The design competition, otherwise known as spec work.
It’s a term that when uttered to most seasoned designers will be met with growls and irritable sighs. Every designer will at some point in their career be asked to “enter my logo design competition!”
But what is spec work? Why is it a touchy subject?
So, for the duration of this blog post, I’ll be using the terms spec work and design competitions interchangeably.
A design competition is where a company will advertise, quite often on social media, that they have a design competition to create a logo for their amazing new company. if they’re lucky, they will receive upwards of 40 – 50 or more, (depending on the size of their online presence and influence) entrants. These entrants may also “enter” 2-3 or more designs in the hopes to win that coveted prize. Usually, a nominal sum of money that doesn’t even cover the time, effort and experience of those designers entering the competitions.
Can you see the issue yet? If not, keep reading below. Here are my 3 reasons why design competitions are bad for designers.
1. There’s a very high chance the designers won’t get paid
Imagine doing all that work, and not even getting paid!
According to Apex Creative, the average chance of winning one of these competitions range from 0.2% to 10%. Imagine you do your best work, you submit 2-3 designs. But its not just you submitting 2-3 designs. There’s around 20-30 if not more hopefuls sending in their designs. That’s a lot of pretty much free design work going to the companies who arrange these competitions.
2. No Other industry does this.
Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering 10 different dishes. You try each one, but only decide to pay for 1. Hardly fair is it!! Restaurants have overheads such as rent/mortgage on premises, food stock, staff to pay for, gas, electricity, kitchen equipment, their advertising.
Did you know that designers also have overheads? Rent/Mortgage, student loans, computer equipment (which can run into the thousands) Software packages (Adobe creative cloud full package alone is circa £50 a month) pens and pencils etc for when we get seriously creative, oh and gas/electricity, food, and other general household stuff if were freelancers working from home. (some of us even have kids to pay for too!!)
2. Design contests cheapen our work.
When you set up design competitions, or, if you as a designer compete in design competitions, the work is free. Regardless of the “prize money” because let’s face it, only one person will win the competition. AIGA (the professional association for design) is totally against this, and in their article state:
Clients risk compromised quality. …. Designers risk being taken advantage of. Some clients may see this as a way to get free work; it also diminishes the true economic value of the contribution designers make toward client’s objectives.
I understand if you’re a design student, just leaving university with your degree in one of the many design disciplines, but please, don’t put all that hard work and effort to get your amazing degree in the bin. If you’re fresh out of the oven and want some stuff in your portfolio, use your degree work. Design some off the cuff work for yourself, ask friends and family if they would like anything doing. Design a logo for your little sister and frame it for it to put on her bedroom wall!! I can guarantee she will appreciate your work 100x more than those who call for spec work/ do design competitions.
And to you who run these competitions: please don’t. It just degrades all the hard work we put into our careers. It devalues our profession. And to be honest, as someone who has been in this industry for 13 years now, it’s insulting.
Unfortunately, design competitions such as the ones I describe aren’t going away any time soon. The only consolation is that with continual education & saying NO, their prevalence will diminish.