My ongoing gripe with commercialized design contests began when they did. When they were referred to as “logo design ping-pong.”
People often ask me
“what’s your beef with logo design contests?”
They may even suggest I’m just a whiny designer refusing to get with the times, a snooty luddite who doesn’t want the “little guy” invading my turf, so terrified of competition am I. To these suggestions I always point out that if I believed that design contests were the bee’s knees and a great business model for client and designer alike, I wouldn’t be entering design contests. I’d be running a design contest platform. Where a load of designers could work for me – without pay – and supply my customers with free ideas and logo concepts. Obviously, I’ve given that a pass.
Let’s go back. Way back.
In order to understand my attitude towards these things, we have to go back in time. Way back to mid-2004 when I began to receive messages sent through our old site contact form. They were from different people I’d never heard of, but all shared the same general premise:
“there’s people ripping off logos from your site and entering them into contests.”
I had no idea what they were on about. Sure enough, upon clicking on the enclosed links, there they were. Logos that were identical to designs from our then portfolio – save removing the original company name out of the logo and inserting a new one – entered to some form of contest on a bulletin board forum. According to what I was able to ascertain, it went something like this – somebody in need of a new logo posted their logo requirement and other users would post logo concepts. The contest holder would pick one, and in some cases even throw the winning submitter a few bucks. Trouble is, our client’s logos were being entered into a lot of these things.
Some were even winning.
Some had been noticed by other “contestants” – those were the people who had sent the original messages – and they were miffed. Not because somebody had copied someone’s else, but rather someone had bypassed the design part of these contests. The effort part. Seems not everyone was willing to put in the effort to create original logos, with only a remote chance of getting recompense.
Some, I found on my own and had to open an account on the site to inform the users that it was a knocked off logo. It started with one or two. Then because a deluge.
Spotting rip-off logos was like playing logo whack-a-mole. It wasn’t just our shop either – I began to recognize bastardized logos of famous brands and designs that had been knicked from designers I knew.
As a purist when it comes to design ownership, the rights of copyright holders to dictate where their work shows us I was dumbfounded.
“They really can’t think they can do this without consequence?”
was one of my thoughts (it still is.)
How does this factor in to the grand scheme of things?
Well, that forum was on a website called SitePoint. They weren’t even called logo design contests back then. They referred to them as “logo ping-pong.” And that’s the awesome story the PR guys from 99designs tell when they regale business types about how their company evolved. From those forums on SitePoint. It’s in their DNA. Seems opposing them is in mine.
That open letter was written almost eleven years ago.
My position hasn’t changed since.