I know logo design contests and the whole "spec" work issue is a controversial subject. As a designer given the AIGA's position on spec work what are the pros and cons of entering such contests?

  • This has sparked me to ask a related Q here (not a duplicate) - graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/2027/…
    – jakc
    May 13, 2011 at 23:19
  • You should probably make it clearaer that this question is related to the SO-run Lucene logo contest as per blog article here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/05/…
    – e100
    May 16, 2011 at 13:37
  • 1
    Yes, for an open-source project, I think folks are a bit more forgiving. That said, a CONTENT scenario still does not produce ideal results. It's better to find a designer or firm willing to dedicate time to the project (even if not billing for it).
    – DA01
    May 16, 2011 at 14:38

6 Answers 6


The Cons:

  • you're working for pennies
  • you're working for a 'client' who has committed next-to-nothing to the project
  • you're not designing based on any real client or business objectives/requirements
  • there is no proper feedback loop
  • you're competing with people that are likely using unlicensed software and type
  • you're wasting your time

The Pros:

  • umm...let me think...err...hmm...nope. No Pros.
  • Points 2, 3 and 4 are the killer ones and the ones people often don't think of. It's not good practice if it does not resemble real work: it's just an exercise, like fighting a straw man. If it's exercises you want, your time would be better spent on tutorials and challenges to gain skills and techniques you don't yet have, rather than throwing existing skills and techniques into the ether (Unless it's a deserving cause or involves genuine useful feedback) Mar 9, 2012 at 16:44

The only pros are for the people who ask you to do spec work. You do the work, they get the work. They will be cherry picking meaning your work may be used and combined (sometimes without your knowledge).

The thing I find is the worst property of spec work: no good and no direct interaction with the client and as such you're more into producing work on the base of their brief when you should also be challenging them and vice versa.

And then there are the time constraints.... no more crowdsourcing for me.

Unfortunately sometimes the website/design business demands it, so accountmanagers ask it of me. I usually try to dissuade them or try to contact the clients beforehand to get more info but that's is not in the case of crowsourcing but more with RFP's.

  • 2
    And even then, it's not much of a pro. I argue that for each $100 spent on a logo contest, that $100 would go further in terms of ROI if given to a dedicated designer that's working directly with them. Logo Design contests are like shopping at wal-mart. You can choose from 100 options of what you are looking for, but they're pretty much all rather cheaply made options.
    – DA01
    May 16, 2011 at 14:40
  • 2
    Wal-Mart? More like the Dollar Store... May 16, 2011 at 19:37

What every designer should understand about "clients" who use crowd-sourcing, or who get their logo designed by their step-sister's nephew who knows MS Paint: you are looking at someone who views design as an expense, not an asset. If you're a designer worthy of the name, these are never going to be your clients and you should not waste a moment on them.

When Steve Jobs dropped a hundred grand on a designer to create the NeXT logo, before he'd even set up office space or hired any staff, he knew he was investing in a new brand. Apple spends a bazillion highly-paid man-hours on the design of its products. Last I saw, they were getting a pretty good ROI on that expenditure...

  • I couldn't agree more. One important point though is that although many clients understand this, it can be hard for some to put a price on a service that isn't tangible. A lot of people don't understand the time and effort that is put in to make something "look pretty" or "cool" (it's obviously a lot more than looking cool or pretty). Crowd-sourcing just helps to add confusion to this perception. May 16, 2011 at 19:57

There are several good answers here that deal with the ills of spec work and mention that design contests pay a pittance. This is just a little deeper look into the numbers...

I happened to come across a competition site today and was amazed at the numbers they advertise on their front page:

enter image description here

They're trying to pump up the designs per project and the total payout, but the number of contests lays it all bare. That's 117,766 designs at a cost of $230,401, or $1.95 per submitted design. Ouch!

Competition sites are the "slot machine" principle applied to the design industry. Slot machines have calculated payout percentages. Essentially, over a long enough timeline a slot machine will always pay out X amount in winnings for Y amount spent. Players think this doesn't apply to them because they'll win... but reality dictates that most will lose, and those who play long enough are guaranteed to lose by the rules of the game.

Design competitions are built on the same principle and sucker people the same way. If you are lucky, you may submit a design and win a contest and pocket a few hundred dollars. However, you would have to quit right then for it to be worthwhile. Every competition has a similar probability, so you can be fairly well certain to lose a few rounds. The result is submitting many designs and, if you win at all, making substandard rates for the hours you have spent.

  • all true. However, unlike a casino, the sponsor of the contest usually loses to. They're getting pretty crappy work. The only winner is the middle-man (the web site that's taking the vig)
    – DA01
    Mar 8, 2012 at 22:33

Pro's for doing these contests are:

  1. keeping your creativity flowing, use it or lose it.
  2. Improve your skills, could be speed, program you want to work on learning.
  3. Self improvement

Con's for the contests are (from someone who has done two different sites)

  1. hourly rate can be as little as .01 - that's right one penny an hour. I did my first contest the rate was $50.00-$5.00 commission= 45.00. I spent a good 3 hrs on the original design, they asked for three changes in the middle of the contest, 3 more hours, after I won, the whole design changed...colors, text... 15 hours of changes.
  2. Some sites want you to do work for as low as 7.00 (not an hour, a project)
  3. Briefs are not clear, don't contain viable information on the project and can change in the middle of the contest, because they weren't clear. Example: Design a notebook cover ($200), I spent hours and submitted three designs, 3 hrs after I submitted my design, the brief changed and said, design the wrap, the cover is brown craft paper. Another I designed for the site, said it was to scary for children, the brief did not give an age category, it said "people", my ten year old cousins thought it was hilarious.
  4. The client can pull a project at any time and ask for refunds. 5.I made it into the finals on several projects, made changes... then the other designers started copying my work and won. 6.Many designers are using clip art, stealing other peoples work, and leaving messages on the clarification boards to "look at my work" if you are trying to read comments left by the client you have to sift through the trash.
  5. You are competing with 100-1000 of people, clients really can't handle that many choices.

I thought it would be a good way to get some clients, but why would they want to hire you at a decent wage when they can get 40 hours of work for $20.00?


The cons: When participating in these logo contests, you are devaluing the design industry as a whole. Also it gives off the perception that logos can be "ready made", with the ability to simply change the name and have it work. There is a LOT of hard work, research, and unique consideration that should be taken into account when creating a great logo. Even if you decide that you would like to work for pennies, think about the greater implications of bringing down the industry as whole.

Example, "Why would I pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a logo from you, when I could go to this site, have 50 people make me different logos, and choose one for $100?"

That is the point of view that people begin to view the graphic design industry with after seeing or using these contest sites. Of course many will be able to spot the difference in quality and understand that you get what you pay for, but at the same time many will not.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.