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The Design Contest Controversy

Earlier today I mentioned a company called 99designs to someone who was looking to get a book cover done. 99designs is a crowd sourcing company that runs “contests” to deliver on what the user wants. I’ve used their services before and was very pleased with the results. After I mentioned 99designs I received the following tweet:

I responded that I’m going to have to agree to disagree and here’s why…

First, I’ll admit that within those three links are very valid points regarding copyright, etc., however most of the perspective seems to be coming from the “community”.

1. The “Community” needs a stronger argument.

In the links above, there was mention that design contests are very bad for the design community. Reason being is it doesn’t give much value to designers, and that there’s no quality in the designs delivered in the contests, etc.

Well, to be honest when I used 99Designs, I really didn’t expect to get good results. I was wrong. I got awesome designs, and it was really hard for me to choose which one I wanted.

Guess what? I’m a designer!

As a designer, would I ever participate in a contest like this? No I wouldn’t, but that’s me. When you’re a designer you have to decide for yourself if something like a contest is worth it. Yes, these designers may do something quick, some of the designs are straight garbage, but a few of them come out really nice.

If you have to participate in thousands of contests to make some money, then that’s your prerogative, but that’s not for me to judge. Everyone has to make a living, so it’s strange to me how other “agencies” or “designers” get upset or annoyed at something like crowd sourcing.

If you’re a designer trying to make a business by creating logos for clients, then you need a strong selling proposition to tell the prospect why they should spend more money with you as oppose to less money with crowd sourcing websites.

These designers don’t take time to understand the brand.

When you first sign up, you have to give a scope for your project. You are required to explain what your company is about, what message you want to convey, the styles you like, etc. Someone who is spending $299 for a logo shouldn’t expect a designer to do hours of research on the company and learn the ins and outs of the brand. The designers should be expected to design and create based off of the scope that you pre-filled.

Most small businesses aren’t even looking to go that in-depth with their logos. Mid-size to large companies may be looking for extensive research, but not small businesses. Chances are, if you interview a small mom and pop shop to get intel on their business to learn their branding, you’ll have a very short conversation.

A simple logo design is not branding

Perhaps this should’ve been the first reason listed. Let’s not get the definition of logo design twisted with notions on what branding is. A logo design is not branding. Branding is expensive. Branding is color choice, font-selection, imagery, etc. If you do any graphic work for a large company, chances are they’ll send you a book of guidelines and extensive details on how to use their brand.

Branding is very expensive and to most small business, it’s not worth it to “brand” their company. Having some type of symbol or type treatment that represents their company on business cards, letter heads, etc., is more likely what they’ll spend their money on. As a company grows, then they may grow into a branding strategy.

What does the client want?

You can spend thousands of dollars on logo design, but why? As technology and web trends change for the better, I feel like clients are also getting smarter.

For tight budgets, you have to count every dollar. Every dollar you spend is an investment in your business.

So with that said, why would small businesses and startups spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a logo.

I think the solution that 99designs provides is right on par with their audience.

In my situation, I just wanted a nice looking logo. I’m a web designer, graphic design is a little difficult for me. I’m not rich so I don’t have tons of money to hire a single designer/agency to create a logo for me. To be honest, I didn’t even want that. I wanted to see what ideas people would come up with that would represent my company according to my scope.

I wasn’t obligated to pay the fee, in fact, I was able to get a full refund if I didn’t like any of the designs offered. However, I saw a few that I liked and I chose a winner. I got exactly what I wanted for the price I wanted.

Here’s the kicker

I’m an affiliate of 99designs, but I’m not posting the link in this article at all. Mainly because it’s not about sending people to 99designs. It’s about finding the right product for the right clients.

Maybe design contests aren’t the solution for you, maybe they are. If you don’t have a lot of money and you’re not looking for a full branding package, then do what’s best. I personally went with 99designs because it filled my needs but there are may other solutions out there.

I think I touched on everything, but if I missed something, please let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to reply or add to this post.

About the Author
What's UP! This is my site, I write 99% of the articles on here. I'm also the owner of I help out a lot of developers and designers getting into the web game. Helping is fun for me, so feel free to ask me any questions! I've made courses and have a membership as well to help get you on your feet!

0 comments on The Design Contest Controversy

  1. Cre8tiveDiva says:

    You hit the nail on the head Jonathan. I tell my clients, especially those who are starting a brand new business – don’t over spend on design – whether it’s their website or graphics. Not saying that both shouldn’t be of high quality – but they really don’t know if their “business” is going to work for them yet. Branding takes time. Most new businesses don’t even have a “brand concept” – they just want to start their business. The point I stress is that they need to get something out there – not junk, but something decent. If 99designs can provide them with a “decent” product to get out there, then they can build their brand and hire a graphics designer who will help them figure out their “branding strategy” – who they are, what they do and what they will look like (web, print, logos, colors, etc.). Great article and thanks for sharing!

  2. Ya, I agree that its more about community but its not only about community. Design community don’t think just about themselves, they also think about their clients.

    I have seen many cases (few links mentioned below), were designers copied design from other’s designs (from Internet and also from design submitted in same design contest) and also unknowingly client choose then as winner. Letter on client may need to face legal issue because of that.

    Also because of these design contest people who can easily pay good amount to hire a GOOD designer/agency, now they also started doing contest just because its cheap, without knowing the FACT.

    • Designers hardly get much time to concentrate on a single project
    o They try to take part in as much contest as possible so they can win few of them and make their living.
    o So they hardly get half hour to an hour to work on a project.
    • You get only 10 or less percent of effort, of what you pay for your design
    o Because everyday designers take part is as much contest as possible, and I have gone through hundreds (if not thousand) of profiles of designers on design contest sites where they hardly have win ratio of 10% (those are the best ones).
    o They took part in 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and more contest from the time they joined. And at a time they take part in like 10, 20, 30, 50 contests simultaneously.
    • To provide designs ASAP sometimes they take/copy/steal ideas/concepts from internet and from other designers who took part in that contest.
    • When designers loose many contest then some of them also lose hope, fate in themselves that they can even design
    • Lack of direct engagement with client and designers

    And even if you are starting with your business, the designer who is suppose to design should have at-least little bit of knowledge (or should do research) about in-out of your Co., industry, targets, etc. even if you are a start-up.

    Many clients live with no value and respect for the designers. I personally felt and experienced that. When I entered into the market I also took part in few design contest.

    When a client don’t work with a design directly, they don’t even learn about what a logo means to a brand (I agree that logo isn’t a brand but “its a part of a brand”), many of them think that, they need logo to use it on there website and some graphics instead of just writing their company name using any common font. And also they think logo should be in vector so that they can resize it without loosing its quality.

    For Profit: “The other issue I have with design contests is that the product that comes out of them is to be used by the organiser to make money. These aren’t contests for the sake of the art, they’re contests to produce a product that a company like Crowdspring will go on to make money with. And if that’s the case, then why not select single designer, pay them a proper and assured amount and get the work done properly?
    By running a design contest it can feel a little like exploiting a financial loophole for one’s own ends. I’m sure that in most cases this happens not from a desire to be exploitative, but simply from thoughtlessness.” —

    And FYI if a client needs low cost service, there are many good designers/agency out there who is work for low cost but they don’t have good client base and looking for work. Client just need to do little bit of research.

    Its all about RESEARCH. Even to make a successful business you need to do a bit of RESEARCH.

    Here few more link for the same:

    Sorry if my English isn’t that good.

  3. I’m no designer…I’m a journalist, but I agree with this 100%. Designers need to take the time to understand the brand. It’s hard to get that with a bargain designer — unless it’s a talented newbie who just wants to get some traction in the industry. That’s hard to find, though.

    I’m in the process of having a new website developed for my content marketing business. I paid a pretty penny for the logo design and other collateral marketing materials. But, you know what? It’s gonna rock! And my designer is designing it on the Genesis Framework. My favorite.

    Regarding this contest: I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s just not for everybody.

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