Are Logo Design Contests Ever Okay?

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There are many logo designs that represent a concept more than an organization—consider, for example, a peace sign or a red cross. At some point, important people in the world realized that we have no international symbol for human rights. This, of course, must be rectified immediately. Hence, the Human Rights logo design contest.

We acknowledge that a Human Rights logo just may make a difference for the movement. Having a visual representation of an abstract idea can help to rally people around the cause. Further, this will give the human rights movement a more serious, professional feeling and allow them to more easily organize. It sounds silly to attribute so much to a single symbol, but consider the impact of the peace sign.

As we said before, we have no problems with the concept. Our problem is with the execution. Instead of hiring a professional logo designer to create the international symbol for human rights, the committee involved is instead allowing everyone to participate in a giant logo design contest.

We are not fans of logo design contests in general. However, when we talk about a logo design contest, we are usually discussing ones of a more commercial nature. Many businesses are harmed by these; they seem like a great way to get a logo at a cut rate without a huge investment in time. However, the products of these contests are usually very poor quality and designed with no knowledge of the brand that they are representing. Many, in fact, are plagiarized. They are also a bad deal for the many designers who work hard on original designs and then receive no pay for their labours.

Some people would argue that logo design contests for charities are a different beast entirely; the designers involved are basically donating pro bono work. There are numerous grey areas; we think it is sweet when the students of a school, for example, are involved in the design of a mascot, and we have nothing against contests in which a charity works with a legitimate university’s graphic design students to get a logo.

The Human Rights symbol is not supposed to be a logo for a small, local market, however. It is meant to produce an international symbol. We doubt that the organization is saving any money; the jury of thirty well-known human rights figures from around the globe is going to have a lot of work in sifting through the many entries.

Many designers would love to work pro bono—free of charge—on a logo design with the potential clout and bragging rights of this one. A better solution would have been to involve several professional design agencies from the UK and around the globe. Perhaps they could work together on a single design, or alternately each submit a logo for a pool with the winner being selected by the panel. There are so many better ways of handling this situation than an international contest that anyone can enter.