It’s not often that I snark on an individual blog post but will this time, partially to illustrate the lengths some companies will go to promote their design contest sites, but mostly ’cause Charlie asked.
Charlie B. Johnson (uh-huh) over at Graphic Design Blog is at it again, publishing a blog post entitled Do famous companies prefer Logo Design Contests – Yes or No? With Charlie’s awkward connections to Logo Design Guru‘s design contest site Mycroburst, I was willing to bet that the answer would be a resounding “yes”. Luckily, after reading the post, I wasn’t disappointed. But he did ask the question. So, I’ll try to answer.
Teeing up his evidence, Charlie tells us that there are “numerous irrational squabbles” going on about logo design contests, and that a “handful of designers, adverse to the concept of design contests, are lamenting over the emergence of this unique trend“. Irrational, Charlie? Hardly. There’s lots of designers who have laid out reasoned and rational arguments on blogs, forums and websites. Hell, even we took a rather sober look at the practice trying to avoid any lamenting. Tried to duck wailing or gnashing of teeth too. Ain’t a handful either Charlie. Practically every graphic design organization in the world. And a good chunk of the professional designers you’re going to run into. See, that’s the point Charlie. Only people who run design contest sites, Mycroburst let’s say, are completely gung-ho with the concept. Even participating designers would prefer to get paid for their work. You don’t have anything to do with Mycroburst or it’s parent company do you Charlie? Nah, of course not. ‘Cause that wouldn’t be very cool. Acting all independent and stuff, while pushing the site onto designers who’re not aware of your affiliation. There is that rather large Mycroburst ad on every page of your blog though, but I’m sure that’s just an oversight.
Toyota logo contest
Charlie then holds up a few famous companies to illustrate how they ‘prefer’ logo contests when it comes to their branding. First up: Toyota, who under their first family-oriented name Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd., did just like Charlie claims, holding a logo competition way back in 1938, receiving 27,000 (or 200, depending on the source) entries (how a logo contest in 1938 illustrates how Mycroburst-like sites is an “emerging trend” is anyone’s guess). Trouble is, none of the entries sat terribly well with the Toyoda family (partially due to Japanese numerology superstitions), so they altered one of the logos themselves, adding a brushstroke which changed the company name to Toyota. The history is a little complicated, and even a bit murky, but overall not too good for the ‘pro contest’ argument. In any case, that logo’s pretty well gone, and other than some employee pins (left), watches (right) and stickers for retro car memorabilia fans, it’s been relegated to the Toyota archives. Ain’t famous either, cause I be a lot of people reading this post are seeing it for the first time. Once the automobile company went world-wide, they used a simple font mark that spelled out Toyota (I remember that one. Stared up at me from the steering wheel of an old Cargo Van I used to drive). Further, the design that Charlie’s holding up as an example of a ‘famous company preferring logo contests’ (above) wasn’t designed by a contest, but was launched in 1989, shortly after Toyota announced their new Lexus line of premium automobiles, in order to differentiate between the two brands. Where did I get this info? Why, straight from the Toyota website.
Olympic Air logo contest
When Olympic Airlines, the national airline of Greece, was sold by the Greek government to Marfin Investment Group, the new owners decided to change the name to Olympic Air and hold, tah-dah, a logo contest. Charlie’s got that part right. Now, take a look at the old logo (above left) and compare it to the new logo (above right). Not much difference between the two. See, this contest was a publicity gimmick, and didn’t involve the design of a logo, but the tweaking of what already existed. Couldn’t wander too far from the original brand because Olympic Airlines still existed for a while after the acquisition. While this may be an example of a ‘famous company’ using a logo design contest, it isn’t a particularly good one. Brand New does an excellent job of chronicling the contest and dissecting the results.
Google flavicon ‘contest’
Not much of a contest actually. After messing about with a whole bunch of different flavicons for Google related sites (and generally being hammered for most attempts) big G turned to users to ‘suggest’ some alternatives. They ended up going with a style that was ‘inspired’ by André Resende, a computer science undergraduate student at the University of Campinas in Brazil. Apparently, André was the first to recommend a white lower-case ‘g’ on a colored background. While being mentioned as the ‘inspiration’ for the new flavicon, Google didn’t actually use his submission as is, telling us on their blog that the new version was an “reinterpretation of one contest submission” and that
Although we changed the color layout slightly and moved the ‘g’ off center, his submission formed the basis for our new design. Incorporating all four of Google’s colors (red, yellow, green, and blue) into the four corners of the favicon was a theme we liked in many submissions. We also saw this idea in the designs submitted by Hadi Onur Demirsoy, Lucian E. Marin, and Yusuf Sevgen.
See, if this was a logo design contest, and as Google didn’t use any of the submissions, it would hardly be considered a ringing endorsement of same. But as a flavicon isn’t a logo, arguing the matter would be kind of pointless. So we won’t. Granted, Google does host on ongoing series of Doodle 4 Google logo contests, but they’re aimed at K-12 high school students and don’t represent logos per se.
EU Organic Certification logo contest
Next up, Charlie shows us the EU Organic Certification logo (though the European Union isn’t exactly what I’d call a ‘famous company’ but I digress). While the contest did end up with a winner (three actually), not everyone was happy with how things panned out. I won’t re-hash, but quote the original post:
Not everyone was thrilled with the contest, or the three logos they had to choose from. Organic association Bioform issued a statement by director Leen Laenens, supposedly representing “many” in the industry, that read in part “they (the three proposals) have no visible link with the sector. One could ask the question whether the consumer is aware the an organic product is involved“.
Okay, you can’t please everyone all the time, so if the European Union was a ‘famous company’, I suppose this could be an example of a ‘famous company preferring logo design contests’. But it isn’t. So it’s not.
Spud Webb Enterprises logo contest
Charlie rounds off his examples of famous companies using logo contests with some outfit called Spudd Web Enterprises. I’m not a big basketball fan, but apparently that company is owned by Anthony Jerome Webb, who according to Wiki is “better known as Spud Webb, is a retired American NBA professional basketball point guard. He is currently the President of Basketball Operations for the unnamed D-League franchise in Frisco, Texas“. Qualifies as ‘famous’ I suppose, but oddly (not really) this is an ongoing contest on Mycroburst (quelle surprise) and is, as Charlie tells us, “a big slam dunk opportunity for logo designers who have the opportunity to win USD $300“. Cool and everything, but all this to pimp a link to a Mycroburst logo contest? Or some more SEO folly? Seems so. Out of common courtesy, I’m not going to hack on other designers’ work, or raid any of the logos, so you’ll have to decide for yourself how well this contest is panning out.
See Charlie, I’ve never been shy about debating the spec work and design contest issue. But if we’ve axes to grind, let’s be upfront about the axes. That’s not to say ‘famous companies’ don’t use logo contests. They do. There’s the Dish logo contest on Crowdspring. There was the CP+B gig for electric motorcycle manufacturer Brammo too. I guess Charlie doesn’t want to link to competitive sites so the examples he’s got to work with are sorta thin. Which kinda puts paid to the objectivity of the entire premise and his rather awkwardly worded closing question (which I’ll quote, running the risk of getting boned by Google for keyword stuffing):
“If logo design contests are allegedly bad, then why famous corporations have been opting for them? After witnessing such legendary cases of corporate identities, do you still believe that logo design contests warrant the cynicism they get? Don’t you think ”logo design contests” have been playing an important role in providing memorable logo designs to the industry?”
Must have missed the “legendary cases of corporate identities” in Charlie’s article, but no mind. Though I might argue that it’s posts like this driving some of the “cynicism” he refers to. And in closing, let’s take a look at the payouts of the examples, just to see how peachy keen logo contests are for participating designers. EU Organic logo contest: €6,000 prize ($8,006). Cool. Olympic Air logo contest: €20,000 prize ($26,690). Cool. Mycroburst logo contest: €224 prize ($300). Not so much.
Oddy, I’m reminded of apples. And a lot of oranges.
[1936 Toyoda Model AA (main photograph): Mytho88]
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- Again with the design contests
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- Defending crowdsourcing & design contests. The platitudes of spec work.