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With this morning’s announcement of another commercial platform that deals exclusively in design contests, we’ll take a look at whether they’re are all that bad, or just another way to bring designers & buyers together..

Seems I’m never done ranting about logo design contests, euphemistically referred to as ‘crowdsourcing‘, a method of farming out a design project to a group of designers, usually freelancers, who ‘compete’ against each other, for free, to develop what the ‘contest holder accepts as the final new logo for his/her company. I (and half the design community) have been preaching against the practice for as long as I can remember – see here, here, and here. Couple of things happened this morning – probably not connected – that inspired me to tackle this issue once and for all. Probably the last time too, as this is an uphill battle that is impossible to win.

Ooooooh, 99designs you say?

Started off with a morning e-mail from a reader telling me that Sitepoint, one of the bigger forums for this kind of thing, is launching a new site. That – sigh – deals exclusively with design contests. To be known as 99designs (I can only imagine why) the announcement begins with some pretty stunning admissions –

“As Design Contests (the Sitepoint forum) has grown, a problem with a percentage of contest holders abandoning contests or not paying designers has arisen. This has been deeply concerning us for sometime now, as I know it has been concerning our designers. The logical answer to this problem is to start taking some or all of the prize money up front from contest holders – in other words reducing the risk for designers.”

Wonderful. There’s enough problems with contest holders abandoning contests that an entirely new site needs to be built? While I’ve never heard that argument put forward before in the design contest debate, it’s certainly worth an eyebrow lift. Not that I’m terribly surprised. How many of these contests have been abandoned, or the preliminary artwork pinched, is hard to tell, though I suspect it’s about 50/50. The ‘designers’ who take part in the contests are thrilled about this new development (something that insures that if they win, they get paid, is probably manna to the ears). Some of the comments are telling though –

“Very happy about the up front collection of prize money, maybe we can weed out some less-than-honest contest holders. One thing I didn’t see is a negative rep/warning system for those designers ripping and using clipart and other violations. Maybe later I suppose. As a startup designer, I see many rips and clip art usage that is very tasteless and the worst is when contest holders give them a good rating and positive feedback to further work on their ‘clip art rips’.”

Okay, now I couldn’t have written a better piece that illustrates why logo design contests are really, really bad. For everyone involved. Designers get their work ripped off by contest holders who see the whole deal as a way to get free concepts and logo ideas. Contest holders (referred to as CH’s) get pinched clip art, templates and ripped artwork, a fact that they have no idea about, as they leave positive feedback and go about their business, plastering their new corporate logo over this and that. And this is from someone who thinks that these logo design contests are generally an okay deal. Someone else chimes it –

“I have also been worried about the abandoned contest and template copiers. I was about to give up on these contest and go another route myself. But this looks really promising. Keep up the good work.”

They also bandy about a phrase that I’ve never heard about – ‘Lurkers’. Apparently, some folks wait in the weeds (that’s the Lurker part) till the contest is narrowing in on final concept, snipe the idea to date, and tweak it into a final, and accepted logo. Really does take it down to Design Darwinism – the survival of the designer who is willing to do what it takes to win. Reading the comments, I had the same thought over and over again – “why would anyone subject themselves to any of this?” Can’t be for the money. Is it for the experience? Or are some people just gluttons for abuse. A little of all three I suspect. Contest holders do it because they believe they’re getting more for less. Though wading through ripped off clip art and recycled logo templates can’t possibly be a desirable way to build a brand for any company – regardless of how small.

Let’s listen to what they say..

I took a stroll through a few design contests, and delved into their forum to see what’s what. Some of the comments from CH’s (contest holders) were hilarious (in a schadenfreude kinda way)

“Come on, you can do better! Give me a logo that means something. Stay away from those cliparts.”

He seems nice.

“Sorry to have so many requests, didn’t really know what I wanted until I saw some more samples. Thanks!”

The old “I’ll know it when I see it routine.

“Come on designers, I want to some creativity on this one!! Hurry, contest ends on Wednesday. Appreciate all your hard work!”

Wouldn’t want any uncreativity.

“Hi all, I’m interested in seeing more submissions and have extended the project to 11/22. Thanks.”

More stuff. More. More. MORE!!!

“Can you give me an icon with 3d and/or gradient effects on it. It doesn’t have to be the “P” shape. Something with a smooth look.”

Art direction a’plenty.

Not a rule in sight.

Contest holders set deadlines, and then arbitrarily extended them to get ‘more stuff’ (doesn’t that exclude it from being called a ‘contest’?) Some of the requests verge on verbal abuse. And the designers dutifully perform like seals, cranking out design after design, all in the ‘hopes’ of ‘winning’ a few bucks. It’s one of the stranger McLogo effects of the marketing of design online. And as if the great Internet Gods had heard me, I received an e-mail from someone who had taken umbrage with my piece in our site library (just starting to show up in some search engine results I guess). Seems like I was missing the point all along.

Logo design contests, as it turns out, are all about ‘fun’.

To be continued…