The one where I said that if you value your time at £0, don’t be surprised when your clients do, too?

There was contention in the comment thread, where I was called a few things (brainless twit being my favourite) for not considering the grand prize of €10,000 plus flights, five nights’ accommodation in Shanghai, the opportunity to showcase work in the museum, and to participate in the residents’ program.

Well, like I mentioned, it may as well be $1M, because when all’s said and done…

1,400 pieces of design were entered.
Two finalists were each given approx. €1,000 (not the stated €10,000).
No-one was chosen as the winner.

Results page.

But it’s okay, because even though the museum owns full copyright to all 1,400 designs, and the entrants can’t use the work in their portfolios, the 10 designers chosen as finalists are going to get a VIP card for the museum.


So 1,390 designers did the work for nothing, 10 are the happy recipients of VIP passes, and 2 got a whopping €1,000 (I am assuming they are part of the 10 that got VIP passes)? Yeah, I bet every one of the 1,400 designers who thought it was a great opportunity are thinking otherwise now. The Museum was the definite winner here as now they own the copyright to 1,400 designs that the poor designers can not claim as their own. Sad.

You know, I don’t comment on this blog but he’s completely right. Thank you for saying this, I don’t even understand how it could be understood as the unpopular opinion!

So many designers are new to the business and naive and it bothers me that companies take advantage like that. And you can’t even use the piece for portfolio!

Not too surprising. Spec work and contests such as this devalue our profession. Hopefully some lessons were learned by the eager designers ready to give up their hard work for no payment.

Sad. Thanks for the follow-up.

So is that logo in the top left of the page the one they ended up with?

Why am I not surprised?

This is getting to be a common outcome to a lot of these high-profile design ‘contests’.

I have to wonder how and why this happens? Was it that the quality of the submitted work was not something worthy of an art museum and the curators couldn’t bear to have the work used or shown? Perhaps. That’s probably a lot of the reason why they opted to have everyone give up copyrights so no one can lay claim to the submitted work.

Hmmm. Could it be that you ‘get what you pay for’? We may never know. Certainly no one from the Himalayan Art Museum is going try and explain this design backfire.

Ha, Ha-Ha, Hahahahaha!

That’s my response to all the “contest” defenders from the original post. What say you now? ;)

Thanks for the follow up David, I think everyone benefits from learning how these things turn out.

I really think it’s just a matter of publicly shaming people who put up these “contests”. Maybe I’ll start submitting “logos” which really just insult and mock the “contest” holder.

Do people actually think it’s just “art” and therefore not work or service? Or do they just think they can be cheap and get away with it? I completely understand that budgets are tight these days but it’s becoming way too fashionable to do this.

We desperately need an organization to push back on this nonsense. Or does one exist?

An institution of art of all places. I mean, I expect this kind of thing from some corp big players or businesses who don’t know any better – but a museum? Ouch.

And the fact that the museum owns the rights to all artwork submissions… that’s just… bogus. Wonder how many of the designers read the fine print before entering… and are kicking themselves now.

“What say you now? ;)”

“Waaaah! Life’s not fair for designers, the most put-upon people who’ve ever walked the earth! Nobody grew from doing the work, people starved, exploitation ruined lives and the Himalayas Museum didn’t even award any monetary prizes! They’ll probably even go after designers who put their entries in their portfolio! Why is life so cruel to us?”

… is what I would say.

I just had a thought, I am wondering if design contests of this nature, as well as other instances of crowd-sourcing, in the U.S. need to follow the same laws as promotional contests.

Another question, which I am sure has been raised before, why do architectural firms seem to be OK with contests like this. Advertising is also spec driven, but that is only because the big money is (or was) in media buying.

Like Bruce Mau said: don’t enter contests. Just don’t they are bad for your health.
Now seriously a contest were you”offer” complete copyright?
Sorry but, they were asking for it. If we keep submitting work to these kind of contests, it will never stop, and we will never get the respect were are due.

I’d use my design in my portfolio anyway (if I had done one). They can stick their copyright up somewhere dark an damp. Industrial Resources are not covered by copyright as works of art in the UK anyway. :)

I truly can’t believe there was any contention in your original comments. What were those people thinking?

According to your link:

“The two contestants will be rewarded with a prize of CNY10,000. All finalists will be rewarded with a VIP card of the museum.”

Seems like they paid the first place prize money to both no? I agree that spec work is bad, but this article made it sound like they didn’t follow through on the terms of the contest, which it sounds like they did…

Of course, I could be wrong…


The site says that they were awarding CNY 10,000 to the two winners. The original prize was listed as 10,000 Euros. CNY to Euro conversion is 1 CNY to .11 Euros.

The ‘winners’ made roughly 1,100 Euros. Not quite the original agreement.

If they are allowed to break the prize agreement to screw the “winner” then the contestants should be able to break the copywright on their own work…

agree @Jon & @James. It’s shameful. And thanks for posting this update David Airey because when clients/friends ask me why I won’t enter design contests, this is a prime example. It’s plain unethical & wrong.

One of the saddest parts of all this is that (as it states on their website) one of the judges in particular should have known better: Alice Black (Deputy Director of Design Museum, London)

If you are asked to be part of something like this and it compromises your ethics and principles, you CAN say no.

Spec work and design competitions are a waste of time, unethical and wrong.

Ahhh… seriously. I agree with you’re initial time-worth comment…

Too many designers get sucked into situations like this.

Stay true to your worth… don’t let major organisations take you for a ride!!

I’m with those of the perspective that creative work is continually stuck in a battle for legitimacy in so many ways. I’m not going to spend all night trying to even just summarize why this is, but one aspect is indeed “contests”.

Or as this example clearly proves, design “contests” are just scams for suckers. The fools that entered this contest deserve to be taken advantage of because they compromised the integrity (and their own) of what is a way of life for some (including myself).

So I’m with David, and I commend him for pointing this sort of all too common degradation of an already poorly understood and clearly disrespected ability/talent/skill/profession.

Very typical indeed.

Something very similar happened to a design contest in the UAE. Actually, it was a design contest FOR the UAE branding. Something THAT official ended in such a disaster.
No winner was chosen.
No awards granted.
Only a reply to the over thousand who submitted was “Thank you for participating, the new brand of the UAE will be announced “inspired” by all your submissions”. The facebook page where everything was taking place was deleted as well.

NEVER participate in contests, no matter how great they sound.

“Once the design is accepted, all copyright, ownership, right of alternation, and right of use will belong to Himalayas Art Museum. The designer should not use it anywhere else, or in any other way.”

This is all I could find, was there somewhere else that they would own copyrights to ALL of the designs?

It is easy to pick on this kind of competition. I would prefer to highlight the shameful design media that asks designers to submit their work along with a hefty fee, for possible inclusion in poorly produced ‘annuals’ or some other parasitic publication. The Himalayas Art Musuem competition was more honest by contrast, in my opinion.

That’s nothing. I once worked for an ad agency that ran a competition for design students to create a masthead for a new national newspaper called Today, back in the 80s. The prize was a day out to London, a tour around the agency art department. and a pencil bearing the name of the newspaper. Thousands applied and, just like the above scam, all of the work became the agency’s property.

If anyone should be appreciating art and paying for it, it ought to be an art museum.

Respect for artist-related industries need to arise from the artists and art institutions themselves.

How can a heart-felt logo arise from a contest with no real client or its audience contact?

Every once in a while I’m tempted by such contests. Thanks for the reminder that it’s not worth my time.

Thanks for the follow-up post! The sad reality is that as long as there are hungry and desperate designers out there, there will be cheap and greedy organizations ready to take advantage. Maybe we can cut down on this by including it in the design curriculum and educating the masses?

I’m a junior in Graphic Design, and the GD student group encourages these types of contests, as do our advisors. I don’t know how our GD faculty professors feel about them, this is never addressed. It should definitely be a part of the curriculum.

I think one part of the issue is that a lot of us just have so much fun working on this type of stuff that we are excited to try and come up with a good solution! Also—as students, we are always designing for free. We are not used to being paid to design yet. All our class projects are (essentially) creating full design systems for clients—for FREE. I disagree with this, especially given some of the clients we design for, but at least we are allowed to use the work in our portfolios. Entirely frustrating though because they either A) choose the most heinous design that was done the night before, or B) say they love all our ideas and make their own using each of our best ideas. Gag. It’s definitely good experience designing for a client, but I don’t like the fact that these “clients” get 21 different fully fleshed out design systems that we each spent 4 weeks of our time on.

I agree that these contests are ridiculous. Design is not valued as other professions are, and this is really disappointing to know as I near graduation.

Seems awfully convenient that the judges couldn’t agree on one winner, it reduced there payout quite a bit. I bet even the guy at wouldn’t have bothered. What a bummer.

Hello everybody.

I´m one of those 10 finalist who will receive a VIP membership.
We are Elfrio creative Studio.

I can really agree with all of you about contests. Most of times it´s not worthly to take part on them, because you just know little about the “client” or what they want, but sometimes you have no more chances.

Perhaps you dont have many paid jobs (at least here in Spain things are getting really difficult) and you may think that it´s just better trying to apply for something like this than doing nothing.

I don´t know. Im the past we never went for prizes like these ones, but now It´s becoming and option, although I really agree with the opinion of this blog, for this or for whatever another contest.

Anyway I´m sure I´ll use it on my portfolio. It´s my right, that goes further for any another base or contest. ;)


Congrats, Elfrio.

I don’t begrudge anyone their right to dislike design contests or calls for submissions like this, but it’s way out of line for designers to judge others who want to put in the effort. Some people simply like doing it, and would gladly do it for free. Even good designers. It’s an unfortunate (I guess, for some) reality that designing things is fun for people – it’s the reason you’re all doing it, right? People – talented ones, even – will gladly do what you have chosen to do for free, in certain circumstances. This is a reality of your chosen profession. Complaining about it and calling out contest sponsors as immoral is, in my opinion, both wrong and a waste of your time.

If you want an independent job that has wage protection built in, become a plumber. Nobody does that for fun, and the spread of the internet and powerful software is not making it any easier for people to become interested in it. (And know that with so much design, via the internet, in people’s daily lives now, the design field is only going to become more crowded and the population that enjoys and indulges in these contests is only going to swell.)

If you remain a designer, a) live with your choices and b) improve and differentiate your work until you are absolutely, head and shoulders better than others. That’s really, in most lines of employment, the only way to “protect” your wage-earning ability.

As I said, feel free to keep disliking this stuff – it is your right – but it’s a misdirection of energy. I’m not arguing that contests produce amazing results (though I’d love to see Elfrio’s work, and bet it’s good) or that they are entirely above the board, across the board (but you should know that going in, – because it’s true of people, as well as businesses – and moreover, hopefully you’re are doing it primarily for the experience, so that end of it doesn’t matter). They don’t have to. They provide a chance for people to do what they want to do – create – and it’s nobody’s business how that happens.

LOL! Loved this, you could not have said it better and I bet everyone is regretting what they said to you. I remember reading about that contest when it was first posted, not something I was impressed with and the whole keeping my work deterred me instantly. I love that people were trying to justify giving their work away for a prize. Honestly I’d rather keep something I worked my ass off on than to hand it off to someone for nothing.

Amen to the comment above. If it weren’t for competitions allowing me to easily access a professional environment I would never have startered designing. You make the mistake of thinking it’s all about the money!

Wow ‘M.’!

You know, I’m sure you feel all high and mighty hiding behind that initial on here, but you are, without a doubt, one of the most thick headed individuals I’ve come across in a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, to learn you have a hand in running one of these dreaded “contest” sites yourself and are trying to justify your actions by making bogus claims.

If you’ve read any of the other comments left during the course of this project, it doesn’t show, because no one on here has ever discouraged designers from having “fun” or creating a design pro-bono to gain exposure and experience. It’s just about the way in which it’s done. You want to help a local business for free? Great! That’s your prerogative…if you do a good job you’ll have a client in your pocket and some good word of mouth. It’ll likely lead to future projects for you. If the client doesn’t like it, you’ll learn why and perhaps take away a valuable lesson that will help you grow as a designer. Plus you’re left with a portfolio piece if you choose to use it. This is in complete contrast to going the “contest” route, where odds are in your favor that you will be left with absolutely nothing.

What we have been trying to do on here (contrary to your belief) is to educate, and your word of the day is EXPLOITATION, look it up!

Hey Chris.

“You know, I’m sure you feel all high and mighty hiding behind that initial on here,”

> My name’s Mark, and the initial I’m “hiding behind” links directly to my website. Feel free to stalk me if you want to.

“but you are, without a doubt, one of the most thick headed individuals I’ve come across in a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, to learn you have a hand in running one of these dreaded “contest” sites yourself and are trying to justify your actions by making bogus claims.”

> Nope, I have nothing to do with any contests. I just really, really dislike this aspect of the design community and go out of my way to argue against it when I can.

“If you’ve read any of the other comments left during the course of this project, it doesn’t show, because no one on here has ever discouraged designers from having “fun” or creating a design pro-bono to gain exposure and experience.”

> I’ve (embarrassingly) read them all, in this thread and the prior one, because I get really fired up about this discussion. And no, nobody has discouraged fun in the form of pro-bono, because it’s a really good idea. It’s also not what we’re talking about. How a designer chooses to have fun is their own business, not yours – and if it’s in a contest, it’s their right to do it – and they can even have completely valid reasons for doing so.

“It’s just about the way in which it’s done.You want to help a local business for free? Great! That’s your prerogative…”

> First of all, you could argue that by entering a contest, you are helping a local business for free – but that’s not really my point, so I’ll let it go. But the “your prerogative” angle you bring up is crucial. You’re right; it’s entirely an individual’s prerogative as to how they conduct their own business.

“if you do a good job you’ll have a client in your pocket and some good word of mouth. It’ll likely lead to future projects for you. If the client doesn’t like it, you’ll learn why and perhaps take away a valuable lesson that will help you grow as a designer. Plus you’re left with a portfolio piece if you choose to use it.”

> All true, but again, we’re not discussing pro bono – it’s obviously a good, smart idea for those who want to do it. But designers who enter contests are smart enough to get something out of what they’re doing too. They’re not all stupid lemmings being led off a cliff, in need of wise old hands like yourself to show them the light. You are completely undervaluing the ability of your colleagues to make choices that benefit themselves. People have reasons for doing things that you may not understand, or want to hear. You do not know better than them.

“This is in complete contrast to going the “contest” route, where odds are in your favor that you will be left with absolutely nothing.”

> “What you’re left with” is completely subjective. So this statement could be true for you, and not for others. People can make this decision themselves. You seem to be placing a very high value on monetary compensation, though – and if that is your goal, then you are probably making the right choice, for yourself.

“What we have been trying to do on here (contrary to your belief) is to educate, and your word of the day is EXPLOITATION, look it up!”

> I understand what you’re trying to do, and I disagree with it. I’m not opposed to your opinion – contests may not be right for you. I’m opposed to you trotting out the banner of EXPLOITATION when it doesn’t apply. You degrade the definition of exploitation by associating it with this cause.

In short, you are making yourself a victim. You can’t be exploited by choice. If people choose to enter contests, they are controlling their own decision to provide labor. That is a choice they are making – they might alternatively choose pro-bono work (we agree, it’s a healthier route, but those are just our individual opinions), or making up projects to work on, or not designing at all. All valid choices. All personal choices. If people were being forced to design, then yes, I would consider them exploited, but they’re not.

I agree with you M. Any designer can do whatever they please. Even enter design competitions like this if they want to.

Trouble is, these competitions rarely, if ever produce good work. Often they don’t even produce a winner, as demonstrated here, which meant that the prizes promised weren’t given out. What is really troubling here is the copyright issue which means that you may not even be able to show your work even if you won.

So if a designer thinks a 1/1400 chance to win remuneration for the time spent designing a logo that they wont be able to put in their portfolio is a good way to spend the day, then they should definitely enter it.

Personally I’d prefer to help a local business, charity or campaign pro bono and win some goodwill instead.

The odds are better.

M…. M…!, While appreciate your good natured appeal regarding the rights of designers to do as they please. That’s not the important issue being discussed here. The designers that enter these contests of course have the right to do so, that’s not even being debated here at all. Sure some people (including myself in a hasty post earlier) are just lashing out in a bit of anger at the contest participants.

What’s really at issue is the far more important fact that the museum could have made a pretty sweet €10,000 design job available, but instead chose to have a contest! What a fun idea! And less work for them. The best work comes from clients and designers that put in the effort and time to really work together. Which is why contests rarely if ever produce what the client is really looking for.

I don’t know why you would say “Congrats to Elfrio”! The guy is struggling for work and was doing whatever he could to get some money in his pockets, he tries his luck with this museum contest along with 1,399 others and they all basically get screwed. I’d only say congrats to Elfrio if he submitted his portfolio of previous work to the museum and they picked him to work on creating a logo for them. Because that’s the ethical way for those in need of a designer to garner design work. Elfrio got NOTHING out of this gig, and he really could have used that money. But because these contests occur far to often Elfrio, myself and plenty of other hardworking, highly skilled designers are getting fewer paying gigs that we NEED man!

Pro-bono work. Yeah I do that too for the united way and friends of mine. But they understand the value of, and appreciate the work that I do.

The bottom line is that every contest means one less paying gig for designers that need that money to pay bills, school loans, car loans, buy food, pay their rent/mortgage etc. And that SUCKS. The benefits of contests simply do not outweigh the costs to designers and our industry as a whole. It devalues our work, and our wages. It leaves people with less respect for our skills and our work in some instances as well.

What KILLS me about this particular contest is the whole copyright crap. WTF is that all about?! Why? I’d ignore that completely folks. It’s your work, you have the original files, put that work on your website and be proud of it. If they come after you, ha. Good luck to them. They never even paid out their end of the deal so why should you!

I don’t mean to take any shots at you Mark, that’s not my intent. I just think that there are far better ways to add work to ones portfolio, and I don’t see any benefit to defending those opportunists out there that see little or no wrong in taking advantage of our industry that has been fighting for respect for about a century now. Out of all the options out there, contests are by far the worst.

I prefer to look at clients I’d love to have, I spend some time looking at their current body of advertisements (online and in print). Then I create as sweet a campaign as I can (a print ad, or a poster, transit board, web ad, or even a logo—depending upon where I’m feeling lucky/inspired the most) and try to contact their marketing department to get a hold of the highest decision maker that I can… chat it up a bit about my offer, get an email address and try my luck (fingers and toes friggin’ crossed!). The trick is to find those potential clients that could really use some better work, and there are plenty of them out their folks. So go get to work! Be resourceful, and try like hell not to settle! Especially not on contests… YUCK!

Contests devalue the designer:
They entice designers to work for free with the hope of being paid. I don’t show up for my 9-5 and hope maybe, possibly, I have a slight chance of being paid at the end of my shift. No other job works like this and is illegal. As a designer (read, skilled laborer), I have a right to be paid for the work I do, even if I am doing it from home and you don’t like the result.

Contests negatively affect the dynamics of the designer-client relationship. They elevate the client’s position. Instead of working together to create something that visually represents the services the client offers, contests put all the power in the hands of the client. Usually this situation leads to the client having a very specific idea that doesn’t need a designer’s input, the client simply needs a body to execute their idea. And as we’ve seen, they end up with no design and a bunch of unpaid designers at the end of the contest because (in the client’s opinion) nobody executed the idea they described in the brief.

It devalues the design:
Often times, contests have short time frames and no feedback loops. The resulting design is often shallow because the communication is shallow. There is no collaboration and (usually) a oneway communication from the client to the designer(s). We designers don’t/can’t design in a vacuum. Feedback and input from the client is helpful for both parties involved.

Our job as designers is to communicate. How can we successfully communicate visually with the target market, if we don’t have open lines of communication with the client?

This lack of communication and lack of feedback circles violates the creative process and therefore produces substandard work.

Design is a holistic approach, but design contests break it down into a single element, with no cohesion or market plan.

And M, calling this exploitation -is- applicable. 1400 designers submitted work. Not one piece was chosen as the finalist, even though the entry said one would be chosen. I don’t see anywhere on the entry saying anything about the possibility of them -not- choosing a finalist from this contest. Only 2 people were paid a fair wage, while 1398 were unpaid laborers who spent real time on real work for a organization that plans to make a yearly profit. And on top of that, all 1400 designers forfeited the copyrights to their work. If you don’t see that as exploitation, I don’t know what is.

Wow. The client gets 1400 logos for €1.43 each. Bargain, and they own all the copyright and the designers cannot even say that it is their work.

Good to see you revealing this for what it is David… and having an outcome that shows it to be what it is.

I love that you post these stories and fight this fight. We all need to make sure every designer knows that spec work ruins the whole industry.

You guys have written some great novels in your comment boxes.
My comment is simply a statement to David: YOU told US so.
Lovin’ the rant we have going in here. A great blogger once said:
“good logos have a polar response. If everyone likes them, they are just average.” (or something like that.) I guess the same goes for blog posts. Controversy is always good. Or at least interesting…

Sad. I have no words to describe such a thing. You are completely right, as you said once (I don’t know where I read it maybe it was in your book), never enter these design contests. They get lots of things for free and your work is subestimated.

Actually David, you were not alone in the ‘brainless twit’ category. It was plural, meaning all of us who are against spec work are brainless twits. So don’t take full credit of that wonderful adjective… and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

@ Elfrio – Be careful when using the logo in your portfolio. It may be your right, but it’s still illegal. Hopefully at least you followed these suggestions:

@ Anthony Lane – Well if one man’s €1,000 is another man’s €10,000 and those who ‘won’ are among those men, they just lost €90,000…

Yes, what a gag. But you were right all along! Imagine my dismay when, as a newbie designer, I entered contests posted on Craigslist! Let’s just say I didn’t win any of them – and goodness knows whether they used my designs or not!

Ever wonder what the next step in graphic spec scamming will be?

Do you remember the first time you heard the one where a new illustration or photography grad is offered ‘free publicity’ in exchange for creating original art for some writer’s ‘sure sell’ story idea? I doubt if there’s any game older in publishing.

The difference with this kind of exploitation is the scale and speed and ease in which it can be accomplished on-line.

Next? Start grafting this ancient con trick onto the exploding world of e-book publishing and stand back.

And why stop at illustration? Will design and layout be far behind?

The Net’s impact on the health of developing graphic careers with spec-ploitation reminds me of deep ocean trawler fishing techniques. A complete disregard to the species dragged up, devastating to the whole environment, and death to the natural fish stock life cycles.

The metaphor goes only so far though. The ‘junk’ fish caught in these contest trawls rarely quit living, in fact, they just seem to always come back for more.

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