Designers & design contests. The predictable rise and fall of your design contest participation
So you’ve finally embraced the ‘new reality,’ decided to join their “community” and enter design contests on a web-based crowdsourcing platform? Here’s what you can expect..
1: You will start with the best intentions.
Having decided to toss your design hat into the crowdsourcing ring, you will treat every contest you enter as sacrosanct and give it your all. The thinking will go something like this –
“most of the people entering these contests aren’t really cutting it, so if I give it my best, the contest holders will see my superior work and reward me for it.”
You’ll figure that contest holders will value your efforts on their behalf, give you lots of feedback (or star ratings) on everything you submit and generally be appreciative of your work. You’ve bought into in the pro-spec talking points and figure you’ll get lots of experience, learn how to deal with clients, pick up some dough and some customers along the way. You might even find yourself defending design contests to your peers, claiming that “this is how it is”.
2: You will be get caught up in the competition.
By their very nature, designers are a competitive lot, so you will get caught up in the ‘heat of the moment’ and actually enjoy pitching ‘just one more’ concept into the contest(s) you’re entering. You’ll keep believing that this ‘last shot’ will finally convince the contest holder that your idea is the one for them. You may even have some fun.
For a while.
3: You will enter a lot of contests
When you don’t win your first couple of contests, you’ll take a ‘more the merrier’ approach and enter a lot of simultaneous contests, thinking that at some point, a contest holder will pick your work. Still producing the best work you can, you’ll start churning out concept after concept figuring that somewhere along the line, one will win. This goes double if you’ve managed to pick up some prize money along the way. After all, if you’ve won one contest, you can win more. Right? Trouble is, according to the crowdsourcing sites’ claims, there are 100,000, 200,000 or even a million plus other people who are thinking the exact same thing.
4: You will get frustrated.
At some point, frustration will set in as your work is glossed over for obviously poor quality work, material that’s stock art, clip art or a recycled design that’s been entered into dozens of previous contests. Despite perfectly valid explanations of your rationale, you won’t get any feedback from the majority of contest holders – not even a simple ‘thank you’ – and most of the time it will seem like you’re uploading your work into the void. You’ll see dozens of contests that you’ve entered held, canceled and refunded without a winner being selected (most crowdsourcing sites allow holders to walk away without awarding a winner regardless of how many designers have pitched their wares.) You’ll begin to think that you’re wasting your time, as the realization that you’re spending an awful lot of it with little, or nothing, to show for you efforts, starts to sink in.
5: You will be copied. A lot.
That is a certainty. As some point your concepts will get nicked (by someone who might even win with it) or your design will get lifted in its entirety. Don’t look to the crowdsourcing site for help either – they’re more interested in keeping bitching out of the contest threads (looks bad for holders doncha know) than they’ll be in righting any wrongs. The staff to designer ratio is so skewed that even those that try to stay on top of plagiarism, can’t keep up with the deluge of reported knock-offs, and many contests finalize before copied logos can be removed.
6: You won’t earn a living.
If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up a few shekels here and there. If you’re not, you won’t. In any case, the amount you’ll win will be nowhere near commensurate with the amount of time you’re spending. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule – teenagers living at home with Mom and Dad trolling for pocket money and folks from emerging nations to whom a $200 logo contest prize represents a month’s salary – but in general, you won’t make enough money to make working on a crowdsourcing site worth your while. Some contest sites will tell you that you’ll get tons of 1-on-1 work by entering contests and not winning. You won’t. They’ll just own another piece of you.
7: You will begin to cut corners.
Alas, after entering so many contests, without much in the way of feedback, new customers or prize winnings, the “why should I bother” sentiment will start to creep in. Your honest efforts don’t seem to be cutting it, so you’ll start to dip into your archives of unused concepts, icons and logo design ideas (this, by the way, is actually encouraged by some crowdsourcing sites.) You’ll begin to take a scatter-gun approach to contests, entering as many as you can, while spending the least amount of time on each. At some point, you’ll realize that you’re defeating the purpose of joining the site in the first place. Rather than attempting to win clients over with your superior work, you’re practically spamming contests in order to win something.
It’s no longer about design, it’s about winning contests.
8: You will quit.
If you don’t get locked out first. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, can afford to work for free, forever. If you’re a decent designer, your win ratio will be in the 6 – 9 percent range, so common sense, financial realities and other opportunities will eventually convince you to hang up your design contest hat. Whether you do that after ten, or after a 1,000 contests will depend largely on your personal situation (teenagers living at home with Mom and Dad can hold out longer than you could ever hope to.) Bottom line? Working on a crowdsourcing is not a sustainable way for most designers to earn a living so you’ll quit.
It is a certainty.
9: You will regret wasting so much time.
Sadly, and judging by most designers I talk to, this one is true of most of the people who pack it in. They regret spending so much time for so little in return. You may also regret driving one more nail into the coffin of the design profession because…
10: You will help promote the site. Long after you’re gone.
Crowdsourcing sites need a constant influx of fresh, warm bodies in order to keep their services alive and your profile will be used as one of the ‘800,000 designers ready to help‘ pitch of the site. Some sites won’t let you delete your profile for that very reason. The concepts you’ve entered will be counted in the ‘get 100+ designs’ advertising buzz used by the crowdsourcing company. They’ll remain in their gallery of designs because you gave them an irrevocable license to use your work forever, the minute you clicked on the submit button. These will be used to advertise crowdsourcing as a viable alternative to the ‘old-fashioned’ way of doing things to clients, and as a recruitment drive to other designers who’ll be convinced to start at the beginning of this list.
And so on.