Comments on Spec Work and Crowdsourcing

From the previous post, CreativePro: Spec Work and Crowdsourcing, I thought I’d grab a few of the opinions from the comments.

Shale Grant said: Thanks for your constant and steadfast guard over working on spec. I’ve done both (have my own design firm and have submitted to Crowdspring and frankly no one’s forcing the designers to submit. Some can handle it – some (apparently) cannot. If you don’t like it, don’t do the work on spec! Simple!

If I were a prospective client, I’d think you’re coming across as a whiner. Under the aegis of not giving the client the best they can get, I feel like you haven’t really understood what Crowdspring actually does for the client (they have a chance to answer any questions a designer wishes to ask, not to mention have to fill out a rationale anyway)- only weighing in on how it affects YOU, which makes me think you’re really not in it for the client’s best interest – or for that matter superlative design.

I think you just want to whine in order to justify your client inevitably overpaying for design by you. Face it: it’s the way things are. Either swim or get out of the way.

Several designers posted their opinions to dear Shale Grant, so please take the time to read them.

There is one comment in particular I’d like to share here.

Steve Douglas: Shale, I see spec and design contests as an industry issue – relevant to designers, buyers of design and yes, design firms.

The argument “well, some people do it, and they’re not being forced to” has no bearing on whether anything is good, effective or productive. It’s actually a classic case of the bandwagon or “Argumentum ad populum” logical fallacy – “the mere fact that a belief is widely held is not necessarily a guarantee that the belief is correct”. Lots of people smoke, nobody’s forcing them to, but no-one would use that argument as being illustrative that smoking isn’t harmful to the individual or society itself. The numbers of people participating on spec is, to be blunt, irrelevant.

I’m not sure why expressing a view that YOU should get paid for YOUR work is whining, but no mind. When talking to other designers who participate in spec, let me say this – to a person, they’d ALL prefer to be paid for their work. They’d rather get paid for EVERY contest or spec offering they enter. None of them, and I do mean NONE, actually WANT to give their time or talents away for free. They participate for a myriad of reasons, ranging from desperation to not being aware of alternatives, to the honest belief that they will somehow manage to make a decent living with design contest winnings (most find out rather quickly that they won’t). Unless you are the lone ‘professional’ designer who prefers not getting paid for your services, we probably agree on that one basic premise. Accordingly, I’m not sure how my stance could be determined as “whining”.

In terms of Crowdspring, I don’t want to dwell too long on them specifically, but as you brought them to the table – their website is 100% set up for the abuse of designers, many times as the hands of small business people who aren’t even aware they’re taking liberties. I don’t give a tinker’s toss about how much Crowdspring charges – that’s never been an issue of mine – my issue had always been that designers are exploited on sites like Crowdspring (and being exploited voluntarily has no bearing on whether something is exploitative or not), often by clients hoping to get ‘more for less’ while actually running a very high risk of obtaining inferior design work. Or worse. The vast majority of work on Crowdspring is, to be charitable, amateur (shouldn’t be surprising – design by amateurs is one of Crowdspring’s selling points to attract, well, amateur designers). By the way, this isn’t my opinion, but the published opinion of people who’ve reviewed CS services POSITIVELY on their blogs after running contests. The amount of copied art and stock artwork (submitted as logos) is astonishing. Again, don’t take MY word for this. Read Crowdspring’s own forums for complaints by designers who are otherwise quite happy tinkering around on the so-called “community”.

In terms of what Crowdspring does and the client-designer interaction, I must disagree. Pretty strongly too. The ‘buyers’ NEVER listen to the designer’s suggestions, even when told that what they’ve requested isn’t going to work (especially from a technical POV). All communication is FROM the buyer to the designer, never the other way around. Whatever communication from the designers to the client is usually the “yes sir, no sir – I await your next command, sir” variety. When utilizing people who are supposedly knowledgeable in their craft, the buyers never utilize that portion of the designers’ skillset. Their knowledge and/or experience. It’s akin to me taking my car to a mechanic and ignoring them completely when they tell me my wheels are going to fall off. And that, by the way, is if the ‘buyers’ communicate at all. Read the Crowdspring forum and read how designers carp that the lack of communication is a real hindrance to many contests. The management of Crowdspring have even taken to encouraging communication, suggesting that active participation means more entries. There’s lots more issues we could discuss, but rather than turn this into a Crowdspring-bashing thread, let’s leave it for another day.

In terms of my personal motivations, I’ve always been pretty pragmatic when it comes to business, so If I honestly believed that a service like Crowdspring was good for designers, good for clients, good for the industry (and profitable to boot) I’d be busy setting up my own logo design platform rather than blathering on some blog. I run a small design shop (and have so since 1996), staffed by people who have extensive backgrounds in design and online marketing, so converting my custom shop to a so-called design “crowdsourcing” platform would be a relatively easy transition. Accordingly, “if I were only weighing in on how it affects (ME)” and thought spec sites were a step forward, I’d have launched a logo design contest site years ago, and rather than debating with you on a blog, I’d be inviting you to come work on my site, supplying my ‘buyers’ with your artwork, for free. Which, apparently, you’d be quite happy to do.

Alas, I DO believe that spec sites like Crowdspring are exploitative, harmful for designers and a second-rate solution for clients. I also have to live with myself and would never expect you (or any other designer for that matter) to work for me without payment. Old school? Maybe. A Dinosaur? Perhaps. Whiner? Hardly. Continuing on my personal angle, I’d also like to point out that not once have I EVER suggested that people hire my firm rather than employ Crowdspring or another spec solution. Rather, I’ve suggested that spec contests are not terribly effective (my blog contains a myriad of evidence) and that design buyers have a ton of OTHER alternatives, ranging from small design shops to independent freelancers. As there’s nothing in your comment to indicate that I’m incorrect, I’ll stick by that stance.

I notice you close with the old “evolve or die” (or in your case, “swim or get our of the way”) chestnut. Not the first time anyone who’s been online for a while has heard that. Remember spam e-mail? When it first hit the scene back in the mid-nineties, the exact same rationale and arguments were used by the Direct Marketing associations. People complaining about spam were called dinosaurs. The JHD (Just Hit Delete) folks told those of us who hated our e-mail accounts being saturated with porn and pharma junk that we were “whining”, and trying to stand in the way of people getting “great money saving offers”. Spam e-mail was actually defended as being a positive thing for people getting it, as well as the small companies who couldn’t afford traditional advertising, who had started using it to deliver their message. Fast forward 15 years and spam e-mail accounts for over 80% of ALL Internet traffic, costs the world-wide economy billions and is a major headache for anyone trying to do anything online, from sending pics of the grand kids to parents, to running an online shopping business. This idea that all business models made possible by technology are positive is rubbish. Use of technology is what you “can do”. That needs to be tempered by what you “should do”. In terms of your comment “it’s the way things are”, and continuing with our analogy, the same can be said of spam. Are we better off because of it? Hardly.

Shale, thank you for posting your opinion.

And Steve, once again, thank you for taking the time to share your experience and views.

Cat