One of the most ferocious professional arguments in internet history has been raging about the online logo contests. People are invited to submit designs for logos, with money ranging from about $100 to $5000 awarded to winners. There’s a technical angle in this conceptual mess that also needs explaining. Whether the logo is used for booklet printing, stationery, or whatever, the rights to the logo are assigned to the contest sponsor.
The arguments against: The Ripoff Effect
There are a lot of arguments from professional commercial artists against this whole idea:
These aren’t definitive positions, despite the obvious sincerity and anger about the contests. It’s not like being a commercial artist is a license to print money. If you’re just getting started, you take what you can get, ASAP. Graphic design is one of the most savagely competitive of all media markets.
The “media” angle overlooks another commercial reality: This is the all time cheapskate industry on Earth, apart from the music industry. Nobody pays more than they absolutely must, and “accounts management” includes some budget shuffling by definition.
Opportunism comes in many forms, not least of which when big ad budgets are flying around the world. What isn’t spent is arguably more important than what is, for advertising agencies. Try finding that $20,000 budgeted for layout, when someone picks up the logo for $150.
You see the problem. This is literally money for jam. The online contests have plugged into the dollar-based nervous systems of a lot of people, and they’re now hardwired.
The arguments in favor: Getting the kudos and experience
Given the situation above these may seem slightly naïve arguments, but there’s more than a slight grain of truth in them:
Portfolio values: A win in one of these highly competitive contests does count as portfolio material for anyone. It sounds good to say, “I beat 2000 people in this logo contest”. For new artists, it’s a definite boost, with backup in the form of commercial product. (Helps the confidence, too, good for artists as a species.)
Looking for graphics jobs is tough, and these are possible big breaks: The job hunting for artists is extremely demanding, and it can be truly brutal. The natural creative streak can take a pounding, and even rejection is better than doing nothing, because the creativity is harnessed and working.
I might win: Yep, and the chances aren’t all against competitors.
Experience value: Designing logos for things like business card printing is actually useful. This is bread and butter stuff for commercial artists, and it pays bills. Win, lose or draw, production efficiency and expertise does pick up.
The controversy will continue. Whether anyone ever agrees remains to be seen.