Would You Work on Spec? Why Should Your Logo Designer?

Back in my last year of law school, one of my friends who was still looking for permanent employment responded to an ad seeking a new associate for a three person law firm.  The firm’s managing partner contacted my friend and they had a nice chat.  The partner said that my friend was definitely in contention for the position but to make a final decision, my friend would need to submit a five page memo on a question that the partner described (something under New York CPLR as I remember). Desperate for employment and believing that this would clinch the deal, my friend drafted the memo and sent it in.  And then he waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Eventually, my friend called the partner who informed him that the firm decided not to hire anyone at that time.  Thereafter, my friend and I joked that the memo assignment must have been some kind of a scam to get free work, and we wondered if the firm had a racket going — routinely posting similar ads to generate a steady supply of slave labor.

Fast forward two decades, and the type of spec work scam that my friend and I derided back in law school now abounds, rebranded as crowdsourcing.  And it’s all the rage for logo design at sites like Crowdspring or 99 Designs, which are sometimes recommended as an inexpensive way for new solos to acquire a logo.

Generally, contest sites work like this.  Users can create a contest for a new logo by listing a design project and a prize amount (recommended amounts are $100 to $600).  Once the contest is posted, designers submit concepts, after which users have an opportunity to offer feedback or request additional modifications.  At the end of the designated contest period, the user must select a winner and award the prize money.   The theory is that even those designers who don’t win (and therefore don’t get paid) accrue benefits from their uncompensated labor, such as increased exposure and feedback on their designs.

But are logo contests really crowd sourcing – or simply a slick way to get free work?  Serious design professionals like Jacob Cass say that logo contests aren’t crowd sourcing, but rather, spec work.  Spec work is any job “for which the client expects a finished product before agreeing to pay,” while crowdsourcing is way to generate feedback or opinions of an already completed piece of work:

Crowdsourcing: “Vote for our new logo, we will use the one you all like the most!” This means the logos have already been designed (and hopefully not via spec).

Spec or Free Pitching: “We need a logo, someone design one for us and we will pick the one we like.”

Not surprisingly, the design community reviles logo contests, even creating a No Spec! website to warn the public about how spec work contests are a disservice to both designers and clients alike.  As No Spec! explains, logo contests devalue design work and create an expectation that great logos shouldn’t cost much money.   Apparently, that’s what someone like Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Work Week fame, believes.  Though Ferris who could well afford to compensate a designer, he held a contest to pick a design for his book cover, defending his choice by reasoning that “for a couple of hours of work,” a designer could potentially reap the reward of seeing his work on a Times Square billboard.  (As a lawyer, the phrase “couple of hours” should ring familiar – as in “Why did you charge me $2000 to get the lawsuit dismissed.  It only took a couple of hours to call the other side and get them to drop it).

Other logo contest opponents point out that contests are exploitative, preying on the desperation of new graduates who will do just about anything to build a portfolio.  Sure, no one puts a gun to a contest entrant’s head to force them to participate under penalty of death.  But lets face it – if these designers had well paid jobs, would they be participating in these contests at all?  Just like my law school buddy who wanted a job badly enough to write a memo that he’d never had done if he could have found a job more easily, most designers who enter these contests need the cash and have few other choices.  And unfortunately, even if a designer gets lucky and wins a few hundred bucks, most of the contests are one-offs, and don’t lead to long term relationships.

But logo design contests aren’t in the contest sponsor’s best interests either.  As Jacob Cass points out, much spec work is of inferior quality, with little or no research by designers because there’s no relationship (contest sponsors often don’t give many details about their business).  Besides, why would a designer want to invest this kind of time in a design when there’s no guarantee of any payment?

Receiving shoddy work product is perhaps the most benign downside to logo contests.  Other consequences are far worse.  As the Logo Factory cautions, many contest participants submit designs inspired (read: copied!) from other logo sites.  Which means that for $150, you’re buying not just a sub-par logo, but a potential lawsuit as well.  In addition, questions have been raised about the legality of contest design sites.  Though most likely, the site itself, rather than a contest sponsor would face liability for violations, it just doesn’t look very good for an attorney or a law firm to be caught up in an activity that may not be lawful.

Which raises another point:  the impact of participating in a logo contest on your firm’s reputation.  Really, just how prominent is the prominent law firm looking for a $260 design?

Yet for all the compelling negatives associated with logo design, for me, the primary reason that lawyers shouldn’t participate in these spec sites (and why I won’t use them) boils down to this.  As lawyers, we’d never draft up a contract or outline the best causes of action for a potential lawsuit for a prospective client with scant hope of ever seeing payment.  So why should we expect our logo designers to work on spec when wouldn’t do it ourselves?

Update (2/28/2010): There’s plenty of interesting discussion in the comments, including comparisons of spec work to, for example, lawyers working on contingency.  However, for lawyers, I think that the closest analogy between speculative legal services and logo contests is this:

A potential client conducts a contest, offering $750 to a lawyer to draft a lease agreement addressing (x, y, z) and that complies with California law.  Lawyers submit a lease agreement, with fee awarded to the lawyer who produces the best agreement.

Would you enter this contest?  And how is this kind of contest different, if at all, from contests for logo design?


  1. Michael Moebes, Esq. on February 25, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    A friend of mine is doing this and just emailed me the “which logo would you vote for?” email today. I think it’s a bit silly.

  2. Noel Wiggins on February 26, 2010 at 9:18 am

    When times are tough and you are in between projects it is hard to stay away from doing spec work. I have thought that these site would be good to stay sharp, but for me to be profitable I would have to streamline my creative process to only work on the project for about an hour or so, there is a noticeable difference between the logo I work on for an hour versus the client who pays me to do the logo.
    I think its seen with others work as well

    Thanks and Regards
    Noel for Nopun.com
    a graphic design studio

  3. Leanna on February 26, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I had a colleague who did this. She started out working with a professional designer but was frustrated with the slow process. She wanted a lot more options than just one designer could provide.
    She offered the 99 designs people about $800, the same she would have paid the designer, and was inundated with 500 or more logos in 3 days. She ended up with a great logo in the time frame she wanted with the ton of options she wanted.
    I used a traditional designer because I wanted the personal hands on attention. Yes, it took longer but I knew that I wouldn’t see my logo anywhere else.
    And I don’t think comparing logos to legal services is an accurate comparison. One involves much more creativity and personal style and choice. I think it’s more comparable to someone who wants to sit down with an attorney in their office and get hands on attention to their issue, versus the person who wants the more virtual relationship with an attorney.

  4. Carolyn Elefant on February 26, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Leanna – My problem with 99Designs is the spec nature of the work. I do like the ability of being able to get lots of ideas. But I think there’s got to be a better way to do that besides making people work for free.
    If someone wants a logo done quickly and cheaply and wants to solicit multiple options, why not pay for at least some of the work. For example, a customer seeking a logo could go to a site like elance or odesk and post a project seeking logo concepts (but not final work) for $100. The customer could then review candidates’ portfolios and ratings history and choose the top three, who would then receive $100 for submitting X number of concepts, and one iteration. If the customer liked one of the options, she could choose that designer and pay an additional $100 to complete and finalize the design. So, the customer would pay $400 (could use different figures) and get a broad range of choices, while the designers would at least get something for developing concepts.
    My prime objection to the contest sites is that users are getting the benefit from preparation of full designs by contest participants – and I think that crosses the line from “strutting your stuff” to working for free. In addition, Design99 also gets a benefit from designers’ free work as it charges $s to those who want to sponsor a contest, but as far as I can tell, does not share that revenue with designers who enter contests and offer value.

  5. Kelly Spradley on February 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I usually agree with your blog posts, but today I disagree entirely. I think you are talking about 2 different things when you compare the “5 page memo” story with 99 designs. The law firm did not award the “prize” to anyone. It was deceptive of the firm. With 99 designs there is no deception. Contest entrants know that there will only be one winner. Our company used 99 designs to design not only our logo, but our website as well. They are quality designs. Here is a link so you can see for yourself. http://www.impirus.com/
    You are incorrect to say that the contest does not lead to long term relationships. We partnered up with 5 designers through 99 designs contests, and they have all done quality work for us outside of 99 designs. We continue to work with them and I think they are happy to have the work. 99 designs is a way for designers, especially in foreign countries, to market themselves.
    Furthermore, you say that these contests devalue design work. I would argue the opposite. Competition breeds excellence. Competition is one of the reasons that businesses in America outdo businesses in other countries.
    I hope that you will reconsider your position on this post.

  6. Carolyn Elefant on February 26, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Your website and logo both look terrific and it sounds like you have treated your designers very well.
    But the quality is the least of my concerns – it’s the spec nature of the work. Why should a designer have to produce a product for no cost in the hopes of getting a job?
    Let me ask you this: Would your web company design a full website for me before I pay to retain you? What if I were to tell you that I wanted a sample site but that I was considering 5 other web companies. I would promise that I would actually choose one of the five so you would have a definite 1/5 chance (as opposed to my analogy in my post where the law firm didn’t hire anyone) Would you design a site for me under those conditions?
    That is basically what logo designers are being asked to do at 99Designs. You might argue that logo design is not as involved as a full fledged site. But for a person who designs logos, creating a logo involves as much work and thought, and more importantly, delivers as much value, as designing a website or for a lawyer to draft a contract.
    Finally, I concur 100% that competition is very important. But competition does not always breed excellence – it also leads to mass marketing and lower costs. I am a fan of lower cost which is why like you, I welcome competition to the legal profession, in the form of companies like LegalZoom and unbundled services. These services provide needed relief for many consumers who would otherwise go without representation and they also put downward pressure on the cost of legal services.
    But to say that these services are top quality is inaccurate. The services provide “good enough” quality — a bandaid that is better than no lawyer, or no document at all. I wouldn’t call the quality of Legal Zoom excellent (or the quality of volume mill practices) excellent even though both increase competition.
    Similarly, the “competition” at sites like 99Designs generates a lot of “good enough” and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As I said, I love your logo. But my guess is that so far as a professional designer would judge it, it is probably “pretty good” but not excellent.

  7. Catherine Azzarello on February 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Carolyn,
    I’m here because NO!SPEC tweeted your post.
    And you are now my hero!
    Those of us in the design community have been fighting spec work and “crowdsourcing” for years. It’s awesome to have a lawyer argue the case, too! Here’s another useful link: http://www.specwatch.info/
    Besides the obvious issues cited by you, another pitfall of spec work is the possibility that the ‘art’ (logo/site/whatever) is child labor. See: http://www.logodesignlove.com/99designs-kiddie-designers.
    Bottom line–as a consumer, you just don’t know what you’re getting w/spec. As a provider, you’re simply getting ripped off. Big time.
    @Kelly: Glad you’re pleased. But my question is: why does a website design company need to use 99 Designs for a website design?
    Further reading:

  8. Ross Kimbarovsky on February 26, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    In your last paragraph, you write that “[a]s lawyers, we’d never draft up a contract or outline the best causes of action for a potential lawsuit for a prospective client with scant hope of ever seeing payment.” I wonder how you reconcile contingent fee cases with that statement. Are the hundreds of thousands of lawyers who represent clients on contingency – including those in section 1983 and other important civil rights actions – simply part of a scam?
    Full disclosure: I co-founded crowdspring.com and before that, was a trial lawyer for 13 years.

  9. Jeff on February 27, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Unfortunately, some actually do run the exact same scam you described. On Craigslist, I noticed employment ads for attorneys or paralegals that requested memos on very specific legal issues. Each new ad had a new topic and a new “firm” location would be used, but it was obvious it was the same author. I doubt the person was even an attorney given the topics. I e-mailed them and threatened to report them to the bar and AG. Yet another great scam born to the world via Craiglist.

  10. Tony on February 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

    To see what could potentially happen in terms of trademark infringement, research into the LogoWorks scandle that happened a few years ago when designers began to point out that some of the featured logos on their portfolio page were actually rips of other, better-known logos.
    And if you really want an valuable opinion of your logo, ask a sign guy. There is a huge difference in building a logo for what you think will only ever be an online presence and actually building a brick and mortar sign design. Trust me when I say that today’s best design students, and many professionals as well, have no clue in that arena, let alone what you might get in a crowdsource.
    More consideration has to go into a logo than it just being a pretty picture. The best logo may not even be what the client initially had in mind. But when the client goes for “what they want” rather than “what would be good for the business” then “good enough” will always win.

  11. Carolyn Elefant on February 27, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I’ll agree that contingency work has a speculative component to it in that there is no guarantee of payment. However, if the lawyer is able to recover, recovers, payment is a sure thing. In a logo contest, there is simply no guarantee that a logo designer who submits a terrific design will get anything – because the designer is competing with dozens of other entrants.
    What keeps a contingency agreement from being speculative is that once the lawyer signs the retainer, he’s guaranteed a cut of the proceeds he recovers. In addition, a lawyer has a bit more control; he can evaluate cases and based on the facts and law, pick those where he has a better chance of winning. In a logo design, an entrant is sending in a logo blind – he can’t even evaluate the potential chances of success.
    A contingency agreement WOULD be speculative if the lawyer spends a year negotiating a reasonable settlement, at which point the client could pull out and shop around for another lawyer to offer a better deal. Of course, no lawyer (or courts) would approve this arrangement; generally, if a lawyer produces a reasonable settlement and the client turns it down or gets another lawyer, the first lawyer is entitled to a cut or payment quantum meruit.
    In addition, clients can’t hire 3 different lawyers to pursue a case and say “I’ll take whomever gives me the best deal” – no lawyer would agree to that. That’s speculative as well.
    As I hope I conveyed in my post, I think that crowd sourcing can be valuable. But crowd sourcing works best when people are asked to kick in something minimal and/or passive- like voting in a contest or devoting a piece of bandwith to computer processing (can’t remember what project does that). When we start asking people to contribute something of value and not pay them, I think it is exploitative.
    Let me ask you this: Why doesn’t your company hire X number of full time graphic artists at market rates. Users would come to your site and offer to pay between $100-$600, and your designers would produce 20 or 30 variations, at which point the user would pick one.
    My guess is that this business model probably doesn’t make economic sense. The only way the model makes sense is when the labor is free and that’s what this kind of crowd sourcing supplies.
    Finally, though I realize that great logo design costs money, I am not adverse to low cost options from elance, odesk, etc…Though the quality there might not necessarily be great, I think it is far more dignified for someone to know that they will get paid $150 for their work, than to do the work and have to compete for a 1/25 chance of a $500 payment.

  12. Chanie Pritchard on February 27, 2010 at 11:54 am

    As an established professional designer, it is incredibly refreshing for me to see these views expressed by someone outside of our field.
    When I was young and naive, I tried my hand at a few of these ‘contest’ sites. I managed to win 5/6 of the contests I entered, but even in that best-case-scenario, given the amount of work put into creating a decent design, the rate of pay ended up being well below minimum wage. Obviously, I didn’t stay long.
    And that is what you’ll find. 99% amateurs desperate for spare change, and 1% naive talent who don’t stick around long.
    The design industry (for all intents and purposes) is unregulated. There is no bar exam. No required licensing. Your blind nephew could download a pirated copy of photoshop and call himself a designer if he wanted to. So, legitimate experts are thrown into the same hat as hoards of hobbyists who know nothing about branding, business, communication strategy, theory, standards, relevance in design, consumer psychology, copyright law, or even the most basic of fundamental concepts. Clients plunge their arms into the hat, and without researching your vendor first, it’s simply luck of the draw.
    There was a great short video produced not too long ago that might help people better appreciate (with humour) some of the wild expectations we are subject to: http://sagemedia.ca/articles/the-vendor-client-relationship
    I’ll summarize by saying that you do often get what you pay for. With 99% of your contest participants working for nothing, what you end up getting in the end is rarely better than that (and with widespread copyright infringement, often worse).

  13. Ross Kimbarovsky on February 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    There’s never a guarantee one will get the work – whether responding to a lengthy RFP, spending money and effort on marketing, talking to prospective clients for hours, or working on spec. This is true in every industry, including law and design.
    I’ve written and have spoken extensively about the subject of speculative work – there are real risks to doing speculative work. We’ve build many protections on crowdSPRING to address the problems of speculative work (required escrows in every project, customized legal agreements in every project, guarantee to both buyers and designers, etc.) Most marketplaces do not offer these protections, so you’d be surprised that you and I probably agree about more issues than we disagree about.
    To answer your question – we wanted to find a way to provide a level playing field to all designers – something that isn’t available traditionally. Hiring a small group of designers would prevent us from giving many others a chance. There are plenty of businesses that hire full time designers – and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. Some of our designers earn more annually working part time on crowdPSRING than they would earn working full time elsewhere. We’ve paid millions of dollars annually to thousands of designers around the world. We think our business model makes sense, and the 52,000 designers and writers who work on crowdSPRING seem to agree.
    Incidentally, I’d encourage you to do a bit more reading about elance, odesk, etc. Those marketplaces were one of the reasons we started crowdSPRING in the first place. You can get a logo for $20 on elance. Most designers cannot compete at those prices – and I’m not talking here about quality (which obviously is a concern at that rate).

  14. Shelby Willakers on February 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks for this post. I had a similar experience while applying for a job at Google, which also left me wondering if it was a way for them to get some fresh ideas for free.
    While applying for a design position at Google, I was asked to complete a design exercise as a part of the application process. I was asked to design and code page a production-ready page, which would then be released to a small subset of the users on Google.com in order to test its efficacy.
    Presumably, the efficacy (as measured by site analytics) would play a role in their decision to hire me or not. I heard no feedback on the performance of my work, and they did not offer me the position. But they did get the free work out of me, and likely every other design candidate that they reviewed. And that’s a hell of a lot of free work.

  15. Julian Fries on February 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    @ Ross Kimbarovsky
    “Hiring a small group of designers would prevent us from giving many others a chance.”
    LOL. In order to giver others a chance, you choose NOT paying ANY designers, over paying a few designers. How very magnanimous.
    “Some of our designers earn more annually working part time on crowdPSRING than they would earn working full time elsewhere”
    Perhaps that’s true. But the vast majority of ‘your’ designers – what 50K worth – don’t make a penny. Nor will they.

  16. Carolyn Elefant on February 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    I agree – many law firms put work into preparing RFP’s and many marketing firms put time into presentations for an account. The difference is that in those cases, the lawyer or designer are not being asked to supply the end product, i.e., something that can be taken and used without any further input from the provider. With the contest, providers are asked to tailor and submit a customized product. That is very different from what a lawyer submits in an RFP – and indeed, that is the point: when a lawyers ARE asked to respond to an RFP that requires research and memo writing, most will withdraw.
    Having said that, I must admit that I was not as familiar with crowdspring as 99Design. I reviewed your user and buyer contracts and agree that they do afford some protection, particularly from copyright violations and the like. In addition, the Crowdspring Pro competitions (at least as I understand them) seem to offer a little more certainty to participants, perhaps making those competitions more like the RFP example, where designers submit concepts without any guarantee of winning, but don’t provide a fully functioning work product.
    Still, as I said in my post, my biggest objection to the concept of crowd sourcing is not the devaluation of design but rather, the concept of “working for free so that others can make a profit.” The “value” that your site delivers to users is their ability to get access to multiple concepts without paying for them. And the reason that users can access multiple concepts is because designers provide them in response to contests without cost to the site or benefit to the designer (except if he/she wins).
    Yes, I am sure that your site offers its share of success stories – designers who got their foot in the door because they won a few contests. However, their success is subsidized at the expense of dozens of others who don’t receive this benefit. Moreover, I suspect that there are other similar lucky stories of designers who got a break from a colleague or by making a decent contact through networking. The fact that your site potentially opens a few doors doesn’t justify the free labor because there are other more direct opportunities for newbies to break into a field.
    You are right about one thing, though: I can’t fight the market, nor would I want to. If 52,000 designers work on your site (I doubt that this many are active, but I’ll buy your number) and there is sufficient demand for your service, then more power to you. It’s just that personally, I could never ask people to do free work unless I could provide some benefit to them, nor do I see how lawyers can do so when they wouldn’t work under this scenario themselves (I doubt you’d find much of a market for a site that asks lawyers to draft a memo on a unique legal Q and picks a winner from the bunch). So as much as I did like the designs on your site (and I do — I thought they were much better generally than 99Designs), I could not use it unless there were a way to set up a contest to compensate all entrants even for a di minimis amount or, alternatively to collect work samples but not final product. If you find a way to add this kind of feature, I might come on board.

  17. jane on March 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Leanna’s friend is only one satisfied example. That’s great for her. But having worked as a designer for 20 years, it is nearly impossible to get a good creative brief out of a client that describes their goals, values, audience, key offerings, what makes them unique, etc. In short, the map to a successful design process.
    The combination of a well-chosen designer (portfolio, references, meeting in person) plus a client who provides a clear, unambiguous, detailed creative brief on who they are yields great results. A third very important element is an organization that does not engage in muddling the process through contradictory feedback and design by committee.
    The only reason a designer fails to satisfy the client is that one or more of the above happens. Rarely is it simply a matter of personality mismatch.
    So, crowdsourcing is not a solution to a problem that can be fixed some other way.

  18. Mark on March 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    AWESOME article! I don’t see why our business is different from anyone else.
    Can I ask 99 contracting companies to build me an office/studio with working plumbing, electrical, heating and the works and THEN pick the building that I like and pay only that one that I chose? Of course not. That’s ridiculous.
    Can I ask 99 doctors to give me a check-up and then just pay the one that did the best job. NO!
    Can I ask 99 plumbers to clean the crap out of my toilet and then just pay the one that did the best job? NO!
    Can I ask 99 mechanics to give my car a tune-up and then just pay the one that I think did the best work. NO!
    Why is our profession any different? Why are some of us talented, worthwhile individuals getting sucked into this nonsense?
    Let’s all treat ourselves like a regular business because WE ARE!!!
    If you’re reading this and you participate in one of these “contest” sites, please have more respect for yourself and your craft and stop devaluing your profession and the industry in general.

  19. Andy on March 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    This was a great post and I’m glad to see we have opinions from both sides of this field, both for and against services from sites like 99Designs and crowdSPRING. I’ve participated in contests before and have these thoughts.
    As a recent college graduate, I’m no stranger to being approached with speculative work and crowdsourcing. All too often myself and colleagues are approached by clients who make it seem like they’re doing ME a favor by giving me work. “It’ll be great exposure for you”, “It’ll be good for your portfolio” and “This is just the beginning, if we like your work – there’s unlimited potential for you!”. Personally, I stand strongly against sites like 99Designs and crowdSPRING, as sites like these harbor this negative image for the creative design community: It’s cheap, easy and can be done by anyone.
    Here’s a scenario for advocates of 99Designs/crowdSPRING:
    You’re an accomplished and dedicated contractor whose been building custom homes for years. A prospective homeowner approaches you and tells you he’s holding a homebuilding contest with you and 5 other competing contractors participating – when the homes are fully built and complete, he’ll choose the “best” one and pay that contractor handsomely. You wouldn’t do this for free would you?
    Before I give my personal answer, I do acknowledge two important elements:
    1. Homes and logos are two very different items.
    2. You’re not forced to participate in these contests.
    However, even with those two elements identified – the premise between the two is the same:
    – You are a professional and highly skilled your craft.
    – You’ve already invested countless time/resources into building a career/reputation.
    (College education, graduate school, etc)
    Even if that one selected contractor wins the huge job bid, he’s losing in the end, as word spreads that new homeowners can now simply approach ABC company and they’ll hold a contest for contractors if you need a house built!
    Now you’re being approached left and right by naive clients that expect you to bid for their jobs on claims of “Well, I can just hire ABC company to do it and I’ll get 500 designs, so what are you going to do to persuade me to stay with you?”
    While visual communication and graphic design has taken giant technological leaps forward, here’s a key point 99D/cS:
    Good design is NOT data entry. I don’t sit down at my computer, enter a few numbers/color codes into a form and out comes a perfect finished product. I invest my own creativity, skills and alacrity into my work.
    I know myself and others work hard to ensure a smooth job process and work for clients that we respect – AND respect us for the professionals we are and the work we produce.
    You’re poisoning people into believing all designers are nothing more than lowly drones whose jobs require menial effort.
    I’ve read through your numbers, the millions of dollars and YEARS of unpaid money/time from your 52k+ designers you advocate makes me sick.
    Especially when your “designers” use iStock watermarked images in their cheap work:

  20. BT on March 1, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    we talk about this on Graphic Design forums a lot:

  21. Rock Langston on March 2, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for this great post. For me, it’s always a matter of ethics. The Joint Ethics Committee Code of Fair Practice Standards is my touchstone; I have it on my website (www.tomatographics.com/ethics.html). I sent this info to some of the crowdsourcers (CrowdSpring was one) They’d never heard of it (no surprise), but said they’d present it at a meeting. A little late, as ethics is a good element to include when developing a business model. It’s obvious that ethics in this type of business is in short supply, a foreign concept.
    Still don’t get it? Try this approach with your dentist. Try it with your car repair guy. Let us know how that’s working for you.
    Lots of great comments on this topic, and more to come, I’m sure. Again, thanks for putting this issue that adversely affects the design profession in another context.

  22. Emily on March 2, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Such an excellent comparison! Logo design work (and the whole profession) is only devalued by spec contests!

  23. Melissa Ulto on July 3, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    ckeck out this show on freelancers and a CEO who argues his “tweet” value is worth spec work – TWIST episode 61: http://bit.ly/9hbR15

  24. Lisa Solomon on July 12, 2010 at 3:57 am

    This week, On the Media (on NPR) did an excellent segment on this topic. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/2dcsta4.

  25. Template Design on February 25, 2012 at 5:51 am

    post. I want to thank you for this informative read. Keep up your great work.

  26. Bob Watson on December 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    This article is the biggest bunch of baloney I’ve ever read. There’s not an attorney or consultant out there who doesn’t do speculative work as a marketing tool to land additional business. Why shouldn’t designers do the same? And why shouldn’t we be able to benefit from it? What about the lawyers’ and consultants’ “initial consultations”? We don’t typically charge for that and we ALWAYS provide free advice during those consultations. If a designer can establish a relationship with one of us by proving that they have skills and the ability to satisfy our particular tastes, a spec contest is a great way to begin a new relationship that might end up paying the designer a lot of money on an ongoing list of projects. Your article is a waste of your time and ours. Perhaps you should think about the economics before you start typing. Hopefully, it hasn’t already caused some of us to forego a great (and inexpensive) way to begin a working relationship with a designer who is willing and able to deliver a little spec work.

  27. Bottomfeeder on August 28, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Mr Watson,

    1) Initial consultations are simply a cost of acquiring a new customer and certainly not considered a deliverable in the grand scheme. A logo design is not only a deliverable, but arguably one of the most critical to executing a successful business strategy with success. Attorneys and similar, ahem, professionals typically use different assets to establish awareness and reputation to build business.

    2) It is true that a window of opportunity could present itself in the context of working with a “logo buyer,” such that it’s possible to consider the process as the start of a great business relationship moving forward. But… it’s not. Very much, not. First no relationship is established in this context. Sparse dialog for perhaps 1-2% of contributors, if at all. If so, the chance to engage in the real business at hand which is educating the buyer. I think most every designer would agree that we do spend an inordinate amount of time doing this, simply to gain parity and understanding of the process as it conducted properly, even by the “gods” of logo design, Interbrand. Why? Well, we are driven to do work that shines, serves it’s purpose and is exemplary. A deliverable. Critical to successfully executing a solid business strategy.

    And on top of your inference that a great relationship might be garnered from this game, who wants such an ongoing relationship with someone that pays $200 for a logo? Meh.

    3) Your tone either suggests arrogance, ignorance or perhaps a delightful combination of both. Joy!

    Logos for doctors and lawyers and similar highly conservative practitioners aren’t so much a characteristic example of the type of clients we’d build a business with. Logos are very tricky in this instance and stand a high chance of creating an air of cheesiness and unprofessionalism.

    So, thinking of ecv inimical befojre typing, as you phrased things, is good practice. I not only do that when posting about this subject, for example, but also when developing a brand identity for a client. It’s the professional way to do it, gets results

  28. Bottomfeeder on August 28, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Sorry, the post saved before I could edit typos.
    I’ll finish here:

    So, thinking of economics before typing, as you phrased things, is good practice. I not only do that when posting about this subject, for example, but also when developing a brand identity for a client. It’s the professional way to do it, and gets results. And is worth a considerable bit more than $200.

    My time is not a commodity. Marketing, branding and related strategies can be mission critical to many business models. I love doing what I do, but designing a logo for a contest is something that should include disclosure on the outset. Not hiding behind a hijacked term, like crowdsourcing. This word more accurately refers to utilizing the “greater than the sum…” edict, and that benefit is something each contributor enjoys. Period.

    Here’s something worth considering, take a look at the logos that these “crowdsourcing” design sites proudly display to represent their brand. Nice work huh? Looks like just about every other generic internet business logo.

    For anyone considering any marketing for their business, if someone you hire doesn’t engage you in indepth discussion about your business goals and objectives, find another until they do engage you. Look at their portfolio. Ask them to explain some of the work they’ve done. If they pass the test, PAY THEM FAIRLY. Otherwise, you could very well be making a serious mistake that could cost your business.

    Go look at Interbrand.

    Mr Watson, I am ending my unsolicited pro-bono seminar for you. To take advantage of this opportunity to begin a long term business relationship, with mutual value and benefit, feel free to PM me. BTW, my fees are factored on $125 an hour, and worth every penny.


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