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32 Comments 4 Mentions

  1. Logo Factory Design Studio Author Editor

    Excellent synopsis of design contests and so-called crowdsourcing (which most of the times isn’t crowdsourcing at all). Nice to see someone taking an in-depth look at the pros and cons without the usual ranting and raving (something which I’ve been guilty of more than a few times).


  2. Sebastian Author Editor

    congratulations. this is the best post i have read since months. i totally share your ideas. designing is just like every other kind of media work when it comes to a definition of goals for a customer. thats why every media project is a individual project for indvidual customers. contests work for appropriate class of customers, but they will never be able to build up a personal brand. think of apple for example when getting a lovemark over years. everything they do fits to other projects. if you wanna be successfull, i mean really successfull, you will need more than some logo, because if you grow up, i mean if, than it is getting hard to change an existing layout. you got to live with it, so think twice before starting a contest for $20 bucks. most of us spend more than this ammount for beer in a pub at weekends, but we dont want to spend more for a maybe lifetime project.


  3. Joni Mueller Author Editor

    Excellent article. Some of the comments in Jacob Cass’ article you cited did make my blood boil a bit. The good thing about being in business for oneself is that we can reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, including jackasses. :)

    And as was also correctly pointed out, a web designer’s going rate is no indication of his/her talent or understanding of web design usability and other functionality issues. Web design rates are all over the road here and abroad. Unless and until this is standardized in some way (which is nearly impossible) there will always be those sentiments out there. All that’s needed to change such a person’s mind is a run-in with a really bad (and possibly really expensive) “web designer.” Perhaps reading this article: http://www.blog.spoongraphics.co.uk/articles/the-5-worst-website-designs-in-the-world will help put things in perspective. :)


  4. David Author Editor

    I could see where spec designs could be good for design students (trying to finagle a check out of a class assignment) or designers early in their careers who want to build a portfolio. But if you are going to offer even $500 for a logo on spec I’m certainly not going to put $500 worth of work into it. What struck me was how many of the designs in the contest linked above were type treatments and Illustrator effects. Nothing wrong with those, but not always the most in depth design method.


  5. Cam Author Editor

    GREAT article! Me and my fellow partners were just discussing this and the word “education” of the clients came up quite a bit. People look at ALL artists/designers as “hobbyists” and thus think we work for little or no money. OR because we enjoy what we do, we will do it for cheap. 30% of our job is to prove our value to the client, sad but ultimately true. People are dumb until educated.


  6. Walt Kania Author Editor

    I’m from the copy side of the hall, so I may not qualify to comment. But in my experience, any company or client who would ‘buy’ their logo from a contest or an auction site probably would never be a suitable client for a good design firm anyway. Such companies either don’t value design all that much. Or, design is not critical to the success of their enterprise. (There are many enterprises for which design — or copy — isn’t do or die. A cement plant, let’s say.) I doubt you could ‘sell’ or ‘educate’ them up. They’re non-prospects, non-clients. No loss.

    There are auction sites for copy and content too, where writers scrabble for the chance to write a full-on web site for $87. There are no good clients there, either.

    But then again, I just type this stuff.


  7. Paul Author Editor

    Walt has a good point. The type of clientelle contest sites draw are those that would never pay “normal” rates a design firm or professional designer charges. If such contest sites didn’t exist, they would probably end up getting josmho who dabbles in logo design to do them a logo. Most of these clients are small time or don’t have the budget or just don’t see the value in getting a true professional to design their logo, but only know that they need “something” to portray their company.

    I myself participate in the contests.At the same time I wouldnt call myself for them, nor against them. I can also understand the arguments made in this article.But for the most part, because of the clientelle I’ve witnessed as being drawn to such sites, I’m just not seeing how it is hurting such professional designers, as they wouldn’t be marketing to this type of clientelle in the first place. If you could give me actual examples of when design firms have lost potential clients to contest sites, then yes, the arguments would be much more valid. I have yet to find any articles that give such specific examples of lost business due to these contest sites. (feel free to comment and give links if you know if any, please)

    I also need to state that I do not call myself a professional, nor do I design logos as a means to support myself or my family. Nor do I ever talk junk to real professionals and design firms, nor say they are overpriced.It is simply something I enjoy doing. I also do not call myself an amateur, and while I have no formal education, I have read plenty of books tutorials, blogs, articles, etc. etc,, have had enough clients, experience, and have dealt and communicated with printing companies to understand the technical aspects and fundamentals of logo design. In this way I am certain what work I create does not come up “short” as far as how it can be used.

    So to me, designing logos can be just a hobby for some. So why do I participate in such contests? I work full time, I have a family. I don’t have time to go out and try to find non profits who are looking for a logo designer in order to get specific clients so that I can enjoy my hobby.And yes, I do design concepts for fun, or for a friend, etc etc with no compensation. But contest sites give specific challenges as the subject and requirements are set. It’s fun to compete. The little compensation that is awarded if my concept is actually chosen is just a bonus; the main award is the fame from the logo when the client actually puts it to use in their marketing materials, signage, and on their products/services. To me, the true current failures of such contests are that most of the clients are not knowledge on the true technical requirements a logo should meet; so you often see poor designs chosen as the winner. When I say “poor” I’m referring to usage of rasterized images within the logo, scalability issues, etc. I always wonder how many times the client then has to come back to such designers, or if they have to then hire a new designer to fix issues with the original logo in order to get it so that it can be used for any media outlet.
    I apologize for my lengthy post. for those few who actually read it all, i’d love to hear, based on my reasons and particular viewpoint, if you still think I’m stealing potential work from professionals or not or if I’m still hurting the industry by my actions. Thanks.


  8. Ben Author Editor

    Paul, I agree with you 100%. When I do make an entry into one of these contests (which is rare, I normaly have something else that can direct my attentnion) it is not really for the money. It if for the chalange of taking somone elses direction and making something of it.

    The tragety is that most chosen disigns are not GOOD designs. They may look good, but its like if you asked for a house and got a house shaed lump of concrete that was painted to look like a house. You can show it to everyone, you can say “this is my house” but it cant do some of the fundamental housey things that a house should do.


  9. Cameron Author Editor

    Wow, nice article!
    It all serves to booster client ignorance, and degrades the value of the design industry by emphasising the “design is a hobby” idea. That said, people who use it (on both sides) most probably deserve each other – but I do think this is badly skewed toward the ‘client’, with them expecting a lot of work from the many designers while never truly engaging or coughing up any decent remuneration.

    It’s that part of the process that makes me sick.
    My profession isn’t a lottery.


  10. Luke Author Editor

    When it comes down to it, professional designers were never going to get work from someone only willing to pay $100 anyway. Even if the client was going to otherwise pay for a professional designer, cheap clients don’t make for happy designers.

    I think contests are a great way to build a portfolio, but it won’t take someone long to realise that they can’t make a lot of money doing it.


  11. DieselAdv Author Editor

    Their is no end to bad taste when it comes to clients and their idea of that which constitutes a good logo and it is particularly evident that clientèle on a competition sites are of the visually illiterate kind (who need to see 500 options to make a choice) and then most often that choice is flawed.

    As to the notion that “design is a hobby” I have run my company for over 12 years and I consider myself a professional, with normal business overheads, including hardware and software costs (which are particularly high), as well as consumables, fonts, etc. The list is endless. I often come against those whose design for “beer money” and use their employers hardware and software.

    @ Paul: In my 20+ years of experience as a designer clients almost always will brag about “their” logos or “their” websites. Your notion of fame is sadly a fictitious one. Unless the logos don’t work …

    I recently encountered a client who said he had the best website in his industry (I know he uses 99 Designs), but he remarked that his phone hadn’t rung once in six weeks. He had the sense to know that his designers were not up to scratch. While these designers could produce pretty pictures they where clueless when it came to branding.


  12. FreelancerCrowd Author Editor

    That’s a really good article.

    One other aspect which is very noticable if you hang around the crowdsourcing sites long enough is the resale. Most of the businesses who tend to use that kid of services are far from professional or experienced.
    Since most of them love “something nice, but please put some more colors and glitter”, a lot ot sucessful (there) designers just peick some clipart, change the text and perhaps some angles for each project and Voila! I do not wish to be on the places if the clients who got that bergain when they realise the likeness and begin suing eachother (putting apart the far guger expences to promote a bad logo).


  13. Jeremy Tuber Author Editor

    Great post here Zach, as a social experiment I actually tried a CrowdSpring project (as a client), with the intention that I would review it afterwards. To their credit, CrowdSpring was encouraging before the review came out, afterwards they didn’t really want to say anything about it…here’s what I wrote about them and the challenges with their business model:
    Love ’em or hate ’em, I decided to rate ’em: my first-hand experience & review with spec work, using CrowdSpring.com (from a client’s perspective): http://tinyurl.com/c54nvu


    Jeremy Tuber’s last blog post..The Freelancer, the Client and the Dying


  14. Osvaldo M. Author Editor

    I am all in favor of sites like 99designs.com. I recognize the pays are low and that its the best way for a company to get cheap design, but what about the student who goes to school, then works at a coffee shop and ends up having 2 or 3 hours a day to design?. Obviously these people dont have the time nor experience to look for proffessional freelancing proyects. I believe 99designs-like allow newstarters in the business to compete with more experienced people, within a specific timeframe (just like in the real world) but with no phonecalls at 11 pm of some angry client asking why the hell the company colours dont look right in their investor’s newsletter. Definitely these sites should be used a startup, no boss looking what you are doing all the time, no phonecalls, you get to compare the quality of your work against other people, you have no asap proyects and you work in the design as much as you like. Even if you dont win, it sure is a learning experience… As for people who use this service for their steady income, i believe its a personal choice of work, definitely not mine; to be competing every time for a 150 bucks logo should get anyone tired after a while.


  15. Paul Author Editor


    Sorry, I think you misunderstood what I meant by “fame”. When I say “fame”, I mean personal fame in knowing I designed it, not that others know that I did. I could care less if a client runs around calling it “their logo”. they paid for the design of the logo, they can call it their own, just like I call my mac, “my mac” even though I didn’t design the thing.


  16. Chris Mills Author Editor

    For goodness sake people. Work harder for clients. Charge what your worth. As long as you show benefit, design that 5k logo and be proud you’re not having to scrap. – Scraps don’t hurt our biz, just makes it more valuable. Do I spec or enter contests? NO. Those that do will learn at some point. As for the clients that bought that 50 cent logo? Well, if they have good products, chances are they’ll be spending 5k later down the road anyway. Otherwise, I don’t want them.


  17. Jacob Cass Author Editor

    In further support of my anti design contest stance, I’ve just posted my view on Spec Work, would love to hear your thoughts.

    The “Pros” and Cons of Spec Work
    .-= Jacob Cass´s last blog ..The “Pros” and Cons of Spec Work =-.


  18. Swati Author Editor

    Great post! Thanks for sharing…

    A confession – I am guilty of using one contest. Even if just once, but I’ve used it as a designer. After studying design for 8 years, I am completely understand and agree with your point of view. When I did my math on 99designs I realised, I wouldn’t be able to depend on this for money – For eg. A logo contest that was on for 6.5 days was on an average worth $300. That’s approximately $5.76 per hour! I don’t know a single designer who would accept that kind of salary, even with the current financial trauma.

    Being out of work for nearly a year, I was trying to use a ‘design brief’ provided to exercise my creative cells. However, your post has definitely made me stop and think if I may be encouraging these kind of sites. I know there are other ways to keep me motivated and be creative without using such design contests.


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  20. David Author Editor

    I think design contests are wonderful – as contests. Every field has competitions where the aim is winning a prize and maybe some prestige, rather than sustaining yourself.

    Take the Idol TV programmes (or any of that kind) – no self respecting music professional (or any other performer) is looking to make a living by winning, but some people see it as a vehicle to greater things, or a measuring rod for their talents. The art world is full of contests – some pay nothing, some pay millions. Ultimately it’s all about having work that you think can stand up to that of others.

    Perhaps it’s a bit unfortunate that some companies look to contests for their design work, but that isn’t a contest to me. That’s abusing the system.


  21. TSH Author Editor

    I came across your article while looking at general logo design blog and websites. I have read quite a few articles like this, and I have a very good friend who is a professional freelance designer. I have heard all of the arguments against logo contest sites.
    Flame me if you will, but I will explain why I chose crowdsourcing for my new startup company’s logo. Take this as a client’s view of the situation and don’t read into things too much. I see two types of logo design options:

    1) i meet in person with someone local and work through the process of having one person or one firm come up with some ideas which I can refine and hopefully land on something I can use. I know I will get a scalable, versatile, professional logo (the majority of the time). From my research, the minimum I would spend to go that route would be $1500-$2000. And at that price the revisions and number of initial ideas is very, very low. Most likely I am stuck having to spend a ton of time up front to identify a designer who has a style that I like because, like architects, I’ve found it’s really hard to find someone who is really good at multiple styles (again, i’m generalizing – i know there are exceptions, but you pay for it).

    2) I go online and hope for the best… for $500 I can give a contest site the same creative brief the local designer would ask me for. I get an overwhelming number of entries, most of which suck. BUT, if i get just one design that I like, I’ve just saved a ton of money and time. And this is the point where my design friends get really angry with me – if I like it, then it’s good enough. Design is subjective, except to designers (if that makes sense). Even good design rubs people the wrong way sometimes. As a startup I cannot afford to commission market studies to find which logos make customers feel warm inside. I cannot afford the design firm who will spend countless hours perfecting a lasting logo right now. My logo does not make or break my business. The biggest problem I see, as a client, is the copyright issue or blatant theft of designs. But even with a professional, it’s up to the client to make sure that’s not happening. It just has a much, much higher potential with the contests.

    At first, my design friends tried to make me, as the client, feel guilty for using a contest site. But after talking through it, it became clear that they view the designers on those sites as the people in the wrong. But one could argue that those designers are there by choice… and from the looks of it, most are from somewhere other than the US. I don’t know how the design industry works in those countries but I’m going to guess that getting paid in $’s and at the amounts of most of the contests, it may actually be a viable business model for someone. Again, I have no idea, but you could always just ask those designers. In that sense, you get the outsourcing effect along with the crowdsourcing effects, good or bad.

    One of the comments above hits it on the head – people who value good design and will pay for it (and can afford it!) will always go with the professionals. I know that if my startup survives the first couple of years I can then afford a rebranding effort and put more money into it. Heck, even the best brands in the world are required to rebrand once in a while. Sadly, most startup businesses see a logo as just something they need, a box to check off amongst the 1000 other boxes you check off when starting a business. I think blogs like this help to educate both clients and designers, but ultimately each client is going to decide for themselves and most clients (myself included) will look at contest sites and think “well, even though the logos in that guy’s contest suck, mine will be different”. and at $500, what is the risk? Is it my job as the client to make sure the industry is “fair”? if the dentist offered me the option of paying for satisfaction rather than up front, why wouldn’t most people take it?


  22. Rob Author Editor

    I can’t say that I disagree at all with this post – outstanding. I understand both sides of the market with this issue, I just wonder where the happy-medium is, when it will be found, or even if there is one.


  23. Marc Author Editor

    A year ago, I was desperate for work, I’d graduated about six months before and had been unable to find design work. When I say desperate for work, I mean any work, I couldn’t even land a job taking pizza orders.

    So stressed, feeling pretty down, I started checking out and signing up for some of these ‘crowd sourcing’ sites, and tried a couple of things, and decided to say forget it after maybe two or three considered projects.

    I also was a member of a team that almost launched a ‘crowd sourcing’ site, though that wasn’t the intent. The idea and intent behind it was to have a site where people with ideas, could meet people and chat with people that had the skills to help their idea get up and running.

    This is a great article. What I would suggest is for people still considering throwing their hat into the crowdsourcing ring, is to document your process for any work you do.

    This may help you define a working process for you before you start pitching to the big clients.

    At least, had I stayed with it, that’s what I would have done. As it was, I’ve decided to work on personal projects and the occasional client project.


    • Dalton Author Editor

      Articles like this are an examlpe of quick, helpful answers.


  24. MattS Author Editor

    Another problem with these sites is that 90% of the “designers” there are some kids with a cracked version of Photoshop or whatnot and most likely don’t even know how to deliver and prep the files for print.


    • Logo Blog Author Editor

      agreed with you matt !!!


  25. Rachel Author Editor

    I’m a client, and those design contests make me cringe. They smack of cheapness on both sides (the client not wanting to pay market rate, and the designs having little time or effort put into them).

    I’ve built up a relationship with my designer over 5 years – she’s not the cheapest but she is absolutely worth it. One key issue is the time saved by working with someone I know (and who understands me) – we go through very few revisions because we communicate well. I also find having a proper relationship with a designer inspiring and exciting – it’s hard to get bored of a project when someone is throwing shiny new designs at you!

    Thanks for a great article.


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