Logos on Spec, Revisited

shutterstock_81091828More than three years ago, I wrote one of my most popular and widely-circulated blog posts, Would You Work on Spec? Why Should Your Logo Designer.  My post listed several disadvantages to design contest sites like 99Designs (potentially poor quality submissions and possibility of stolen work), but mainly, I griped that it was hypocritical for lawyers to ask designers to work on spec – to prepare and submit end-run logo designs on the chance of a fee – when lawyers wouldn’t work on spec themselves.

Fast forward, and crowdsourcing sites like 99 Designs  are thriving .  Even more, design contest sites are frequently recommended as a design solution for lawyers by reputable LPM experts like
Lee Rosen  or Heidi Alexander of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistant Program.  Most recently, Allison Monahan, a lawyer and creator of described her positive experience  in using 99Designs for a logo for her upcoming Catapult 2013 project.

All these experts can’t be wrong, I told myself.  Plus, I’ve had middling success with logo design, often spending considerable sums of money on results that don’t thrill me, but which I’ve accepted simply to avoid running up the meter any further. In that regard, 99Designs is awfully appealing; for a $200 or $300 prize, I could attract multiple designers who would provide endless iterations of logos.

Still, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that using 99Designs is hypocritical because (except for pro bono), I don’t work for free. While it’s true that lawyers (myself included) frequently devote considerable time to responding to RFPs, a bidding scenario differs because what’s being proposed is a concept, not the final product that the customer will purchase. The same is true for the presentations that ad agencies put on for prospective clients – they sell an approach, but not the actual campaign to be implemented.  By contrast, on 99Designs, contest participants aren’t asked for a concept, but for an end product. And then, when a submission suggests the right approach, but not the ideal look, designers are asked to refine and modify the logo to stay in the running. By the time the contest ends, the sponsor has several final products to choose from, yet only one designer gets paid.

Some might argue that sites like 99Designs aren’t so bad because many designers don’t invest much time in tossing their hat into the ring and thus, aren’t losing out or being exploited (truth be told, I don’t buy the exploitation argument; I assume that designers who participate in contest sites do so willingly). But a minimal time investment doesn’t change my opinion. Let’s say a company set up a site called 99Lawyers where consumers or businesses could hold a contest for a complaint letter or lease agreement.  A user would set a prize, provide a basic description of their matter and the end product needed (complaint letter, lease agreement, etc..). Participating lawyers would draft up the requested documents and submit them to compete for the prize. If the contest sponsor disliked the tone or a particular letter or wanted a different word choice, he or she could ask the lawyer to make the fix.  The lawyer who submitted the best letter would win, the others would go home uncompensated for their efforts.

Assuming that confidentiality issues and malpractice concerns were adequately addressed, would you participate in a site like 99Lawyers, or advise your colleagues to play?  If no, then tell me how crowdsourced design sites are any different.   And if you can’t, then explain why it’s OK for lawyers to use 99Designs when they wouldn’t do it themselves.  Also, does your opinion depend in any way upon the amount at stake? Would you be more likely to participate in a contest offering a prize of $10,000 rather than $100 (assuming of course that the larger prize would also require a more substantial submission like a research memo)?

Finally – am I crazy to avoid using sites like 99Designs? Is the view that it’s hypocritical for lawyers to use design contest sites even relevant to the decision about whether to use a particular service? In fact, is the view that working for free devalues what we do even relevant at all in today’s world, or is it a 20th century anachronism? I’m open to the wisdom of the crowds on this one so please, share your opinion below.

Pick Me photo courtesy of Shutterstock