Online Design Contests: How to get Involved

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The internet has changed so many industries. Nowadays, many people get Ubers instead of taxis, and Airbnbs instead of hotels. When it comes to graphic design, lots of businesses now bypass their local design agency and run online design contests instead.

Design is definitely one of those skills that you either have or you don’t. (I don’t!) Online design contests have levelled the industry’s playing field, and allow designers of all levels to pitch to new clients.

This article explains how it all works, and how you can get involved.

How do Online Design Contests Work?

Online design contests allow businesses to post details of design work they need, for things like company logos and business cards. Designers then pitch their designs, and the clients choose which they prefer. The client then works with their chosen designer to tweak the final details, before paying to transfer the copyright and start using the design work as their own.

Design contests provide designers with a truly meritocratic way to win new gigs. Junior-level designers (or even students) can compete with professionals with many years of experience. The chosen designer in each contest is selected purely on the quality of their work.

An Example

First established in 2003, DesignContest is one of the oldest logo contest platforms. It now offers design contests for many other things beyond logos, including T-shirts, billboards and book covers.

DesignContest Design types

You can join the 200,000+ designers on the platform by following a fairly simple registration process. You then browse available contests and submit ideas to enter. If you win, you work with the client to finish off the work, and then get paid. The contest platform handles all of the formalities such as copyright transfer, non-disclosure and payment processing.

You can also develop and maintain a portfolio on the platform. Clients can browse these portfolios, and might contact you directly for work if they like what they see.

There are lots of different contest platforms out there, so it’s up to you if you want to establish a presence on several, or just concentrate on one. The general principles are the same for each platform, although you will find some specifics vary. For example, on DesignContest, you can actually earn some money if your design comes in in second or third place, as well as just first.

How Much can you Earn?

The amount of money at stake can vary significantly from site to site and project to project. Some design contest sites offer fixed-price packages, while others leave clients free to set a budget of their choice.

Typically, it’s not unusual to expect to make $200-300 or more if you design the successful logo. Obviously there’s potential to add to that significantly if you become that client’s “go to” designer. Often, clients will start out with a logo, then come back to you for future designs, such as letterheads and conference handouts.

Online design contests example

Is it Worth it?

Obviously, it clear that by doing online design contents, you are producing work speculatively. There’s no certainty you will ever produce a winning design and start earning.

However, there are several reasons why it’s worthwhile participating, beyond the earning potential, especially if you’re in the early stages of your career:

  • You expose yourself to new products and challenges, and receive feedback on your work.
  • You produce samples that you can potentially add to your design portfolio.
  • Your presence on one or more contest website(s) provides the potential for clients to notice your work and decide to approach you to pitch to them directly.

With design work, a lot of it is about the idea, the inspiration, and successfully creating something that reflects the vision of the client. If you’re a genius with Adobe Illustrator or similar, turning those creations into a concept you can submit may not necessarily take that long, giving you the potential to apply to several contests whenever time and inspiration permits.

Earning money

Design Contest Tips

Inevitably, entering these contests is a bit of a “numbers game.” However, there are several things you can do to help yourself rise above the pack:

  1. Get in fast. There’s no science behind this, but it’s fair to suggest that clients pay more attention to the first handful of submissions they get. It’s similar when submitting a pitch for any freelance job. Arguably, you can make more of a splash with a good submission if it’s one of the fast to arrive, rather than one of the last to trickle in.
  2. Really read the spec. Your best chance of producing what the client is looking for is to really get inside their head. Read their requirements, and read them thoroughly. It’s really easy to go off in a certain direction before realising you’ve missed something key.
  3. Do extra research. Some logo competitions are for startups, but plenty are for established businesses. They may be rebranding or doing something new. You’ll be able to learn a huge amount about them from a quick Google search.
  4. Check out the competition. On most of these platforms, you can see what other entrants have already submitted – are you going to go for something better, or something that goes off in a completely different direction?

Using Online Design Contests for your Own Business

While, to this point, this article has concentrated on participating in design contests as a freelance designer, you can obviously use them as a way to have work done FOR you too.

If you need a logo or another piece of design work, you can try to put something together yourself (perhaps using something like DesignEvo), or recruit directly for a designer. Running a content yourself is another option. You get to look at dozens of different designs, and to work with the designer who taps most accurately into what you have in mind.

Online design contests are one of those things that make you grateful for the internet. Traditional design agencies may not be too happy about how they’ve disrupted the industry, but they’re rather good for the rest of us!

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