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a little healthy competition…


“Crowdsourcing”, “Contest”, “Competition”, “Bid”, “Spec”… all bad words in the design industry of late. For too long, and seemingly rampant in our current financial climate, artists and designers have been asked in multiplicity to share their hard-earned skills and creative energy and ideas so that businesses and organizations can choose the ‘best’ solution among many submitted. It’s not a difficult argument to make that this undermines the value of creative process and the ideas themselves, that it simply rewards solutions, and does not repay any of the others for time lost. It has become a contentious subject among designers and business people alike. [Look no further than this very recent debate on the AIGA website for more eloquent arguments against it in many situations].

But there can be an upside to competitions, if done right.

I try to stretch my creative legs from time to time by seeking out new challenges, and contests can be a great way to do that. For example, last year I submitted designs to several competitions, using skills ranging from graphic symbol design to painting/assemblage. The “Embracing our Differences” celebrates diversity, and exhibits the inspiring works on large outdoor billboards. This really isn’t any different from a juried exhibit, something many artists take part in. My 2010 submission didn’t get used, but it was enjoyable for me.

“Art Moves” is a festival and display of billboards designed to bring awareness/raise questions around a theme. In 2010 it was “Together or apart?. I chose simple pictographic representation of many ways in which our lives are enhanced by togetherness.


The Bioplastic symbol competition allowed me to flex my graphic symbol design muscles. Unfortunately, in the end, this competition proved unfavorable, not because of bad intentions, but because they were ill-informed and ill-prepared to host a competition of this magnitude online, and because public opinion was used to narrow down the selections. (I don’t need to tell my informed design readership, of course, that the public is not educated in the right experiences to set design criteria). Still, I learned a lot in the process.


I’ve just finished coordinating 3 different projects with my students, all of them working with a real client that selected one of the finished designs to implement. This models the contest/crowdsourcing activity so despised by many design professionals. The difference, however, is that the projects being executed are first and foremost designed to meet my course learning objectives and serve the student well in their growth, as well as in their portfolios. Secondly, the organizations are NOT corporations looking for profit and would, otherwise, not have the resources to brand themselves while doing the good work they do for the community, the planet, etc. Thirdly, the student chosen will be performing  some work after the deadline, and for which they will be paid by the client.

Though my junior level students had little if any prior logo design experience, this one-week charette better prepared them for the extensive identity projects that are coming down the pike in our curriculum.


The senior level solutions are shown here, with the selected design highlighted.

Logos by Leslie Martinez, Scott Knees, Amanda Olsen, Danyon Satterlee, and Kasey Orr.

Logos by Juliann Roth, Sara Rushby, Jacob Nicola, Yilun Wang, and Rebecca Miller


Unfortunately, there are many contests out there that are not equitable to visual artists, whether knowingly or not. Be selective, do some research, but don’t automatically write them all off. To find out about ongoing competitions, visit the  “Graphic Competitions” site.


2 comments to a little healthy competition…

  • Wow, Jen. Last night, a friend suggested I go to one of those design contest sites to get a logo for my business. I checked it out and was thinking some of the same things you’ve said here, “A lot of people have invested time in these designs. Wouldn’t it be better to find a designer whose work I like and work with them?”

    After looking over the contest site for a bit, I went to look at my site’s statistics and noticed someone was referred to it by and there, on that site’s front page is a link Eat Local Guide on your site. How beautiful! I am going to order them for my personal chef clients.

    Can you recommend a graphic competition site that’s fair for designers and those wanting their services? Or would you recommend I seek a local designer?

  • JB

    Hi Chris –
    Thanks for visiting my page. You’re business looks great. Yes, I think finding a local designer whose work you like and commissioning them is definitely best. There are many talented folks right here under our noses who are looking for work. You can even just start with Craigslist and you will find someone. If I wasn’t completely overextended right now, I’d say I might be a good fit, because I appreciate and share your real food values!

    Thanks for the kind words on my Eating Local guide… I have gotten one report that the purchasing feature isn’t working, so please let me know if that’s the case and we’ll make sure you can get what you want!


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