Unmasking the Real Cost of Crowdsourcing in Design

If you're involved in the world of design, whether by trade or business necessity, you may be familiar with the term "spec design," also known as "crowdsourcing." Spec design is a practice where designers work for little or no compensation. While there are entire companies devoted to spec design, it is essential to examine its implications more closely.

One prominent example of a spec design company is 99 Designs, which posts projects, often referred to as "contests," for businesses seeking design services. These projects can range from logo design and t-shirt design to full-blown website design. In these contests, hundreds of designers compete for a prize, which often amounts to an obscenely low sum of money. Unfortunately, only one designer emerges as the winner, leaving the rest unrewarded with a paycheck.

In my own company, we have felt compelled to participate in what we refer to as "design wars." This entails multiple agencies submitting designs, with only the company whose design is chosen receiving compensation. The term "forced" is used here because if all agencies had united and refused to produce work without fair compensation, the client would have been compelled to select one agency to complete the project. Regrettably, in the absence of such solidarity, all participants agreed to play the game, resulting in those who didn't win losing two weeks' worth of work without proper remuneration.

Some might argue that free commerce and competition bring about the best prices for companies. However, it is important to distinguish between fair competition and the act of ordering a product upfront with the intention of deciding later whether or not to pay for it. Imagine going into a restaurant, sampling several dishes, and only paying for the one you liked best. Such a practice would cause the restaurant to go out of business within months. While it is reasonable to bid out a design project and select the agency with the best price, ordering work without an intention to compensate is an entirely different matter. No reputable companies allow such practices.

Let's consider the design process itself. When reputable designers receive a job to create a logo, they embark on a research journey to understand the product or company requesting the logo. For instance, if it's a coffee shop logo, a designer or design team would visit the establishment to get a sense of the environment, the customers, and the owner's vision. I, myself, often explore local coffee joints during my travels and can attest that each one has its unique identity, requiring a tailored logo. Furthermore, this logo must seamlessly translate to menu design, sign design, cup designs, napkins, and more. It is part of a larger picture called branding, which skilled design teams take into account. In contrast, a stranger on the other end of a computer, who has never heard of your company and is only looking to make a quick buck, is unlikely to consider your company's future. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

Whether you're a designer participating in a crowdsourcing platform or a business owner requesting work without an intention to pay, it's time to put an end to design on spec. It is crucial to recognize the value of fair compensation for designers and the detrimental effects that spec design can have on the industry. To take a stand against the crowdsourcing trend and advocate for fair compensation, visit nospec.com . Designers who fail to take a stand may find themselves facing a bleak job market sooner than they think.

Elliott Orion
Elliott Orion
Guest Author

Want to Hear More?

Need a cost estimate for a new project? Or just want to know what options are available? Get the answers you need by calling us at (479) 202-8634, or drop us a line using the form.