My Logo Contest Bitch Session

Okay, it’s official. I hate logo design contests. Well… I always did hate logo design contests. But as time goes on, I think I hate them more, and my most recent experience (last year) with a pretty important local logo design contest has sealed my resolve never to enter one again, until the next time….

I’ll admit, I have wanted to design a new logo for the Olympia Farmer’s Market for years. I just think they’re current logo, which has been around a LOOONNNNGGG time, is just so, well, 1989. I don’t actually know when it was designed, but it feels like 1989 to me. I don’t like the diamond shape, I don’t like the typography, and I don’t like the nondescript flower poking up out of the bottom, in a mostly colorless logo. I especially don’t like the version of it that has shadowed type. Our market is a vibrant institution and this logo just doesn’t convey any of that…. to me.

So, one afternoon last summer, while I was on my way to Seattle for the evening, I found out that a logo contest for the Olympia Farmer’s Market was due to close that very evening. What???? My heart sank. Even though I hated logo contests, it appeared that my chance to help rebrand the market was hours away from being gone. Dang!

I thought to myself… perhaps I could make it home in time to slam together a concept before midnight. I would have to come up with a great concept on the way home, and then execute it the moment I got in the door.

That’s exactly what I did. On the way home from Seattle, I came up with my idea. It was going to take a little time to put together, so I also planned out the exact sequence of stuff I’d have to do to pull it off. I got home, it was 10:00 pm. Two hours before the deadline.

I came in the door and immediately told my son Parker to change into new clothes: khaki pants, button-down shirt, bare feet and a big floppy straw hat. I seated him on a low stool in the living room and stuck my cello in his arms in the position of a guitar, and posed his arms, hands, legs, and head. I got out my camera and took several pictures, then released him from service.

I ran down the hill to the press with my camera and plugged it into my work computer to download the pictures. I picked the one I liked and emailed it to myself. I did some furious searching for a squash illustration… found a good one that would work okay (for concept-level work) and scanned it and then emailed that too. Quick! Ran home, then opened the files and then dumped them into Adobe Illustrator. I locked the photo and then went about tracing it (stupidly) with pen tools, trying to turn the complex photo into more simple line art. It looked alright. Then I brought in the squash illustration and carefully nudged it into Parker’s line-art arms, masking the illustration where needed. Finally, I created spot color fills, selected color, and then with just minutes to go, created the typographic portion of the logo concept. The contest rules also required that contestants create a web-page banner of a specific size. Weird. I did it anyway, and attached the whole thing to an email and then, guess what? I went to bed. Two hours start to finish.

What happened next started out as kind of exciting and suspenseful, then turned into something of a head-scratcher, then went from head-scratcher to head-shaker, to whatev-er. The nice people managing the contest put up all the submissions on their facebook page, inviting the public to comment on their favorites, which people did in droves. There were a number of submissions that had a head-start (they were put up apparently as they came in) and so even though mine seemed reasonably popular, it never really caught up to the front-runners. There were the usual wild assortment of logo concepts, from polished and professional (and somewhat sterile) to funky and organic, to total off-the-wall, to “did your eleven year old nephew design this?” I mean, the usual, right?

As time wore on I realized that, well, while glad that I went ahead and participated, I could have used more time, and other submissions were probably a better fit and — more power to them — would probably win the contest. Oh well.

Well that’s not how it happened. No. In fact, nothing happened at all, for weeks, and then weeks blended into months. Nothing. No announcements, no winner. Then much later, and I’m too lazy to look up when, the market announced that “due to a lack of submissions,” and to some lack of clarity about the requirements for the logo, the Board had decided to OPEN THE CONTEST BACK UP and close it again on December 31, 2011.

Okay, huh. I thought, this gives me a great chance to polish-up my concept and resubmit it. But then, I thought, hell no. If they did not like any of the submissions enough to choose one, then they probably wouldn’t like mine a second time even if it were buffed-up. Plus, I was kind of affronted on behalf of everyone who submitted a design. It felt kind of like a slap in the face, or maybe more like someone casually spitting on your shoe. There were lots of submissions, incidentally, a few of them quite good. Better than what they have now (no insult meant to those who are attached the the existing logo.)

Well, after December 31st, I perked up again waiting to hear who had won, because even though it was not likely to be me, I looked forward to a new logo for the farmer’s market. Let’s see it!

At some point I wrote back to the organizer, asking for a status update. She never responded to me. I let it go. Well, until today, when I decided to give my account for those interested in the trials and tribulations of designers. So I finally called the market office again to ask what happened. I told the man I spoke to that I was writing a blog post on my experience and that I needed information from the market to make my post complete. The nice lady who organized the contest called me back. Yeah, tell them you’re writing a blog post and they get right on back to you.

And it’s nothing earth shattering. She just said that the Board didn’t like any of the logos that were submitted, and even after a second round of submissions, were underwhelmed. She said that due to budget issues, there was also no money to implement a new logo anyway, though they would eventually try to find a local designer to create a new logo. I told her that I thought it was disrespectful not to communicate with the contestants about the contest fizzling out in this way. I recommended that she write a letter to everyone to tell them what happened and thank them for their contributions. I couldn’t tell if she thought that was a good idea or not. I thought I could hear her eyes roll, though.

It’s one thing to enter a contest knowing you might not win. No biggie. It’s another thing to enter a contest and ultimately find out that NOBODY won… that nobody COULD win… that the whole contest was badly conceived, badly designed, and very badly executed.

I’ll just conclude by saying this: if you need a new logo for your organization, have the sense to do it right. Have the sense to invite portfolio submissions. Take the time to meet with the designers. Choose a designer, for Pete’s sake, and then dig into your mason jar and find some damned money to pay them for their work. And if you don’t have money, and can’t pay a professional, and decide to hold a contest… then swallow your pride, PICK one, and use it. Dammit.

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Owner, designer, printer at an historic letterpress printshop

4 thoughts on “My Logo Contest Bitch Session

  1. Jami,
    Well said. I think I can speak on behalf of the entire Olympia Artspace Alliance board and thank you for designing our logo. We are constantly told how it captures our whole mission beautifully. We only wish we could have paid you a lot more for it! It’s frustrating that the Oly farmer’s market is not treating artists more respectfully. I’m sorry your story had to be written. Hopefully their board will read it and realize how shabbily they treated the contestants.
    Cheryl Selby

  2. Very Olympia to go through the motions of something “important” and then do nothing at all. The wheels of progress have a flat in Oly. Smile and just know it will never change 😉

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