Spec Work Is Evil / Why I Hate CrowdSpring

*Update* I get now almost daily emails describing serious ethical issues from past clients and designers from CrowdSpring, ranging from stolen work to child labor.  Stay far, far, far away!  It is not just me, you can see CrowdSpring by the numbers or Why Crowdspring Should be Ashamed of Their Business.   *Update*

Speculative work (asking someone to complete a job as an application is a loose promise to pay them if you want to) is evil. No way around it.  Check out No!Spec if you are unfamiliar with the subject.  Here is my take:

My Thoughts on Spec

If you are a company that needs a phenomenal designer / writer / developer / marketer, there are plenty out there. Take a look at their portfolio, if you like what they produce hire them.  Speculative work especially asked of designers, and some early stage designers fall for it, resulting in low quality work and experience for everyone involved.

If you need a great designer for a project, I know 20 designers that kick ass, email me.

Enter CrowdSpring

CrowdSpring is a site that attracts people with small budgets for projects ($250 for a company logo) and designers to come up with the designs, including revisions, for clients, with the chance of getting paid.  It is speculative work, almost at its worst.

Why is this such a big deal?

Design, unlike other industries is unique in that the intellectual property is put into your deliverable, and when the client asks for you everything you have to put into the project to think about purchasing.  I am a designer and this is by far the easiest way to end a friendship with me (asking me or someone else).

It is a major ethical flaw of both parties.

Let me say that again, a major ethical flaw. Some designers I have talked to have escalated this lack of ethics to be on par with some very serious crimes, while other see it as dumping oil down a rain drain.  A lot of people don’t take this lightly at all.

The AIGA puts it this way:

AIGA believes that doing speculative work seriously compromises the quality of work that clients are entitled to and also violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide. AIGA strongly discourages the practice of requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a speculative basis in order to be considered for acceptance on a project.

Rafe Needleman calls this process weasel economics.

Don’t Support It

If you see spec work happening, put an end to it, it is not the ethical thing to do. It is that simple.  Don’t be a weasel.  If someone views your ethics being this bad, they will start to actively not promote your company.  “Did you hear that CrowdSpring sucks?” etc.  Saving $2000 on your logo could cost your company a whole lot more.

But, Hey, They Can’t Be That Bad, Right?

I am fully in support of smart teams bringing disruptive practices to new markets.

Here is a response I got on twitter from the team at CrowdSpring:

CrowdSpring

Not understanding the difference between custom speculative work and selling art backs up my first thought that there is a major ethical vacuum and lack of understanding around design at CrowdSpring.

Going head to head and undermining/ underbidding an entire profession is not something to be done unless you can carry the torch for the industry in the name of good (INGdirect comes to mind).

Is There a Grey Area?

Yes, but very few. Volunteering. I do a lot of volunteer jobs that can be viewed as spec work. As a general rule I only volunteer for non profits that don’t have the energy/ time to look for a designer for a project.  I also see some grey when it comes to community contests where a professional designer is hired to take the winner and develop it to the final.

Early on in the discussion on twitter, this question was posed.

CrowdSpring

Bandwagon fallacies don’t work for a lot of things, including this.   If you are talking about ThreadLess, they have done a very good job a) paying their designers fair market value b) involving a community in the beauty of design that traditionally would have been left out and c) making clear that the designs are done for the love of design, not for a 3rd party to profit off of.

What Is the End Game

This is a question I often ask, in 10 years, if this becomes the industry standard, what will you have.  The answer is not more happy designers, or clients.  Design as a whole will be lesser if this model is used, and that will be a real shame.

Closure

In the end this is a classic example of a problem out there with someone solving it in the wrong way.  If the problem is clients having a hard time connecting with designers (who may be just beginning and need to build portfolios), then make a site where designers can build their portfolios working on volunteer projects and showcasing their work to quality companies looking for great design.

From my short interaction with the team, I would put in a vote of no confidence that they will do the right thing.

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  • Nick W

    So are state sponsored lotteries unethical? People spend money (obtained by leasing their time via some sort of work) on a lottery ticket with full knowledge that the odds are against them with the hopes that they win. If all parties involved understand the risks, I don't see how this is unethical. Bad for the design industry? Sure, if you want to call change bad, but unethical? Nope.

  • Nick W

    You are overlooking the fact that the odds are impossible to know. This is due both to the decision process not being entirely random (quality of work, congruence to client's expectation, etc) and an unknown number of participants (e.g. when I submit my design it might be 1 out of 22 designs, but by the time the contest is over there could be another 150 designs submitted).

  • nerfherder

    Problem 1: As a profesional designer/art director with 15+ years experience, i've found that one of the critical aspects of delivering a successful logo is due diligence before ANY work is started. Working closely with the client to establish an accurate and practical design brief, competitive analysis, industry research and subsequently iterative thumbnail/sketches. The ability to meaningfully communicate in this manner with a contest holder at crowdspring and 99designs is miniscule at best.

    Problem 2: Because of this, and is often the case with clients anyhow, their idea of what they want is often poorly articulated – with words like: conservative, trustworthy, funky, intelligent, innovative – you get the idea. Professional designers dig deeper and educate the client as to why doing so matters. Without this dialog, even given a competent designer, mediocrity is sure to result.

    Problem 3: Logo designs submitted to these contests, I would say, are in the neighborhood of probably at least 50% derivatives of someone else's – some other company or whatnot – work. In some instances the derived iteration is sourced from another logo that another designer has either submitted for an entirely different contest, or in more brazen instances the very contest in question.

    Problem 4: It is true that we all have the choice to participate or not. No one is forcing anyone to do so. I believe that these contests sites serve to undermine the entire profession. And yes I consider it a profession. Being responsible for a $100k brochure press run from design to proofing to press check involves many, many professionals in the process. The designer ultimately being the lead and card holder when the chips are down. I'd say that is a profession.

    More to the point, Designers are not paid for their deliverables, as such, more so they are paid for their time. You see, my time is worth something. I have experience, education, insight, perspective, craftsmanship and a duty as outlined by the profession itself, as well as the AIGA. These attributes allow me to derive a certain value for my time. Instead of throwing the project up for grabs with a “prize” for the winner, the client reviewed a portfolio, checked some references, chances are very high he will receive exactly, if not more, than he bargained for.

    Problem 5: Prize? My plumber doesn't expect a prize for his time. My dentist doesn't want a prize for his time. Matter of fact, neither does my cable provider. You might try to argue that these are all objective examples. You are right, and design is also objective. A professional designer is encouraged to educate the client to look at their design requirements objectively, rather than subjectively. Matter of fact, if the designer does this, he'll have more success moving forward through the process rather than getting bogged down with the client's personal tastes and be able to focus on what the client's customer base will respond to. This, too, affords a more successful outcome. A solid design might have subjective aesthetics, but it'd better be supportable with solid objective rationale.

    Sure there are folks who've picked up a computer, installed Illustrator or Photoshop and are talented enough to whip out some facsimile of a logo. And sure there are many clients who don't know any better but to accept with a smile and gladly hand over the $250. I would argue that a business model that attracts this sort of “designer” and this sort of “client” might be successful in the long run.

    But as professional designers, we have to ask ourselves “how does this serve the industry as a whole, and how does it serve to represent professionalism to clients and potential clients?”

    Maybe AIGA should publish a website that helps educate clients about how to work with a designer, why spec work is detrimental to all parties and why client's can often get more value for the same money by using a professional instead of a spec site?

    Isn't it about time they took an official stand on this?

  • nerfherder

    Problem 1: As a profesional designer/art director with 15+ years experience, i've found that one of the critical aspects of delivering a successful logo is due diligence before ANY work is started. Working closely with the client to establish an accurate and practical design brief, competitive analysis, industry research and subsequently iterative thumbnail/sketches. The ability to meaningfully communicate in this manner with a contest holder at crowdspring and 99designs is miniscule at best.

    Problem 2: Because of this, and is often the case with clients anyhow, their idea of what they want is often poorly articulated – with words like: conservative, trustworthy, funky, intelligent, innovative – you get the idea. Professional designers dig deeper and educate the client as to why doing so matters. Without this dialog, even given a competent designer, mediocrity is sure to result.

    Problem 3: Logo designs submitted to these contests, I would say, are in the neighborhood of probably at least 50% derivatives of someone else's – some other company or whatnot – work. In some instances the derived iteration is sourced from another logo that another designer has either submitted for an entirely different contest, or in more brazen instances the very contest in question.

    Problem 4: It is true that we all have the choice to participate or not. No one is forcing anyone to do so. I believe that these contests sites serve to undermine the entire profession. And yes I consider it a profession. Being responsible for a $100k brochure press run from design to proofing to press check involves many, many professionals in the process. The designer ultimately being the lead and card holder when the chips are down. I'd say that is a profession.

    More to the point, Designers are not paid for their deliverables, as such, more so they are paid for their time. You see, my time is worth something. I have experience, education, insight, perspective, craftsmanship and a duty as outlined by the profession itself, as well as the AIGA. These attributes allow me to derive a certain value for my time. Instead of throwing the project up for grabs with a “prize” for the winner, the client reviewed a portfolio, checked some references, chances are very high he will receive exactly, if not more, than he bargained for.

    Problem 5: Prize? My plumber doesn't expect a prize for his time. My dentist doesn't want a prize for his time. Matter of fact, neither does my cable provider. You might try to argue that these are all objective examples. You are right, and design is also objective. A professional designer is encouraged to educate the client to look at their design requirements objectively, rather than subjectively. Matter of fact, if the designer does this, he'll have more success moving forward through the process rather than getting bogged down with the client's personal tastes and be able to focus on what the client's customer base will respond to. This, too, affords a more successful outcome. A solid design might have subjective aesthetics, but it'd better be supportable with solid objective rationale.

    Sure there are folks who've picked up a computer, installed Illustrator or Photoshop and are talented enough to whip out some facsimile of a logo. And sure there are many clients who don't know any better but to accept with a smile and gladly hand over the $250. I would argue that a business model that attracts this sort of “designer” and this sort of “client” might be successful in the long run.

    But as professional designers, we have to ask ourselves “how does this serve the industry as a whole, and how does it serve to represent professionalism to clients and potential clients?”

    Maybe AIGA should publish a website that helps educate clients about how to work with a designer, why spec work is detrimental to all parties and why client's can often get more value for the same money by using a professional instead of a spec site?

    Isn't it about time they took an official stand on this?

  • Cynic

    It reminds me mourning of major music labels when mp3 & p2p came up. You're make me laugh.
    I haven't got a chance to have education, but I wanted to be designer. Now I'm working in this field quite successfully. I always laughed at those stupid pussies from art academy. They was always talking, talking & talking, but when I was looking at their work, it was just simply shitty, banal and worthless. Sure, I'm not talking about everyone.
    If you got education, it doesn't mean you're good specialist. Thanks to those sites like CrowdSpring, many uneducated but talented people can build can build up portfolio and find work.
    And if you people afraid of this crowdsourcing idea, it means you're not so good as designers as you think.

    Sorry for bad english, it's not my primary language.

  • Cynic

    It reminds me mourning of major music labels when mp3 & p2p came up. You're make me laugh.
    I haven't got a chance to have education, but I wanted to be designer. Now I'm working in this field quite successfully. I always laughed at those stupid pussies from art academy. They was always talking, talking & talking, but when I was looking at their work, it was just simply shitty, banal and worthless. Sure, I'm not talking about everyone.
    If you got education, it doesn't mean you're good specialist. Thanks to those sites like CrowdSpring, many uneducated but talented people can build can build up portfolio and find work.
    And if you people afraid of this crowdsourcing idea, it means you're not so good as designers as you think.

    Sorry for bad english, it's not my primary language.

  • andrewhyde

    Completely different arguments.

    Have fun in scamsville.

  • http://clement.tumblr.com Clement

    Do you go to different restaurants, and ask them to cook you their best dishes, and only pay for the one you like the most after trying them all?

    Do you go to different software engineers, ask them to write a custom application that suits your need, and only pay for the one you like the most?

    If not, why do that to designers?

  • http://clement.tumblr.com Clement

    Do you go to different restaurants, and ask them to cook you their best dishes, and only pay for the one you like the most after trying them all?

    Do you go to different software engineers, ask them to write a custom application that suits your need, and only pay for the one you like the most?

    If not, why do that to designers?

  • http://www.designhowyouthink.com Christian

    Cynic , the problem is not talent, its quality.
    would you let your neighbors kid rebuild on your car transmission because they like to, or would you take it to a professional, or at least someone with an education building transmissions?

    It is wrong for the same reason EATING cats and dogs is WRONG.
    It is wrong for the same reason KILLING butterflys is wrong but killing wasps, bees and termites is OK.
    It is wrong for the same reason Doves are used a weddings instead of pigeons.
    It is wrong for the same reason we kill rats but we have hamsters as pets.

    It happens for the same reason STRIPPERS have jobs but prostitution is wrong.

    Spec work is a VILE practice and it is hurting ALL designers, programmers, and artists alike. It is a cancer in the industry and should be condemned, the same way a married man should be embarrassed for visiting a strip club so should ANY designer be embarrassed for doing spec work.

  • http://www.aom.sg/ Car Ionizer

    for me, if you love what you are doing. you wont feel toxic

  • Authorramona

    I was awarded $500 dollars on a crowdspring design and haven't received a cent. Monday at 3:15 the 30 days payment period will be up. I will let you know if I receive anything.

  • Authorramona

    When I complained about not getting paid they deleted my account so not only did I lose the work from the project I won but I also lost for the 30 or so projects I had entered. My advice is “Don't waste your time with crowdspring”

  • Authorramona

    Just an update, I tried to resolve the issue and was unable to do so. I have notified the BBB but basically I guess I learned a $500 lesson (one that I couldn't afford) The lesson is-do not work with a company until you check them out with the Better Business Bureau First.

  • http://www.shopster.com build online store

    Trusting over the internet was really a tough one. Online business must gain a true reputation and great impression to the customer.

  • Manfred

    Authorramona: Please tell us the “rest of the story.” People have said lots of bad things about Crowdspring, but nobody's ever claimed that they just keep the money and never pay anyone. What was their side of the story? Is it just that the payment is late (are you being paid by check?)? Are they claiming (perhaps falsely in your opinion) that you broke some rules? Can you direct us to even a single other report on the Web by someone who claims not to have been paid?

    Or are you a troll?

    The Chicago BBB is not showing your complaint at this point. Let us know when it appears online.

  • Pingback: To Spec or Not To Spec, an opinion. | Tim Goldman Illo Design

  • JT

    Here's a new story about the negative aspects of crowdSPRING and the people who run it — scroll down to the last comment:

    http://www.thewmfreelanceconnection.com/2010/05/crowdsprings-content-mill-model-writing.html

    My wife got booted off the site for asking the wrong questions, and then when she won an award AFTER being booted off (she'd entered earlier), they demanded she remove negative comments off the web before paying up. This was done by the co-founder of the company, Mike Samson. She called their bluff, and got paid, but it doesn't speak well of the company.

  • NewHaven, startup

    Hi,

    I just found out about this website recently and here are my thoughts.

    A better analogy for this website using your example – The 50 restaurants would have the choice to voluntarily enter a recipe contest. Restaurants would offer you free samples of the food items, and the winner of this contest would sell you the rights to his recipe. You could then reproduce these dishes whenever you felt like it.

    However, if you used the recipe of a restaurant that did not win the contest, you would be violating their rights and they could press charges. Your business would be shut down or fined to compensate the restaurant you wronged for stealing intellectual property.

    This is different from entering a restaurant, ordering a meal, and leaving without paying because they are aware that you may not pay them before they bring you the dish. There is only a chance that you may purchase the rights to making that type of food, so they try their best to impress you. If you decide it sucks, they're the one that offered the free sample.

    The reason this is a poor example is because recipes, unlike logo designs, are not generally catered to one person. You cannot reuse a logo for another person, whereas a recipe designed for one person might be used to serve another person. However, the designer knows this before imagining a logo for the potential buyer.

    A better analogy would be something more personal. Like tailoring a suit. The tailors invest the cost of labor and materials. The buyer decides he likes the suit, but needs it slightly altered and purchases it in the end. The way that the tailoring of suits differ is that there is an initial deposit.

    Certainly, the website could be redesigned to charge the bid plus a small sum per person, but this would jack up the costs and turn away the customers, who are in the low capital category anyway. Sounds counterproductive to their business model, so I doubt this sort of a change would come into effect.

    As such, the current situation is distinct from suit making. Both sides consent to take part in this competition. If people are opposed to it, then don't do it. The market will take care of it. Buyers who cannot afford expensive designers' logos can get something made cheaply on the website. If there is truly a difference between expensive designers and these “amateurs” who flock to the website, then there will always be a market for this professional service. If the service of the professionals is indeed not distinguishable, then there will be an incentive to provide better service and up the quality of their work.

    Hope this helps

  • NewHaven, startup

    Also, one more note on the recipes. I said above that recipes and logos were different because recipes may cater to another person while logos may not. A new customer might see this recipe, be impressed, and have the chef cook for him. Or, perhaps the chef may alter the recipe slightly and show it off to potential customers. Maybe he'll get an idea for a new recipe. Through producing this food, he has acquired new skills. He knows how to chop the vegetables or what combination of colors will produce the best effect. Thus, even though the restaurant has lost the competition, they still derive certain benefits from entering the competition, even if they are not obvious or monetary in nature.

    Similarly, while a designer's logo is probably not going to be recycled, he can add it to his portfolio. He's honed a skill set. Someone who sees his portfolio might like one of the designs from the competition he lost and contact him about logo designs.

    There is more to be gained from our experiences than money. Connections, inspiration, skills, reputation, etc…

  • acrazedsuperman

    Is the mild decay of design as a profession going to be the downfall of this civilization? If you think so, I hope you voted against the health bill, as the same argument could be made about medicine.

  • NH student

    Are high school scholarship applications for $500 slave labor auctions? They take a ton of time and I'm never guarenteed to win once I enter. But I enter because I have something to gain by taking a few hours out of my day to do something besides watch TV. Maybe I even like to write essays. I think I'll even save a few for the book I'm planning on publishing.

  • premed

    Have you taken Organic Chemistry? Doing the work does not mean that you get paid. That's just how life is sometimes. I enrolled knowing I would have a chance of getting an A. So did everyone else. But, in the end, the hard work wasn't good enough. Someone else did a better job.

  • Klatchers

    If you don't like Crowdspring, then don't use it. If you don't like WalMart, then don't use it. If you don't like eating meat, don't do it. But whining about how we should prevent other people from doing something in a capitalist / rapidly changing / hi tech world is rather lame.

  • http://www.700r4transmission.org 700R4 Transmission

    I'm not finished read this yet, but it's so fabulous 'n I'll back again when I was finished my job :D

  • Christian Zagarskas

    To this day I still send this page to companies. I have had some dialog with peter@geniusrocket.com and they appear to be making some changes, but remain rooted in spec work. They seem to pop up everywhere now a days…
    This is what I tell them:

    YOU do not actually do any design, video, programming, ect… Right?
    Therefore YOU rely on a community of professionals who provide these
    services. Essentially YOU are the great middle man, your company does
    not posses or wish to posses the skills to serve your clients
    directly. YOU SHOULD SERVE a community of talent, a base of creative
    individuals who posses the talents to fill the needs of YOUR clients
    they would other wise not have access to.
    What if YOU tried to honestly revolutionize the “multimedia broker” approach?
    YOU broker deals between companies who want design and workers who want work.

    Workers post portfolios, clients choose workers, workers get paid, companies get design.
    Charge little fees for posting projects, choosing designers, and listing portfolios.
    BAM = HONEST.

    send this to any Speck work weasel you know. We can convince them to change if we ALL try.

  • http://security-wire.com/12/how-to-remove-system-tools-2011-rogue-anti-spyware.html remove system tools 2011 virus

    Great post there:)

  • Nathan

    I’m an active crowdSPRING designer. I’m a student and I’m currently learning design and crowdSPRING is a great way to earn a little cash doing something I love without having to start a business which I’m definitely not prepared for yet. CrowdSPRING is for companies who would like a decent looking logo for an exceptional price, mainly those businesses that are just starting out and don’t necessarily have the budget to fork up $2000 for a simple creative image to convey their businesses message.

  • John

    Honestly, when you look at the numbers of the top crowdSPRING user statistics, they participate in an average of over 1200 projects and have about 25-35 winning entries. That’s pathetic.

    All that tells me is lots of designers could be doing a lot more with their time instead of destroying the market. You are a cheap whore if you waste your time with crowdspring, and you get paid what your worth. Shut off your computer and make friends.

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