On Design Contests in FLOSS

It seems to be somewhat popular to hold a contest, if a FLOSS project needs a (new) logo or other seemingly singular asset.

Proponents may bring up that a contest would:

  1. lead to large range of choices thanks to the shear number of participants.
  2. generate publicity, as both the announcment and outcome of the contest may seem newsworthy.
  3. attract new contributors to the project.
  4. Demonstrate commitment to openness, community-building and meritocracy
  5. The community can vote on the result, democratically.
  6. At least the winner, if not other participants, too, gets a portfolio piece out of it.

But:

  1. Much of the increased quantity will go along with low quality. In the end, what you need is one great concept in one great execution
  2. You may get publicity, yes. But what message does it send?
  3. Attracting new contributors this way could work, but so far I only heard experiences to the contrary.
  4. You may demonstrate a commitment to openness, perhaps. A contest does not speak of, or encourage, collaboration, but rather of everyone against everyone else. Building on the work of others is discouraged. Trying to reach consensus is usually done away with, you vote.
  5. The outcome of a democratic voting process is (even looking past the shortcomings of every possible voting scheme) only as good as the insight the majority has into the topic at hand. Seeing how often people see no issue with throwing drafts around with no briefing in sight suggests to me that this is not very good, usually. Maybe I contributed a tiny bit to the problem with some drafts presented without much explanation, but I can assure you that I always think about what I’m trying to achieve with a work, first.
  6. Regarding a portfolio piece: does having won a contest beat having gained the trust of a client and having worked with them successfully? All other participants would have been as well off with a made-up client/project.

What does it say about you, if you are fine with the number of participants all investing the time and effort it takes them to come up with proposals, just on the chance of creating the winning entry? Think about participants * time spend,  a limited resource.

One issue that tends to appear with contests, but is not intrinsic: No briefing, no message, no strategy. Visual design associated with a project should always help, or at least not be in conflict, with the goals of the project. Based of a briefing, a mission statement for the project, you can work out a strategy regarding your communication. Because visual design is communication, if you treat it as such consciously, or not. This leads to the message you want to get across and the tone you want to hit.

The assistance of a trained designer makes working out such a briefing easier, but doesn’t fit into the picture of running a contest so well.

What to do instead of holding a contest

Developing a briefing, as well as technical and legal requirements, is a task best handled by a very small group.

You may then select a single or maybe 2 or 3 designers, based on their availability and past work.

Or have a concept/drafting phase open for all. But instead of turning it into a contest, it should be a designer’s job distributed on many shoulders. This means to encourage that participants pay attention to widening the range of concepts early on, avoiding to all cover the same ground. Later stages should be marked by providing feedback to each other and generating small variations on the search for the optimum.

All that said, I’m guilty of having participated in the countdown banner contests, but only because I was so confident (or arrogant) of making it every time. Not to forget that I really like the topic and constraints :}

Somewhat related: 28 talking points, about commercial crowd-sourcing.

About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

2 Responses to On Design Contests in FLOSS

  1. Pingback: PowerUsers logo « Thorwil's

  2. rvt says:

    THORWIL, the contest worked, ‘to some extend’ very well for me.

    it brings people together and they can throw out ideas as comments and links to there designs. I agree that in my case I might not have lined it out correctly, but in the end I got the design for LibreCAD.

    > Developing a briefing, as well as technical and legal requirements, is a task best handled by a very small group.
    At that time I was alone, the only ‘group’ I had we me at my desk, comments on the blog and two cats sleeping on my desk. However, I did need ‘something’ to steer away from the QCad logo and colors, a contest made sense at the time, I would do it again, but properly layed out the constrains better.

    > You may then select a single or maybe 2 or 3 designers, based on their availability and past work.
    The community did….

    > What does it say about you, if you are fine with the number of participants all investing the time and effort it takes them to come up with proposals, just on the chance of creating the winning entry? Think about participants * time spend, a limited resource.
    Well, think about the time work on the project itself in this case it’s like 99% me, and 1% community sending in bug reports, and out of 20 bug reports 1 patch (I am guessing here a bit). So, can’t I asked a little bit from the community?? There was nobody before that did the work, and made a great design

    About teh 99%, luckily that’s getting down now because I get great response from the community translating LibreCAD.

    You do make valid points tough, and with large projects you would ‘properly’ have 2 or 3 designers already that can communicate, but with small projects and low traffic blogs and trackers, it’s hard to do it ‘right’ within a reasonable timeframe.

    Ries

%d bloggers like this: