Logo Design Love

For graphic designers and all who love logos.

The reality of logo design contests

Spread Shirt logos
Image copyright

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 amateur designers are offered the chance to gain experience.

What’s bad about that?

Quite a lot, actually.

The supposed positives are preached over and over by the web companies that sell design contest listings, and a recent blog post from Steve at The Logo Factor freshened my thoughts on the topic. He’s responding to a spec work debate where George Ryan, the owner of eLogoContest.com, fights his corner.

I’ve included some of the debate below, 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 entered unlawfully 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.”
— GEORGE

“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).”
— STEVE

Design projects can take weeks/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.”
— GEORGE

“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.”
— STEVE

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.

Printed reads

Graphic Artists Guild Handbook
Cover illustration by Noah Woods

If, as a graphic designer, you want to build your portfolio, instead of entering contests try offering your services pro bono to local non-profits. You’ll be lending your talent within the community, for a good cause, improving your skills with clients, too. You can also count on receiving feedback, and that’s far from assured on a contest website.

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, second edition

70 appreciated comments

  1. Fernanda Carvalho

    Very interesting article, David. I agree with you in all aspects.
    thanks for sharing the different opinions on the debate.

  2. Nice article David. One of my very first blog posts was about a design contest site that I tested out and wrote about my experience.

    Since then, I feel strongly against that as you and many others do. One issue that has got me thinking though is that there are a number of designers that you and I both network with online that are extremely active on design contests websites. I am not going to name those people, but this seems to be an issue that is not talked about.

    If we feel so strongly about what design contests do to our industry, then how can we possibly network and build relationships with the designers that are active on these sites?

  3. David – Thanks for including my “When a “contest” is not a contest” article as a resource in your piece. – J.

  4. A good article, as usual – it’s a shame some people still enter the contests without realising what they’re doing!

  5. Great points, David. One I hadn’t thought about before was that logo contests continue to keep clients uninformed about the process. That client interaction and education is so valuable to our industry as a whole.

    I continue to appreciate the case you make for working with non-profits and I’m glad you bring that up every time. It’s such a noble way to fill one’s portfolio!

  6. You’re very welcome, Fernanda, Jeff.

    Brian, I know of one prominent designer who entered a lot of his earlier work (by that I mean logos created before he had built a client base, and his knowledge of the industry wasn’t as great). The design community is a small one, and while networking is one thing, advocating said practices is another. At the very least, it’s important to talk about spec work and the websites promoting it.

    Richard, here’s hoping such brief reporting will help educate a few.

    Lauren, thanks for your support. I notice you left a comment on the post about legal issues (kind of you to tell Steve where you arrived from).

    There are so many positives that come from pro bono design in the local community. When held against entering logo design contests, there’s no comparison.

  7. Lisandro

    I also agree with your points covered David. Though I must add as politely as possible designers that work for $25 – $100 in a contest competing against other 20-40 designers are idiots.

  8. I’m very glad there are a large number of designers who think the way I do.

    I’m in the middle of making the leap and striking out on my own as a freelancer and when I came across these contest and auction sites my heart began to sink; I was thinking that this was the state into which my industry had devolved.

    Here’s to the end of these companies’ despicible habits.

  9. Someone suggested that I could make a killing on these sites, but the whole thing makes me feel dirty… how can a client say they value a designer’s time and expertise if they’re roping you (and 20 others) along for free? I agree, and group these clients into the same group as those who contact me to either a) copy an entire project of my own previous work for their site, or b) ask me to copy someone else’s work without a single change. That people think there’s nothing wrong with these practices leaves me speechless!

  10. And the debate continues… I should do another article on spec work soon, I am with you David.

    I am also thinking of doing a spec experiment now that I have a bit more free time (due to Uni / Summer break). I will do as many logos as I can within a space of say 6 hours and see how much money it is possible to make… but in the end your still not a winner. Would be interesting to see the results.

    Also what is your take on IncSpring? Where you can sell logo designs / brands?

    @Brian,
    I have also noticed that many people partake in the contests… and I would have to guess that nearly 70% of logos on logopond and other inspirational sites are not even for real clients and a further higher percentage are not even in use.

  11. Grace

    I’ve been debating this one in my mind alot lately. I have recently began to take part in logo design contests…for a few reasons…

    I have a graphic design degree and a years experience in an agency and now find myself unemployed in a recession, so I do this to keep the creative juices flowing, I love having the briefs to get stuck into, it’s really not about the money for me

    I feel that when I get an interview, hopefully sooner rather than later, I can show that I have been creative in the interim, I think this is important…

    I always go through my logo design process when designing for these contests, which involves alot of work on paper first…I would never design a logo in half an hour. I do however see some designers submitting logos just hours after the brief opens and feel that these cannot be resolved designs that answer the brief… There is however some very good designers on these sites but clearly also some people that have never had any design training…

    I would love to freelance, but feel you need a few professional jobs to market yourself and start to build a client base…

    In short, I guess if I had a job where I could exercise my creativity every day or had a client base, I would not be taking part in these competitions. I am petrified that the longer I am out of a job, the harder it will be to secure one…I cannot do a boring non-creative job every day, it would kill me!

    If anyone has any suggestions of anything I could be doing creatively every day that I could speak of in an interview please share, I have also been doing tutorials to improve my software skills….

    I feel it’s easier for established designers to be against these contests.

    I guess I’m not on any side of this debate, I’m just confused if I’m helping or hindering my career…

  12. @Jacob Spot on. I agree with you that a majority of logos on logopond seem to be for fake companies. It is easy to come up with something extremely creative for a logo when you have created the name and company yourself.

    Incspring is another site that, in my opinion, is quite similar to the design contests. Pre-made logos are sold, sometimes with a domain name. Any logo that comes with a note “simply add your company name here” is not good! Unfortunately, there seems to be a market for this, and I don’t see it going away.

  13. Keep the faith, Adam. The profession is much stronger than these sites would have you believe.

    Jacob, that’d make for interesting results, though they probably won’t be very surprising. The Incspring model is back to front, and the homepage statement doesn’t do it any favours:

    “Find inspiration and original brands from the best designers in the world.”

    “Best” is subjective, and that’s partly the reason behind my iconic logo designers site. It’s not called “best logo designers.” I’m sacrificing a little search engine traffic by using “iconic” instead, but I think it makes it a bit more professional.

    It’s also no surprise to see the more popular LogoPond logos being sold on Incspring, which highlights that many of them aren’t live projects, or based on client briefs.

    Brian, I agree. It’s easier to produce ideas when you’re responsible for both the company product/service and the company name (as with most of the popular LogoPond entries).

    Grace, if I was doing the hiring, I’d actually prefer that you didn’t take part in logo design contests, instead taking a stand against spec work. At the very least, it shows you value your design skills enough not to give them away for free. A prospective employer could see your actions as an opportunity to lower your salary.

    Why not approach local non-profits?

  14. Grace

    Cheers for the suggestion David, I will try this and let you know if I have any success!

    I love your blogs, very inspirational and helpful, cheers :)

  15. Please do, Grace, and thanks very much for reading my blogs.

  16. md

    Excellent article, I really love when people speak up like this against sites like that. I had similar thoughts about Inc Spring, and I got an earful from the owner/his buddies.

    http://www.fillslashstroke.com/slash/2008/07/incspring-one-mans-trash-is-another-manstrash/

    Thanks for this article, it makes me feel not alone in my sentiments.

  17. SPLENDID article. The debate form is perfect for really sending the message home. As for the debate about made up companies in Logopond (and elsewhwere), that is currently being discussed in Logopond’s forum right now under General Discussion. If you are a member, throw your two cents in!

    Grace, there is a section of graphic design that is always hiring. Yes, it is not glamorous, it is technically some of the hardest work you will ever do, and it doesn’t pay the best (but it IS a paying job IN your field), but have you looked into production art? There is much more opportunity to do creative work there than most people think. Especially with the economy as it is. But I believe that the experience you get through production art is priceless for designers. I’ve seen a lot of high end designers who are fabulous conceptualizers, but not good executionists, because they do not understand production art. I know how to output a logo or design for ANY media because of my background in production art. Because of my production art experience, my clients never have to pay an art fee to have their logos or designs produced. It makes me a more valuable commodity as a freelancer.

    Best of luck!

    Trish

  18. Hi Mark (MD),

    Thanks for sharing your post, which I actually think I’ve read before. There’s a comment from Jake Schroeder that rings true with me:

    Philosophically for designers, the only issue I see in publicly recycling work like this is the question, “do I want to be a craftsman or walmart?”

    Trish,

    I’m interested in what you think about that forum thread: fictitious logos on LogoPond. I left a comment yesterday, following your signpost.

  19. Well, I fall in the middle as it appears most of the designers on Logopond do. To use your debate style:

    Hindmarshdesigns wrote on Logopond, “To see brilliant designers creative talents set free on a design that has nothing to hinder it, allowing them to refine every aspect is something so beautiful to see. It has just as much merit as a brilliant logo solution created with the shackles of client requests.”

    And MD wrote, “I’m not criticizing specific people here. I’m criticizing the practice, in general, of designing without intent, without a goal, without a result that solves a problem.”

    I agree with both, but see Logopond specifically as a logo design playground as David referred to it. So I can agree with both points of view and still enjoy Logopond.

    Trish

  20. Time spent working on contest designs can be better spent promoting yourself, networking, writing a blog post or even just fine tuning your skills – all of that is more valuable than the $100 you might ‘earn’ for spending 18 hours on a ‘logo’.

    Great post and first time I’ve come across your blog. Have subscribed. Will go through your archives and see what else you’ve written about.

  21. For those interested, there is another forum topic on Logopond addressing the issue in a slightly different way: http://logopond.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=15259#p15259

    There has been a lot of talk about having the minds behind Logopond publish a book with the most popular logos from their site. Considering the amount of popular made up and concept logos on their site, the premise behind such a book would be hard to pinpoint. How do you market great logo design without a purpose? As art alone?

  22. Trish,

    I thought that might’ve been you posting on the LP forum (checked your profile but didn’t find any info). Yes, LogoPond is what it is because of the many comps that are uploaded. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. I’m pretty sure it’s what David intended from the outset.

    As for a possible LogoPond book, I don’t think it would be much different to the LogoLounge series. There’d probably be some crossover too. How do you market great logo design without a purpose? Good question.

    curvball,

    Thanks for subscribing, and for joining in the conversation.

  23. Jin

    I recently wrote on a related topic, about designers undercutting each other. Spec work/contests are even worse. Participating gives clients a false perception of what design is, and how much it should be. If you’re interested in reading David:

    http://www.8164.org/pay-the-designer/

    I used one of your articles as a reference too. Thanks!

  24. Mei

    One sentence in Grace’s comment stands out for me

    “I feel it’s easier for established designers to be against these contests.”

    I was sharing with a friend how we should not be doing no spec work or participating in contest (both of us are doing graphic design for leisure/pro-bono but occasionally approached to do some paid jobs). I agree with all that I read on established designers’ blogs who generally are on the side of no spec. However, my friend said that it would of course be easier for established designer to say no cos they are already established and therefore, one logo that they design can charge much more and people come to them for their reputation. However, for the rest of us who are not established, how should we secure a client if clients that we come into contact with generally require some mockup first? Also, design contests are a way to meet up with some potential clients and if that is not a good way, what better way to meet up?

    Maybe established designers can share how you started out.. that would really help and solve this question that keeps bothering me.

  25. Your clients are business people. You are a business person. All you have to do is explain it to them in terms they understand. Ask them how often they do work for free? You have the same bills to pay as they do. You have overhead as they do. If you don’t get paid, bills don’t get paid and you don’t stay in business. It is that simple. And, although you may think it obvious, pointing it out to clients can make a huge difference in how they view you. You’ll be surprised how often people lump graphic designers with artists and the whole “starving artist” thing. There really isn’t anything romantic about starving for your art… especially if you have a family to feed.

    You may not be able to charge as much as an established designer, but don’t give your work away either. Use a sliding scale depending on how much your client can afford. Establish payments plans or a user fee until the logo is paid for. There is also barter. Design for band width, hosting, advertising, printing, office space, etc.

  26. Hi David,
    Again, great-timely post. Funny, with my site Design Dump I get several requests to post design competitions. I feel as you do…NOT good. the designer loses every time. I refuse to post these. These are NOT design competitions as much as they are companies getting FREE work! How can you possibly design a logo for someone you’ve never met before? A logo project is the most challenging personal project a designer will ever work on.
    Todd

  27. What a great read David. Thanks for posting this!
    -Lawrence

  28. DMC

    Someone shared the link to the failed Obama logos, and I started poking around, and found this article. I have to disagree with much of what’s being said here from a consumer standpoint. Get ready to throw the stones: I’m not a logo designer. I’ve created my own logos for my own projects, but I’m not a professional (or even a serious amateur) logo designer. The general gist of what I’m reading is very familiar to me – fear, anger, and irritation that there’s starting to be a “anyone can do it” situation when it comes to logo design. It’s the same thing that journalists started feeling a few years ago when blogs started taking off and gaining mainstream credibility. They felt threatened. Logo designers are no doubt starting to feel this way, too – and they should.

    From an end-user standpoint, from the point of view of someone who would readily do a contest at 99 Designs or someplace similar if I didn’t have the time to do a logo myself… those services fill a void. People like me don’t want or need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a logo. To us, it doesn’t matter if we are “often unversed in what makes a good logo”. If it looks good for the project in question (and we can determine that ourselves), then the source – contest or professional logo designer – absolutely does not matter.

    I’m not being a troll here, honest I’m not. I wanted only to present the point of view from the other side. The bottom line, I think, is that now that everyone with a couple hundred bucks to spend on Photoshop can create a logo now. The pro designers need to accept that, and figure out how to convince people that need a logo design done that they should spend a lot of money on a pro instead of $100 on a contest.

  29. Hi Jin,

    Great read, and nice discussion too. Thanks for linking through to one of my spec articles.

    Mei,

    I hope you received Trish’s reply about not giving your services away (thanks Trish). Here’s a particularly relevant sentence:

    “You may not be able to charge as much as an established designer, but don’t give your work away…”

    Those potential ‘clients’ you’re finding, who say they require a mock-up before paying, are far from the norm, and aren’t the people you want to be working with.

    Todd,

    I’m glad you’re taking a similar stance on free work. I don’t believe you have to physically ‘meet’ your clients in order to deliver an effective logo. The vast majority of my working relationships are formed across hundreds of miles.

    Lawrence,

    You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading.

    DMC,

    Fear and anger are not words I’d use to describe my sentiments towards designers undervaluing themselves and contest holders playing a lottery.

    If you can determine what logos ‘look good’ for a particular project, that’s great, but I’d say the vast majority of those people hosting a contest can’t, and inevitably they choose a bad design. So not only do the vast majority of logos submitted go unrewarded, the best of a mostly bad bunch get ignored. This doesn’t take into consideration the chances of a ripped-off design being submitted as an entry, which, from what I’ve been reading, happens quite often.

  30. Hey David,

    Great blog full of good information. I’m a cartoon logo designer which puts me in a corner mostly by myself. I’m not keen on logo contests either but liken them to magazines that call for gag cartoon entries (New Yorker) and companies like Crazy Shirts that “accept” submissions and only pay for the ones they like.

    I popped over to Logo Tournament the other day and checked out a contest that had the word rocket in the name. I wondered if there would be any cool looking rockets. To my surprise, I’m not joking, a girl had taken a cartoon rocket from my site, freeclipartpics.com and had submitted it as her entry into the contest. It was a piece of my clipart!

    If you use a logo contest site beware when you go to copyright or trademark your design, you never know where your design may have been.

    My two cents.

  31. DMC,

    Two things:

    Graphic designers have always faced competition with amatuers. I’ve lost many a job to someone’s nephew, wife or aunt who just got a home computer and, of course, work for free. And there have been, and always will be, ‘design contests’ with no clear winner or clear ‘prize’ at the end.

    No, this is an old grief with us.

    Secondly, there are graphic designers out there of all levels. You don’t have to pay $1000s for a seasoned professional if you don’t need or can’t afford that level of design. Take Grace for a great example. There are a lot of trained designers out there building up experience. You would be surprised, if you advertised, how many levels of training and experience you would find in your own neighborhood if you looked. And you would be doing yourself and the designer a big service by finding them and employing them.

    In an aside there is something a trained graphic designer can do that is invaluable, and customers don’t see it until later. They not only design but they support. Sure, buy a cheap logo or scrawl it out in non-design software, but you end up with a logo that won’t reproduce in all the different medias you need. Embroidery, screen print, lithograph, pad, offset, web are just a few of the different types of printing applications; then there is cloth, building, car, billboard, golf ball, monument signs, etc. – a huge expanse really – to put your design on, but each requires a different treatment, style or output.

    See a graphic/logo designer is not just employed for their creativity, but because they are trained professionals in the advertising industry.

    Trish

  32. This was posted at Logopond and I thought it related: http://events.carsonified.com/fowd/2008/newyork/videos/paul-boag/

  33. “If, as a logo designer, you want to build your portfolio, contact local non-profits and offer your services. By doing so you’ll be lending your talent within the community, for a good cause, and you’ll be honing your communication skills for future benefit. You can also count on receiving feedback — something that’s far from assured in a contest.”

    Very good advice. I have been telling fellow young designers this for awhile.

    Keep up the great posts!
    -Lawrence

  34. Curtis (that sneaker wearing…), there are similarities between contests and those sites asking for gag cartoons or t-shirt designs, but there’s an important distinction too. A logo can only be used for a specific company, so if you don’t ‘win’ the contest, you can’t ‘re-submit’. Gag cartoons and t-shirt designs, on the other hand, can be re-used (a general statement, but important). I’m not surprised you found your clipart ripped-off as a contest entry, unfortunately.

    Trish, I completely agree that a designer isn’t employed simply for their creativity. We have to wear many hats. Paul’s presentation contains a lot of useful info. Much is common sense, but I picked up a few pearls there too.

    Lawrence, keep spreading the good word.

  35. dwat

    I’ve created a couple of contests for logos at 99 designs and 99 per cent of the work was sub par, with lifted icons and bad fonts. I eliminated most of the submissions. One of the contests I abandoned without naming a winner because i was just unhappy with everything despite a lengthy and detailed brief.
    The second contest was the same except for a couple of real designers that came through at the last minute.
    Crowdsourcing is a great idea, but I’d rather pick who’s in the crowd and make sure they have some design skills and proven talent.

  36. Dwat, nice to hear from the other side of this issue. You have a point, but I still can’t help but think of it from my side. I can enter many contests or compete for many a client, but if I come in second every time, I’ve spent a lot of time with no income to show for it. As a freelance designer, every hour I spend needs to be billable or I’m just doing this as a hobby and not a career (non profit doesn’t count of course). I also want to develop a relationship with my clients, not just throw out a design based on a perused goal sheet. I don’t want to just design your logo, I want to design your brand and help you with deciding on the best types of advertising to meet your income goals. I help you find the best vendors, the best sources, the best people for you, your business, your product. As your graphic designer, I’m not just “hired help”, but your partner.

  37. Quote from Fred Showker, “It, the idea of “spec” work, has been debated
    ad nauseam. But each has to decide for themselves if the rewards of
    the competition process is worth losing.” In response to a letter about the Wiley book cover competition he helped judge. Here is a link to his original article about it: http://www.graphic-design.com/DTG/Design/book_covers/index.html

  38. jc

    I think you are in too deep into the logo deign world. As a start-up short on cash, and without a ton of time to explore the world of logo design professionals, a logo design contest is a GREAT way to get lots of ideas from all over, for a cheap price. Better than blowing a few thousand dollars on redesigns only to realize the artist you picked, you don’t like afterall.

  39. NewsChomper

    we ran a logo competition at 99 designs over the new year and awarded the prize to the design with most potential – after the end of the competition we worked long and hard with the designer to tweak the design. this is such a subjective thing, I’m still not sure if we have the right logo, but I’m willing to spend the time to get it right.

  40. JC, it is not about being too deep into the design world, it is about making a living. You know… feeding your family, paying bills and that sort of thing. I’m afraid your post makes me think you are one of those people who do a contest simply for ideas, you take what you want and make your own variation. All those graphic designers wasting valuable time and money when it was never the client’s intention to pay any of them. Yet you still have to pay someone, most likely several vendors, to make your logo printable, viewable, usable. Or you are one of those people who mangle your own logo. Squishing, distorting, pixelizing, copying and recopying until it looks more like a child’s drawing than a company logo. That’s your identity. What your client’s see and potential client’s view. If you don’t care how your company’s logo looks, it makes people think you don’t care about your own company or its clients.

    NewsChomper, your experience is nearly the ideal for such things. I hope the new logo works well for you.

    I’ve spent the last ten years of my professional life working for startups. I don’t just do logo design, but also packaging, marketing kits, sales support, letterhead, business cards, catalogs, brochures, direct mail, forms, employee manuals, and so forth. Most start-ups need some if not all of these things, not just a logo. Why spend time and money using several people and vendors for such stuff when you could just pay one person and get it all done right the first time?

  41. That’s an interesting Showker quote, Trish. Cheers for sharing.

  42. Jon

    The question is, how efficient and business effective are aesthetics? can a simple image with no background do the work? I don´t think so.

  43. Theres a whole lotta contest bashing without cause in this arena.
    Most of it quite baseless.

    The idea that it takes “months” to create a logo?
    Not for most businesses – not in todays digital age.

    The concept that we have to meet designers face to face?
    Tell the telecommuters they have to show up to work then.

    And the idea that you don’t see a designer’s past work/portfolio?
    Geez – every contest site gives you a full look at their past work.

    Every article I’ve read bashing contests reads like this (for me, a business owner) “Waaah! Stop undercharging and giving massive amounts of selection/options that individual graphic designers/agencies could never deliver on at a competing price point. Period.”

  44. Hello James,

    I’m not sure if you’ve read this post, but it addresses many reasons why logo contests are bad for business owners.

    For what it’s worth, the vast majority of my past clients are based overseas, so we never meet face-to-face. I find it doesn’t detract from the quality of work, and can often save time spent travelling to meetings.

  45. James,

    I honestly did not see where those three arguments were given such importance in the posts or initial blog above.

    The reality is quite the opposite with your first argument. Several discount design sites take months to design a logo which is the exact opposite of hiring a professional designer. It is one of their main shortcomings actually – time management. The initial design time to produce a set of concepts by a professional designer is anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending upon how much information the designer gets upfront and a designer’s current job load (not speaking for large advertising agencies). After that the time it takes to get to a finalized logo is dependent upon the communication between client and designer.

    Which brings us to the second major shortcoming for a discount site – communication. No, you do not have to meet a designer face to face, but having that option or at least being able to call the designer or client when a question arises instead of hoping they interpreted your last email correctly is incredibly important. With discount sites you have to depend upon the written word without knowing if the designer/s have a similar cultural background, values or language.

    The third shortcoming is the largest and most costly for clients and which is directly addressed in the post David links to – legal work. That is you do not know for sure if the portfolio you see online IS the designer’s real work and you don’t know if the concept you chose will be free of limited use images that are not copyrightable. With an online world it is very easy for someone with a computer to steal work and pass it off as their own. At least with a reputable, experienced, professional designer you can be 99% assured you won’t be getting a call from a lawyer asking for thousands in usage fees and then having to dump your current advertising and merchandising to completely re-brand.

    What seems like an incredible deal can cost you tens of thousands when you could have spent $500 (avg), a one time fee, on a professionally designed logo you can use for the life-time of your company, product or service. Seriously, is it really that much of a savings in the long run?

  46. I think anyone who is serious about what they do and are honestly passionate about it; they will not enter nor entertain these contests, spec work results it terrible clients, it happens in the studio environments too, which is a shame.

    It’s not a good practice, it depreciates what you do, some call that elitist but it’s not, there are so many comparables to other industries where spec work would never ever happen… like in a restaurant for instance.

    Steve said that they so often end up picking crap designs, I have first hand experience with this, where I felt undercut and a bit hard-done by, but it was a momentary reaction. It wasn’t spec work as such, it was different, but it was a similar situation. The work they picked was not the best they were offered. You seem pretty active on anti-spec work David, which I commend you for, If you’re interested David I can fill you on my story more via email.

  47. Hello Youssef, I’m curious to know what kind of situation is similar to spec, but not.

    Trish, thanks again. Valid pointers.

  48. Barbara

    I agree completely!

    And when the “so called” prize for these logo contests frequently runs between $200 to $500 for the most, the client is not served well in getting a logo that best serves their present and future needs. In other words, they get what they paid for, and that is frequently not much.

    If I was spending all that money on the image of my company, I’d want a designer to spend more then just a few hours working on my business brand. To get a custom logo that makes you unique in the field of all your competitors, I want to pay my designer enough money to spend the time to research those competitors; to raise my company to the top of the consumer list.

    If the designers are spending that time to do the research, then they are not getting paid … pennies on the hours.

    To the contest holders: You get what you pay for.

    To the designers: don’t sell you business skills and education short.

    To both: Give design the respect it deserves! Many times it can make or brake a new business.

  49. Anna

    I just recently came across this article, and I have to say, I’m feeling a little bit of cognotive dissonance at what you’re saying. As a high school student who is taking 5 AP courses and participating in numerous extracurriculars, I neither have the education nor the time to work for a design firm, or even do some real freelancing.

    That being said, when I came across design contest sites, I immediately thought them to be a God-send. I’m looking to pursue a career in graphic design after college, and these sites seemed like a great way to get my foot in the door of the design industry. I know that contests aren’t the same as working for at a real office, but I’ve gained a lot of experience on interacting with clients and designing to meet a breif’s expectations (two things I had never really done before; most of my designing had been for friends or my school up until then). I was also making a lot of money that was helping to support my recession-hit family.

    Again, I would like to point out that I don’t have time for either a part-time job or an internship at a graphic design firm. I do some work for non-profits, as you suggested, on the side, but the money from participating in contests is really helping out my family. If I had the time to invest in real freelancing jobs, I would gladly take them, and I understand the negatives you’ve pointed out in this article concerning contests. But in all honesty, do you think that what I’m doing is “bad”? As a future-designer-hopeful, I don’t want to be helping to bring down the design industry before I even turn 18, but I don’t really see any other options.

  50. Anna, no one can fault you for making money any way you can in today’s economy. Shoot in any economy. We don’t in any way consider designers who participate in such sites to be evil or bad. No, we reserve that for the site owners. They aren’t designers and make five times the money off designers like you. It is parasitic in a way. Yes, we could say you are doing yourself a future disservice. Unless you see yourself making a career out submitting design through such sites. I would bet it is possible, but I would hope you are eager to go as far as you can in your chosen career path. But knowing such sites gave you your start, you would probably be much more forgiving of them for taking work away from you later in your career.

  51. “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)

    We just launched our contest website which is currently in Beta. We are very concerned about IP theft and considered this very carefully when building our site. Although it is virtually impossible to eliminate this altogether we believe we have built some well thought out tools that should reduce the amount of IP theft on our site to a bare minimum, we are even working on zero tolerance policies right as we speak.

    To date it works like this. Any registered user can report any uploaded design entry on the fly, the design will then be locked out for all registered users to see and the reporters name and reasons are published right within the contest page in the comments section at the bottom of the contest page. From there any registered user can vote on that design by voting “Yes” or “No” as to whether they think it is a violation of some sort. Then only the contest holder can unlock the design if they feel comfortable with the amount of votes.

    It’s not perfect but we will work hard on this to make it a fair system for all.

  52. anon

    I’m not a designer but I do have some basic skills in Adobe Creative Suite and I have an eye for photography (hobby). It’s good that people are pointing out the risk of intellectual property being stolen in some of these designs but to completely dismiss and bash contest sites is foolish. They serve a great purpose if used right. As a client, I can use the design sites for gathering ideas that the designers I have hired would never have thought of. For a few hundred bucks you can get a hundred ideas and then present them to a designer to re-draw or incorporate an idea into a final design. In some cases if the design is good enough, just go with it.

    I also must point out that finding a top notch designer that is on the same page as the client is not easy. I hired a respected national web design company that had horrible communication and follow through, and the mockups they provided were sub-par. Wasted $13,000. Now I hired a high-end UI design firm, $125/hr and honestly the communication is just as bad and the designs are also sub standard IMO. It’s unbelievable, I could get the same quality work done for 1/3 the price on Elance. Some “professional designers” are really not very good, although they charge a fortune. You don’t always get what you pay for. I just met with a local free lance artist who is cheap, $45 hour, and I have to say meeting face to face is great.

    So the point is spending a few hundred dollars on a design contest is chump change for the the brain storming value. You can go back and forth with a designer telling them how to modify a design to get the concept or look the way you want, and this costs hundreds of dollars. A design contest can give you ideas that could save hundreds of dollars and possibly take you in a direction that you or the designer couldn’t have imagined.

  53. We took a look at some design contests and after submitting (what we thought) were good visual solutions never got anywhere. It became apparent that crowdsourcing is a lottery and a ‘client’s’ taste cannot be judged easily.
    Having taken our design approach down a couple of notches we finally resorted to using an online logo generator – with some hilarious results. The designs submitted took less than 2 minutes to generate and were truly awful, however, they were considered by the ‘client’ who would post feedback and give scores on quality and creativity. Unbelievable!

  54. Jack Peterson

    Logo contests in the form of crowdsourcing are a total waste of time. I tested one out by submitting a logo that was ‘created’ using an online logo generator.
    The result was absolutely appalling but I still got feedback from the client who took it seriously and asked for a few adjustments.
    Q. What kind of client uses a site like this?
    A. Not the ones you want to work with.

  55. Chris

    I totally agree. You really have to watch out if you’re stupid enough to invest time in a design contest– I found that out the hard way. One site held a contest for water bottle skins. I noticed that the “winning” designs were actually designs from a partner company that sold laptop skins– the company holding the contest purposefully ignored original submissions in order to promote their own product. (They admitted to this when I emailed them).

    So, all in all, it’s best to stay away from that kind of thing.

  56. Temi

    Well I can understand why a lot of people feel strongly about these contests. But I would have to agree with 4eyes. I have spent lots of time, energy and money liaising with designers who never clearly understood what I wanted in my logo. At some point, I started getting the vibes from these designers that I was difficult to please when they were the ones fixated on a certain idea which just did not represent what I wanted in my logo. But one thing I decided was that I would never let anyone make me feel like they were doing me a favour when I was paying them so out of frustration, I designed one myself…which the company handling my PR felt was boring. This is my 2nd year now and I still do not have a “suitable” logo apart from what I churned out.

    As a start-up company, I was tired of the disappointments but more importantly I was tired a lot of money going down the drain on unsatisfactory work which I couldn’t afford and which sometimes I still paid for so the graphic designer didn’t feel so bad. So imagine how pleased I was when I stumbled upon mycroburst / logo design gurus. I could simply get lots of ideas at a fraction of the cost AND it could also give me ideas even I never thought of. That is what some companies do when they require uniforms and go to a design college and ask students to come up with designs for next to nothing. In some colleges, it is even worse because these contests are mandatory and if you do not participate, you do not get grades for that assignment and it will affect your term average…and I am speaking from experience.

    For me @ this point, patronizing these contests is simply is a business decision and a way of paying less to achieve more. In my opinion, these contests are optional and if these designers don’t see themselves as being shortchanged then fine. Why fight someone else’s battles? There really is no sentiment in business. I still haven’t submitted my brief but I plan to. And if I get burnt…well…I can afford to turn a blind eye since the money is not so huge.

    HOWEVER, I did read Grace’s comments and I know it’s been 2 or 3 years but if she is still affordable or still does pro bono work, then I am willing to work with her to come up with something for my company. But at this stage after what I have been through, I have simply refused to pay some “professional” who will charge me an arm, a leg and 2 ribs for substandard work…. which I cannot even guarantee was not a rip off of someone else’s work. Chances are you may never find out anyway…unless of course you, unfortunately, get sued. I am aware of 2 cases and I know these people must have paid professionals to come up with their logos and these companies are HUGE! Both were “literally” lifted, text, logo, background and all. I’m not too sure but I think one is currently going through some legal battles.

    But anywayz, after all I’ve said, I think I’d like to conclude by saying live and let live! I know these contests directly affect your income as they are major competitors but one thing the “professionals” must realize is that not everyone is your customer. If they choose to patronize contests, then understand that they have their reasons and if you can convince them otherwise, fine; else just live with that fact and focus your efforts on attracting clients that are willing to pay your fees.

  57. Cathy

    George is talking sh*t. All entries are rip offs of the hard work of original designers, of which there are very few on these sites. The design courts where voting takes place to oust the ripper is admin dominated. There have been numerous cases where the admin sides with the ripper even when the voting is in your favour and reinstates the logo saying “I see no similarity” when even a blind person can see the obvious. They do it to prevent losing the client. Hatchwise/elogocontest is probably the worst site for designers unless you are a ripper.

  58. Rob

    As a web and graphic designer, logo contests have been hugely helpful to me in certain situations. Example: Non profits and small businesses with limited budgets, companies that have a lot of people making decisions that require a lot of choices or very picky clients who have no idea what they want. I do so much of the webdesign work, that logo work is just too time consuming and budget restrictive in these cases. I only use logo tournament and I insist my client offer a min $500 prize and they pay me to manage it so I can guide the designers. Lets be honest, if a client comes to me for many choices, they only get my style. With the contest, they see many different styles and quickly. There are some talented professional designers on logo tournament and I have always been impressed with the moderation and efficiency of the system. I get the spec issue but these designers don’t have to leave their homes, meet clients, have an office, go to meeting after meeting. They can sit at home and just make designs for a chance to make more than most people are willing to make these days, with much less effort. I find dealing with clients to be the most time consuming thing, and this system reduces the amount of time it usually takes. Sorry but gone are the days Graphic designers can make the money we used to make, because the internet just opened up too many options for clients, and we all had to find other ways to supplement our income or die. I had to learn web design, and that is my bread and butter. I can’t survive on graphic design work anymore. So either we go with it and find a way to make it work, or we complain about it and nothing will change. This is the way it is now, we have to contend with off shore work, and the need for quick and easy and people just don’t want to hear our rationalizations about why its wrong in an attempt to try and get back the good old days.

  59. khingkhing

    There is a lot comments and everyonr person agree with you. BULLSHIT!!!! I earn monthly 1.000 to 2.000 USD on 99designs and I made unique logos and have few hundreds satisfied clients…

    Designer is artister who made what client want, not an asshole who think his work worth millions…

  60. Antonietta

    Story one: A graphic designer is hired by this client to design his logo. The graphic designer designs several ideas. The client doesn’t like any of the designer’s ideas and asks for more option. Finally the client chooses one of the ideas and ask the designer to make some modifications. Then the final logo is created. The designer gets paid $500.

    Story 2: The same client creates a competition for the creation of his logo. Many designers: amateurs, beginners, and professionals participate. The client rates the logos he likes more. He then asks for some modifications. The contest ends and the client chooses a logo the winner gets paid $500.

    Question 1. What is the difference between designer in story #1 (normal freelance graphic designer-no competition) and story # 2?

    Question 2. Why through a competition will the client will not get a logo they need or serve well? At the end it was the same client. He chose the logo.

    I only see a problem on the rest of the designers in a competition. They work for nothing! but that is there problem. They decided to participate. They knew the risks.

    I am not saying I don’t agree with you David. I actually agree. I think all graphic designer should pursue to make a brand out of themselves through creating there own clientele or pursue to work with professional agencies. But if these pursues or dreams would come true on every designers then these contest sites wouldn’t exist. But unfortunately these dreams can be tough to accomplish for some designers. Sometimes they need a way to create a portfolio and make money if they are lucky. Pro bono projects are a great way to expand a portfolio but I think one must be somewhat financially stable to do this. Well, I guess through competition the same thing applies.

  61. I would propose that there are other differences. Working with a designer directly makes it easier to communicate what a client wants and needs. Most designers also include things with their logo design besides just formats and a “have a nice day”. I throw in letterhead and fax cover sheet; a social media graphic; and, logo guide as part of the initial agreed upon price. I also offer discounted design services for marketing materials such as business cards, brochures, etc. And, lastly, I include logo support free for six months. I have a realtor client right now who is taking advantage of that free logo support. She is changing the logo from her personal name to a group/team name. It is a simple enough change to make. I also update the freebies with the newly updated logo for her. She is an exception to the rule, but well worth it. Just knowing I offer such support services puts a potential client’s mind at ease. It also gets me a lot of referrals.

    I also educate everyone on how to avoid logo fraud. As in, how not to buy some other person’s or business’ logo. And I encourage them to do an image search of any logo ideas I present to them. But I think that knowing I’m always here for them is the biggest difference between me and an online contest.

  62. My logo originally cost me $24 (designed it myself then had a logo business fine touch it).

    7 years later in 2011 I finally got it animated.
    The animation for it cost me an additional $200.

    What do you think? Not bad for a Total of $224

    http://VictoriaTx.us/VTSMLogoBlack.gif

  63. buho

    It’s hideous. You asked for a cheap design and that is what you got. It doesn’t look professional at all.

  64. Oh Robin! Your logo looks like you made it. It doesn’t follow any design rules that I can see. Design rules are around for a reason. First off, I could not read your logo. I saw a rainbow and the state of Texas. But that is all I could make out. I have old eyes and don’t see as well as I used to. Lots of flash and color make it near impossible for me to discern any detail or words. Considering I am not the only one out there with that or a related problem like color blindness, etc., your logo just lost you a whole lot of business because of that alone. I presume your logo is never printed? I would think art/printing costs to reproduce such a logo would be very high unless your logo professional company helped you make a vector version somehow. I’d be curious to see it. Can your logo be shrunk down to a half inch and still be readable (not that it is now, unfortunately)? Or enlarged to the size of a building without losing detail? Can it be done in one color? I realize these are print issues, so if your logo is never printed they don’t necessarily apply… although, reducing the size of your logo for an icon to be used on a smart phone, for example, would still be a major problem for your logo. I realize you love your logo. It works for you. But does it work for your business? Does is work for your customers and potential customers? THOSE are the questions that are most important and need to be answered as completely as possible by the designer. A professional designer helps with those kinds of questions and makes logos that answer them. Think of the successful logos out there in the world and ask yourself what they have that yours does not. The point of a logo is three fold: it must work for your industry, it must work for your target audience, and it must reproduce consistently across many different platforms and media. Notice how whether the logo works for you is not in the top three.


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