Crowd-Sourcing, Contests, & Spec Work

When I decided that I wanted to focus my career on logo and brand identity I thought a majority of my time would be spent sipping coffee, researching creative design options for clients, and designing the day away in my sketchbook and on my computer. While this does take up a good majority of my time I have to say I am surprised at how much time is spent educating others (and myself) about the various aspects of the design industry. I would like to use this post to educate people about some of the more popular topics being debated in the design industry today.

Number 1

Crowd-Sourcing: It seems every business is trying to tap into the idea of crowd-sourcing the ideas of the masses. Simply put, crowd sourcing is the act of taking what were tasks traditionally performed by an employee within a business and outsourcing them to a large undefined group of people.

In the design community many websites have popped up in which clients will ask for a design and have not one but many designers vie against one another in order to have their design chosen. The only person to receive payment in this process is the “winning” designer. While this is beneficial to the client, it promotes the idea that as a designer you may or may not be paid for the time and effort put into your work. Imagine if the same was done for other professions? Tom Stephan writes a great analogy of how this would work.

Number 2

Contests: It is hard to browse graphic design websites or skim a design magazine without seeing ads for a design contest. Many of these contests entice designers with the promise of cash and prizes. This, in many ways, works the same as crowd-sourcing. A prize is the form of payment and all but one will usually be given any sort of compensation for their work. Worse yet, it seems more and more stories are coming out about work that is being stolen or plagiarized and used in other design contests. Contest seem to be more about getting hits on a certain website rather than creating effective designs.

Number 3

Speculative (Spec) Work: Speculative work, or “spec work” as it has become known, is work that a designer does for a client in which no fee has been agreed upon, preferably in writing. Some would argue that the clients should get to see work done before money exchanges hands. This may work with other products like test driving a car or trying on a suit, but logo design work, especially logo design work done right, is a process that is tailor made to fit a clients needs.

Instead of asking for work to be done without any payment a client should ask to see a designer portfolio and find out exactly what the designer’s design process entails. If a designer simply says they fire up their computer and can get a finished logo back to you in a day or two then there probably wasn’t much time spent exploring the competition, putting together a design brief, or becoming familiar with the clients industry.

To offer full disclosure I have entered some of my own work to crowd-sourcing websites in the past before fully researching the topic. I have since pulled my work from these websites and fully support the no spec initiative. While I know this will go against what some designers believe, I feel that our integrity as designers is at stake. Crowd-sourcing, contests, and spec work simply undermines the design industry and wrongly informs the public that the work we do is of little or no value.

Further Reading: SpecWatchNO!SPEC | iStock Prepackaged Logos

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6 Responses to Crowd-Sourcing, Contests, & Spec Work

  1. jerms says:

    Amen! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these subjects. I constantly hear other designer friends bitching about not getting chosen for a contest, getting burned on spec work or doing logos for a couple hundred bucks. It is becoming increasingly sad that some designers that know better still jump right into these boats. The headache and time of working this way far outweighs the short lived glory if you do happen to win or get chosen. I have dropped a ton of jobs in the past couple years due to the client dangling the carrot or pitching me on this (‘Hey we have new way we are going to work”) job.

    It is pretty sad. I tell people that I talk to to grow a set and stand up for what we all do. If you are scared to talk money and really get paid what the job is worth, go read up on some biz books and get educated on how things work out there in the real world.

    Thanks so much for sharing your point of view. Love it.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for the response Jerms. This is one topic I knew I was going to have tackle at some point. I think you make some great points, it really is about educating ourselves and knowing how the industry works and knowing what we are worth.

    I remember talking to a group over in Seattle, Washington a few years ago and telling them what I was charging my clients for freelance work. Every one of them said my work was worth at least double the amount I was charging. I remember them saying “know your worth”. That always stuck with me.

    I am still getting use to sending out quotes to people and knowing I may never hear from them again, but if they wanted something quick and cheap, I was never the right designer for the job.

    Thanks again for feedback Jerms, glad to have the support!

  3. Andy says:

    Good post Jeremy. I’m just about to graduate from a small college in northern Idaho – unfortunately here, “What you do is easy” and “No one will pay that much for that” are terms heard all too often.

    A lot of design work here is pushed into contest form, with lots of business drilling artists/designers into a mindset of “I’m doing you a favor by giving you the PRIVILEGE of submitting work for my contest” – which is BS at it’s finest! Haha sounds like you know this all too well.

    I’m strongly against spec work and crowd sourcing myself as well. Thanks for the post!

  4. Jeremy says:

    Glad I could help Andy. I suspect a lot of businesses don’t realize that these contests and crowd sourcing websites are actually hurting our industry. I have had a few friends who knew I was doing design work and passed on some of these sites as places I could send my work. I don’t think they realized how it just undermines what we do. It is especially important to stand up for our industry now, so that new designers like yourself can make a decent living in the future.

    I am glad I am hearing some positive feedback regarding this post, it wasn’t an easy one to write, but standing up for what is right isn’t always easy.

  5. Kiren says:

    It’s really sad but true. The only thing we can really do is hope that people are still looking for quality stuff and know where to look. I feel spec work is not going away anytime soon, it’s up to us to adapt and continue producing quality work.

  6. Jeremy says:

    That’s a great observation Kiren. I think you are right, spec work/stock sites aren’t going to go away anytime soon, but what we can do as designers is separate ourselves by offering quality, well researched work. Adapting to industry changes is just a part of the process.


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