Logo Contest Sites: Good news for designers, or ripoffs?
Logo contest sites are becoming big business. They’re also attracting a lot of flak online as ripoffs, providing low returns for winners and depriving graphic artists of fair returns. The battle has become one of ideology as much as commercial realities.
The logo contest sites have simple contracts regarding ownership of materials. If your entry wins, you sign over the rights to the logo. If it loses, it’s your property. Some monitor the contests to ensure that the contests are healthy, providing feedback. The sites offer profiles online for artists, useful for those who don’t have websites or want commercial exposure as freelancers in a marketplace. These sites are entirely unapologetic about any defects, and sail on regardless of criticism. It’s a typical internet phenomenon.
The arguments for and against have taken up strong positions:
The pro-logo contest advocates say the contests are great experience, they pay about as well as some freelance jobs, and they’re good portfolio material. They also have high profiles. If you can say you beat 800 other people in a design contest, you do have a talking point.
There are a few undeniable points in this position. Getting a break as a freelance graphic artist is very difficult. The artist profiles are useful, particularly on well known sites. Anything which beefs up the portfolio is good business. It is good experience, and does make artists try to perform at their best, so their work quality is generally high, or at least market standard.
The anti-logo contest crowd say that the contests are ripoffs, not paying a fraction of commercial rates. They also say that the contests waste a lot of valuable time with unsuccessful entries, which would be better spent getting real jobs. They also have many reservations about the designs, many of which look like other commercial designs, and aren’t particularly creative.
These arguments do have factual elements. The prizes are usually nothing like graphic rates, although a few do pay very highly, on a par with commercial rates. The time factor, which may be many hours, does matter. The innuendo about plagiarism isn’t entirely misplaced, although it can be overstated. There’s a whole class of similar-looking “safe” logo designs, most of which are stock vector-based swirls and icons, which could be called “mainstream fodder”.
The fact is that logos are part of advertising budgets. If you have an advertising budget of $10,000 you can spend half of it on a professionally designed logo, or you can put it up for a contest for $250. It’s a no-brainer, and win lose or draw, you own the new logo through logo contest contracts. Against which, the El Cheapo approach can result in buying the basis of a lawsuit. The misgivings about unhealthy levels of similarity in the safe designs are well- founded. Logos are commercially sensitive, as are registered designs and trademarks.
The bottom line is enter these contests with your eyes open, and get starry-eyed after you get paid, not before.