Logo design contests are bad for business

Let’s say you’ve been tasked with hiring a design studio. Your company’s visual identity needs revamped, but it’s nearing the end of the financial year so the budget is already stretched.

In the boardroom you pitch the idea of holding a design contest where you receive a ton of variations, and only pay for one. Great idea, yes?

Well, no.

Podcast Guild logoPodcast Guild logo design contest entry

The client-designer relationship

When designers and clients work together they build a relationship. It begins from those first impressions, and often continues for quite a few years.

As the client, rest assured that your designer values your business. He or she isn’t providing you with design based purely on aesthetics, or one that took half an hour to create. The designer looks deep into your business plan, your company mission, your background, your way of dealing with people, and many other aspects about your brand.

This allows your designer to offer a timeless identity that doesn’t need redesigned as soon as the latest trend has passed. Logo trends come and go, and should only be used to stay aware of what’s out there — not as a rule that needs followed.

Logo design contest entries

From a client viewpoint, this is what would concern me about contest submissions:

  1. How many questions were asked of the me?
  2. How much research was conducted into my business?
  3. Was any brainstorming or sketching carried out?
  4. How much time was spent on the project?

My educated guesses for the average logo entry are as follows:

  1. Questions? None.
  2. Research conducted? Little to none.
  3. Brainstorming or sketching? Little to none.
  4. Total time spent? 30 minutes.

A couple of contests took place recently, one for Wisdump and one for Smashing Magazine. The standard of entry backs-up my sentiments.

These contests can lead to some very underhanded tactics, too. Mitch at Harpzon (link removed: site no longer exists), for example, paid to have a logo contest listed on Site Point for his Conquer Fear of Flying website (link removed: domain name appears to have changed hands). Before the contest had even started he knew he wouldn’t like any of the entries. He simply used the contest as a way to have a customised link to his new venture from the Site Point website. Terrible.

Back to the original scenario. When planning for that meeting, ask your colleagues just how much value they place on brand identity. If it’s any at all, you’ll steer well clear of contests.

Other posts on the pitfalls of spec work

88 responses

  1. You’ve raised some good points here David. While I don’t mind startups/individuals using logo contests as a way of getting an affordable, short term (read: disposable) logo, anyone serious really should bring in a dedicated designer or firm to get a truly suitable logo.

    Logos have always been one of the most important assets a business has. A bluechip company probably won’t be happy having an ident that looks more suited to Mamma Joe’s Muffins.

    Must say thats a clever move by Mitch, though.

  2. I think it boils down to what has been said before – you get what you pay for. Its effectively the same as a free pitch with several thousand other people pitching, and I certainly wouldn’t pitch based on those odds. However I can see why both entrant (some are probably kids) and company do it – publicity and PR, rather than logo design and SEO as you point out.

  3. Wisdump was actually around 7500 readers when it was initially purchased and up to 7800 when I wrote an article for them. Lee, the first new owner, didn’t like any of the logos and actually entered one him self, which turned out his 5 minute effort was the best of all those. It dropped to around 3500 and it was then sold the the new new owner, SplashPress :P

    I don’t mind the Smashing Magazine logo. Nothing special, but it’s alright.

  4. Damien, I agree, it depends on how serious you are about your business.

    Connor, I wasn’t aware of that about Wisdump. That’s a hefty decline in readership, but perhaps expected with the changes. I’m interested to know what you think is effective about the new Smashing Magazine logo.

    Tara, you’re right. You get what you pay for, unless you’re exceptionally lucky. The publicity/PR side of things is a good point, too. Ultimately, it comes down to how serious you are about getting a design that works for many years.

  5. I think that Mitch chap is a bit of an ass doing what he did. Despite what everyone thinks of competitions, people are still putting their own time into their entries – someone should win it and win the money.

    Some good points though David. Professional designers are never going to have anything to do with competitions so for that reason the quality is always going to be questionable. If the client is happy with that though, then I think they’re a good thing. A good way for young (teenagers) designers to practice their trade with live briefs.

  6. David, I don’t really think the SM logo is effective per se, but it acts as a shiny placeholder for a site that serves up constant link bait.

    An “S” in a rotated square can’t really be effective at all, anyways :P

  7. Interesting post David.

    I’ve entered several logo contests in the open-source free-software space. None were really corporate entities (just community websites, software packages, podcasts etc..). And while I agree with most of what you say from the client and professional designer point of view, it does strike discordant with me in some respects.

    First, the fact that the quality of a logo design (and any kind of graphic design for that matter) is significantly – not wholly – subjective feels like it’s been largely dismissed in this discussion. For instance, I think that the winning SmashingMagazine logo is okay. It doesn’t affect me emotionally or anything, but then again neither do the FedEx, Coke or Nike logos.

    Design inspiration and skill might not be solely the province of professional designers. And the converse is true as well – I mean just think of that Olympic logo.

    Second, I mostly agree with you on your 4 questions. In the contests I’ve participated in there have sometimes been pretty good specification of what ideas are supposed to drive the logo design. Other times there has been none. And for most of the contests I’ve been involved in, there has been open discussion along the way (critiques, idea sharing etc.). You already know I’m big on pencil and paper. But that’s just part of what I enjoy doing.

    Third, I don’t know Mitch from Adam, but running a logo design contest with the intent of ignoring the entries and using it for some other purpose simply makes his ethics appear dubious – nothing more. Good use of SEO? Effective maybe, good? No.

    Finally, the question of whether amateurs should be doing the work of professionals is popping up in more and more places, especially on the web. As the tools become available, the entry gates become lower and lower and suddenly the place is flooded with amateurs. But is that a bad thing? It’s not such a cut and dried answer in my mind.

    Things simply evolve: Receptionists pushed out by voicemail systems, secretaries replaced by email, office suites, personal computers and the ability to type. Heck, even professional columnists getting replaced by bloggers. Did many of them like it? Likely not. Should it happen? Dunno.

    Now I’m not saying that a hack like me sitting in his bedroom with a copy of Inkscape will suddenly pull the rug out on a professional designer (now *there’s* something funny!), but to be honest, if you were a business owner and found out you could get an amateur designer to do a perfectly good logo design for you, would you necessarily dismiss it immediately?

    As the entry bar drops, the talent pool get’s larger and there will undoubtedly be a few gems among that sea of mediocrity. I’ve seen it in web design, I’ve seen it in Photography, I’ve seen it in some forms of journalism, who’s to say it won’t be seen in logo design?

    The problem with ‘amateurs’ is that by definition they are doing something because they love doing it. Not necessarily for the money but because they enjoy it. These are the people who are willing to spend the time in learning, developing and improving with little concern for the extra time spent or lack of money earned. How these kind of people fit into traditional markets is a very contentious issue, and I haven’t really landed myself on either side of the argument yet.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment David, but that’s the mark of a great blog post isn’t it? :)

    Cheers and keep up the great work.

  8. Did you see that logo design contest posted in the graphic design group we’re in where the winner gets $100? What a joke. Design is just like everything else, you get what you paid for.

  9. Aaron, there are a few unhappy customers leaving comments on Mitch’s blog. One in particular from someone who designed a logo for his contest, only to find the $100 prize was never going to be given out. Poor form.

    Connor, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the winner.

    Richard, no need to apologise at all. I can understand how you don’t agree when you look at it from a non-corporate viewpoint. This scenario is corporate. Design is subjective, but it still needs to follow some basic principles to be effective.

    The barriers to entry into design are becoming lower, no doubt, but if you market yourself well and build lasting relationships there’s more than enough work. People expect to pay for quality too, so pricing shouldn’t be affected.

  10. I couldn’t agree more with you here David. I think logo design contests are atrocious and young designers can be easily swept up in the thrill of the lottery of it all.

    Perhaps I will win and land a HUGE deal!

    Maybe it’s not a bad place to test your skills, but you could just as easily post your work on a design forum for that. At the end of the day its usually just a marketing ploy for a company to gain some publicity and cheaper services.

  11. You are right… Those contests always produce some pretty low quality work. I mean, I am an amateur when it comes to graphics, so I cannot say that my work is any better, but you, David, are a pro. The entries for these contests must be moderately insulting…

  12. On the whole, I agreed with Tara that you get what you paid for. But the real world sometimes threw up a few surprises. Example 1, The first Nike logo was designed by Carolyn Davidson in 1971 for just US$35. Example 2, the controversial London Olympic Logo is a whopping US$700,000. Nike’s swoosh logo is now seen as a classic so cheap doesn’t equate lousy, yet the reverse is true for the London Olympic Logo.

    Anyway, knew a friend’s client organised a logo design contest. I would say the winner’s submission was pretty interesting but my friend got to do some tweaking before it can be used in production. Basically, I’m neutral on logo contest. It depends on who’s organisng and how it is organised.

    Interesting post with interesting questions and conversation. :)

  13. Logo contests are silly.
    Anyone doing a design for $300 or less isn’t expected to do the same amount of work a professional logo designer would anyway.

    But, I think you should either sponsor a contest or not sponsor a contest. Don’t post a contest for SEO reasons, that’s rude and in my opinion unethical.

    — Scot

  14. Hi
    I have been reading your blog for the past couple of months. Couldn’t resist responding to this issue. As a member of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) we have a clear stand on what we call spec work or entering design contests – do it and loose your membership in the organization.
    GDC Code of Ethics
    COMPETITIONS AND FEES (taken from Code of Ethics page 5 – http://www.gdc.net)
    “40) A Member shall not undertake any speculative project or schematic proposals for a project either alone or in competition with others for which compensation will only be received if a design is accepted or used.”
    As professional designers we are in part responsible for spec work and contest of this type carring on.
    If we are to consider ourselfs professionals I would challenge you to see if this type of practice has infected other professions such as; lawyers, doctors, architects, accountants, electricians, etc.
    If you’re a professional think about what you could be doing to our profession by entering design contests. If you, as a amature designer or otherwise enter this type of contest remember that to be a professional is more than providing professional design services. As a professional you have responsibilities beyond what services you provide.

  15. Zach, as an amateur designer you could post work to forums such as HOW, receiving feedback and honing skills. The chances of any feedback through a contest site are slim.

    J David, the entries aren’t insulting because I don’t put value on the contest. If people choose to spend time bidding against huge odds in the hope of a little payout it’s up to them.

    Vivienne, the money spent on 2012 won’t just be for the logo, but for guidelines, collateral, applications, etc. You know my feelings. If you were to spend $35 on a logo today, you’d need to be incredibly lucky to get a good result. Spec work is bad for many reasons, and I’m all for NO!SPEC.

    Scot, we’re of the same opinion on contests for SEO reasons.

    Doug, thanks for your thoughts, too. Interesting to read the GDC code of ethics.

  16. Hi John, I don’t actively abide by any third party rules either.

    The spelling is pretty shocking in the GDC code. Not great for promotion in an profession where attention to detail is paramount.

    Everyone has a right to decide how they go about their own design needs. No question. Here I thought I’d give my take, and advise against contests for business.

  17. @Edgydoug,

    Interesting! I’ve been a professional engineer (structural) in Ontario Canada for the past 8 years. And while we don’t have anything in our Code of Ethics with regard to contests, there is a statement that might be somewhat relevant to this discussion:

    ” A practitioner shall, …uphold the principle of adequate compensation for engineering work … ”

    And while I (and my employer) abide by this, it has never sat completely right with me. The gist of it is to ensure that I compete fairly with my fellow engineers for the work that is out there – this is a good thing. But it also prohibits me from doing any favours or helping out someone (with consultation etc..) without charging them for it. In many cases I think this is unreasonable and smacks of unionism, something I find distasteful anyway. The idea of not freely sharing knowledge and advice in *some* cases, just rubs me the wrong way. I’m big on sharing knowledge not hoarding it.

    We compete on a proposal basis just like in the graphic design field, but I guess that’s not really a contest per se.

  18. @David,

    I just downloaded the GDC code of ethics (the pdf file) and am puzzled as to where the ‘shocking’ spelling mistakes are. Not that I am disagreeing, I just don’t see them.

  19. I can see what groups like the GCD and NO!SPEC are trying to achieve, but many aspiring designers and/or those fresh out of college will use spec’ work as a way to get started. And, although I respect what these groups are doing, I would never join them: as a freelance designer, I don’t need some third party defining some arbitrary “rules of engagement”. I also have nothing against logo competitions and the like. If that’s how a company wishes to get a new logo (whatever the perceived quality), then it’s their right to choose that Modus Operandi.

    By the way, does anyone know who is behind NO!SPEC? I couldn’t find any contact details.

    Good topic for a post, David.

  20. Richard, there are a couple of errors I can see in that section:

    a amature

    “Shocking” is an overstatement, sorry for that.

    Ryan, good read, looking at both sides. I’ve left a comment.

  21. John,

    Just noticed your edit — I wasn’t ignoring you. It’s not easy to find background info through the NO!SPEC site, I agree. Cat Wentworth has a lot to do with it, and here’s some info from her MyBlogLog profile:

    NO!SPEC was created by: Alina Hagen, Bill Schuhle, Brian Rollins, Calvin Lee, Catherine Wentworth, Chris Tomlinson, Dagmar Jeffrey, Dana Chrysler, Danita Reynolds, Dawn Burgess, Elisabetta Bruno, Erin Harris, Jeanette Wickham, Jeff Fisher, Mark Astrella, Michael Miller, Neil Tortorella, Piers Le Sueur, Rob Gough and Robert Wurth.

  22. Logo contests will not produce timeless logos as you have clearly stated from a product that have likely taken the designer less than 30 minutes of their time.

    What clients do not understand is that the design process involves learning about the client’s business. In addition, the clients need to indicate to designers the requirements of being able to print nicely in black and white, and that the produced identity logo represents the company on first impression instead of simply looking like that of their competitors’ web 2.0 logos.

    Working with individual designers allow the clients several revisions, where as in logo contests the designers will feel fed up with free requests for revisions and do not necessarily deliver the best designs to the client.

  23. I am amazed at how important that interaction is. Everything you said makes perfect sense. I see how organic the experience has to be in order to make it right and a good fit for the company and the designer.

  24. During my university days two companies used our student services for a contest which could be another good idea to get different ideas.

    But like you say, you do get what you pay for.

  25. Interesting post David. I used to enter all kinds of logo design contests over at SitePoint when I was trying to improve my Illustrator skills. I even won a few. However, I don’t enter them anymore. For starters, most of the contests at SitePoint are bogus in that people either are doing exactly what Mitch did, or are simply looking for inspiration so they can steal designs and create their own with no intention of paying. People not paying is mostly what turned me away from them, plus it just takes up to much time for only 50 or 100 bucks when I could be improving a site which will make more money down the road.

    I agree with what you’ve posted though. The relationship between the designer and client is important, and once that builds a better end result will usually happen. Although you never came out and said it, you hinted that you wont get very high quality in the logo contests. As a rule of thumb, this is true as most of the designs look like they were done in MS Paint with zero thought put into the design. I don’t know how much time you’ve spent around the SitePoint contests, but take a look around for a while, there actually is what I would consider some very high quality work…better than I can do. Maybe they’re not more creative than me, but maybe just know more tricks in Illustrator?

    It’s generally thought that you’re not a “professional” if you enter such contests, but I beg to differ. I don’t see any reason at all why you can’t be considered a “professional” for entering? True, you more than likely will not have the client-designer relationship, but that doesn’t make you any less professional in the work you do. I just think a few bad apples (the design you see that look like MS paint) ruin the bunch. Just like in web design when you hear someone saying that they have a friend of a friend that has a son that can produce a website for around 50 bucks…it’s enough to make me cringe. Everyone seems to be a designer these days and it’s those majority that ruin it for the minority that actually produce a good product, whether that product came from a forum contest or not.

    *sorry for the long post* :)

  26. I think big companies who will be running a logo competition is cheap… they should have a budget to hire someone like you to create a professional logo design… On the other hand, I think its also a marketing campaign strategy for some companies.

  27. Wow! my first time posting on your blog seems to have stirred the design pot a bit. Good to see such a passion response to a very important subject. My initial post re: GDCs Code of Ethics – professional or not, for entering a design contest or doing spec work.
    My intent was not to imply a person, in this case a graphic designer is not a professional for entering a contest or for doing spec work. It was intended to state that as a profession we must uphold a set of standards for what we do, and to do work for free for a person, corporation, or other that can afford to pay for our service implies that we hold value to what we do. This does not preclude us from doing design work for no charge to groups such as nonprofits.
    Anyone out there have a lawyer do spec work for them?

  28. Deron, no need to apologise. It’s good to read other people’s take on my posts.

    I’m not saying you won’t find talent in contests, but one thing I’ve come to find when presenting ideas to a client is to never show a design you’re unhappy with. Inevitably that’s the one that’ll be chosen. So if you have a large number of poor designs amongst a few good ones, like in a contest, the chances of the client making the best decision is hugely reduced.

    Melo, thanks again for the link.

    Doug, what’s your take on John’s lawyer link, where they do spec work?

    I think in the case of lawyers, they’re very unlikely to take on a case if they think they won’t win. Whereas with designers, their win/loss fate rests entirely in the subjective eyes of the client.

    There’s still that element of risk, just not on the same scale.

  29. That’s a good point David and one that I’ve see quit a bit but didn’t really hit me until you brought it up. I know in the contests that I’ve entered in, sometimes when the winner is announced, I’m thinking “really…you just chose that design?” because in my eyes it’s not good. This very well could be that the winning design was not good.

  30. Excellent post. I’ve seen a couple of logo contests that have produced some excellent results but only a couple. Mostly I think they are a bad idea because most submissions are half heartedly done and in the end someone’s feelings are bound to get hurt.

  31. John thanks for the link to the law society doing “spec work” – interesting. I guess you could argue it’s similar at some level. Maybe the GDC and other professional associations may look on spec work and competitions for graphic designers a bit differently if there were only two firms or individuals competing, as is generally what happens in court cases.
    I’m having a tough enough time promoting the case for no spec work of design competitions, I better stay away from commenting on other professions.


  32. As you rightly pointed out, most companies are doing this to get some free publicity that would have otherwise cost them a few thousand dollars. Once in a while a great logo design does come in and that’s a plus.

  33. What you say is probably true, but it applies only to corporate logo contests.

    It does not apply, however, to our competition. At all. The standard of our entries has been very high. And we got almost 40 percent of submissions on the last day of the competition, which implies that the graphic artists spent a long time on their work.

    The crucial difference is that in our case, the vast majority of participants identified very strongly with the cause the logo represents, and that is hardly ever true in a corporate contest.

    Jason Gonzales

    P.S. Note that the word “Pinoy” should be capitalized, as it describes a nation or nationality (it means the same as “Filipino”).

  34. James, glad you liked the post.

    Jason, yes, the focus is on corporate contests so please accept my apologies if I caused offence. I’ve updated the text.

  35. I’ve always liked the way the worth1000 corporate logo contests have worked, they disqualify the really low quality ones, provide plenty of information about the company for the designers, and have other members vote for there favorite to help you choose if you can’t find a favorite yourself.

  36. In regards to contacting NO!SPEC …

    On the homepage it says ‘Contact us with your thoughts, comments, articles and insights’ with a email link on ‘contact us’

    And as for those behind NO!SPEC …


    But I can see where we should have a more visible ‘contact us’ link on each page (thanks for the heads up) so I’ll adjust it as soon as the programmer wakes up.

  37. Being new to the field myself (1 1/2 yrs – no schooling oher than lots of art classes) I have always thought hard about this topic. I respect the professional designers out there who are well schooled and can only aspire to offer a range of services like theirs. However I know my limitations and am honest enough to abide by them and I am upfront with clients. If I can only do a quality logo and some stationery and maybe some Flash then I have started the company off on a good foot and pass the torch onto a schooled professional design business. That is no way diminishes my skills or professionalism.

    ‘Professional’ to me means the joining of schooling and skill…which is what the overall dictionary explanation implies. If I don’t have the overall schooling to achieve status then I can at least provide a niche skill for a more reasonable cost and then let the people who have schooling do their thing.

    People who disrespect currently poor designers who have some potential at times smack of elitism. I have seen other ‘professional’ designs (meaninge people with schooling) that lack vision and real creativity. That being said, many people who buy Photoshop and churn out logos don’t deserve the show time.

    Those of you who are schooled professionals started out offering a range of designs – from great to junk. You just had the privilege to do it in private (and might I say for 3 years or so).

    In a nutshell, I’m all for contests for people who are truly serious about developing their skills to achieve a respectable level of professionlism within their limited scope.

    As for guilds, they are unions of a different sort and unions have there benefits and drawbacks.

    That’s my piece – and I have a question. Do design firms need to be members of the regional guild or do all graphic designers in a company need the status?

  38. Hi Intrepidguppy
    You bring up some very interesting and good points on what it is to be professional. In addition to what you touched on I think we should add, acting and operating your business as a professional is as equally important. What a guild or association provides is a set of guidelines, values and standards to help in presenting ourselves as professionals.
    You asked: Do design firms need to be members of the regional guild or do all graphic designers in a company need the status? In Canada, certainly not.
    For those of you who believe design contests are good for the industry the next time you’re hired to design a logo suggest to your potiential cleint that they run a design contest instead. Maybe you’ll win.

  39. Hi Intrepid,

    Thanks for your comments. I too, am all for people developing their skills. One issue with many of the contests I see is that there’s no critique whatsoever, so who’s to say if by entering you’ve developed?

    By all means, flex those Illustrator muscles and use Adobe’s tutorials, but few contests will give any feedback on your submission at all. So before entering, you really have to ask yourself if it’s worth the time.


    Thanks for offering your thoughts on Intrepid’s comments.

  40. What if the cash prize was on par with what it would cost to have a single designer create a logo, would that change your opinion on crowdsourcing? Or are you saying that only logo design contests with low cash prizes are bad for business (because I agree)?

    I don’t have a problem with crowdsourcing, as I’ve ran a group design contest before. The motive for the contest wasn’t the design though, it was marketing first and foremost. You run a contest with a high cash prize, you draw in lots of visitors, and the designers working on your contest see your name over and over again while they work on it.

    What if I were to run a $3500 logo design contest, would you object, or would you enter? Do you think the quality of work would be sub-par, as it is on low cash prize contests, or do you think the better designers would come out of the woodwork?

  41. Hi Kyle,

    Sorry for the late response, been hectic of late. The problem with having a cash prize on par with what a standard logo design costs, is that only one person wins. That’s stating the obvious, of course, but it’s why I don’t enter contests.

    There are certain things you can do to increase the entries, such as offering every entrant some publicity for instance, or by offering a constructive critique of why a design wasn’t chosen. For the most part, contests are a waste of time because the designer receives no feedback. It’s why aspiring designers are much better taking on some pro-bono work for a local charity than entering contests.

    If you ran a large contest, with that cash prize, I think you’d attract more talented designers. Mainly because I know a lot of people respect you and your knowledge.

  42. “What if I were to run a $3500 logo design contest, would you object, or would you enter? Do you think the quality of work would be sub-par, as it is on low cash prize contests, or do you think the better designers would come out of the woodwork?”

    “You run a contest with a high cash prize, you draw in lots of visitors, and the designers working on your contest see your name over and over again while they work on it.”

    Kyle, something you might want to think about before running a logo contest aimed at designers – some designers feel logo contests demean the industry so you’ll also get negative publicity. It’s not all designers of course, so you will get takers. Especially from Sitepoint ;-)

    But, there are ways to have a high profile, positive design contest. Just take the spec aspects out of the equation.

    Backing up … Designers complain that contests create throwaway designs (designing on the speculation that they’ll get an even return). That design contests where new work is created are empty because they produce one sided design. That without the back and forth, the lack of communication with the client results in mere pretty pictures.

    Also, putting contest work in a portfolio doesn’t show how the designer solved that particular design problem. A potential employer will ask how they arrived at that particular design. And if they don’t, volunteering the information at an interview or on a website goes a long way. But only IF they went through the design process. A process that includes communication.

    That’s right. Putting together a design is only a fraction of what designers are been trained to do. Designers are communicators. They communicate with clients in order to communicate to the target market. Communication doesn’t normally happen in a design contest.

    Suggestion – Put together a detailed design brief. Announce a call for portfolios. Lots of fanfare. Lots of publicity.

    Best choice: Pick one designer. The designer contacts you with questions. Sketches are made public, with comments from you. Three rounds of changes, public if you like, and you have a logo. A logo tailor made for your company.

    I had a ‘next choice’ but as I didn’t want to put my name to it, deleted the items.

    Basically, all designers participating with new work are compensated in monetary value. All designers receive client feedback. All designers receive publicity. All designers participating have a rounded design (instead of a pretty picture) for their portfolio.

    Anyway, it’s just a suggestion nudged to life by David’s suggestion.

  43. >> The problem with having a cash prize on par with what a standard logo design costs, is that only one person wins. That’s stating the obvious, of course, but it’s why I don’t enter contests.

    That’s the beauty of it, if you don’t want to enter, you don’t have to. I was actually surprised I left a comment here, I could have sworn I edited it a bunch of times but never submitted it. What I was going to say though (and you hit on one aspect of it), was:

    What if I ran a contest for $10,000. Just for a logo. Only one winner of course, no second and third place prize, and the winning designer received recognition. Now, assuming it was a somewhat known company doing the contest, who understood (and trust me, I totally understand the dislike for crowdsourcing, I get that) how to run it properly, would you not even enter a single entry? I mean, it’s hard to pass up a $10k cash prize and recognition, especially when both the company holding the contest and the winner are going to get a bunch of eyes from a contest of that size.

    >> There are certain things you can do to increase the entries, such as offering every entrant some publicity for instance, or by offering a constructive critique of why a design wasn’t chosen.

    The last contest I ran, which was purely for getting eyes, I knew the quality of work was going to be sub-par and I would not use any entries (even though the cash prize was good for a single banner ad), but I make a point of giving constructive criticism. It does get hard, however, after reviewing 100+ entries.

    >> If you ran a large contest, with that cash prize, I think you’d attract more talented designers. Mainly because I know a lot of people respect you and your knowledge.

    That’s why when the government held a contest back in the 60s or 70s for a new military plane, companies like Boeing and Lockheed entered (Boeing won). It’s good business for the governement, in that they get a superior product, and Boeing wins a contract and recognizition (plus an “on par” prize).

    When done right, is basically what I’m saying, contests can be a good thing, but, for the most part (and I agree with many of your points), they are a bad idea, and extremely bad for businesses (I mean, paying $50-150 for a logo just isn’t a good idea).

    To me, it’s more about marketing than anything else, but if the prize is right, you can certainly attact a high caliber of designers willing to give a stab at it. I would go as far as to say that I would not even expect a final logo, but would simply be looking to see what designer captured the general idea that my company was going for. More like “bidding for a contract.”

    >>>> Catherine:

    >> Kyle, something you might want to think about before running a logo contest aimed at designers – some designers feel logo contests demean the industry so you’ll also get negative publicity. It’s not all designers of course, so you will get takers. Especially from Sitepoint

    Oh, I would never run a logo design contest, I would (and will) hire someone (been in business a little over a year, and are already saving up for a logo design).

    If I had the funds though, I would most certainly run a $10k logo design contest. The amount of attention that would bring would easily pay off, especially when I’m used to paying $1k+/month for advertising that certainly isn’t worth its weight (not like it should at least, don’t get me wrong, it pays off).

    Not every site I run though requires a branding solution, the web is a night-and-day medium compared to the print/television world, and content is most certainly king here, good logo or not.

  44. Thanks David. I would have continued on but I’m not sure if Kyle would never run a logo design contest, or would certainly run a logo design contest (it’s been one of those days ;-)

  45. Hi Maryann

    Sorry I am not familiar Marketing Magazine Canada stance or reason. I do know there is significant support and a movement for not doing spec work.
    The following organisations have shown their support and can be found listed on the NoSpec website (www.nospec.com)
    re: Code of Ethics: working on spec, design competitions, free pitching.
    Australian Graphic Design Association – Australia
    American Institute of Graphic Design- United States
    American Institute of Graphic Arts – United States
    Chartered Society of Graphic Designers – United Kingdom
    Association of Professional Design Firms
    British Design Innovation – United Kingdom
    Corporate Society of Designers – United Kingdom
    Design Business Association – United Kingdom
    Design Council – United Kingdom
    Design Institute of Australia – Australia
    Design Institute of New Zealand – New Zealand
    Design Management Institute – United States and International
    Design South Africa – South Africa
    Graphic Arts Guild – United States
    The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada – Canada
    Hong Kong Designers Assoc. – Hong Kong
    International Council of Graphic Design Associations – international
    International Council of Societies of Industrial Design – international
    Institute of Designers in Ireland – Ireland
    The Voice of British Advertisers – United Kingdom
    Assoc. of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario – Canada
    Society of Environmental Graphic Design – United States
    Society of News Design – United States

  46. Maryann
    Sorry I should have posted this prior to my previous submit.
    Thank you for the information about Marketing Magazine Canada’s stance. I do intend on contacting them. I am very interested in hearing what they have to say.
    Again, thanks for responding.

  47. I’m with you Doug!
    Like I said, I’m in the US and I contacted them. They are in no means a REAL marketing magazine in my opinion if they are holding a contest like this.
    I dropped them a line and haven’t heard back, but I’m curious to see what the response will be.

  48. I found this blog via a Google search for discussions on SitePoint contests. My motivation for this search is to document designer’s opinions of entering contests with no monetary compensation whatsoever… the kind of contests that SitePoint offers.

    I have been watching the SitePoint contests closely for about 3 months. The contests are a smart marketing tool for SitePoint. It also is a trove of individuals, smart buyers and agencies – stealing designs as a ‘contest holder’. Unfortunately, it is also a poor education for new designers (and even professionals) on the creation of logos and the communication involved in the development process.

    SitePoint claims they are merely a ‘facilitator’ of bringing designers and potential clients together (via their contests). However, (the) SitePoint (website/company) are also ‘enablers’ (on a very large scale) of intellectual and creative property thief.
    The contests are loosely run. You can log into SitePoint, create an account, and post a contest. The ‘rules’ for the contests in a nutshell is to ‘play nice’. But SitePoint does not take responsibility for running these contests. Each ‘Contest Holder’ creates their own ‘rules’, and they often change during the course of the contest.

    Better still, the Contest Holder can abandon a contest and never declare a ‘winner’. However, he will have at the very minimum at least 50 designs to choose from in a logo contest. All these designs of course can be scoffed up with a click of the mouse and off he goes into the wild unknown yonder never to be heard from again… until he creates a NEW account and starts the process all over again.

    Our industry needs to continue the movement of ‘no specs’. We are only shooting ourselves in the foot and our pocketbooks by silently accepting this grand theft on a grand scale.

    David, thank you for this blog post!

  49. I was hoping the panel would be put forward. The no-spec.com campaign is not perfect (what campaign is?) so I was interested in hearing well thought out presentations from both sides.

  50. to those who may have read Maryann’s comments (oct 13, 14) about the Canadian magazine “Marketing” will know that they are running a logo design contest for their 100 anniversary. Both she and I had contacted them and asked their reason for running a contest. In my message to them I pointed out the drawbacks and why this type of contest hurts the design profession. To follow up, I received and email from their executive editor asking if they could run my message as a letter to the editor in their next issue (nov 26). I agreed, and feel regardless of the response my letter is given it’s great exposure for the issue.

  51. Ok, I’m brave for writing this so don’t flame me too hard. Here is a little disclosure: I am not a designer by any stretch of the imagination. I can do layouts just fine, but I am a developer first and foremost. That being said, I have had a logo contest before with excellent results and am actually a regular “watcher” of these graphic contests. I am a moderator at SitePoint and one of my tasks is to moderate the contest. //end disclosure

    When my clients come to me and want a new website, I gather all of their needs and requirements and when they need custom graphic work, I will call on one of a few designers I regularly work with. I met these designers in the SitePoint Marketplace. The designer I work with the most, actually entered my logo contest I held 2 years ago, but her entry didn’t win. I loved her work and her professionalism though and I approached her for other work. Since then, she has received numerous jobs from me and will continue to do so. She did all of the custom graphics for TheBlogExperiment.com to include the logo (through direct hire) and I am currently employing her for additional work as well.

    My point is, there are good things that can come out of these contests which I think are often overlooked. I like to watch the designers and see who I would be interested in for future work and I know several other people/businesses who do that. Not everyone who has a contest does so with the intent on paying peanuts for something that is worth much more. Many people want to forge a relationship with someone and this is one way of establishing that relationship.

    Flame away :D

  52. Hi Sara,

    You mention that when a client comes to you, you gather all of their needs and requirements, which is great, and good working practice. In your experience as a moderator on SitePoint, what percentage of the submitted designs do you think were properly researched? Taking account of the company background, competitors, target audeince etc.?

    With most contests, there’ll always be a winner, although as mentioned above, one contest organiser had no intention of giving a prize, and listed his website on SitePoint purely for SEO reasons. I wonder how often this happens.

    The thing is, where there’s a winner, there are countless losers, who don’t receive any feedback or payment for their work. So they’re working for free. It’s great how you picked one of the people who didn’t win, and offered additional work on the back of the designs they submitted, but I can’t imagine this happens very often, although you have a much greater insight into the talent, being a moderator.

    So sure, there are good things, but in my opinion they are heavily outweighed by the bad.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  53. NO!SPEC

    Excellent post, I admit to doing 1 competition to which I was very innocent at the time. I spent time making the logo and developing ideas from sketch to final ideas (more than one). Then realized the time and effort and attempt at communicating with the Invisible client was pointless as they picked a logo with stretched text ridiculous colours and no relation to the Clients profile at all! Sorry for people who may use Paintshop Pro or Microsoft Word to design logos but come on!! Its just wrong so so wrong. Hmmm I never went back to the competition site and never will. I love to meet people and have a real passion and enthusiasm for design and there is nothing better than getting to know your clients face to face.

    Eating Design

  54. Picture this. You are a new small business owner and in need of a company logo. You are on a limited budget so you search online for a logo designer only to be presented with an overwhelming amount of choices.

    You decide to contact a few who have portfolios you like and after a few emails back and forth you realize that you’ve just wasted your time because their rate far exceeds your budget.

    You then contact a few sites that offer logo creation that are closer to your budget. After a few introductory emails back and forth with lengthy delays in between you stop hearing from the designer all together and realized you’ve just wasted more of your time.

    Frustrated at the lack of professionalism from the low end designers and the sky high fees of the high end designers you decide to post an entry on a contest site.

    You set a budget that you are comfortable with and soon receive close to 100 entries. Within a week you have picked and paid for your logo and can happily concentrate on the other aspects of your business.

  55. David,

    I don’t think your points are valid. You seem to say that Designers in contests don’t ask enough questions for the brief or don’t spend enough time searching, or don’t do brainstorming or else.

    Why wouldn’t they do all that? Give me a valid point.

    Contest have deadlines, like anything other ‘real’ job! Plus in contests, there are so many people designing that the profile is high and you must be better.

    About the relationship argument, I think it’s time to get real! Business is business. If tomorrow your clients find better than you, they’ll move away from you.

    Do your job, but don’t write articles like this one without giving a thought and providing solid points to your arguments.

    By the way, you gave your readers and potential clients good resources and websites to get logos cheaper elsewhere.


  56. Anthony, I’ve found that by showing a rough price range on my questionnaire, potential clients know my minimum price bracket before we talk, saving time and effort for both of us.

    Sorry to learn of those delays. That’s a red flag, no matter how much they charge.

    Loony, there’s no guarantee of compensation.

  57. David,

    You said the following :’There’s no guarantee of compensation.’
    No there is not, but this is part of the freelancer’s work in today’s world! This is part of working alone, for your own account, in a field where there is a lot of competition. The reality of a freelancer, saddly, is not to wait for jobs to knock at your door, charge a lot of money and get paid for everything you do.

    You don’t get paid for doing this blog. Well, this is part of your job though, this is promotion. But you’re doing it for free because you know it’s good for your business.

    By the way my point, in my previous comment, was that you had no valid arguments to justify that designers don’t spend time to create good logos in contest. Some of them seem to spend time and energy. Some of them are real good.



  58. Loony, sure, you can say there’s no guarantee of compensation in any line of work, because you could find yourself laid-off from employment, but this is what I referred to:

    When you take on a job with a client, you should expect them to pay for your time. Otherwise, you’ll be offering a continuous flow of free work. You won’t survive in self-employment if you don’t charge for your time.

    There’s a huge difference between spending time on my blog and taking part in a contest. It’s working for myself versus working for someone else.

  59. David,
    I am a new sole proprietor (borderline hobby) looking to have a logo done for my extreme sports filming company. I have a number of friends who could do the design but I find myself trying to figure out how to walk the line of paying a friend or accepting their effort without compensation. Contests seem like a great way to get many different ideas.

    I’ve read your reasons for not doing the contest, but that seems like it applies more to an actual company.

    What is the best way for a person like me, in your opinion, to have my logo done?

    Thank you!

  60. You’re right, Michael. My reasons are aimed at designers and clients (of any size). If your filming is a hobby, you’re right not to spend much cash. Should it grow into an income source, you can always re-evaluate things. Good luck with it.

  61. A logo is always an investment, never a cost. You should feel comfortable with a designer before you authorize ANY work on your behalf. Getting what you pay for is a common sense rule, and if you expect to get a lot of quality logos before paying for even one, you are delusional. If you design one, you are unethical and oblivious to the value of the logo design industry. Either way, good luck. You’ll need it.

  62. Fantastic post. Us graphic designers are doomed (unless we evolve). Everyday, websites pop up for “freelance designers” that attract hobby graphic designers. People that treat logo design as a craft. People that think all you need is good software. Pfft.

    As a struggling graphic designer, what I want to know is, how did things get to this desperate, pitiful stage? Did the internet kill our trade?

  63. David,

    As a professional graphic designer with a full time job, contest websites have provided me with extra income, often when it’s been badly needed. I understand the argument for spending some time in consultation with a designer, especially when I advocate constant feedback from those who require a decent logo.

    There’s no doubt that a better result can be achieved by gathering as much info as possible, before attempting to satisfy the requirements of the client, especially if the client doesn’t know what questions to ask from the outset.

    The old phrase “you get what you pay for” is often true, although I suspect a lot of logos I, and others like me, have designed are giving the client a little more than the prize value.

    I know it’s a cheap way of getting a logo, but that is the basis on which I signed up. There is a market for it, although not perfect for everyone. It also serves as a ‘loss-leader’ for us designers. Who knows where these introductions will lead?

    All the best,


  64. Hi Andy, the client shouldn’t need to know what questions to ask. That’s the designer’s job. Regardless, you’re doing yourself a disservice by pitching to clients who expect designs for a dollar.

  65. Great article! I got suckered into these contests and found that they’re not for real graphic artists. I entered several, I thought what the heck I’ll give it a shot, but no more! I will not devalue my work or time. Here is what I found: “Graphic artists” using clip art in logos, and I literally turned in three designers in the same contest for using someone else’s logo in their design. The contest sites did nothing and I even supplied direct links to the original logos. I also informed the contest holder of this and they didn’t care. I think these contests are great for businesses that lack the ability to communicate. If designers ask for clarification they literally scream at them. I entered 10 contests, won 1, finals in 4, one is still pending and 6 were abandoned. It took me about two weeks to figure out that these sites are scams.

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