projects can take months to complete. Quick cash isn’t a term I’d use to describe effective design of any kind.
“…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 discussions 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, as a graphic designer, you want to build your portfolio, contact local non-profits and offer your services pro bono. You’ll be lending your talent within the community, for a good cause, and you’ll hone your communication skills, too. You can also count on receiving feedback — something that’s far from assured in a contest.
It’s important to highlight the spec debate from time-to-time, and ultimately, a designer’s choice to participate boils down to this: you can spend your time working on logo contests with no guarantee you’ll be paid, or, you can build a solid long-term client base by investing your time in a proper business strategy.