At a glance how design contests work, the risks and rewards of hosting one to develop your brand.

The argument about whether logo design contests are a professional way to develop a brand is for another time, another place (actually lots of times and lots of places.) This infographic takes a look at the practicalities of contests and what you can expect should you decide to host one.

How they work.

The premise of design contests is pretty simple – you hold a “contest” (scare quotes because they’re not actually contests in the true sense of the word,) ask lots of designers to design you a logo, you pick one you like and pay the winner. That nobody other than the winner gets rewarded for their efforts is the bugaboo that has lots of designers up-in-arms about the practice. A design contest can be held organically – you reach out to your customer or fan base – or commercially – though the various design contest platforms you’ll find on the Internet. If you host one on a commercial platform you can expect what you pay to be broken down as follows – around 60% goes to the winning designer as “prize money” and 40% gets taken by the platform for hosting your contest. Some platforms work in “stages” – at the beginning of your contest you can expect a mess of designs, some good, some bad, some dreadful and it’s up to you to decide which designers you’re going to choose to enter your “final round” – where you fine tuned your logo into (hopefully) a final form. Contests are supposed to run anywhere from 7 days to two weeks, but they tend to run much longer – the result of design contest platforms not enforcing their timetables with anything approaching certainty. There are two types of contests – default and “guaranteed” – where the former allows you to walk at any time, in the latter you promise to pick a winner. The companies that run these sites tell you that guaranteed contests attract a better designer, but logic dictates that they attract all levels of designer. The prize is supposedly guaranteed after all. There’s a couple of design contest sites that are hosted in Canada, but most are geolocalized sites using the Canadian .CA domain suffix and are outside the country.

What you can expect.

The risks of running a design contest – especially for your brand logo – are either slight or three-alarm-fire depending on who you talk to, but here’s what you expect in ANY design contest. It forms a pyramid – hence the graphic at the top of the page – and decreases in number as you move up it.

“The majority of designs entered into your contest will be dreadful – this is what happens when you ask anonymous people on the Internet to design you a logo for free, with only a moderate chance of getting paid.”

Pyramid bottom tier.

The majority of designs entered into your contest will be dreadful – this is what happens when you ask anonymous people on the Internet to design you a logo for free, with only a moderate chance of getting paid. Most design contests have little (or no) vetting processes in place – it’s a little bit much for people who aren’t getting paid to subject themselves to a portfolio check after all. These designs are bad from every point-of-view – visually and technically – developed by people who’ve downloaded a free version of some design software to have a crack at earning some dough.

Technically better but still not great.

The next level up our pyramid is where you’ll find people who actually know their way around design software and are capable of creating technically sound artwork. Trouble is, brand development is a fairly niche skill, so while these folks may know how to layout a brochure, catalogue or website, they may not have the chops to design great logos, supposedly the point of the exercise in the first place. Might you get a few “pearls” in this level? Sure.

The danger zone.

The red part of our design contest pyramid is where the danger of contests actually lies. Some of your designers will submit design concepts that have been knocked-off from somewhere else – Google image search, stock art sites (where use of their designs for logos is prohibited,) other designer’s portfolios, or just about anywhere else you can find artwork that can be crowbarred into a logo. You might think that platforms police these designs internally – they don’t – and most of their terms and conditions state specifically that they’re not responsible for the originality of contest uploaded to their servers. If the winning designer in your contest sold you a copied design, the platform might – that’s might – give you a refund, but that’s not much solace if you’ve plastered that bootleg logo over everything you own. It also doesn’t stop the company from which the logo was copied, to come knocking at your door wanting some recompense.

The question of value.

Design contests are supposed to be great value, but here’s the thing – a large quantity of the concepts uploaded to your gig will be rejects from previous design contests for other folks. There’s nothing technically wrong with this per se, but it certainly puts the “value” part of the equation into doubt. Contest platforms don’t frown upon this activity, but they do instruct designers not to tell you about it.

The pearls.

Will you get some decent concepts that are technically sound? Sure. But you’ll have to sift through an awful lot of tripe before you get there. I’m not about to put a percentage on the yellow portion of our pyramid but it is the smallest triangle for a reason.