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:


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.


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.


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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