A few days ago, a young designer thought they’d take a stand against spec work, and uploaded the NO!SPEC logo to LogoSauce (a website selling design contest listings). In response, an article was published on the LogoSauce blog, no-spec vs spec.
The author of the post had this to say about logo competitions:
“(A logo design competition) gives designers an opportunity to truly work with anyone anywhere on the globe. The traditional approach that AIGA defends is unlikely to do the same.”
I disagree. If you offer a valuable service, the traditional approach is very likely to present the opportunity of working with clients around the globe. I work from home, and have teamed-up with clients in Africa, the Americas, Australia, Asia, and throughout Europe. None of my clients have been found by pitching ideas for free in a design competition, and all of them have paid.
The LogoSauce author goes on to say:
“At the end of the day – it’s up to each designer to make his choice – participate in competitions or not.”
True, and you’ll find that the vast majority of designers who decide to participate are those unable to differentiate themselves from their competitors. You might be thinking it’s a catch-22 situation, where a designer needs experience for effective positioning, and that competitions can provide that experience, but there are much more noteworthy methods for honing the design craft.
An excellent discussion took place on a previous article of mine (thanks to everyone who commented) that offers alternatives for gaining experience: Spec work can damage your business.
My favourite method is pro bono design (for the public good).
AIGA states the following, in its article Spec Can Be Beaten:
“If the client cannot tell one design firm from the next, or if none of the firms under consideration have been able to separate themselves from the others, then the client will have little alternative to asking for uncompensated thinking as proof of the best fit.
“When the client views one firm as uniquely qualified or at least far better suited, then often he will move forward with that firm based on assurances other than spec creative.”
Another example of spec work in the web age has emerged in the form of 99designs. This venture targets uneducated designers and unaware clients.
You need look no further than their ‘about us’ page to understand the plan associated with the site:
“99designs is a disruptive startup which connects passionate designers from around the globe with savvy clients who need design projects completed in a timely fashion without the usual risk or cost associated with professional design.”
Kevin Potts published a ‘no holds barred’ article on the negative aspects of spec work, using 99designs as a case study. You can read it here: 99designs: Bullshit 2.0 (uses strong language).
I’ve quoted Kevin below, referencing the stats about 99designs:
“At the time of this writing, $1,226,703 has been awarded (as prizes) across 346,171 (logo design) entries. Second-grade math teaches us this averages out to $3.54 per entry. So playing the odds, over a long period of time, every logo (or website, or business card, or whatever) you submit cannot even buy you a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks.”
How long do you think it takes to design a logo? When it’s weeks or months, you can see Kevin’s point.
Whatever your stance, it would seem that design competitions aren’t going away. There’ll always be a demand for the lowest common denominator, and these guys (99designs, Crowdspring, et al) are doing all they can to fill it.
The teaching hat is just one that designers wear, and it’s up to us to educate potential clients about why our services are worth paying for.
Update: 13 April 2008
Are logo design contest sites even legal? A welcome read from Steve at The Logo Factor, questioning the legality of logo design contest websites.
Other people talking about spec work:
- Collis Ta’eed, of FreelanceSwitch, publishes, Design Contests, Devaluing Design, and Is It Ever OK?
- A recent blog article on Pixlpusher asks, is spec work unethical?
- Adam Howell talks about a new ‘spec work’ venture in, The Pixish logo belongs next to “spec work” on dictionary.com.
Header image idea from a Chad Behnke poster