The Burn of the Contest

In the last couple of months I’ve completed 3 logo projects where the client either first went to a logo competition site like 99Designs or DesignCrowd and didn’t like the designs or in one case, went to such a site and got burned with a copyright infringement and needed a new logo urgently. In both cases they came to me second. I get at least a couple of branding projects each year where the client went to a competition website first and was disappointed.


Design competitions are not a new concept, 99designs itself is nearly 10 years old. How have so many business people not learned of the dangers of these sites yet?


Lots of startups and small businesses understandably go to websites like this for financial reasons – the appeal is understandable. You get tons of options for very little money.


They have an inherent problem though: with so many designers competing on these sites, a designer needs to submit many designs to get paid even for one. Therefore, they can’t spend much time on each one – the result being that nearly every logo that get submitted is a quickly executed visualisation of the brand name without much further thought or concept development. OR WORSE, the logo is a quick knock-off of an existing logo – the designer has googled key words and pinched something. They may also have submitted the same logo mark in different competitions, which is understandable, in my own work a couple of times unused concepts for past projects have been excellent fits for later ones. Though when the latter case happens and the company gets caught out a few years down the track, the results are potentially disastrous as I witnessed first-hand recently.


Furthermore, the designers working on such sites are either those who can either afford to work for such little money or are forced to – I myself spent a few months on 99Designs while I was struggling fresh out of university it’s tough work, effectively working on spec not knowing if or when you are going to get paid, eventually I gave up and earned better money in a customer service gig for a while. Broadly speaking, the best talent isn’t unemployed or working from home (there are exceptions though, I have seen a few great designers operating successfully on 99Designs).
Your logo is the frontman for your company, it’s often either the first point of contact with it or sometimes even the only point. It should embody everything the company is about and it should set the tone for everything else in the brand. If there’s one piece of  your visual collateral shouldn’t skimp on, it’s the logo. It’s not just a picture and text. I guess the only conclusion I can draw is that many business leaders still don’t get that, it’s part of the designer’s job to educate their clients about this.

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