While we’re happy that you thought enough of us to “invite” us to your logo design contest, we’re going to have to pass on this wonderful opportunity. We thought you might be interested in why.

Hi there!

Can I call you Contest Holder? I realize that not very personal, but that’s what participating designers will call you during your contest. At some point it’ll get abbreviated to CH because they’ll get tired of writing Contest Holder in full. We probably will too I guess, so while I know it’s not your name, can we call you CH as well?


Here’s the thing CH – while we certainly appreciate the invitation to your exciting logo design contest, and thrilled that you saw enough merit in our portfolio to find us ‘worthy’ of the invite, we must respectfully decline. There’s more than a few reasons, but here are the most salient:

Your design contest isn’t actually a contest at all.

See, contests usually involve random selection to get a prize. Or maybe we’d have to perform some feat. Guess the number of jellybeans in a jar or something. This contest was to win a fridge:
jellybean contestIf your contest was a typical design contest, we’d come up with one really good design, as would everybody else participating, and then the best one would win. Maybe they’d get judged by some people who really know a lot about design. But that’s not what your design contest is about. First of all, it features a ‘Qualifying Round.’ That’s when designers submit logos based on your brief, to see if they’re good enough to enter your contest. Kinda like submitting a portfolio for a real job, except the portfolio consists of designs done for the job, and if we get the job we have to do it again and maybe get paid.

Strange notion indeed.

If we do qualify, you’ll want us to submit even more logos to your contest and ask us to revise them by moving this and that, and then submit those new versions. This will go on for how ever long you decide your contest will last which means it’s not really a contest at all. What you’re asking us to do is supply you will full-blown logo design services, which is actually what we do for a living, except you want us to do it, while not making a living at it. You’re also expecting a whole bunch of other people to do this too which isn’t like any contest I’ve ever heard of.

Your contest may not even end in a winner.

I realize that (hopefully) you’ll pick a winning design, maybe even one by us, and (hopefully) pay the prize you’re offering. I say hopefully, because your contest can also be canceled at your whim, regardless of how much work we, or other people put in, how hard we try or how faithfully we follow your sometimes questionable instructions.
refunded-locked-design-contest-cardsSee, when you’re not paying for the time, you’ll probably take advantage the designers in your contest, asking them to do stuff that you know is stupid, just “to see” if it isn’t. Sure, you can guarantee your contest (that’s were you promise to follow through with paying the prize, whether you pick a winner or not) but in many cases guaranteed contests don’t get paid out either, they’re in limbo for many months (sometimes over a year) and if they do eventually get paid out, they’re distributed to a lot of people who get a couple of dollars each. I realize this is great and all, but like you I have bills, a few dollars won’t pay them, and the people I have to pay aren’t fond of waiting around.

The best design may not necessarily win.

I’m not saying you don’t know about design. Maybe you’re an expert. But see, with most other types of contests, they’re judged by arbitrary measures – faster, higher, longer. Design contests that I’m familiar with are usually judged by a panel of people who are from the design industry and know (hopefully) what’s good design and what’s not. They call them Art Directors for a reason. In your contest, the design you “like” will (hopefully) win, not necessarily the “best” design. Take a look around you and see how many bad logos you can find. At some point somebody chose those – probably thinking to themselves “hey, I really like that” – when they didn’t know much about design and thought designers were a snobby bunch who didn’t either. Also, turning this kind of instruction (common on logo design sites:)
99designs sliderinto a logo you “like” isn’t terribly easy, not much of a formula and eventually won’t mean anything at all. The winning logo may end up reminding you of your pet dog, an old house or your favorite movie on the TV. The term “like” is so subjective that it doesn’t really mean anything. I can’t make you “like” any design even if I follow your instructions and feedback – if you give any, which most contest holders don’t and even when they do, only on entries they “like” – to a T. That’s not your fault, you’re expected to play Art Director without actually being one. Accordingly, we could spend hours and hours, revision after revision, trying to come up with something you “like” – not something that “works” for your company – but we wouldn’t get paid to do it unless you actually “liked” it more than you “liked” the other entries. Which defeats the “professional” part of professional graphic design. It also negates the point of a logo in the first place because one person “liking” it is actually a very small part of a successful one.

It’s bad form.

oliver-please-pick-my-logoWith all due respect (and I’ll put this as delicately as I can) expecting people to deliver work product – you know, the material they sell – for free, for your benefit is kinda impolite. You wouldn’t expect a restaurant to supply you with a free meal for you and your spouse, an accountant to supply you with free tax return services, or a house-builder to custom build you a house for free, with only the slightest chance of getting paid (and you’d not doubt be highly dubious of the quality of those services if you did). Nor, do I suspect you’ll be giving away your work product for free, with only the slightest chance of getting paid, as part of your business plan. Because that’s not much of a business plan if you are. Keep in mind that that the spiffy new logo you seek is probably to be used as part of your business assets, part of your marketing and has a tangible value to your future plans. You are, after all, in business to make money. The same can, or rather should, be said of professional graphic designers. You understand that a logo has some actual value (that’s why you’re offering a cash prize to the ‘winner’) but you should know that the design process (the piece of the puzzle your contest will be missing) is where most of the value is found.

It’s icky.

Contest sites will tell you that your contest represents an “opportunity” for the would-be designers that hang out on their site. That’s true I guess, considering the majority of people that do enter these contests are from poorer countries where winning a contest could net them a month’s pay. Trouble is, for that payoff they have to enter a ton of contests (often resulting in them taking shortcuts to maximize their chances) and it actually works out to them working for free, a lot of the time. Some enter hundreds of logo design contests without winning a single one. Some never do. And those that do, these are some contest results that probably surprised them..

contests-pie-charts1Many people, myself included, view this as exploitative and aren’t inclined to support the well-bankrolled Western corporations that take advantage of people this way when running these sites. Yeah, I get that “life’s not fair,” “dog-eat-dog,” Darwinism and all.

But it’s still kinda icky.

Some of the people on contest sites are awful.

Sure. many people on contest sites are honest, hard working designers just trying to get by, win a couple of contests and look after their families. Some aren’t and are actually quite awful. They’ll copy designs from somebody else and pass them off as their own. They’ll cobble together artwork using bits and pieces to create Frankensteined logos that may, or may not, pass a copyright challenge. Others will even knock-off concepts from the same contest – yours in this case – and hope you don’t notice.
cast-characters-design-contestsIn a classic example of Design Darwinism, there’s even people who will hire some $5 ‘unlimited revision’ logo guy from a ‘gig site’ and enter those designs into the contest for which you paid many hundreds. Or even thousands. That would be okay I guess, if it wasn’t for stuff like this happening there too. Even though you probably don’t know a lot about logos and what-not, It’s up to you to notice these shenanigans because contest companies don’t actually police their contests for ripped off entries. Other designers are expected to report knocked-off designs (that’s the Report Design button under every entry) when and if they realize they’re copycats. Personally, I don’t have the time or the inclination to monitor other people for plagiarized work and the idea that a knocked-off logo can actually win (which happens a lot) disincentivizes contests for designers who care about the craft. What do the sites say about this? Well, they’ll claim you’re on your own, not actually their customer but the winning designer’s customer, which is weird because they’ll take 30 – 40% of the prize money you paid them to launch the contest.
This is typical of how most design contest sites work. Let’s look at another:


Crazy, huh?

Your contest is visual spam not design.

You want to see lots and lots of proposals for your hard earned money – I get that – but a good chunk of logos entered into design contests are cribbed from other sources or versions of generic and overused logos. Others are just plain terrible. This may fill your need for oodles of design options but it’s the logo equivalent of spam and doesn’t offer much incentive to spend the time required for us to design a unique, custom logo based on your brief (as opposed to being pulled from a library of design contest rejects.) Truth to tell, we couldn’t serve you the way we like to serve clients – designing a decent logo from the ground up. If we entered your logo contest, and in order to keep up with the noise, we might be tempted – as unethical as it might be – to recycle some unused logo concepts to see if we could grab your attention while minimizing the time we invested, the only way contests work for designers from a practical perspective. That’s not cool, and selling our design souls in the hopes of a few hundred bucks isn’t worth it over the long haul.

We’d have to raise rates for our paying customers.

We offer logo design services starting at just under $300.00. For that, a lot of designers called us hacks, but hey – it’s buyer’s market and that’s the price point that keeps our doors open and the lights on. We keep pretty busy at the shop, designers paid and everyone more-or-less happy. If we started entering logo design contests like yours, we’d have to jack up our prices to cover the non-billing time that we spent on your contest. That’s not fair to our paying clients who are the bread-and-butter of our studio.

At the end of the day..

Graphic designers usually have portfolios of their body of work, an audition if you will, so that you can view their skill sets and decide whether they’re a match for your project. If you like a designer’s work, hire them. And if you are holding a contest on a commercialized platform, some are boasting almost a million designers these days. Surely there’s enough people who ARE willing to work for peanuts and a chance of getting paid for the final logo you (might) eventually choose.

And best of luck with it.


This post was inspired by a steady stream of email requests and this odd conversation on Twitter, when someone all but demanded that TLF submit designs to their contest on 99designs. Also, some of the card graphics used in this post were nicked from our Logo Design Contest game infographic from a few months ago.