The business magazine published The Creativity of Crowds, which opens with the following:

“Crowdspring aims to slash the cost of graphic design work — and democratize a snooty business.”

I’m all for competition, and welcome it, but when there’s such a one-sided article about the validity of spec work, it’s appropriate to mention the other side of the story.

For the unaware, Crowdspring is a design contest website, where people submit (mainly) logo designs in the hope of winning a prize. Prizes are (not always) awarded by the companies who join and host a contest.

From Crowdspring’s user agreement:

“We have no control over and do not guarantee the quality, safety or legality of Creative Services, the truth or accuracy of project listings or member information, the qualifications, background, or abilities of members, the ability of creatives to deliver Creative Services, or that members will complete a transaction.”

Keep those fingers crossed when working with a “designer nanny,” and be sure to read the 100+ comments on the Forbes article.

“I hope you realize that without this so called snooty business you wouldn’t have A. a website to post your content on. B. a magazine to post your content in. C. anyone to make Forbes commercials for your company. D. a logo, nor branding of any sort.”
— Chad Engle

Another comment from Eric Hillerns:

“A CAD program does not make me an architect and a copy of QuickBooks does not make me an accountant… And the Forbes writer? You know, the one who penned this article’s ludicrously silly subhead, was likely this year’s lucky winner of Mrs. Winters’ sixth grade journalism competition. Because why would we pay an experienced writer when anyone with Microsoft Word and e-mail can submit a story?

“Congratulations, Forbes. You got exactly what you paid for. Sludge. But then again, maybe that was your point.”
— Eric Hillerns

An enlightening article has been posted on NO!SPEC.

# #

February 3, 2009


Wow, love the 2 comments you included here. There seems to be a trend, an uprising against the quality of hand-crafted design. Sad for those who follow Forbes as though it’s scripture.

“A CAD program does not make me an architect” – I totally agree with that sentence.

I was really surprised with the article. I believe even business oriented people, who have worked seriously with a reputed design agency, will understand very well why they should pay their money. When it comes to identity, branding… it’s really absurd to save money by hiring design amateurs – and how come a Forbes writer can write such a thing!

I’m not sot so much against design contests, since they may be good chances for college students and young designers to collect some certain experience but does it… hmm… actually benefit the companies who threw the contest?

Look at the Smashing Magazine Logo – as an outcome of a logo contest – I do believe they need to re-design that logo. David is highly recommended for this job :-D

I think the only thing to do here is to let all the people/companies that think that advertising work, study and talent comes cheap, to get their stuff from the designers that sell cheap. They will soon understand why they do sell cheap. If we think like this we could as well say that the doctors are just barbers and so on… Maybe I’m too hard with the ones that wrote and approved the article, but this seams a little (more) like envy, arrogance and a tiny bit of stupidity combined with a drop of ignorance.

haha, this kind of thought isn’t foreign to us really, is it? It’s just surprising to see it appear somewhere like Forbes.. me thinks some up-and-comer thought they would try to break the mould and say something ludicrous to get noticed.. well, it worked in a sense, didn’t it?

and to echo the (brilliant) comments you posted — writing is quite possibly more of an elitist in stereotype industry than design, so maybe it needs to be ‘democratized’ too! I’d love to finish this thought, but I’m off to write an article for Forbes on how the economic down turn the world is experiencing is due to us just not putting money into our piggy banks.

Thanks for giving me something to smile at David

Very entertaining. What Forbes have done have simply highlighted one of many design contest websites across the web. They haven’t contributed to the debate of whether businesses actual benefit from them.

I also think that it’s a very well timed piece, as many company’s marketing budgets are being slashed.

Having worked with both local and national press in the past, I wouldn’t be surprised if that feature was part of a paid agreement that will involve will see CrowdSpring advertise on the Forbes website in the future. I’ve seen this kind of thing before.

Am checking out the rest of the comments at Forbes. Some very entertaining stuff. It’s sad to see this trend continues however, with Elance and Guru, there are more and more of these sites popping up. No matter what you do there will always be people who scrimps on design budget and are only willing to pay a negligible fee.

Here’s another favorite comment of mine:

“I just looked at the crowdspring site and one person wanted to pay $300 for 2 logos and this is what he said:

I am a very high priced consultant. $38,000 a day fees.
I show successful businesses how to better sell their products and services to other businesses.
My clients are vendors , manufacturers, and service providers.”


I’m so surprised to see Forbes printing this article and I wonder how the the designer felt having to layout such an article. I’d have been raising my eyebrows as I type set that puppy. Good job Forbes at presenting a narrow minded one-sided article, showing the the breadth of that writer’s skills and objectivity. Glad I don’t pay for a subscription, I’ll stick to reading it at the doctor’s office.

Thanks for the highlight on my comment. I was not real happy with the one sided reporting either. I think this Hillerns comment on the article is very well thought out too.

Excerpt “A CAD program does not make me an architect and a copy of QuickBooks does not make me an accountant. ……. And the Forbes writer? You know, the one who penned this article’s ludicrously silly subhead, was likely this year’s lucky winner of Mrs. Winters’ sixth grade journalism competition. Because why would we pay an experienced writer when anyone with Microsoft Word and e-mail can submit a story? Congratulations, Forbes. You got exactly what you paid for. Sludge. But then again, maybe that was your point.”

Oh the hypocrasy, Forbes calling designers snooty. That alone made me laugh. Like anything else, you get what you pay for. If a business is happy to run the risks you highlighted by posting an extract from CrowdSpring’s user agreement, and if their happy to live with the winner’s work, good luck to them.
CrowdSpring, Elance, and Rentacoder all have their place. But to feature them in Forbes by comparing them with dedicated, skilled professionals is ridiculous.

I’m not at all surprised to see this article in Forbes: as it was mentioned before, it was a very timely published article, that’s showing businesses how to save money during recession. They don’t care about quality, integrity, professionalism, all they care is how to save a few bucks.

I think there’s huge misunderstanding and disrespect for our profession. On one side anyone taking a couple design classes can call himself a designer, participate in those contests, charge ridiculously low fees. On the other side, businesses have no appreciation nor understanding of a timeless design done right, as long as something has colours, cool shadows or other effects, funky font, then it’s worth shelling out a couple hundred bucks. After all they’ve got 25+ submissions to choose from.

What I want to see is similar sites where I crowdsource a contract to lawyers and get to choose the best one written for $200, or submit a photo of my living room and choose from 25+ submissions by interior designers which re-design of the living room appeals more to me, oh and I’ll pay $300 for that.

UNREAL! What a crock of crap,…

This guy had it right when saying –

” A CAD program does not make me an architect and a copy of QuickBooks does not make me an accountant… And the Forbes writer? You know, the one who penned this article’s ludicrously silly subhead, was likely this year’s lucky winner of Mrs. Winters’ sixth grade journalism competition. Because why would we pay an experienced writer when anyone with Microsoft Word and e-mail can submit a story?

Congratulations, Forbes. You got exactly what you paid for. Sludge. But then again, maybe that was your point.

WOW – I can’t believe Forbes would publish such a fubar story

Hi all,

Thanks for joining in the debate. Such a one-sided article deserves a little balance, so it’s much appreciated. Thanks also to Tina (swissmiss) for weighing in on her blog.


There’s no critical contribution from Forbes whatsoever, and the piece reads just like an advertorial, I agree.


I think you’re onto something there. I’ve always wanted to hire an architect to design a home, but you know, I can’t quite afford it. Let’s crowdsource them.

Thanks again everyone.

Nice sum-up, David. As for Forbes … well, they’re playing to their constituency: American entrepreneurs, the segment that’s not into creativity but of buying for noting and selling for as much as they can possibly get someone to pay. It’ll be hard to take a dinosaur like Forbes magazine seriously again after this.

Snooty? Maybe we are, but riddle me this Batman… would anyone allow ‘the crowd’ to diagnose a proper surgical technique or cure, just because they believe that doctors are all arrogant?

This came up on Twitter so I had to open the link ASAP for full read. Thanks, David for bring this to our attention.

I’m so feed up with this “crap”. Why can’t honest hardworking people make a decent living anymore? I’ve worked a long time to develop my skills and grow my business. It takes work and putting designs and/or comps together on a ‘wing and a prayer’ that someone will select my work is beyond my comprehension.

If sites like CrowdSpring attract new designers or are a source for those looking for work, then so be it. I don’t recommend these sites nor do I chose to participate.

Other sites like eLance and Guru also leave a bad taste in my mouth; because the playing field is not level for all. ie my rate on a project is probably much higher than say someone living outside the USA based solely on cost of living.


Hi David,

Thanks for the love, but my sentiments—as well as the many well-reasoned comments to Forbes thinly-veiled endorsement of CrowdSpring—should reflect how we must communicate with our clients if we aim to garner any respect in the marketplace. My guess is that CrowdSpring, at least in part, was founded on the two partners’ poor experiences with designers at some point in the past. That’s an assumption on my part, of course.

We have our own responsibilities in helping clients understand the value that informed designers bring to the table. In sixth grade, a civics teacher chanted; be informed, be involved, and act ethically. It has stuck with me ever since and has been my own mantra when reminding clients about the desired attributes of their brand. Clients may not actually uphold those principles, but we, in providing our own services, must. And we must remind them that we’re worth our fees due to our training, our understanding and our approach. Creativity is a part of every living being. Software is a tool. Design is valuable.

We have some wonderfully informed and reasoned voices in our profession. Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Steven Heller, Debbie Millman, Ric Grefé and a new generation in Eric Karjaluoto, Kate Andrews, you, and others. The problem is that we’re typically speaking to people just like us. We know our value. We know how hard we work on behalf of our clients. We need to inform the uniformed. So I ask you; how do we go about doing that?

Thanks again, to all, for the warm comments to my little rant. I’m humbled.


I just posted a comment on Forbes. Although I’m a designer, I posted as a business owner (which I am as well). I really think that aside from hurting the design community, these sites hurt the business community as well. I’ve had multiple clients come to me to redo a design that “some guy” did for them. There’s no substitute for paying for quality work.

Here’s the comment I left on
“Wow! Where’s the balance? As a business owner I’ve seen firsthand the difference between what a qualified, trained designer can do versus some guy with the Adobe programs. Sure some of the untrained people can come up with a flashy design but do they put the research and thought into how that design will affect the brand. Do they spend hours tweaking a design until it conveys just the right message. Of course not, they’re only making $200.

Crowdsourcing is an interesting movement and it would be a great story to cover if you would just present it with a little bit of balance. And please note, I’m not just defending designers here, I’m speaking up for business owners who don’t understand what they will be losing by paying $200 for a design that misses the mark. Seems like you should be speaking up for them too.

I’ve long since got used to the fact that these “competition” web sites are here to stay. I’ve accepted that. I can even live with the notion that Kimbarovsky and Samson are just taking advantage of a market opportunity. That’s what people do. What chokes me is when they describe their operation in terms of democratising design in favour of the little guy, as if it were a noble and philanthropic endeavour. If they described it as a markeplace for people who want to buy cheap to meet people who want to sell cheap, I wouldn’t mind. *Caveat venditor*, as well as *caveat emptor*

I also had to laugh at the analogy: “In 1922 publishing baron colonel Robert McCormick promised $50,000 to the architect who produced the best design for a tower to house the Chicago Tribune.” Setting aside the fact that nobody except the winner was paid anything, at least he trousered $50,000 — in 1922, remember. Today, that would be worth more than $500,000 (check out which maybe isn’t too bad a fee. Maybe Kimbarovsky and Samson could adopt a new slogan: Design At 1922 Prices!!!

Must be a slow news week for Forbes to dress up a piece of advertising as editorial.

The worst part about the article is that people are actually reading it and taking it in as gospel.
“Oh, if Forbe is printing it, it MUST be true.”

Its so hard to educate the masses, especially when they’re not ready to hear it. How often do we come across that client who’s trying to get a deal, trying to get you to lower your rates or get a discount of some sort by promising repeat work?

Why have I thought about that before? I’m gonna have a convo with my barber, see if we can work something out. I see him every other week! Better yet, I’ve got a pair of clippers at home, I’ll just do it myself.

The majority of people do NOT understand how hard it is. The just see the final product and completely ignore the process that goes behind it. As creatives, we just have to stick to our chops. I think, that’s the only way to get the point across.

I’ve just added a small update to the foot of the post, mentioning the latest article on NO!SPEC — a response to the Forbes advertorial.


We do indeed have a responsibility to educate clients. I think that ‘informing the uninformed’ involves not just clients, but up-and-coming designers who are fooled into believing they should be working for free, in the hope of ‘winning’ payment. This is where designers who blog can make a difference.

How do we go about informing a wider audience? Now there’s a question that deserves more talk. Thanks for stopping by.


I’ll edit that punchline for you.

Thanks very much to everyone for adding your valued thoughts.

David, as usual, an excellent post on the situation.

And while this whole Forbes / crowdsourcing development is irritating, it’s also putting a focus on the issue of spec in the design industry again.

I know Debbie Millman at AIGA is totally revved up to tackle the situation.

As a non designer and business owner I would potentially take a look at crowd spring to see what is on offer, I would never choose a designer on price or experience, the portfolio is what I want to see. Years of experience and good design is what I would prefer, but something many people may not be able to afford. A good designer is always going to be able to ask a good price and get it. I would never write off a designer on the grounds of them not having the education or qualifications.
A good designer is more than likely going to be considered ‘snooty’ by a large proportion of the population because they are always seeking to assess the quality of something, in order to make changes to it, improve it, asking questions such as Where can this be improved? is a critical stance a good designer has to take, but one that can cause reactions such as ‘ark at him’ ‘who does he/she think he/she is’ perhaps not realising a good designer also invites criticism about thmselves, although looking at the reactions to the forbes article you may not believe it.

Thanks, Cat.

Yes, it’s good how the issue of spec work is being discussed as a result, and I’m looking forward to learning what Debbie Millman reports.


My main reason for publishing this post lies in the one-sided reporting by Forbes. I’m sure many readers respect their opinion, and the least I’d have wanted to see was the journalist keep his interview appointments with “snooty” designers. A balanced discussion, as opposed to an advertorial, would have been great.

I feel designers are just very mis-understood. Because now-a-days teens are armed with rapidshare photoshop and can rip a logo does not mean they are designers. True designers do a tremendous amount of research and document why and how the branding would work. Its the same as being a cook – good cooks know the ins-and-outs of cooking ‘little tricks’ and they are passionate. Designers as well – but I doubt some of your readers can cook a good dish :)

Great post David,

Over the past 8 years as a designer I have seen a growing trend in companies looking for lower and lower prices for design services. Sites like crowdspring just continue to highlight the fact that a company can go and get a £100 logo if thats all they feel like paying. These sites undervalue designers, design services and are an insult to all those who spent years mastering a craft.

It’s a great article and is quite an eye-opener.

While I can understand the standpoint of those freelancers or design firms that have invested large amounts of money and time into their profession / career, getting upset. I can also understand a potential client or customer wanting to get something good for cheap.
We’re all looking for the best deal, whether you’re a business looking to get a logo or website designed or a consumer who wants to buy a new laptop on the internet.
While I agree with most who say that the quality of the product you receive is worth the amount paid, I think it’s unfair to say that all the designers who’ve ever submitted work to sites like CrowdSpring or 99design or any of the others lack any sort of skill or competency. Some designers do it out of desperation while others think of it as a quick way to make a buck.

The problem is educating businesses and clients about how important visual communication is and the amount of thought and work that actually goes into the making of a logo or a visual element. Then allowing them to chose whether they’re serious about their own business, or want to make a stop at the drive in fast food (design) joint for a quick solution.

I’m an aspiring designer and I too have wanted to submit designs to such sites in hopes of making a little extra money on the side. And I’ll be equally honest, the one time I did participate in a contest on 99design, I spent all of 15 minutes on the work at hand.

Anyway, this is an interesting debate. Also, love the comments on the Forbes article!

David – I suppose it’s dangerous to jump in the lion’s den here, but I can’t resist. Your post and comments from others demonstrate an incredible amount of passion for the design industry – a passion that we deeply share. In fact, it’s exactly why we do what we do. We’re simply trying to build a platform for designers of all levels to share their passion with clients around the world.

We obviously see things differently. That’s OK. We know that crowdSPRING isn’t for everyone. And we’re by no means saying that we are the best option out there for every company (and certainly not every designer) – quite the contrary. We’re another option for companies, like small businesses, that can’t afford to use a design firm. Our site offers all types of designers – from the stay at home mom to the 15 plus year experienced designer that just wants to expand their portfolio – a chance at work that they might be interested in. If they’re not interested, then no worries. But if they are, then this is an opportunity at work that may never have been available to them before. Are there legitimate risks when doing spec work? Of course. You’ll find some of our thoughts and a healthy dialogue about spec work here:

This is an important topic – we welcome the discussion and debate. In fact, we are presenting a panel discussion on this topic at SXSW on March 15. We’ve put together a great group to debate the topic (including Mike Samson from crowdSPRING, David Carson, Jeff Howe, Jeffrey Kalmikoff, and Jeremiah Owyang) : “Is Spec Work Evil? The Online Creative Community Speaks”

At the end of the day, we truly believe in what we’re doing and I’d love the opportunity to talk to you about it personally. Truly. I have no expectation that we’ll agree on all these topics but as improbable as it sounds, I don’t think we are at odds as much as you’d think.


Ross Kimbarovsky


You’re more than welcome. It’s a nice image, so well done.


Thanks for stopping by with your thoughts. I doubt you’re alone in spending just 15 minutes creating a submission for logo contests.


Of course it’s okay that we see things differently. The most valuable discussions taking place on my blog are because I have a different opinion than someone else, and I’ve been known to have my opinions flipped 180 degrees (on more than one occasion).

There’s a fundamental difference between us that I won’t change my mind on, however, and that’s how you’re satisfied that some people who make your company’s product earn no monetary reward for their time and effort.

Granted, it’s their choice to do so, but if it was me they were working for, I’d not see anyone earn me money without getting a cut.

I know you’ll say that money isn’t the only perceived benefit to submitting a design into a contest, because it’s also practice and experimentation. To build experience and a portfolio, it’s so much more valuable for a designer to reach out in their local community, perhaps to a non-profit, and offer their services pro-bono, where they can gain real-world experience, where they can meet face-to-face, build life and social skills, network and discuss the project with local business owners, and ultimately make a difference that is a lot more likely to transpire when the process is one-to-one, not 25+ to one. This method will build a stronger portfolio, much faster, and trains the designer in ways that will leave them better equipped to become successful.

Thanks for stopping by.

About the contest on crowdSPRING where the guy wanted 2 logos for $300. After reading his little line about his $30 some odd thousand dollar a day rate, I posted a comment saying that, “with day rates that high, I would think you would be willing to invest a little more into the identity of your business”

I bet he has no business.

most people don’t realize how much work goes into small projects like a website logo, they see the logo and think i can make that in 30 minutes and they probably could recreate it in a short period but they don’t realize the work that went on behind the finished logo, all of the trial and error and different design changes to arrive at the final product


I read a lot of blogs and I have been following the war on this article since it started. Ross at crowdspring has obviously had to defend their position plenty of times because the (not so) little post he wrote here is almost word for word the same across all places he has written in (including the crowdSPRING forums).

I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a lawyer friend write the reply for him, that way he could just copy & paste over and over again. You would be lucky to get a real reply from the guy on any topic that portrays crowdSPRING as anything but the savior of failing designers.

I have participated in quite a few projects at crowdSPRING, not because I need the money but because when I’m not working I’m trying to improve my skills. And since I’m not the best at creating fictitious companies to brand, it’s a great source for endless project briefs for me to work off of. And who knows, getting a few hundred dollars for having fun isn’t bad.

My mind has since changed though, I now refuse to enter more work to their site. If I’m not part of the solution, I’m a part of the problem. And I don’t much like being part of any problem. However, I will continue to exploit them for their project briefs. I’m just not going to be uploading anything there.

Sorry, I cant agree with the last two comments here. I don’t think this has anything to do with clients who cant afford design agency fees, I myself have always considered clients budget needs during jobs and I dont know of any designer who doesn’t.

Looking though Crowdspring I still cant see how it doesn’t encourage low fees (from $200?) and thus put out underdeveloped design.
Its a sad fact that with cheaper computers and easily available software these kind of sites will grow in numbers and the number of people using them will follow.

We must try to remember that design is not just about presenting the final files, its about client relationship from pitch, first round ideas, rejections of concepts, developing, until both the client and the designer have a job they are happy with. Lets not loose these stages.

Wow, I can’t believe Forbes would allow such a one-sided piece. I think that seasoned professionals know that they get what they pay for when it comes to logos and branding. It’s funny that non-designers think that designing is so easy – until they try it themselves. Then they’re willing to pay good money for it.

What a piece of garbage Forbes published. After looking at some of these competition sites and seeing the winners, the word that comes to mind when I look at a lot of them is “gimmicky”. It’s like someone got a copy of Illustrator, or worse Photoshop, read some tutorials on the net and decided they were a designer.

I entertained the notion of getting my start by doing some of these contests to try my hand at getting a little extra income and getting my name out there. But soon I came to the realization that it was giving away time I could use to work on projects that actually earn me money or a job. Now if I did it I would feel like I am trying to break into block-buster movies with established stars with nothing in my filmography but porn movies.

I sent that off to my two advisers in the Graphic Designers program at my school. I am so looking forward to hearing their reactions.

Another thing to consider is that, beginner or not, each time someone falls into the trap of saying it’s just because they’re inexperienced that they’re going the contest/spec route, that ignores the fact that it lowers the lowest common denominator for everyone. The idea is to raise that lowest common denominator, so that potential clients realize there is value to them, their businesses, and their clients that is enhanced by placing real value on the work of professionals.

Each time someone does spec work or provides a free entry to some contest, it enables another person who is either unaware of what that does to the market for all design practitioners or who is a cynical tightwad who, in another time or place, would sell tickets to exhibitions in which slaves got torn apart by lions.


I think you’re being generous with the 30 minutes per design comment. I reckon the average is lower, with a lot of submissions being regurgitated on a number of logo contest websites.

One point I’ve not yet mentioned:

Who’s ultimately responsible when, as happens, a ripped-off design is uploaded as a submission? Not the contest site. They make that very clear. It’s the ‘designer’ who is only known by a username. Good luck chasing them up.

There’s no accountability.


I’ve also been following the discussion on a number of sites, and there’s no denying how often the CS team mention the same remarks, word for word. I don’t blame them, given the amount of time they spend defending their business.


Purchasing Adobe Creative Suite doesn’t make you a designer, absolutely.


Thanks for coming back into the discussion.

“Venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, who recently put up $500 for a T-shirt design to sell on his Web site, received 230 entrants and garnered a lot of traffic for CrowdSpring from Kawasaki’s huge global reader base.”

Ugh. And I used to like him. Although at least it was a T-shirt design. Since that’s a bit of a novelty it’s not AS bad. But still, just to support Crowd Spring is a sin.


Thank you for this post. My co-workers and I discussed this at length, and together, it’s companies like Crowd Spring that brings all of us down, in terms of how much we should make, to the quality of the work. For that, we should not support them.

However, one of them made a good point, in pointing out that the majority of the readership of Forbes is obviously in a higher tier of business and wealth, similar to the people who run our company. Those same people understand the amount of time that it takes to create a design, and they respect the knowledge, and thus, understand the amount of money.

Basically, he was trying to get across that this editorial will be largely ignored, especially when one looks at the quality of the work on CS’s website. There is such a flagrant disregard for all of the standards of design on that site, that I am shocked that companies legitimately use the site.

While I give Ross kudos for his willingness to enter the fray, I wonder whether he is actually ‘debating the issue’ about companies like his, or simply astro-turfing rehashed talking points carefully crafted to defend his position.

It seems to me that Crowdspring are currently using their self-described ‘community’ of designers as ‘human shields’ to prevent debate about how this issue affects the profession as a whole. If designers criticize the Crowdspring business model itself, they are somehow disparaging Grannies and Janitors and under-employed designers trying to cobble together a meager income. It’s a clever tactic – nobody wants to be seen ripping on the underdog (a phrase that I think Ross has employed on numerous occasions).

I don’t buy it for a second – Crowdspring and their ilk are quite content with profiting off the labors of those very same Grannies, and Janitors and under-employed designers, without paying for those efforts – a position that I find reprehensible. And while outfits like Crowdspring would like us to believe that they’re defending their ‘community’, they’re actually using that very same ‘community’ to shield the corporate owners from some pretty valid criticism of their business model itself. It amazes me that anyone (other than those that think it’s cool to exploit your fellow man) even thinks there’s the possibility of a debate. Or, if the debate is to take place, a civil one. Let me get this straight – a for-profit company wants to advocate not paying the ’employees’ that are producing their ‘product’? And for the rest of us, in this day and age, to consider debating this premise? Only someone with significant chutzpah would even think that was an option available to them in a civilized society.

And while Ross likes to present himself as the champion of novice designers, and likes to be seen as fighting for their ‘right to work’ he’s neglecting to include the crux of his argument. He’s fighting for the Grannies, Janitors and under-employed designers right to work. For free. For him. While hoping to turn a tidy profit in 2010.

His criticism of other design contest sites (99 Designs for example – the Australian service that not only ahm, inspired Crowdspring, but where Kimbarovsky obtained his company’s logo) has ramped up a little over the past couple of months. Seems Ross isn’t fighting for the rights of the Grannies, Janitors and under-employed designers at ANY spec website. Just his own. Which is fair enough. Cause that’s his business. And they’re his competition. But as with most of design contest ‘platforms’, the David vs. Goliath explanation of their existence doesn’t hold a drop of water. As far as “sharing the design community’s passion” and building a platform so that Janitors, Grannies and under-employed designers can “share that passion with clients around the world”? Wonderful sentiments but unfortunately quite hollow, judging by the Crowdspring folks own words. According to the Forbes article we’ve all been discussing, Kimbarovsky and his partner first looked at a Landscaping website, then a Wedding Planning website, before settling on graphic design because (astonishing Forbes quote coming up) “the product could be rendered and exchanged digitally with minimal overhead”. Now stop. And read between the scare quotes again.

Turns out, and despite the lofty aspirations of defending designers ‘right’s and ‘democratizing a snooty industry’, Crowdspring became involved with design because artwork files can be e-mailed and it was cheaper to get into than their first two choices – Landscaping Services and Wedding Planning. No doubt a true story, but doesn’t sound as good as ‘challenging the design establishment’ does it?

And while we’re at it, let’s take Ross’ supposedly principled stand full circle. Apparently, to host a design contest, I have to pay my $39 fee up front (and can only obtain a refund if I receive less than 25 entries) and am obliged to pay even IF I don’t like anything presented. ALL design contests require THEIR funds up front, while GUARANTEED ‘prize’ awards – where winning designers get paid from – remain an ‘option’ fo contest holders. Why can’t I post a contest on his site and IF I like the results, THEN pay Mr. Kimbarovsky and CO? Or even better still (in the analogy department anyway), why can’t I put the same contest on 99designs AND Crowdspring and a mess of other contest sites, only paying for the ONE contest that I liked the best? Because that would be daft. See, I already know what the argument about up front fees will be – they cover salary, server time, hosting, coding, customer support, advertising, hardware and software. And it’s a solid argument. Such is the nature of business. Trouble is, the idea that Crowdspring’s community of designers may have their own expenses and should be compensated for their work to defray those expenses, is summarily dismissed as standing in the way of the ‘democratization of design’. Bullshit. Crowdspring like the idea of people working for them for nothing. As do ALL these design contest websites. And why not – it is a robber baron’s dream come true.

At the end of the day, Kimbarovsky is simply defending HIS right, to make a living off other people’s efforts, without paying for those efforts. Fair enough position that Ross admits he’s ‘okay with’. Trouble is, that doesn’t have as nice a ring to it as being the champion of ‘underdog’ designers the world over. And marketing his site as “give us $400 bucks and our community of Grannies, under-emplyed designers, and Janitors will come up with some design ideas for you” isn’t going to sell a lot of product. No siree. That’s why Crowdspring services are marketed to business owners as a SUPERIOR professional alternative to ANY other design vendor while his Sisyphean protestations about the rights of hobbyists who simply want to be creative are isolated to the comment sections of blogs that happen to be critical of his company.

Grannies make some pretty compelling human shields….

Steve Douglas nailed it. That is precisely what continued to rub me the wrong way about crowdSPRING’s positioning, and then Kimbarovsky’s response to David. The argument is entirely based on someone, anyone (depending on who crowdSPRING is attempting to pitch) assuming the role of the victim. One minute, the victim is business owners who are victims for paying too much for graphic design. Next, it’s designers who are only looking for a shot at breaking into the business. Then, it’s grannies who simply need to put food on their table and can’t. Later, it’s crowdSPRING, who are only attempting to provide a much-needed service. Thereafter, it’s “the little guy” fighting against the “establishment.” Again, it’s crowdSPRING, who is only trying to establish a dialogue (further the conversation). And subsequently, the real victim is “the market” or the “free exchange of ideas” that is under assault because a snooty industry machine won’t allow it to happen. Bullshit is right, Steve.

To me, the more I hear from crowdSPRING, whether it’s their chest-beating, fight-for-clarity SXSW panel or whatever or their semi-consistent “responses” in the blogosphere, it sounds as though these guys have taken a page from the playbook of America’s Republican Party. That is; be the victim and other victims will race to your defense. If how your referring to something fails to take root, simply call it something else. If your opposition attempts to say three things, distill it to one issue, use your language, and smile when you turn it into a meaningless soundbite. George Lakoff called it reframing. I call it insulting. Not to designers or the profession, mind you, but to anyone who believes what crowdSPRING is selling. The only thing they’re really selling is themselves. And they are attempting to do it on the backs of the little guy while, at the same time, claiming to be the little guy’s closest ally. Sad.

So I decided to post a comment on CSs new post in their blog highlighting most of the places where discussions were taking place about the Forbes article. They didn’t much like that. And read this. This is the actual response from the CS f*@k who approved my comment.

“You know – I really debated whether to approve this last comment by JWG. To be clear, we have absolutely no issues with disagreement and debate. In fact, we welcome it. We knew we’d be ruffling feathers when we started this business, we see all the comments about us in blogs and we’re absolutely no strangers to the controversy.

But, with all that said, there’s something sort of lame about throwing eggs at someone’s house and then running off. It seems sort of sad and desperate to me, so I decided to just go ahead and let the comment stand.

I mean, there are comments that support a view, there are comments that disagree with a view and there are comments that move the discussion in new directions. This is none of those. It’s purely an attempt to egg our house. And while I could put up a vigorous defense of why I think we’re changing things in the industry, why established designers are in such a panic and where I think the logic in many of these posts is flawed – I’m going to save my breath for another day.

Instead, I’ll just throw an egg of my own. Because throwing things at one another always accomplishes a lot…

See that, “sad and desperate”… I’m so pissed off. It would appear that CS and Forbes belong together. Attack me, feel better about yourself. Sure.

Here is a link. I suggest you visit and put your two cents in. I did it for those members who just might need a little balance in their life. You cant eat CS crap for every meal can you?

Have fun.

Steve – As you did a few days ago during our discussion on Twitter, you’ve again made some excellent points in your comment above. It’s apparent that you and I disagree – but our disagreement shouldn’t stand in the way of an intelligent discussion.

Let me correct a few factual inaccuracies in your comment. crowdSPRING doesn’t charge a $39 fee and never has. We charge a 15% fee based on the total amount of awards posted by clients. If clients post $1000 in awards, we charge clients $150 – for a total of $1150. We require such funds to be escrowed before any project is posted. If we honor our guarantee (when fewer than 25 entries have been submitted), we refund the client’ money in full (including our own fee). If more than 25 entries were submitted, we require them to select one and we pay 100% of the awards to designers.

We don’t give clients an option whether or not to escrow funds. It’s an absolute requirements and has been from the day we launched in May 2008.

You’ve correctly pointed out that in our business model, many designers do not get paid. Setting aside for the moment the other benefits they might receive (as David acknowledged above), this outcome isn’t unique to crowdSPRING. iStockphoto challenged the stock photo industry a few years back by allowing hobbyist photographers to sell their photos. In doing so, iStockphoto opened the door to millions of people who previously had no (or few) opportunities to sell their work. Despite the (well deserved) financial success of iStockphoto, most of the photographers selling their work on iStockphoto do not get paid.

The same goes for Threadless. Threadless created opportunities for a community of creatives who love to create designs for t-shirts. Despite the (well deserved) financial success of Threadless – most of the designers who submit t-shirt designs to Threadless are never paid.

The creatives who participate on iStockphoto and Threadless love what they do. They know that they might not be paid for their efforts, but they measure that risk against the benefits and ultimately make a personal choice whether to participate or not.

The same is true of open source software. Developers and designers put out exceptional open source products (Linux, Firefox, Drupal, vBulletin, WordPress, etc.) without any expectation that they would be paid. And a global industry has been established to provide for-profit services around such products.

We understand that the business models founded by iStockphoto, Threadless, and yes – crowdSPRING – aren’t for everyone. They are free market models built on providing opportunities.

We know that crowdSPRING isn’t the only alternative, or even the best alternative, for each and every small business. Do we believe that crowdSPRING offers an exceptional alternative for small businesses looking for design services? You bet!

We know that crowdSPRING isn’t the only alternative, or even the best alternative for each and every designer. Do we believe that crowdSPRING offers a level playing field for talented designers around the world and an opportunity? You bet!

The difference is, istockphoto and the like allow you to keep your work on their site in the hopes that someone will buy it. They don’t let you upload one photo, and if it’s not chosen throw it away.

As a matter of fact, they are nothing alike. Although it does take a bit of knowledge to shoot some great photos, it’s nothing like designing someone’s logo. A lifetime of effort, fees, studying, practice, talent, and rules go into proper design. The fact that the minimum fee is $200 is ridiculous. Of course, I wouldn’t pay more than $200 for the majority of work on the site either. And the other work, you would have to give me for free.I have seen a total of maybe 5-8 really good designers on CS. To be fair, I only view the Logo design projects so maybe i’m missing someone. Point is, it’s a low budget source for low quality designs for companies who only want something pretty. Not something functional. And I’m not even going to get into the amount of copyright violations I alone have had to report. I’m sorry but I think CS (and the like) will fade in time. I would be willing to bet virtually no one at CS would be able to point out the origin of Obama’s logo. The rising sun anyone?? Age of Aquarius. See it’s not only aesthetics, it’s symbolism, psychology and history that go into a well executed design. You are doing the business that use your services more harm than good.

It’s just such a cynical stand: working for free, where the provider of the venue makes money and the people benefiting from the work pay way below market for it. And the people providing the work are supposed to regard this as an opportunity. It’s pretty clear who’s getting the opportunity. Where I grew up—lo! many years ago—you could get beat up for putting across a deal like this.

Seriously, if this is the opportunity that awaits, I can see no incentive for young graphic designers going into the field.

If you’re new and starving for experience, a far, far better tactic is to find a legitimate non-profit organization with a cause you can get behind that needs some design work done. Do a pro bono project for them. It will look far better on your resume—you never want to admit participating in one of these “meat-rack” work-finding propositions. But a pro bono project that shines speaks well of you. And you might get a legitimate tax write-off out of it under the right circumstances.

No matter how reasonably and pleasantly people from these economic models speak, it’s a losing proposition. And the bottom line is that it continues to let prospective clients pay pennies on the dollar for work, continually lowering the lowest common denominator of what is “professional”. So both the client ends up settling for less and having an artificial view of what is good graphic work AND graphic designers get to sell work way below value.

The only one who really make out are the meat rack sites. This is the truest bottom line to all this.

Ok, so I thought this debate was about the one-sidedness of Forbes’ article… apparently not. Apparently it’s about Designers coming down on designers (note the intended capitalization).

The Forbes article … I don’t read Forbes normally so I have no input on the article. It was a piece on a startup firm, right? A company that has had some success an has been fairly visible in (some) media. Wired, for instance. So they offer an additional outlet for people who like to do graphic design, an *additional* shop for individuals and businesses looking for designed pieces but not wanting to pay an arm and a half for a whole design team. Based on the comments here, crowdSPRING is apparently now the only game in town? It’s either that or Designers have very little self esteem (yeah, right).

I’m a self employed person who earns a living doing graphic design. I am self taught. I do okay, but then money and success are less important. Doing what I love is. And I happen to love graphic design. Not saying I’m any good at it, and given the fact that I participate in design contests at crowdSPRING now and then it’s quite likely I’ll hear y’all telling me what a crappy designer I am. that’s okay. Some of y’all are’nt so hot either — I’ve had to redo enough Designers’ work (at the request of clients, make no mistake) and have worked with enough Designers to be able to say that.

One more thing. Some commenters seem to believe that anyone who plays at cS by default is sub par, design-wise. That’s neat. Some commenters base this notion on glancing at some of the winning designs there and on other similar services — but the winning entry is actually quite often not the best one entered, it can even be downright fugly/Bad. It’s the buyer’s choice, so you when you judge cS or 99D or LogoTournament based on quality of winners, you’re really judging the taste of the buyers. The clients. Those very ones that come to cS and 99D and LT _because_ they’re fed up with the attitudes of Designers (or can’t afford Designer prices) (or both).

Oh, one last thing: copycatting. This is a real problem, not just on cS, but let’s be honest here: this is not limited to online design services, nor to “bad” designers. It’s engrained, it seems, in the designer gene pool. Only very few actually pull it off with a straight face and intact reputations. As for prices being low on cS, it’s something we point out continuously and slowly things are improving, but remember also that your looking at $ prices, probably with a US market slant. $200 for a logo design may not seem like a big deal to a US or UK based designer but can be a whole effing lot to a New Delhi or Athens based designer. I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it whenever I can: U.S.A is not the same as the entire world. Sorry guys. It isn’t.

Sorry for an overly long post, but there you go. Let the egging begin. ;)
Oh, wait. Wait… (dons rain coat, hat, and really high boots)
The Forbes article may have been one-sided, which profile pieces tend to be by nature, but … isn’t this post and ensuing comments overwhelmingly one-sided, as well? I guess ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is entirely up to which side of the fence you’re on. Personally I don’t do spec work when approached directly, but I do choose to play at cS and LT now and again. There is a difference there.
Ok. Eggs away.

Hello again, David,

Thank you for providing the link to your sight to continue our conversation. ( I have already been here, but wanted to limit the amount of places I have been posting.) But, I feel you have been open to discussion more than some, so I’m giving it a go.

I am glad to see the post from my cS buddy, FredK, above. (He is one of my personal heros, so I will keep my eggs in the carton.) I have been a bit worn down by this debate over the past few days. I guess I feel I am at the point where I am feeling this polarizing issue is going to remain just that – polarizing. I don’t see a lot of people willing to bend here. Should they? I don’t know. I’d like to say, ” Let’s agree to disagree.” and move on. But I don’t see that happening. Though many professional designers have made less than professional remarks, I can see their point of view. Having said that… I have no intention of doing anything different.

If the professional design industry is going to hate on me for deigning a t-shirt for a company event… I guess I will have to live with that. I have to say, it was not what I expected when I started at cS. I just wanted to have fun entering in design contests. I had no idea at the time I was part of the potential downfall of an industry.

But as all the professional designers keep saying- they offer MORE. They will do the follow-up with the printers and give a client a whole marketing strategy. Clients NEEEEEED them! Does cS offer all that? No. But some businesses just don’t want all that. Especially start-ups that have NO profits to speak of.

I have been reading (and participating) in blogs and posts all over the internet over the past few days. And here is the one difference I’ve seen in this debate up to this point…

FredK and I are the only ones who have declared that we create because we love it.

Thanks for the opportunity to share.

Lest we forget, below are a few recent quotations from Ross, the founder of Crowdspring), in two threads discussing spec work. I’m sure he’d phrase these sentiments very differently for this audience, and in the interests of de-fusing any possible opposition would perhaps call his words below “poorly phrased”… but I’d be shocked if he would disavow these sentiments.

Although he’s certainly welcome to.

Here are direct links to the original threads:

“I’ve always rejected the notion that experience or the title “professional” means you are buying great design. I’ve seen poor designs from designers with 30 years of experience and great education, and great designs from 16 year olds.”

(Sure, but we both know that’s the vast exception, and true of all fields of expertise. I’ve known a few lawyers who couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag, for example — but most lawyers are highly skilled in the arts of argumentation, rhetoric and persuasion).

“When I wrote “archaic” – I wasn’t referring to the policy of not doing spec work. For centuries, artisans, artists and others have made the choice whether or not to work on spec. I was referring to the out of date minority view held by some in the graphic design industry that it’s unlawful, unethical or improper for a person to engage in speculative work.”

“I suspect (and hope) that the graphic design associations – such as AIGA -that have in the past objected to spec work will discuss the issue and reconsider. Otherwise, they’re missing out and making themselves irrelevant.”

“Whether you and I differ on what’s ethical is completely irrelevant because there are no rules or professional codes of ethics that universally define spec work as unethical. That a small minority of designers believe spec work to be improper is not a statement about ethics. That small minority of designers is certainly entitled to that belief – even in the face of a much larger group of people that flatly disagrees. But the beliefs of that small minority are neither the law nor a reflection or statement of a professional code.”

“When you say “doesn’t undermine the marketplace for the work we do as designers” (emphasis added), you’ve effectively divided the creative community – and let’s be clear – there’s no entitlement to being a designer. A designer is a designer, and it doesn’t take a memmber in AIGA to be one. As I’ve said above – some of the comments in this discussion from the design community do far more to undermine the marketplace for work done by ALL designers than the people that do work on spec.”

“Thousands of people have written to thank us for the opportunity to compete on a fair playing field. We are proud of the AIGA members working on crowdSPRING, the grandmothers, students, handicapped, retired designers, creative directors, janitors, developers, engineers, and everyone else who wants to compete solely based on skill and talent. THEY are the reason we put in very long days – often seven days per week. THEY are the future of the industry and you won’t stop them with rhetoric.”

Its quite late here in London town, but the above comment just popped into my in box, and just as a thought this debate could go know further the comment above goes and sums up everything a graphic designer stands against.

Fred K; you are right in saying that most of the time the worst/underdeveloped design is selected by the client in these crowdspring projects, but this is really down to the fact that the client has not been educated and guided into selecting a concept that is right by way of concept/idea meetings before hand. You may have lost the fact that part of a real designers job is to pitch ideas and get clients input before the final design is delivered! How can we expect a client to select a great concept if they are not given help along the way?

Points about design as a non-regulated industry are very true. I think probably the clearest indication of whether you are a designer (or any other kind of professional) is simply this:

Is it your career? DO YOU MAKE MONEY — not put your billable(?) time into trying to win a few $300 online “contests,” but make a real, self-sufficient living like everyone else? That’s the clearest line of separation between amateurs and dilettantes from the pros. You’re able to thrive in your chosen career / profession, and guide, keep and grow clients, from project conception to production…whether working freelancer, in-house, design firm, agency, whatever.

I think that’s a fair starting point to define who is a “designer:” Someone succeeding in the profession of designer.

Audrey…of course designers, on some deep level, design because we are fundamentally driven to do so. I, for one, don’t feel any compunction to go around shouting that sentiment, not least because that’s not what we get paid for. And I’ve never found a client who wanted to pay me a higher rate because I love doing what I do. Quite the opposite, generally.

On the ol’ “ah well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree” bit —

1. You must realize that what you’re doing (regardless of whether your doing it well or poorly) is considered unethical in your chosen profession. And that it undermines the work most designers do day-in, day-out to help clients understand the broader power / utility / value of excellent visual communications, and its powerful role in brand and marketing strategies for increasing your bottom line.

2. Regardless of what the owner of a for-profit contest site would like you to believe, it is NOT some tiny minority view, but the vast MAJORITY of professional designers, art directors and creative directors who disagree with you. It shows not only in their expressed opinions and the organizations of which they are members, but in their own work practices as professionals in the discipline.

(And, this not only includes the graphic design profession’s largest professional organization, AIGA, with its tens of thousands of members, but secondary / other / regional professional design and illustration organizations as well, as well as working freelance designers who may not be involved in their discipline’s professional organizations).

Why do so many disagree with you? Snootiness? That folks giving their work away for free (or a 1 in 150 chance at a tiny prize) devalues and misconstrues what designers actually do? That participating in spec contests, usually for a pittance “prize,” continues to perpetuate, among business owners and just-starting-out designers alike, a vast misunderstanding of the value / power / utility of visual communications, branding and marketing…

David & co., we’ve made two working documents collecting, short and sweet, 6 reasons why the design contest model is a crappy idea. One for Creatives, and One for Buyers. Everyone…please feel free to cut, paste, edit, highlight, change, grow and distribute.

It would be ideal to have a constantly honed document that distills the arguments with the most traction, quick and clear. Everybody, please feel free to edit and build on this starting point!

6 Reasons Design Contest Sites Suck (For Creatives)

“Thousands of people have written to thank us for the opportunity to compete on a fair playing field. We are proud of the AIGA members working on crowdSPRING, the grandmothers, students, handicapped, retired designers, creative directors, janitors, developers, engineers, and everyone else who wants to compete solely based on skill and talent. THEY are the reason we put in very long days – often seven days per week. THEY are the future of the industry and you won’t stop them with rhetoric.”


The rhetoric is resonant. Open access, vast untapped reservoirs of talent, fair and level playing fields, the Darwinian, blood-pumping nobility of open free-market competition. Pure 100% uncut meritocracy. It’s like the Olympics. Do you have the drive, the discipline, the skill? You got what it takes? Step up!

Except here’s where it breaks down: The judges and refs are there only by virtue of having paid a small sum for the privilege. Imagine a hockey referee calling the shots who’s never even put on ice-skates, let alone witnessed a live match before
Now imagine how well random “contest judges” generally do.

But now imagine what you can possibly get away with (see below).


Sure, it doesn’t pass the smell test…who ever heard of a “contest” judged by a random “buyer” who pays to be a judge? So let’s call a bunch of baloney a bunch of baloney. Contest holders are just no judge.

Or expert visual communications pros. Or experienced art directors. Or brand managers. Or marketing gurus. Or production specialists. Nor are they people aware of the value of harnessing a trustworthy, talented, experienced pro to help shape and advise their visual communications decisions. Because they’re a self-selected group who simply want to pick-out a brand identity (or website) like it’s a fast-food menu item, from some anonymous soul on the internet.

Most often, these contest judges have little experience, training or even professional interest in visual communications or design. They’re regular people whose knowledge and experience lies entirely elsewhere. Thus, they’re often easily trickable. Trip-up-able. Bribable. Distractable. Glitz, glam, filter and gradient can hide a lot of real crap. A few can identify basic aesthetic concerns but are unable to visually differentiate their business or read into deeper visual communication issues.


So, you win a little. Congratulations! You automatically forfeit your rights – any and all your rights and copyrights – to all the intellectual property you’ve just created, for ever and ever, into perpetuity and infinity and beyond.
“So what?” You shrug. “Big whoop.”
If your work is valuable, these are very valuable rights. Most contest entrants don’t seem to be even aware of standards of licensing design work in the profession, or that some of these rights are rarely given away, let alone for nothing.

Here’s a passage from crowdSPRING:
“Buyer shall be the sole and exclusive owner and copyright proprietor of all rights and title in and to the results and proceeds of Creative’s services in whatever stage of completion and Creative hereby irrevocably transfers all right and title under such works-made-for-hire to Buyer. If for any reason the results and proceeds of Creative’s services hereunder are determined at any time not to be a “work made for hire”, Creative hereby assigns to Buyer all rights to such Work, including but not limited to all other copyrights.”

What I particularly love is that, even if at some point in the future, litigation happens and it is ruled by a US judge that work-made-for-hire entered into here does not apply, and is ruled illegal and void, it doesn’t matter: “If for any reason the results and proceeds of Creative’s services hereunder are determined at any time not to be a “work made for hire”, Creative hereby assigns to Buyer all rights to such Work, including but not limited to all other copyrights.”

Even if copyright law is found to be on your side even though you entered into work-made-for-hire, guess what? You still lose.

Here’s someone ranting about why the above contract is such a raw deal:


Sure — you dump in loads of time and effort, pressing the “submit” button over and over, day after day, contest after contest. Hundreds of hours of potentially billable time….gone forever. The voice in your head chatters on, “I SHOULD win. I might win! This could be the one! All this time! All this effort! The streak’s gotta end! Roll the dice! Aww…bad beat. Bad beat. Just one more time!”
Embrace your inner gambler’s compulsion. Those who never ever ever win, might just quit the game. Fortunately, it’s a proven fact: behavior is strongly reinforced when you randomly win a minor payoff here and there.


If you aspire to be an excellent chef, you don’t train by working the fry vat at McDonalds. You’ll stagnate. But you’ll also get really good at slapping pre-packaged, formulaic crap together superfast.

At critical stages of learning, those few with both talent and potential benefit from in knowledge and experience from people who’ve been around. It accelerates understanding, hones talent and increases effectiveness. Blah blah blah. But who wants to be pushed to new insight and strength? Internships? Summer jobs? Teachers? Training? That’s like work. Better to just stay in the cozy computer room, updated on the grab-bag of software tips and tricks that allow you and everyone else to recreate a quick, mediocre facsimile of familiar-looking styles, trends, fads and looks.

Remember, with such a low percentage time-effort-payoff ratio, and lack discernment on the part of the random cheap buyer — you’ve gotta be quick at the pixel-vat. Flip those freeze-dried designs.


Heath Ledger’s Joker has some great lines in the new Batman film. One of my favorites is, “If you’re good at something, don’t do it for free.”

Win or lose, you’re creating custom design (and value) on behalf of the for-profit contest site. They sound nice and are swell folksy-folks and strike a great chummy tone and work hard to make their stable of free participants feel important, listened-to. In return, you aren’t paid wages, benefits, sick-leave, vacation-pay, Holiday bonus or health insurance…whether you work part-time here and there or slave away 8 hours a day developing and executing custom design services on behalf of the site’s owners, and the site’s buyer / “judges.”

If you’re not good at something, you’ll have to do it for free. Either way, just don’t be a sucker. As Ross, the founder of crowdspring, notes,

“Designers working on crowdSPRING often don’t have access to clients – they’re stay at home moms, students, retired designers, designers just starting out, disfranchised designers from the “corporate” world, etc. They have difficulty competing on Elance because there it’s about the price and it’s tough to compete on price with $25 logo design from India. And who’s going to hire a student in the traditional model?”

Part Two: Reasons Design Contest Sites Are Crap for Buyers


To quote the founder of crowdspring; “Designers working on crowdSPRING often don’t have access to clients – they’re stay at home moms, students, retired designers, designers just starting out, disfranchised designers from the “corporate” world, etc. They have difficulty competing on Elance because there it’s about the price and it’s tough to compete on price with $25 logo design from India. And who’s going to hire a student in the traditional model?”

One the one hand, these sites are pitched to “creatives” as great practice for amateurs, hobbyists, retirees, stay-at-home moms, newbies, students, and…in the chilly language of a highly competitive profession…to anyone incapable of otherwise finding clients or commanding professional wages.

On the other hand, these sites pitch their services as offering excellent quality, professional-level design solutions for potential buyers. BOTH ARE NOT TRUE. Somebody gets bamboozled, quality suffers and mediocre (but rapidly churned-out) quantity reigns. When the crowd you’re sourcing is (regardless of their self-proclamations) made-up of random folks who can’t figure out how to earn a living with guaranteed billable hours as designers, that’s precisely the level of experience, insight and talent, skill and quality the buyer pays for.


It’s inevitable. Contest sites are wellsprings of copied, “inspired-by” and flat-out stolen intellectual property design work already owned (and copyrighted and perhaps trademarked) by existing companies and individuals.

The problem is, there’s no real way to stop it, because you’re not working with an experienced, trusted, talented partner guiding you through the process of creating, selecting and trademarking unique and top-notch solutions. Someone highly-vested in their own reputation. You’re working with a random group of anonymous “contest entrants” from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Each with a powerful incentive toward speed and quantity… certainly not time-consuming labor of creating truly unique, appropriate, trademarkable, quality custom work for each instance of so little chance at so little money.

The “quick-n-dirty,” open-access, all-on-line model virtually guarantees that some will copy-paste and live-trace and rip logos from designers’ online portfolios and vast logo-collection sites such as logopond, logolounge, logomoose, logo faves and logo design love, in seconds flat. It’s terribly easy, with relatively low risk of recognition or exposure (except from random fellow contest entrants also jockeying to win) — until you put the logo out into the wider world, gaining increasing popularity, success and recognition…and someone spots the rip-off.
Like, for example, here:


Don’t forget to read the policy fine-print before you get slapped with a lawsuit. Crowdspring expressly does not even guarantee the legality of its creative services:

“We have no control over and do not guarantee the quality, safety or legality of Creative Services, the truth or accuracy of project listings or member information, the qualifications, background, or abilities of members, the ability of creatives to deliver Creative Services, or that members will complete a transaction.”

So cross your fingers and hope you didn’t accidentally select and distribute a logo that was created using unlicensed, stolen fonts or illegally made on pirated software. (When you think about it, how do so many of these people afford professional industry-standard vector, pixel and layout software which runs into several thousands of USD… especially on the monetary prizes they’re slaving over? What about the thousands of dollars worth of professional fonts from top foundries flying around? (It would take months and months of solid wins for many participants to merely to get out of debt and back to zero, if they’re using these resources legally).


First, you’re exposed to lawsuits for copyright violation (if your random winning “contest entrant” happened to have been “inspired” by a pre-existing logo from a company, site or individual.

True, you probably won’t find out for a few months or even years… but by then the damage can be irrevocable. For added fun, logo and web-site “chop-shops” are all over the net, preying on the unsuspecting. You can easily be sued when a design is so close to an existing logo that it encroaches on the intellectual copyright of the original. Intentional or not. Aware of the infringement or not. Same with a website.

And don’t forget the ever-present threat of lawsuits from font foundries and software corporations if you happen to own and distribute a work created using stolen or pirated goods. All in all, it’s a nightmare liability risk.


The inexperience, un-expertise and lack of production knowledge on the part of your “creative” is invisible to most people. But it will cost you money. Lots and lots of money. Especially when you hand over the files you were given to the printers or web-builders.
Maybe your files are incorrectly formatted. The color gamut is out. Separation plates aren’t clean. Preflight shows embedding trouble. Overprinting is wrong. Fonts missing. Spots and varnishes? Double-sided five-color business card runs? Vast sums can be saved and lost depending on how much your random “creative” knows…not just in terms of avoiding easy-to-make production mistakes, but at cleverly saving you money at the same time.

“It’s a number’s game,” AND A SPAM-A-LOT BUSINESS MODEL

Contest sites are filled with visual spammers. Churning out metric tons of quick-crap and seeing what sticks. Why? It’s a numbers game. The chances of winning any individual contest are very low, whether your solution is appropriate or not, excellent or not, poor or not, derivative or not, a rip-off or not. (see Judges Are Just No Judge).

“Creatives,” in the quest for higher return on investment (and greater efficiency and lower per-contest costs in time and creative energy), will regurgitate old failed entries. Make quick tweaks to existing solutions. Have ten, twenty, thirty contests going at once. Barely read the brief…it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

A final question: Is it even “Crowdsourcing”?

The reason for sourcing crowds is clear: “a diverse collection of independently-deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better” than any single individual or even a single expert. This is according to one of the greatest examples of crowd-sourcing, Wikipedia.

In short, the theory is this: sometimes crowds, taken in aggregate, predict and decide better than individuals… even expert individuals.

It’s clear from the outset. The design contest model simply isn’t crowdsourcing. Yes, it uses random people from anywhere with an internet connection. But it has nothing to do with harnessing the powerful predictive and decision-making “expertise” of crowds. It’s random outsourcing, not crowdsourcing.

The crowd’s collective wisdom is not harnessed to decide design contests. Or anything else of consequence. The solitary arbiter and decision-maker for each contest is the random paying “buyer” who, by virtue paying a small fee, becomes a “judge” and makes the contest decision alone.

Wikipedia, for example, is a non-profit enterprise made up people who work collectively to ensure a quality encyclopedia of free, openly-accessible and easily-supplemented information. Design contest sites are for-profit enterprises made up of a web “community” of people competing directly against one another to win small sums of money.

“Creatives” – You’ve done a nice job selecting a few quotes that reflect some of my thoughts on this topic. Thank you for posting. We recently had an opportunity to talk about this topic – the rise of the underdog – at a new media summit in Chicago this past fall. If you are interested, the video is here –

I do want to comment on your effort to define whether or not a person is a designer. While I certainly understand the motivation to tie the definition to whether or not it is your career (as you’ve suggested), that definition adds little to the discussion. Sure – someone whose career is design can be called a designer. In the same way that someone who sings can be called a singer, and someone who cooks can be called a cook. I do agree with you that once someone is able to thrive in a career – “keep and grow clients…” then that starts to provide some meaning to the definition.

You say THAT (career in design) is the “clearest line of separation between amateurs and dilettantes from the pros.” I don’t know whether I agree with your statement, but I certainly don’t have any strong reaction against it. Having said that – this definition says nothing about QUALITY. I have written in the past that I’ve seen poor designs from established professionals and great designs from amateurs. Are those exceptions to what one might typically find? Maybe.

The point isn’t so much whether or not one is a “designer”. Labels mean very little. Good quality is good quality, whether created by a janitor, a grandma, or a 30 year pro. Conversely, bad quality is bad quality, regardless of who created it. Both groups (pro and non-pro) create plenty of good and bad designs.

As for ethics – that argument is specious. I’d be happy to listen if you or anyone can identify the laws or professional codes of conduct (as found in regulated industries such as law and medicine) around the world that mandate such “ethics”. Saying something is “unethical” is a good soundbite – but in this case, it’s simply untrue.

Great discussion here! Kind of interesting that David’s post has become the go-to post on the topic. How long before we have a rebuttal article in Print or How that references this post?

I’ve done my own humble commentary on my blog, with a short look at what would happen if Forbes took it’s own medicine. The short story is that CrowdSpring is exploiting naive people by selling them empty dreams of success, and using them to sell low-quality products to clients either too ignorant to know the difference or too cheap to care.

If the whole thing stayed within the cofines of those two groups, no one would mind. Unforunately, by claiming this is design, and by being legitamized in magazines like Forbes, this threatens to infect people that should know better, and devalue our whole industry. If CrowdSpring had found a cheaper way to produce real design work I’d be applauding them. Instead they’ve found a way to create random graphics and pretend it’s design, and that’s not good for anyone.


While I really don’t want to turn David’s comment section into The Steve vs. Ross Show, I just had to offer my thanks for posting that video. I hadn’t seen it before but I’m glad I watched it. If I wasn’t absolutely sure that I didn’t like your business model beforehand, I am completely and utterly convinced that I don’t after watching your scripted presentation. All your sentiments are wonderful and might even hold some water, if you were simply defending the rights of amateurs and hobbyists the world over to create and express themselves artistically. And if it were true that established ‘designers’ the world over have been actively trying to suppress this creativity, I’d be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you in your self-described David vs. Goliath battle.

What’s notably missing in you and Samson’s presentation is the simple fact you’re defending the right of your company to turn a profit off those efforts. As you mention in your video presentation, design contests have been around forever and have, to date, managed to occur without a corporate entity lording over them, organizing them and promoting them as a business model. You’ve just managed to find a way to skim off a profit into your corporate bank account hosting these contests. Actually, and to be completely accurate, you’ve managed to copy the business model of other people – 99 Designs et al – who had already found a way to skim off profit from these contests. I also find it interesting that in the video, you proudly claim that you’re a ‘disruptive’ business model, yet whine on your blog about egg-throwing when you’re scrutinized by the very profession you wish to ‘disrupt’.

You also talk admirably about designers being ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘risk takers’ which sounds all nice and fluffy to anyone listening. Trouble is, when it comes to Crowdspring, you and Samson are the ‘entrepreneurs’ whose enterprise involves making profit from the ‘risks’ these creatives are taking. Once again, I’ll point out that Crowdspring INC. gets their fees up front. Your risk is zero.100% of the ‘risk’ is downloaded to the creatives you’re claiming to represent. As I mentioned beforehand, I find that basic premise reprehensible. The video you link to solidified that position.

Speaking of that video – almost ALL of the analogies you float about your business model are woefully inappropriate. I can’t believe you actually compare Crowdspring to Napster. Napster was never about allowing amateur musicians to share their creativity with the world, but a P2P file-sharing network that allowed fans of music to download their favorite band’s music without paying for the CD. Whether or not that was appropriate or not is another debate entirely, but to compare yourself to a file-sharing service that was judged by the legal system as a music pirating service, probably doesn’t do your cause much good, at least from a logical POV. Should also be noted that Napster was never originally intended to be a ‘for profit’ platform, unlike Crowdspring which was formulated from day one to make profit from design contests and primarily unpaid labor.

And while we’re at it – while you set up the dynamic, WordPress never presented themselves as competing against the New York Times. WordPress is server-based software that allows individuals to publish and control their own content on their websites. Everything from political opinion to a day-to-day journal of the activities of their favorite cat. The software is supported by enthusiasts through the development of plug-ins and widgets (though I’d argue that one has to hire a designer to obtain, or customize, a decently designed theme). WordPress is also a nice example of the true ‘crowdsourcing’ meme – where a community works together for the common good of all.

For your analogy of WordPress to work, they’d have to send out calls to a network of bloggers on the WordPress domain to write articles that would ultimately be published IN the New York Times and pay only for the article selected BY the New York Times. While claiming that other working journalists were overpaid elitists, trying to keep the little blogger down. While accepting plagiarism OF those working journalists as an acceptable risk. While taking fifteen points off the top. Like your other comparisons of CS to istock and Threadless, the analogy just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

What I find quite perplexing is this – you continue to claim in blog comments and forums that you’re trying to ‘have a discussion’ while avoiding the ‘us vs. them’ mentality, a position that I originally took at face value. Trouble is, every time I see, read, listen to a presentation by company spokespeople outside blog comments, it is nothing BUT ‘Us vs. Them’ hyperbole. You constantly talk about ‘design establishment’ and ‘elitists’ standing in the way of your ‘vision’ of the design industry. A ‘vision’ I might add, you only came to have after realizing that you couldn’t make money from Landscaping and Wedding Planning. Trouble is, most designers talking out against your business model are individuals at the grass-roots level who’s ‘elitism’ seems only to be an opinion that design is a profession, and that designers should be able to earn a living practicing that profession. These are not ‘established designers’ trying to keep the ‘little guy’ down, but the ‘little guys’ themselves. You know, the ones you claim to represent. And while Samson opines that design is now ‘more about skills and talent’ than ‘education and experience’ I have to ask where does most of the ‘skills and (learned) talent’ come from if NOT from ‘education and experience’?

Oh that’s right, from submitting artwork to Crowdspring, so that you can try to sell it to your clients. For fifteen cents on the dollar.

I just viewed the video that Ross Kimbarovsky linked to above, and amongst several points that had me groaning out loud was Ross’s talk of how the “underdogs” are risk takers. Well, a lot of underdogs are, and some become top dogs as a result. But I doubt that applies to CS, where I suspect most of the contestants are not risk takers at all — they are hobbyists already in full time jobs or who have other means of financial support, who are prepared to “create” just for fun, and hey, maybe once in a while, more likely never, they score some extra beer money. If they were real risk takers, confident in their talent and ability, they would give up their jobs and start a proper business of their own. They’d soon find that the time and effort involved in finding clients, building reputation and doing real work doesn’t leave much over for entering CS contests. (How many CS contests would you have to WIN to make a living wage, and how many would you have to ENTER to win that number?)

If CS promoted their operation as a place where hobbyists can perhaps win some pin money while the site owners always get their cut — kind of like a casino, where the house never loses — then fine. It’s perfectly legal; nobody’s stopping CS from running that kind of a business. Just don’t dress it up in lofty visions. At best, it seems like guilty self-delusion; at worst, plain disingenuousness.


Ross knows what he’s doing. He’s throwing up a bunch of smoke and noise and trying to distract people by pretending CrowdSpring is something it isn’t. He knows what CrowdSpring is, but he won’t admit that to anyone. That’s the core of their business model. They are selling the lie that CrowdSpring is a great way to break into the design world that untalented people have been “unfairly” excluded from.

If he admitted CrowdSpring is just a human powered random image generator, with a small chance of winning a few bucks, then no one would participate in it. And his business would collapse. The only way to keep it going is to continue lying.

CrowdSpring for me is a joke that looks more like Pimp kinda deal where young designers are asked to fight in a pit for a couple of bucks.

Even if, to my opinion, the level of quality that you find there is in proportion with what you pay, I can easily see the value for the client which can get a custom logo and the vision of 50+ different designer (even LogoWorks cannot beat that). That’s a damn good offer but it hurts serious designers like us. I tried it once as a personal challenge and won (can be seen on my site) but unless you have some time to kill and you find an easy project you can knock down within an hour, don’t waste your talent there.

But as for the “snooty business” issue, I didn’t read the article but through my experience, we are artists, we all have an ego just like movie or sports stars have (and you must have damn big one in order to survive) and sometimes, our personal gratification takes over the real client’s interests (and horror stories can emerge from that… if you don’t believe me read my post of January 3rd). For me that’s where we become snobs, when we loose sight of the real purpose of what we do (meet clients objective) for our own glory (to win an award for example). The perfect example would be last week’s Super Bowl with the controversy about Cash4Gold being one of the announcers and ad observer such as Bob Garfield stating: “With the financial structures of advertising in a state of collapse, if creativity is so beside-the-point, then what is the point?”.

Snobs are around us, and this is a slap in the face for us… but above all, this is the new reality we have to deal with.

I thoroughly agree with the first comment, truly only photography must have as many people masquerading as professionals with zero background.

It’s something I have encountered a fair bit of since I started out on my own, till I point out I have worked for agencies and have a degree! Maybe I got more because I’m young…

In any case I think its almost irresponsible, particularly in the current climate for something like Forbes to try and devalue the design industry.

I’m reminded of something a hairdresser client once said to me when we were discussing design;

‘If I wasnt a hairdresser I wouldnt try and cut hair.’

Tremendo alboroto causó en varios blogs el artículo de Christopher Steiner “Creativity of the Crowds” de la sección “Entrepeneurs” de la revista Forbes, disponible en línea y fechado para publicarse en Febrero 16, en el cual reseña el emprendimiento de un servicio en línea por medio del cual, diseñadores y clientes de todo el mundo, podrían encontrarse para llevar a cabo negocios…

Having commissioned work from numerous design agencies, I have to admit that I rarely, if ever feel I get ‘value for money’ from the design process. The only justification for most of the pre production work seems to be to justify inordinate fees.

Community design contests offer me an opportunity to commission from a wider pool of talent, at less cost. Where’s the issue? I don’t need a 40 page document detailing the personal voyage the designer had to go through to present me with a logo that consists of three grey boxes and the latest hot flourish sniped from Creative Review.

However, I think you’re missing a vital point…that is that GREAT design talent will still only be available at a cost, through a respected Design Agency. Great designers are a strong commodity, and if your name carries cachet you owe it to yourself to sign an exclusive deal with a top agency to guarantee the choicest contracts.


The fact that you hired some bad designers doesn’t invalidate the design process.

Done correctly, a logo is NOT “three grey boxes and the latest hot flourish sniped from Creative Review”. It’s something that has a deep connection to your company and the message and branding you want to project. That’s what should come out of the design process. If you’re not getting that, then you hired the wrong designers.

Of course, the other option is that you’re design blind. Just like some people are color blind, some people are blind to design. For them, all design is just random graphics, fonts and colors. If you suffer from that, then no designer is ever going to seem valuable to you. Your customers, however, are mostly not design blind, and the work of a good designer will have an impact on them, and your bottom line.

Good designers don’t make graphics, they help you improve your business on all levels. You’re not going to get that from some online random image generator.

J. Jeffryes, what a predictably snooty response. I don’t see the value in the design process, ergo I am not a sopisticated enough aesthete to understand its value. Riiiight.

For every FedEx there are a thousand London Olympics 2012s.

Jim, it wasn’t intended to be “snooty.”

It’s a fact of life that not everyone can “see” design. If that’s what’s happening in your case, I’m trying to suggest that you should find designers you can trust, that have a record of delivering ROI for their clients, and then let them do their job.

There’s a reason top professional designers are successful, and it’s not that the successful businesspeople that hire them are fools. If you want to insist otherwise, you’re free to do so, but all you’re doing is limiting your own success.

Eric etc.

Aaron Perry-Zucker’s misguided comments are part of a blog on Fast Company, something anyone can do. Aaron is just a student, not a writer for Fast Company, not anyone with serious design experience.

Just thought I’d point that out before anyone gets steamed up that Fast Company is hopping on board the Clueless Express.

I’ve enjoyed the continued debate. Thanks everyone, for taking the time, and sorry I’m too rushed at present to respond to you all individually.

I was reading David the Designer‘s blog earlier, and he talks about a graphic design degree course he was recently invited to review. Here’s a snippet from his post I thought you’d all appreciate, where he writes about the panel’s discussion…

And do you know what? At no point did anyone even mention the word ‘branding’. No, instead, the talk was of morals and ethics and responsibilities. It bodes well for the future of the design ‘industry’ (and the sooner we stop calling it an ‘industry’ the better, in my view).

Morals and ethics should rightly be placed high on the agenda. That’s pleasing. Also, design is everywhere. Should we call it an industry? Perhaps a question for another time.

Jim – What’s the issue? Valid points have been made in the comments upthread, but I’ll try and bullet point several that I have.

Philosophically Speaking – Unpaid labor (while design contest sites are run by for-profit companies). Your “wider pool of talent” – all presenting work in the hopes you deem their time worthy of payment – includes fourteen year old high school students. If this where happening in China, it would be looked upon as child labor. When it happens in Chicago it’s the ‘Democratization of Design’? Sorry, but I don’t think unpaid labor is a principle worth embracing in order to present you a few more logo options for your company. If you wish to engage that fourteen year old student one-on-one, and pay (in this case) her a stipend for her efforts, we might have another debate entirely. For a for-profit company to offer a fourteen year old’s unpaid work as part of their design services for paying customers, is nothing short of shameful. For them to present this to the world as somehow a step-up, blows my mind as does being accused of being ‘snooty’ for thinking so.

From a design perspective – Massive copyright issues. An extraordinary amount of design contest entries include plagiarized designs and in terms of logo design, pre-fab images from sources like istock. Whether stock images are appropriate for a logo is another debate entirely, but outfits like istock rarely (if ever) license their images for use as a company logo. In fact, it’s expressly forbidden in their terms and conditions (#4 to be exact). And speaking of terms and conditions, have you read those featured on ANY design contest site? They not only admit that obtaining copied material is possible through their ‘service’, but waive all liability and responsibility to you, their ‘beloved’ customer, should it happen. You might be okay with that risk, but I suspect many small business owners – if they knew – wouldn’t be.

Technical issues. Designing pretty pictures and logos is but the first step of artwork development. Several forum debates on the site being discussed feature site OWNERS wondering if they should recommend that logos be created in vector format, and if the responses are any indication, most of their ‘community’ aren’t sure either. Technical setup isn’t a quaint idea, it’s part and parcel of the design process, but something lots of ‘community designers’ don’t have the first clue about. Not that we should expect them too – hobbyist artists tinkering with Photoshop probably haven’t had the experience or education in technical proficiency that is required to present yourself to the world as a ‘professional” designer. The services themselves refuse to get involved in the technical side of things, nor check outgoing ‘wrap-up’ files, because (and this is a quote) “it doesn’t scale”. Translation – when there’s lots of ‘buyers’ it’s not profitable for them to check if their ‘buyer’s’ final artwork is set up correctly. While some of us can appreciate the “aw shucks” idea of a fourteen year old trying to develop a logo on the cheap for your company, and while it’s true that the resultant design being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is open for interpretation, technical set-up of same (and the skill set required) isn’t.

I notice that you boil a designers choice down to two. Work for free for outfits like Crowdspring, or sign exclusive contracts with agencies? You missed one of the talking points – this is about ‘Democratization of Design’, not the Balkanization of same. There are lots of designers who’d like to follow different career paths than the ones you’ve given. Which, now that I think about it, is another ‘issue’.

Let me see if I can put it in terms you might understand. What ever your company does, or sells, do it for me, for nothing. And if I like it – based on a subjective barometer that I’ll either not tell you very much about, or change as we go along – I’ll pay you what I deem appropriate. And if you suggest that this isn’t a good idea, I’ll call you, and everyone that holds your particular industry near and dear to them, ‘snooty’ in a leading business publication. Deal?

Steve – I am perfectly capable of making the requisite checks before I begin using a logo I’ve commissioned through a contest. In terms of ‘technical’ issues…quite honestly, for some applications I don’t need brand usage guidelines, umpteen logo formats, or an asset management system. Sometimes all I want is a logo. Some of us ‘customers’ who have a technical background are getting a little cheesed off with the suggestion that there’s added value in exporting in multiple formats…it’s the design we’re paying for, not the medium.

To “put it in terms you might understand”…take a look at the Nike Swoosh.


Get it?

Hello Jim,

You mention the Nike Swoosh cost $35. There are a few things worth adding for those who are unaware.

This price was paid to Carolyn Davidson, a design student, back in 1971. Throughout the 1980’s, Nike experimented with a number of different applications and swoosh combinations before finally settling on the single icon we know today.

Carolyn was then invited to a dinner where she was presented with a swoosh-engraved diamond ring and stock in the company.

This was certainly a special case, where the co-founder eventually realised the true value of Carolyn’s design work.

Jim – Ah yes. The old Nike logo chestnut. $35 in 1971. Billed out, by a graphic design student at $2 an hour (to put things in proper context, 5 years later I was working at my first job for $2.85 per hour, reaping the benefits of improved employment laws and higher minimum wage standards).

But the story doesn’t stop there, does it Jim?

In 1983, the designer of the Nike ‘swoosh’, Carolyn Davidson, received a gold ring and an envelope of Nike stock (while the figure has never been disclosed, some think that it was over a million).

Other than an ‘aw shucks’ human interest story, the success of the Nike logo, the company that it represents and the back story of same is an anomaly Jim. It’s not terribly germane to the topic at hand, nor indicative of a trend, then or now. Though now that you mention it…

Ignoring the disparity between the value of a dollar in 1971 vs. today, I’d think many designers on design contests would be thrilled to make $35 per for their logo design contributions. They don’t. And while Carolyn Davidson billed $2 per hour for her work back in 1971, the majority of designers on contest sites aren’t even making that. In 2009. They’re contributing hundreds of thousands of hours to a commercial enterprise while billing jack.

Once again. What ever you do, or sell, do it for me for nothing. And don’t bitch about the low price that I choose, IF I decide to ‘like’ that product or service. Because I’ve got some example of people doing it for less in 1971.

Hey whaddaya know. I do “Get It”

@ Steve

Another point about 14 year old designers entering submissions. It is unlawful for anyone under the age of 18 to enter into a legal contract. Since you have to agree to a terms of use to join crowdSpring as a contributor, this pretty much makes any agreement between that 14 year old and CS null and void.


also don’t loose sight of the fact that a logo is the symbolic embodiment of YOUR brand, of who YOU are, of what YOU do and what differentiates YOU. Since the sole purpose of branding is to make you different among your competitors and not designing something just for the sake of it, if you are a small business owner and you are in a mission of finding THE cheapest deal around, be mindful of a one thing; there’s a reason why a logo is meant to cost more than lunch money.

A good logo requires substantial effort: research, competitive analysis, creative brainstorming, sketches, and finalization based on the client’s and their customers’ feedback. With a $49 budget, however, it’s likely the designer will produce something generic, and even resort to non-proprietary clip art that could easily appear in other logos.

Even if Carolyn Davidson in 1971charged only $35 to design the famous Nike swoosh, it is important to acknowledge that she was a student and her hourly rate was $2 (meaning that it took her 17 hours to design something as simple as a Swoosh). The Swoosh as simple as it looks is very meaningful. It represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike and has become one of the most recognized symbols in the world today. Thanks to Carolyn’s research and sketching time.

Someone with a $49 budget shouldn’t expect more than one hour from a professional design service, or will use a foreign service that unfortunately will know very little about the audience and the business. Yes, you might be on a tight budget, as most people starting a business are, but your image and brand should not be a place to cut corners and you should use somebody local with a solid portfolio who ideally can physically go on site to get a feel of your business. Don’t jump too high when you see the price as you pay for what you get. Remember that there’s a reason why Brad Pitt costs more than Chuck Norris (No offence to anyone).

Honestly David, I do appreciate the ‘value’ of working with a great designer for certain projects. If I was rebranding the organisation (something we did a couple of years ago) I’d want research, I’d want evidence-based decisions, I’d want the full range of materials designed…in short, I’d want the works. Why? Because we are risk averse. It’s worth it.

But turn this thinking on its head and you wonder how many great designs are wasted on companies that fail. Companies that are taking huge risks in every other aspect of their business. How many great logos are wasted on companies that never needed a great logo?

The majority of companies bidding on Crowdpsring will be start-ups, or the kind of company whose customers really couldn’t give a sh*t how uniquely appropriate your branding is. It is a hard fact that Crowdspring can offer a bespoke design service very cheaply. Arguments about quality etc… are redundant, as that decision is the client’s.

In my opinion, it is damaging to the reputation of design professionals to get het up about this stuff. I appreciate you view it as a threat, but I refer to my initial statement “that GREAT design talent will still only be available at a cost”. When the inevitable rising stars of Crowdspring emerge, they will be finding people offering more involved work opportunities, who are willing to pay more for their services, and they’ll be out.

If you’re genuinely unhappy because these ‘amateur designers’ are pitching shitty work for peanuts, why don’t you all get on there and warn the poor unsuspecting fools who are bidding for it? Convince THEM to pay you ten times as much for your services and you’ve won.

Jim- I am glad that you see the value of working with great designer when appropriate and I do understand your point and agree with you on a lot of things about the reality of startups and its need or not for a great logo depending its risk factor.

As I wrote in a comment above:

“Even if, to my opinion, the level of quality that you find there is in proportion with what you pay, I can easily see the value for the client which can get a custom logo and the vision of 50+ different designer (even LogoWorks cannot beat that). That’s a damn good offer…

…this is the new reality we have to deal with.”

But I think we are missing the point of the original argument, “snooty business or not” as you simply pay for what you get which comes down to the Brad Pitt vs Chuck Norris analogy.


The article is a bit weird but a huge amount of the designs on Crowdspring are very decent. Maybe not to a designer who really doesn’t want to like em but a lot of people have got their start through this kind of thing. My favourite guy is based in Serbia and charges $500 a pop. He used to go into competitions but now obviously has no need, however he built his portfolio doing it.

First off I’d like to say that I have participated in contests before and have been able to find some decent ongoing clients from them but have decided that the time and effort vs reward was way to far on the clients side, thus have decided to give it up.

After reading the Forbes article and having experienced both sides of the fence over the last few years I thought it was about time I actually said something, generally I spend most of my time on the sidelines but I think articles like this give a very skewed view of our industry and deserve the battering that they should receive.

In the past I have participated in these contests (not on CS) and while I have managed to find some great ongoing clients who have understood (or been willing to learn) design principles and ethics, generally the masses tend to be those that are unwilling to learn or put the time and effort into developing their identity with those that they commision (in this case a vast majority of unpaid designers)

I liken crowdsourcing to window shopping, the client is just looking for more bang for their buck and while I understand this sentiment and even share it in the retail world, design is generally a service industry that doesn’t always have the same final product and can’t be mass produced in order to save a few bucks.

Likening crowdsourcing to retail outlets like istockphoto and threadless becomes moot, the main difference is that these sites offer the same product in a retail environment and provide the ability for designers / photographers to sell their wares multiple times.

Sure they don’t get paid upfront but in retail you need to invest time and money to develop your product and if you do it right you will eventually make money.

Retailers are able to set their prices and market their products to customers, crowdsourcing on the other hand dictates that anyone who enters a contest will lose the right to set their prices and will be bound by the generally unrealistic prices and expectations of the customers.

As previously suggested we see these services being marketed as an alternative to traditional design agencies, well thats ok , not everyone has the big budget and ability to work with these agencies but whats to stop them approaching or inviting freelancers to talk over their project?

I would say it’s articles like this that distract and misinform those clients into making a bad decision about their design needs and if the trend continues, which I think it will, we will only find ourselves being drowned by a multitude of trend and effect based designs which don’t speak to the clients target audience or communicate what the company is about but just serve as a pretty picture that makes the client all warm and fuzzy.

I’ve seen this happen quite a bit, a lot of “designers” won’t take into account the end user (or are uneducated and thus fail to understand the relevance of the end user / customer ) , crowdsourcing is generally only catering to the client rather than the clients customers (which in terms of branding and business are probably more important), a lot of these “designers” don’t have the knowledge or sense to take this into account.

A lot of the time other requirements such as print, expandability or age aren’t taken into account either, the client only understands the bottom line which typically to them is how much they will pay and what they will get for that.

They don’t understand that in order for their design to work it needs to be taken into context, how does it stack up to their competitors, how will it age, will it still be relevant in ten years time?

I think these are some of the points that a lot of designers who are against crowdsourcing want to be addressed, they are the principles that professionals take into account but with the bottom line (more bang for your buck) being marketed to clients as a viable alternative to these considerations, a lot of companies visual identity will fail because they aren’t taken into account.

I haven’t seen any efforts being made by the crowdsourcing sites to educate the hobbyists / students / janitors etc etc on the ethics and principles of design or education on business practises to make sure that the designers are educated enough to know that their time has a value and on how to better manage the work in which they do on these sites.

As said previously, these companies tend to take an apathetic approach to the well-being of their talent pool and while they will generally say that their designers are happy to do so and grateful for the oppourtunity a lot of this sentiment could be boiled down to those designers not being educated in some of the simple principles of design and business.

Lets be honest here , crowdsourcing is set firmly in the clients half of the court, the open nature of the “community” means that there will always be someone who is willing to provide those clients with that service and it is marketed as such.

While I participated in these contests knowing this I generally tried to take what I could of my freelancing experience and apply it to them, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, it really boiled down to what the client was like.

I have since decided that the time spent vs the reward is truly poor and while I was able to find clients through them, I think that the time would be better served concentrating on my own business than catering for others who only have an interest in the bottom line.

I believe that a lot of designers who do use crowdsourcing sites as a means of income really need to consider if doing so is in their best interests, is that time invested worth it ? are you going to learn the skills you need to land that agency job or are you going to do this and then apply what you’ve learnt to your freelancing business?

It all boils down to this, do you really think that giving away your work for free will teach you what you need to succeed ?

Will it make you a better designer or teach you good business practise ?

Will it provide you with a good income ?

While others may argue that it is filling a niche, this niche is firmly a client / business niche , not a design one and shouldn’t be marketed as such.

Coming from one of the most elitist of sites, members and affiliations. This article is garbage and Forbe’s should humble itself to it’s lack of understanding and knowledge regarding the communication arts.

It’s a junk article in Forbes, no doubt.

You know what, though? Reading these comments and visiting your sites- I’ve found a ton of really innovative and interesting designers in you guys. I hope we get to work together with some of you!

Hang tough, some people still appreciate great design.

I’m a bit late on reading this, David.

We’re all aware that you’re never going to get rid of spec work, and other ‘cheap’ forms of labour.

However, for such a high profile magazine to encourage such a low view of a treasured skill, is quite shocking!


There are indeed some excellent comments here, and I’m glad you’ve followed through to the commenter websites. Thanks for visiting.

Marc, Armen,

It’s been ages. I hope you’re both keeping well. Armen, is life still good in Tasmania?


To clarify a couple of your points, I never actually called crowdspring a threat. This really isn’t about me creating more work for myself, far from it, and I’m surprised you read it that way.

You talk about companies taking risks, but there’s an important difference between a calculated risk, and a hazardous one. If a proper risk assessment was carried out prior to doing business in a spec environment, the results would clearly point to money better spent elsewhere.

Thanks for the continued comments, everyone.

David and designers, etc — I’m no expert, but this might be kinda big…

I think it just became clear that Guy Kawasaki of ALLTOP has unknowingly purchased illegal work created using stolen software on…

On the site’s threads, one of the participants (the winner of the “ALLTOP” t-shirt contest) is actually OPENLY ADMITTING to using ILLEGAL, possibly PIRATED versions of Adobe software to create their work…
(comments #84 and 85, around page 8)

If I was Guy, I’D. BE. PISSED. (and open to gaping legal risk and liability?)

If I was Adobe, I’D. BE. REALLY PISSED.

If I was Crowdspring, I’d be… well… safe and snug. Because the site’s user agreement contains this choice phrase: “We have no control over and do not guarantee the quality, safety or legality of Creative Services,…”

Now THAT’S entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Isn’t it time to freeze out Crowdspring? No legitimate designer should speak of them again. Hard as it sounds, they just beg to be busted–look, I’m doing it now–but those of us do honest design and production work, doing professional jobs for professional prices, should at least make one concerted effort to wipe the smug, self-satisfied smiles off the faces of the Crowdspring crowd by ignoring them.


Would that really accomplish anything? Real professional designers don’t participate in Crowdspring, trying to get them to not participate in Crowdspring would do… nothing. At best it would give them a ton of free publicity and attract even more amateur wannabe designers to their site.

There’s no stopping this kind of thing. The best course is to publicize the truth about it, and educate businesses to the idea that this is something only for those companies too broke, too ignorant or too sleezy to use real design. Let them have the bottom feeders. As long as people know this isn’t real design, we’ll be fine.

Ah, turns out we’re on the same page then, Stephen.

Though how to not talk about them now that it’s already out there?

What we need are a few news stories of companies that got screwed by getting illegal or terrible work from CrowdSpring. If people are going to be talking about them no matter what, it would be good if they were talking about the horror stories, instead of false promises of cheap design.

Dear fellow designers, friends and family,

A big opportunity is upon us. Crowd spring wants to legitimize a “pay only if you really like it” business model.

I believe we can all benefit here. It only seems fair that the business’s who utilize this service be expected to reciprocate that kindness.

STEP 1 – Submit a 2 minute idea for every “contest” posted on crowd spring (as there is no assurance of payment, honestly, don’t spend a lot of time on it)

STEP 2 – Make a clear note of the company for whom you’ve submitted an idea. Then share there name, address and URL with all your friends and family.

STEP 3 – sample their goods or services

STEP 4 – Determine whether or not they are in your opinion the best. If they are, then pay them. If they are not, you really don’t owe them any money. (this is a concept clients of crowd spring have already exhibited an understanding of)

Here is a brief list of companies who have already shown that they are on board with this brave new “pay only if you really like it” business model:

Cole Financial Consulting, LLC
Darby Equipment Company
Zafin Labs
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
Traffic Geyser
Blue Sky Sage
Peak Prosperity Training
Wise Brother Media
Seal and Crest
Asgard Truck and Trailer Repair Ltd.
The Venture Knowledgist logo
Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science
Clarify my brand < love this one, this is who you want to take care of YOUR brand, ha ha
Trent Signs and Graphics
Stopwatch Live
Crossfire Briefs
MSW Properties, LLC
Wasserman Commercial Real Estate Corporation
SST Systems, Inc.
Three Point Group, LLC
Green Energy Consulting
Wayne Paul Corporation
The Acoustic Guitar Forum
LTG Montana Resources
Arthur N. Rupe Foundation
Alpine Race Consulting

That wraps up the first 3 pages. From the sounds of it though, this thing is really taking off.

Let’s keep an eye out, I’m hoping for a few restaurants!! The only thing better than one steak… is two!! The only thing better than that, is if you only have to pay for the one liked more.

A crack down on crowdsourcing and spec work is a waste of energy. There’s no need for graphic designers to panic either. A good long hard look at the value of graphic design services might make more sense. Let’s face it, design is a commodity.

Graphic design is highly commoditised because the market is saturated and the barriers to entry are low. Everyone with a pencil or a computer is a graphic designer. Even the casual designer knows to avoid Comic Sans. On balance we all benefit from graphic design literacy. The market grows and as a result tools improve and client expectations become more sophisticated.

Graphic design tools are being thoroughly democratised. Cost is dropping and the onward march of good free cloudware is unstoppable. It won’t be long before services such as Raven, Sumo Paint and Fonstruct are as good as Illustrator, Photoshop and Fontlab. Bring them on I say.

Hats off to Crowdspring and 99Designs, they’ve capitalised on a commoditised market. They’ve highlighted the actual value of what gets traded.

If you buy logo design services you will get a logo. The quality of which is measurable against the ambitions of the business strategy. If the only manifestation of the business strategy is a logo then there is not much of a brand identity to speak of. The success of the brand is then likely to be very limited and the logo won’t be worth much.

Professional graphic designers need to be specialists. They need to develop proprietary methodologies in service of business strategy. Business strategy requires marketing knowledge best bought from specialists. These specialists are unlikely to be found by crowdsourcing. Designers who work in this manner are also unlikely to feel threatened by crowdsourcing.

As for spec work, that is the prerogative of the graphic design service provider. A client who is not prepared to pay for a taste of the process is probably a client not worth having.



@ David Airey – sorry my comments above weren’t directed at you, they were in response to David ‘M’s reply.

Cheers, and carry on the debate!


just last week i ordered a dominos and a pizza hut, only to be confronted with two angry men at my door while i was explaining i was only willing to pay for the best one.

The crowdsourcing (really, design contest business model) debate at SXSF this Sunday appears to have no one actually taking the anti-design contest arguments on. WHO NOT?

For example, here’s the blog article of one of the panelists supposed to be representing the anti side.
From the article, “This may be disconcerting to the people who I’m sharing a panel with at SXSW, especially because I’m technically supporting the “spec work is evil” side…”

Is it any surprise the person who organized (and stacked) the panel is a co-founder of crowdspring? Attempting to feed off the slipstream of entirely different kinds of (real) crowdsourcing through the fallacy of equivalence? Wikipedia is crowdsourcing! Threadless! Wired invented the term! Apply it to to us too! We’re the vanguard of the new world revolution!

It’s a proven, if disingenuous, strategy we’ve seen over and over in politics — when you’re flat out wrong on an issue, if you can frame that issue as a wash, you’ve actually won a huge victory.

When’s the REAL debate going to take place, with REAL arguments from the against side? So far, it seems like inviting Dick Cheney to argue the anti-war position in a public debate sponsored by a conservative think tank! Do you think he’s going to do his best — let alone a good job — let alone be versatile in the best arguments against?


Thanks for clarifying.


On the face of it, the SXSW panel looks like a group hug, but I’d like to be wrong. Perhaps David Carson can offer an opposing view?

I cannot see much difference in Threadless and Crowdspring in terms of benefiting designers via compensation. Both receive thousands of submissions, whle a small percentage are compensated. While Threadless says they pay 5X the going rate for t-shirt designs, if they only select 1 out of 1,000 submissions (or more), how does this benefit the design profession?

If Crowdspring receives 68 submissions for every design request, and the winner receives approx. $300 compensation (average), how is this worse for the design profession than Threadless?

For decades, Readers Digest has been offering a small sum for the anecdotes and articles it chooses from public submissions. They receive hundreds of submissions a month, many from independent writers, yet only reward a handful of them. Why are we not crying and stomping our feet for the writers’ community?

Ran across the website today. Now.. I have never, nor will I ever do spec work. My Art Center education (and student loan) will not allow it. I now understand why graphic designers are so expensive (and snooty). We have student loans for over $100,000 and have to pay exorbitant amounts every month in order to make a dent.

I found Crowdspring to be vile and offensive. Shame on any real designer who does “work” from that website.

If you guys are so pissy about cheap design, what do you suggest small guys do in order to get graphic work done when they are boot strapping their site?


We suggest the same thing they do when they wish they could have a $10 million office building and a staff of hundreds.

They buy what they afford, and do without whatever they can’t. No one has a right to cheap professional work. If you want something you have to pay for it.

The complaint here is not about cheap work. It’s that cheap, shoddy work is being passed off as professional work, and that damages the industry. The same as if a bunch of people started calling themselves carpenters with no training, and they sold crap houses for $20,000. People would rush to buy them, and when they fell apart they’d just assume all carpenters were untalented hucksters.

If the people that bought crap design understood they were buying crap design, then none of us would be worried about it.

I don’t wish I could have a $10 million office building, I need an office that is appropriate for the size of my business. Realtors aren’t going to call something crap because it’s cheaper and tell business owners they’re being cheap for not spending more than they can afford.

“They buy what they afford, and do without whatever they can’t. No one has a right to cheap professional work. If you want something you have to pay for it.”

THAT is why people call you guys “snooty”. Rather than putting up with that attitude; I can go to 99designs, get back a design that works for my business, and tell people that come back with that lame attitude to grow up.

You guys aren’t building real estate. Business owners have come to realize that we can get good designs from crowdsourcing and no amount of whining and stomping your feet is going to change that.

If the designs I got from crowdsourcing weren’t good enough for my business I wouldn’t go back to them.

Carl, if you can’t tell the difference between something you get at 99designs and something you get from a real designer…

Well, good luck to you. You’ll get what you pay for.

I suppose you call doctors, lawyers, and architects snooty because they charge professional rates too? Because I hear that any 14 year old with a medical book can tell you what drugs to take, and if you give them a t-square and a book on law they can handle your contracts and design your bridges too.

As long as people don’t see the difference between a random image generator like CrowdSpring and real design, we’ll keep having these debates. If you want to short change your business like that, you go right ahead. Maybe in the future you’ll realize your mistake and hire professionals.

You aren’t a doctor, lawyer, or architect. Don’t insult those professions with your delusions of grandeur.


Actually, with what good design schools cost, and how difficult it is to get into them, it would only be fair to put professional designers in the same category as Doctors, Lawyers, and Architects. You would understand if you had $125,000 worth of school loans to pay off, and knew anything about this industry. You think that the design “working for your business” means something but what you really mean, is “a design you like”. Please understand that there is a science to design and what is best may not always be what you like.

It would appear to me that the only people who disagree and the ones who are either profiting from spec work, or those who are uneducated about design. We as designers could fix a lot of this if we made a bigger deal out of what it takes to actually become a functioning professional. I have a feeling a lot of people think that anyone who can draw can design. Not the case. I was once told that every time I sell a logo or piece of artwork that the client isn’t just buying the time it took to make it, they are also buying a part of the designers entire life and experience it took for them to get there.

Congratulations, you just did a better job of defining graphic designers as “snooty” than any writer at Forbes possibly could have done.

Until you realize how deeply your first sentence drips with delusions of grandeur, there’s no hope of you seeing the world through anything but the tunnel vision you’ve apparently taken to heart.

@Carl and JWG

As Jim Walls, creative director at 160over90 writes in his “The 50 Dollars Logo Experiment” post: “…there will always be good clients who recognize the value of what they’re getting when they pay experts. Likewise, there will always be the pizza shop owners and recent MBA grads launching their next Basecamp rip-off who get what they pay for when they go for the lowest common denominator.”

And as the great impressionist artist August Renoir said: “I made this drawing in less than five minutes, but it took me sixty years to be able to do that”


@David Morin

I assume from your first quote that you don’t disagree one bit with the Forbes writer calling you guys “snooty”?

BTW, if “you get what you pay for” were true, I wouldn’t have even thought about trying crowdsourcing. In fact, the parroting of that cliche is exactly what made look for alternatives to the archaic idea of taking on all the risk with just one designer.


Ultimately I think you could view any purchase as a risk. What’s important is trust, and I don’t recommend that anyone spend their hard-earned cash on a designer / design agency without trusting them to produce an effective, appropriate result.

How can trust be built? Through communication. An issue with ‘contest’ sites is how the client must spend their money prior to any form of communication can begin, so in the end, you blindly place trust in people you haven’t yet met, spoken to, or even seen the work of, hoping they create the right design.

Personally, that seems like much more of a risk than putting in some research and choosing a designer / agency based upon their portfolio, client testimonials, telephone conversations or face-to-face meetings.

Of course we’re all entitled to our own opinion, however, and I hope your efforts go rewarded.

@David Airey,

The issue on my end is the fact that the increase in price you see when you go to any design firm you can trust prevents them from being an option for a large portion of our projects and the projects of many small businesses. It’s not that a person like myself doesn’t want to spend the kind of money that requires, it’s that standard design firm rates would eat up the entire budget of many bootstrapped sites. It’s simply 1999 dot-com kind of foolish to invest half your budget in a logo.

Speaking from experience on the business owner side of it, it’s really an absolute wasteland once you get below spending a couple thousand dollars for a logo. The quality of work I received from designers who thought they were the cream of the crop but affordable was absolutely insulting. When we decided to increase the budget on one project to $2,000 and got a logo back that would have gotten us sued I realized that “you get what you pay for” is absolute b.s.

Some of the people here can scoff at having a logo designed for $1,000 but damn it, welcome to the real world where people fund businesses on their own, spend responsibly, and don’t blow through VC money. Insulting those kinds of businesses as being too cheap isn’t going to help your industry one bit.

I still needed logos though so I tried crowdsourcing. Out of the seven projects we’ve done on 99designs and their ilk, we’ve only had one that didn’t leave us full satisfied. We actually sell merchandise with the logos on them at the request of our customers.

Hey, if I had the budget to spend on a six-figure logo, I would. However, I don’t live in the world of fantastical business plans, I eek out a living like you guys.

Thank you for your respectful reply, I really did wonder what was suggested for small companies looking for design work. Unfortunately, your commenters have blown any hope you had of contradicting the idea that graphic designers are “snooty” out of the water in grand fashion.

In parting…

Crowdsourcing is not your industry’s problem; it’s the market’s solution to your problem. Your industry’s problem is the shabby quality of low cost designers and the “well, if you don’t spend five figures, tough” attitude the rest of the industry has taken.


If you read my earlier comments, you’ll see that I believe a designer becomes “snooty” when he loses sight of his client’s objective and put his personal ego in front of the communication challenge he has to solve.

In my career, I helped a lot of entrepreneurs (so I understand where they’re coming from) getting the RIGHT look and feel for their company or product and this is where the “science” comes into play since the essence of what we do is managing perceptions. Despite our efforts to be rational beings, we are in fact emotional beings. A brand isn’t what you say it is but it is in fact what they say it is. It is a person’s gut feeling when he is exposed to a brand.

Getting the right identity and look & feel goes far beyond a simple graphic that will identify your business in the market place. It also play a big role in your natural positioning by prequalifying your buyers (perception). In the real estate business for instance, if your firm specializes in high-end commercial estate, having the right image will make you look too expensive for the guy who’s looking to start a small convenience store in a bad neighborhood of Sin City and will be right on target for the attorney firm that wishes to expand in a new building.

Unfortunately, a lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that coming into play with a more innovative product at a cheaper price will guarantee their success while in fact, only one product can be the cheapest, the rest of the players needs to rely on their branding to make it. This is why the symbolic embodiment of your brand becomes so crucial. It takes a lot of experience and knowledge to produce something that will get you a good ROI.

I am not opposed to competition as there is a niche for everybody. Do I get frustrated sometimes when a person goes to those discounted solutions when I know deep inside that the solution they are buying won’t serve them good on a long run? Absolutely, so as most probably Chef Ramsey when he hears somebody coming out of McDonald saying that they just ate the best burger ever when to his opinion, it’s not even food.

As for “You pay for what you get” comment, maybe you just picked the wrong designer for your business, as different designers have different methodology, philosophy and backgrounds. I personally am a corporate graphic communication specialist, and my work fits well with a certain type of clientele and communication challenges while somebody else might be a free hand genius that might not do any good for my type of clients.

My personal pick on it, always pick your graphic artists based on their experience, portfolio but most importantly, somebody that truly understand your business & needs, and with whom you have a good chemistry.



There’ll be a market for all budget ranges, and it’s the designer’s role (amongst many others) to set their rate and attract those businesses who value said rate.

I’m sorry to learn that you spent a lot of money on something that would’ve gotten you sued. I agree, you don’t always get what you pay for, and there are exceptions to every rule, but I think that more often than not you do.


Not Doctors, Lawyers, or Architects….

Reminds me of what my republican cousin from Arizona said to me when I went back to get my second degree in graphic design. Her response after bragging about her children going to medical school was “now what is this art thing you are doing?”

Cast ye pearls before swine. I’ll keep my pearls thank you sir. After all. I’m pissy.


“I was once told that every time I sell a logo or piece of artwork that the client isn’t just buying the time it took to make it, they are also buying a part of the designers entire life and experience it took for them to get there.”

Beautiful words. Will pass that on to my students.

I live in Bangkok, and as a native English speaker I’m forever getting asked to teach English in the Thai schools, or tutor English one on one.

And I always refuse. Why? Because I am not a trained English teacher. Sadly, Thailand has more than their fair share of English speaking expats who don’t know how to teach English. The low level of English spoken by some Thais is a sad result (mind you, I’m not saying that it is the only reason).

Being a native English speaker does not make one an English teacher, no more than having a copy of Illustrator and Photoshop makes one a designer.

And if a client is happy to risk their hard earned money and business on a hobbiest with a copy of Illustrator and Photoshop (who has no history of a knowledge of ethics in the design industry, nor can instruct the client on the same), then the client needs to be aware of the possible outcomes.

CAUSE: It is an undisputed fact that some designers at crowdsourcing and contest sites post ripped off work.

EFFECT: Marketing pieces designed around a logo can be expensive: website design, business cards, envelopes, flyers and brochures, products, sinage, etc… forcing the client to pay for yet another logo, website design, business cards, envelopes, flyers and brochures, products, sinage, etc…

Professional designers in the US charge as little as a few hundred dollars, all the way to the tens of thousands, so there is no base for complaints over pricing.

And it works just any other industry – architects, builders, doctors, lawyers, airlines, etc – find one in your price range and go from there.

You guys sure like to compare yourself to doctors and lawyers. What’s the fine for practicing graphic design without a license?

Engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, plumbers, home inspectors, police officers, real estate agents, auctioneers, and tons more have government defined licensing processes that you can get in legitimate trouble for ignoring.

How much is the fine for designing a logo without being properly qualified?

‘The fine is you waste your money on crap design work.’

LOL! Absolutely.

I just love it when these guys come on here talking like bad design does not cost. It does.

And I hope none of their children grow up to be designers…

“The fine is you waste your money on crap design work.”

Huh? Your reply doesn’t make a bit of sense, they don’t fine the customers of non-licensed lawyers. There’s a reason the government regulates those industries.

Again, you are the ones who feel you’re in the same league as those professions. If you guys are in the same boat as them, why doesn’t the government feel it’s important enough to treat you the same?

@ Carl.

The fine for a bad identity design?

Have you read the news lately about UPS? Google “UPS & FF Dax” for me.

Oh, and thank you for degrading me BELOW a plumber simply on the basis that I have

no license to practice.

Let me reiterate JWG’s comment from earlier about buying a designer’s life experience.

I finished my first undergraduate in advertising after studying for five years. Bottom line $50,000

I worked for another four years as an in-house corporate designer. 2001 dot com crash. Back to school.

The Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California. Bottom line $120,000.

You are paying for $170,000 worth of education when you hire me.

@catherine, try to keep up here. Your reply is all sorts of ironic if you don’t see how the fining the buyer vs fining the person posing as licensed is different.

@Chesley Nassaney, my point is regarding the original comparison to doctors and lawyers. I just listed ever menial profession that the government feels is important enough to require a license. If that’s a legitimate comparison, BAM, you have your solution to crowdsourcing. File a complaint about the designing of logos without a license. Oh wait, there isn’t such a thing.

I’ve always been a firm believer that citing your education and how much you paid for it to give yourself worth is about the most pretentious thing somebody can do (and I have an MBA from a top 20 national program)

@Carl.. And good luck with your business model.

Oh, by the way. Do you shop at Walmart for your clothes?

Best of luck to you. I’m unsubscribing.

We’re six years into this business (I employ five people, primarily special needs/handicapped) and it’s shown no signs of slowing down.

Wal-Mart? No, but when I buy clothes I know what I’m getting. I don’t go and pay a fashion designer and up front fee, spend hours explaining what I need, and then pray I get back something that I like.

But hey, you know what, you finally found a profession that’s a bit more comparable to what you do.

Between your “do you know where I went to school?” and “well I’m just not going to listen any more because I don’t like what you are saying”, you’ve really shown your capability to communicate.

@ Carl

My last words… if you don’t know what you are buying when you look at a designer’s

portfolio & history, then there is a problem on your end. You should be able to

see how a designer solves problems and their thinking on every piece of designer project.

By the way, I looked at the logos on those websites. I also looked at the ages of

the children who were designing them. Most of them were younger than my students.

Here is an example of why going through a crowd sourced website for your logo design is a bad idea. Someone started a thread about poor design over at crowdSpring and the below quote was an actual response.

“Someone posted this website before. Here’s a website with a bunch of not so beautiful logos.

But then again, beauty of subjective. Who’s to say any is bad? Given the right circumstances, all designs can be good.”

If you agree with the person who wrote the quote, you don’t know much about design. The problem is, this is a very popular stance on design on sites like that. My guess is, it justifies poor design.

If you think people with good portfolios don’t put out crap work as well, you are naive enough to believe that doctor/lawyer comparison.

The general vibe I get here is that if somebody can’t afford a high dollar design firm, they should deal with the crap shoot that going with a cheap designer includes. Business owners are sick of doing that and that’s why crowsourcing has sprung up to solve the issue your industry has at that price level.

Again, the problem of your industry isn’t crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the market’s solution to the problems of your industry. And yes, dealing with “snooty” designers is one of those problems.

(BTW, you can cut the “my last words” and “unsubscribing” stuff. That’s what closed minded people do when they don’t like having their view of the world challenged.)

BTW, Carl. My average logo design project is just over $1000. You can get quality design for a reasonable price if you find a freelance or lone designer. I’m not a superstar but I do have a small amount of industry recognition, award winning logo designs, and past clients (for flash development work) like UPS, Yahoo!, MasterCard, and PepsiCo. I’m NOT just tooting my own horn. Just letting you know that you can get a lot more than you think for a lot less that you think. And you don’t have to resort to spending your money on a design that you might be sued for down the road. Just a thought.

@JWG, please explain how the fact that somebody has that opinion (that I don’t agree with) mean that you shouldn’t use crowdsourcing all together? Just like I don’t believe all graphic designers are delusional regarding their similarity to doctors and lawyers, I also realize that quoting one thread doesn’t mean everyone who submits via crowdsourcing ideas shares that belief.

That’s what’s great about crowdsourcing, their opinion doesn’t matter, just the quality of the work. The ability to sift out the trash rather than finding out you are committed to paying for trash is one of the key reasons to go the crowdsourcing route.


“And you don’t have to resort to spending your money on a design that you might be sued for down the road.”

I went the crowdsourcing route after I got a logo back from a designer that most certainly would have gotten me sued. It’s what made me realize the generalizations that I had heard about non-traditional design contracting were nothing more than propoganda.

Carl, I only posted one quote but the point was, the majority of the designers on that site share the same opinion. If you wanted to spend some time and read a bunch of the threads, you’ll find the good designers bring up issues and problems of the lack of quality control and the rise of “concept copying”, to only have them shot down by not only the not-so-good/not-so-honest designers, but the founders of the site as well. Why? Because if it got out that there was such a thing as BAD design, they would go out of business.

I’ve read the threads, that’s what lead me here. I don’t care what those guys think. 99 people who submit to a contest could share that point of view but if there is 1 that submits a good design, the media buyer gets that they need.

I agree that there is such a thing as bad design, I’m neither ignorant nor disingenuous enough to claim otherwise. However I can’t help but point out the irony of that statement. There is a pretty concerted effort here to insinuate that there is no such thing as GOOD design from crowdsourcing when that’s simply not the case.

I’m just saying that with a little more research on your part you could find an honest, quality designer for within your price range. I can’t speak for all designers but I wouldn’t ever let a client leave with a logo they weren’t totally happy with. That means, if you don’t like either of the initial concepts, I’m not gonna tell you “to bad you gotta pick one”. I’ll work with you and make sure you have nothing but the best things to say about your experience working with me, and how pleased you are with the results.

What bothers me most is how much damage those sites are actually doing to the fresh designer who can’t give away tons of concepts for free while hoping for a win. And if he/she does get positive feedback on a concept, your sure to have a lot of other designers posting concepts that just happen to be very similar to yours… and they could win the contest. CrowdSpring says they are democratizing design, but really they are banking off the ignorance of their buyers and the desperation of their designers, while the honest, hard working, educated self starter gets walked on and overlooked.


I realise that very few people will read every comment left on this blog post, but there’s one in particular that stands out for me, and is most certainly worth reading. It was posted before you joined the discussion, so you might’ve missed it.

The comment, from Steve Douglas, can be found here, and details much of what I also disagree with regarding design contest websites as a whole.

No, I read that and it’s a good example of why I think there is a certain level of myopia infecting your profession.

Regarding the requirement to pay if your contest doesn’t find a good result, that’s why I don’t use designspring, I use 99designs. Out of the contests we’ve run on that site, we’ve only had one that didn’t end up with a design that we were happy with.

Regarding the first part of the post, it’s simply redefining the question to suit your point of view. It condemns them under the idea that the designers are poorly paid employees which they are not. The vast majority of the people who design logos on the crowdsourcing sites wouldn’t get a sniff from a design firm (especially in this economy) because they didn’t spend $120,000 at the Art Center College of Design.

You folks seem to care about that stuff, business owners like myself don’t give a flip about anything but talent and results. Why should the designers on those sites feel guilty for going where they are accepted?

Once again, you are looking at it under the old paradigm which has changed for your industry just like it has for the dozens of others that have been impacted by the Internet…

Travel agents are virtually obsolete.

The next time a reporter has a nice thing to say about a blogger will be the first.

Photographers raised tons of hell about Istockphoto.

Realtors are up in arms over numerous services.

Why designers think that the inevitable democratization that Web 2.0 has brought to industries is something they can prevent, or should be prevented, is beyond me.

I forgot to add, that post gave me the distinct impression of pissing in the wind. Short of unprecedented multi-lateral government action crowdsourcing isn’t going away. Thinking that established designers bashing it will make it go way seems naive. It only exists because it DOESN’T answer to the establishment.

May I ask what you realistically feel is the ultimate positive result for this?

With all due respect, Carl, I might ask you the same question. You’ve spent a fair amount of time designing your own argument. What is it exactly that “you realistically feel is the ultimate positive result” for your position? Are you suggesting that you’ve brought anything of value to this conversation? If your intended takeaway is that, as designers, we should simply not provide an opposing voice to an issue which affects our industry, then I believe you might also be pissing in the wind. Why wouldn’t designers challenge a model that attacks the value of our work? And in doing so, attempts to define each and every designer as “snooty”? If you’re of the opinion that the design industry believes that crowdSPRING or 99designs marks the beginning of the end, then I believe you’ve jumped to a premature conclusion. I’ll agree that we’re in a new era, but it hardly kills our industry. If anything, most of us recognize that it provides an opportunity. With the amount of information being exchanged, and the diversity of available media, the need for design is greater than at any time in our history.

While you’re a late-comer to the original argument, you likely realize that the genesis of this response was about a poorly-written article by a magazine that claims to be an authoritative voice for all things business. Please. Design is business. There have been many comments with regard to crowdSPRING and whether the model encouraged spec work. That’s an involuted debate. Frankly, I am of the opinion that cS is merely a temporary symptom of a more deep-seeded condition in the manner with which business is being conducted. It appears to be a quick fix. There is a call for change, and services such as crowdSPRING will address a limited function in a very large market. Let’s not make more of it than it’s worth and let’s not forget what design does and can do. If it’s merely ornament that defines the success of a business, then by all means, spend and choose accordingly. It’s incumbent on every business person to do just that regardless of the overall budget. If a business owner believes that they know what they need, and base their selection solely on what they like, then that’s the business owner’s prerogative. At the same time, they must also understand that when a short-sighted, quick-hit, price-first strategy to communications fails to produce the results that are intended, then they can’t go blaming design.

“What is it exactly that “you realistically feel is the ultimate positive result” for your position?”

It’s what’s going on now, an alternative the traditional design process that is more client oriented.

“Are you suggesting that you’ve brought anything of value to this conversation?”

I assume you’re one of those people who doesn’t believe in taking part in conversations with people you don’t agree with?

“Why wouldn’t designers challenge a model that attacks the value of our work?”

I can understand WHY you would attack that model while still disagreeing with you.

“And in doing so, attempts to define each and every designer as “snooty”?”

The designers replying to this thread (doctors/lawyer delusions, do you know where I went to school?, if you can’t afford the price do without, etc.) have done more to define themselves as “snooty” than Forbes or any single person could do.

Hi Carl,

I’m interested in YOUR position, not that you agree with Forbes that all designers are snooty and overpaid. Perhaps we should take this offline. I’d be happy to spend some time discussing design. This shouldn’t be a pissing match. I don’t need to agree with you and I don’t expect that what I have to say will change your mind, but I do believe we’d have an enlightening exchange. And who knows? We both might learn something.


I don’t really understand the objection to CrowdSpring. What all the designers are saying is that design is much more than pretty graphics, and I couldn’t agree more. But if that’s the critical flaw of CrowdSpring, then you’d better believe that their entire model is flawed, and their site will select for amateurs who don’t produce high quality work while the businesses that are serious about design will continue to seek advice from true design professionals.

If you all are real designers, you should have nothing to worry about from CrowdSpring because they’re not actually stealing your business.

Hi Carl, Arpit,

Please excuse the delayed response.

My personal experience with 99designs (and occasionally from CrowdSpring) is that every few weeks I notice the site sending traffic to my similar original logos post (over on Logo Design Love). So I follow the traffic back to the referring page and witness a slagging match over who was first to create various contest entries — who ripped off who. I often hear how design contest sites have a community of designers or creatives involved, but from what I’ve witnessed, they appear to be fighting amongst themselves over whatever prize fees are offered.

I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone who takes part, but it’s what I see every time my attention is directed that way.

“If a business owner believes that they know what they need, and base their selection solely on what they like, then that’s the business owner’s prerogative. At the same time, they must also understand that when a short-sighted, quick-hit, price-first strategy to communications fails to produce the results that are intended, then they can’t go blaming design.”

Well put, Eric.

This is a terribly unfortunate phenomenon,

David, thank you for putting this article up. I only wish there were more ways to promote it and unveil what CrowdSpring actually means for the entire creative industry.

I’ve gone to about 10 meetings in my lifetime with ‘sharks’. I could imagine CrowdSpring is the same type of people. They spend time selling *you* the idea of their website or creative project. In hopes you will do it for free or low cost.

Here is my question. Who built CrowdSpring? How much did they pay for the custom software and design? A lawyer as a CEO? OH MAN! I already hate working with account managers, let alone a lawyer.

I say we offer up some chopped meat to 4chan, let those guys take care of CrowdSpring who is practically raping all of us professionals of what it is we do. Hey, here is an idea. Let’s all signup at CrowdSpring and submit stick figures for every project. You get what you pay for.

Companies compete all the time to win contracts… they output work in order land a contract… with no expectation to be paid anything if they don’t get it.

I don’t see how this is any different… sure crowdspring is profiting off of it… it is a business not communism… they offer a marketplace and as we have free will we can choose to participate or not participate if you don’t like the terms of the arrangement.

I realize this is a variation on the way your industry normally functions… but technology is evolving at amazing speeds… and as an industry based mostly on technology… you have to change with it.

Ben, are you suggesting that companies do a whole job in their competing “to win contracts”? I don’t think so. A builder doesn’t construct a whole building without a contract. Maybe Forbes should just send everyone with an address their magazine every month. If we decide the magazine’s worth it, we’ll pay for the issue. Yeah, I don’t think so.

No… that’s not exactly what I am saying… but they may give you something upfront to prove they can do the job. As for your example… Forbes might give me one free magazine in order to land a subscription. If someone feels it is worth their time and effort to create and possibly not get paid… they know that full well going in. Maybe someone should start a site where creatives submit designs to win a contract of a larger volume of work… would you look at this any differently? Something like this may hurt a smaller design firm.. or it may present an opportunity to gain more clients. I would imagine that a lot of the “creatives” as they are dubbed on these sites end up with several return clients from the work they have done. I just feel that often in graphic design customer satisfaction (especially for those clients with smaller budgets) is lower on the totem pole than it should be. I would bet that some of the more successful design firms have customer satisfaction higher on their list of priorities than that of their competitors.

No, I don’t see anything good/doable/satisfying or even fair about any kind of spec work. It totally unfairly favors the sponsors/owners of such sites. Do you eat a meal at a restaurant and pay only if you enjoy it? It will ultimately encourage fewer people to go into design work, ultimately lowering the choices people who need design work done will have. And at that point supply and demand could end up forcing prices up again without a corresponding rise in quality.

Someone who needs design work done should look over design portfolios, interview whomever they want to get a feel for the way designers work, consider their budget, and hire someone.

The kind of thinking that promotes crowdsourcing and spec work is anticapitalist and, ultimately, I submit, unAmerican. How do I get to thinking that, you ask? Look, capitalism is, ideally, based on you have an idea, arrange all the details (financing, location, etc.), and you take your chances trying to succeed. There are no guarantees. Everything from crowdsourcing to antitrust exemptions for major league baseball franchises are attempts to guarantee profit. That’s anticapitalist and unAmerican. And Forbes magazine promotes the anticapitalist, unAmerican angle with that article.

This whole problem vanishes as soon as real designers wake up and stop pretending to be graphic artists.

Designers don’t sell pretty, they sell thinking. They advise their clients what to do and how to do it. The graphics are just the tiniest part of what the designer sells.

If you want to compete with people that are only selling 5% of what you do, go ahead and give it away. Or be smart and sell the other 95%.

Quite the read, Jamie.

For everyone else, Jamie has documented her experiences during four years of crowdsourcing when she used sites such as GetAFreelancer, 99designs, Crowdspring, Logo Tournament, Hatchwise, Genius Rocket, and more.

A couple of stand-out points:

“Everyone boasts about how crowdsourcing gets you a bunch of entries, but they never tell you how many are similar to others. You may get 250 entries, but only about 10 are unique ideas.”

“The buyers are basically doing all the designing. Why I don’t know, but if they have to tell you, the designer, what to do, then something is a little off.”

Thanks for sharing, Jamie.

Wow. Super blushing right now. Thanks for the shout out David.

Yeah the experience was, and unfortunately still is, harsh and frustrating. Anyone that has done crowdsourcing can agree with me, but I don’t blame you for not coming forward. It’s like being addicted to a drug or something. You don’t want anyone to know, but you also want help quitting.

Designers are “snooty” – that’s incredible, what about the other professionals, aren’t they snooty? Especially the managers – the children of rich parents, that had the opportunity to study at business schools for higher class and looking at the other people as “plebs”, designers are the lower class workers for them too!

I know I’m super late to this discussion and every participant has probably left the building, but I just wanted to chime in about something that Carl kept harping on that no one really addressed – the notion that designers comparing their expertise and education to that of doctors and lawyers is somehow delusional or laughable because we aren’t required to hold any sort of certification.

You have to be certified by the government to practice law, medicine, law enforcement, education, etc because you literally and figuratively hold lives in your hand. Even cosmetologists, physical trainers and massage therapists have access to clients’ bodies and therefore have to maintain and uphold certain requirements for the health and safety of their clientele.

Design is not related to health, law, or the government in any way, so the government has no need to regulate the industry. The design industry could attempt to self-regulate, but to what end? The client wants what/who the client wants, and if they don’t understand the meaning behind the design-related certification, then they won’t value it.

Furthermore, is it fair to tell people that they have no value as professionals and then call them snooty when they try to defend their skill based on their level of education and the expense of said education? To save the time and effort of explaining the value of an education to someone who may not have a frame of reference to understand the components that contribute to that value, the easiest reference point is price. If I got my law degree for $30,000 and the guy next to me paid $200,000 for his, you could make a fairly reasonable judgment without any knowledge of law, quality of professors, entry requirements, etc. to say the other gentleman received a better education than I did. People aren’t citing their education expenses to show you how big and important they are, they’re trying to explain why it’s so crucial that they actually get paid for their time while communicating their professional value in a way that you can comprehend.

Even if one weren’t to consider the value of their skill, expertise and training, there is always the issue of time. You pay for even a 30 minute conversation with a lawyer because you just took 30 minutes of that lawyers time. You pay for a consultation with a plastic surgeon because you just took an hour of their time. The surgeon didn’t make a single cut, the lawyer didn’t argue your case or compose a document on your behalf, but even if you don’t choose to utilize their services, you still paid for the time it took to ascertain the value of said services.

These design competitions are asking designers to create whole products with absolutely zero compensation for their time and effort. For some designers (I would argue, those with low expectations), this is a viable solution, but the rest of us are trying to promote an increased level of education about the design process to create an environment where our clients and counterparts value our craft. This may come across to some as ‘snooty’, but you have to take into consideration the difficulty of imparting the objective value of products which are viewed by most in purely subjective terms. The client says “I like it because it’s pretty.” The designer says “Your perceived value of this item is flawed because it’s ‘prettiness’ is immaterial to its worth. Here’s a list of the reasons it’s valuable…” The client says “You’re a pompous jackass who thinks he knows better than me.” Obviously, the designer would use more tact (hopefully), but that’s a quick and dirty example of my point. In educating clients about design, we first have to teach them that their opinion is irrelevant which often goes over like a fart in church. The rejection of this notion by the client is the reason that many designers create products that aren’t representative of their skill or good judgment.

I’m not going to speak for everyone, but my personal opinion and general interpretation from most of the anti-cs arguments out there (and the point that I feel the other side often misconstrues) is that this isn’t about competition or lost revenues, it’s about quality and professionalism. Nobody’s trying to appoint themselves “design industry police” and bar all untrained newcomers from the door, we are trying to prevent the uneducated consumer from making judgments about the quality of work they should expect, the level of skill they should require and the amount of client/designer interaction that contributes to effective design based on the lessons learned in the spec community. This may come across as paternalistic, but advocating for quality design benefits both designer and client.

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