The One Pro And Many Cons Of Design Contests
‘Why?’ do such contests get such a bad rep? Consider the analogy.
My wife’s car needed brakes, so I took it in for an inspection. They hoisted her up (the car, not my wife) and said that the brake rotors were worn down and had to be resurfaced. So I told him that he could proceed with the resurfacing, but I would probably have my wife drive the car for a week or so and then get back to them and let them know if the work was satisfactory. At that point I would offer to pay him what I thought was fair. Surprisingly, he acted a bit stunned and told me that they do not work like that. Apparently, they offer a service for an agreed upon fee. I told him I would take the car to other brake shops to see if I could find a better arrangement.
This story line plays out every day in our industry. Hopefully, what I’ve written below will help companies and individuals outline the pitfalls of design contests and spec work.
I’m basing this on 20 years of professional experience and know the process of going through 300 designs submitted from 100 designers dilutes a brand mark as opposed to 20 designs that are well thought out and executed properly and take into account strategy, scalability, longevity, originality, professionalism, industry and competitors.
For the 100 or so designers that enter the design competition, 99 of them are doing work on spec while only one gets paid for their efforts.
The AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) publishes a business design and ethics guide that clearly states that design on spec is wrong and unethical.
Spec work is defined as producing a piece for a potential client with no guarantee that your work will be chosen and/or paid for.
Unfortunately, many clients do not understand this issue and continue to request spec work or worse, find a site that offers a huge discount on price and quality of work. Some companies seem to think that leveraging the power of social networks to engage a crowd-sourced solution is the answer. In my humble opinion, a lack of strategy will present a lack of results.
Pros to spec work and design contests:
- Low cost alternative
Cons to spec work and design contests:
- Ethical issue of fair pay for designers and workers
- Lack of strategy comes with lack of results
- Additional labor costs to weed through multiple submissions
- Additional resources to hire professional designer to polish or fix a chosen mark
- Risk of copyright/plagiarized work
- No relationship or trust built
- Confidentiality is out the window
- No research or development
- Little or no communication or involvement in the design process
- Could end up being a complete waste of time
The primary reason for having your brand work done in a traditional manner is so that the proper process is in place: From the design and creative brief, through competitive and industry research, to concepts and discussion to final edits and delivery of the final files in proper formats for all chosen media (digital, print, broadcast) with a style guide and proper usage guidelines.
And also consider that the work you get from a design competition will most likely not be from senior-level art directors and designers. So, keep in mind that the logo you choose could very well fall short in originality and copyrighted work. Proper verification and sign off from the designer will need to be authenticated. To be blunt, you get what you pay for.
Tell your client that you care about their brand and value the relationship. Your goal is to not develop a brand mark that is based purely on aesthetics and took all of 20 minutes to create, but one that looks deep into your companies mission, plan and overall brand.
While a design contest seems like a good idea because it could offer a less expensive solution (the ONLY benefit), keep in mind that it is important to not get distracted by the contest itself and miss the goal and focus of proper brand development. At best, a design contest is a gamble — a professionally designed mark where everyone is engaged and has proper scope is not.
Christopher Nebel, Principal/Creative Director of Rogue, has 20 years of design industry experience, serving many roles as designer, creative director, copywriter, video producer and animator for broad client bases including Sony Electronics, Herman Miller, Kraft Foods, Mattel and Habitat for Humanity. Utilizing his background in traditional design, Nebel, alongside Rogue, helps companies push the envelope from a creative standpoint while forging common goals and creating campaigns in line with brands and their vision. In the age of mobile, Rogue designs and develops creative digital solutions that expand into existing campaigns and help extend the reach of its clients.