A designers insight: why design contests work.

This article was written by Connie Taylor, a designer who participates on Hatchwise under the username “borzoid“. Connie approached me a week or so ago about writing a post on the subject, which I thought was an awesome idea, and the completed article has some great tips and ideas. Enjoy.
– George

Design contests (and the sites that host them) have offered a new and exciting way for business owners and designers to network.  The benefits to the contest holder are more than obvious.  They get a myriad of designs and designers to choose from for an end cost that is generally lower than many graphic design companies require.

But what about the benefits contests offer to the designer?  Sure there can be the occasional win, but contests can give a budding designer so much more. They can teach you how to design.

I began entering contests about 5 years ago.  Without them I would never have learned what it takes to not only win contests but to successfully draw related freelance work.  I have learned how to identify what the contest holder may want through the terminology they use and the type of business they own.  I have learned what font styles suit different design needs, and I have learned through the process of emulation a great many things that can be achieved in my graphics software.  To date I have won many contests and about 25% of those wins have brought me additional freelance work.   Even contests that I’ve lost have brought me income when contest holders change their mind after a contest closes.

Contests teach the designer that logo design is much more than just opening up Photoshop and drawing a few shapes next to some text. You have to:

1. understand what “style” the client wants
2. understand the methods of achieving that style
3. be willing to learn new methods and points of view to achieve the perfect end result

Looking back at some of my early submissions I know I should never have submitted some of those designs but for me the journey of learning logo design would never have been successful if I hadn’t entered the contests. Here are a few ways that entering contests can help you become a better logo designer.

Practice Makes Perfect.
Entering contests, even if you are only doing it for the money forces you to practice and perfect your craft. I never consider the prize amount when entering a contest; for me each contest is a chance to craft something that hasn’t been done before and possibly even learn something in the process. The more contests you enter, the better you get at manipulating whatever graphics software you use. The better you get at that the more time you have for learning the other facets of logo design. Sometime when I have time on my hands,  I play with gradients, effects and shapes and of course save every one of them for possible future use.

Seeing What Wins.
Whether you win or lose a contest is not always as important as what you can learn from it. What do clients consider a particular style to look like? I’ve seen many contests where the CH asked for ‘web2.0’ or ‘corporate’ styles but highest ranking and winning designs did not “fit” with my knowledge of the style asked for. Note to self: web2.0 doesn’t always have to have gradients, rounded fonts or reflections.
Every entry in a contest, how it is ranked and if it wins can tell you what clients are looking for and in the end – knowing the client is going to earn you more wins than fancy effects.

Learning From The Masters. In looking at “all” of the entries my curiosity was often piqued: How did they achieve that affect …… what color of metallic gold actually looks good on a white background …… wow that is a cool font.  Don’t be afraid to contact other entrants to ask about fonts, colors and such (just be polite and not use them in the same contest).  And take time to recreate effects (not entire logos) and make your own effects in the process.  There are thousands of tutorials on the web for logo design. I have often seen entries that came verbatim directly from a tutorial. But in all honest I have learned much more from trying to emulate effects I’ve seen in other contest entries than I ever learned from a tutorial.  Entering and watching contests can help you expand your graphics knowledge immensely, and, if you take the message of “what wins” to heart – may win a few contests yourself.

The Biggest Lesson I’ve Learned.
In the hundreds of contests I’ve entered, observing what ranks highest and what wins, I have to say the single most important thing I’ve learned is to Keep It Simple.  While some contest holders want a lot of effects, most of them want something clean, crisp and easy to use in print and in small sizes.  Always keep that in mind when working on designs.

I hope this helps to guide potential designers to look at their contests in a new way and hope that what you see brings you knowledge, skill and contest winnings.

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