I don't care about crowdsourcing services

Written on 21 October, 2012

You’ve probably heard of 99designs. If you haven’t, let me quickly summarise the service/company.

99designs allows individuals and companies to start crowdsourced design contests. Multiple designers submit their designs/entries, one is chosen as a winner and thus receives a cash prize.

There’s nothing particularly favourable about any aspect of the service. In what I’d tentatively label “rules” in the design industry, 99designs falls foul of many, especially 3 key areas.

  • Spec work. You’re spending time and submitting work without the guarantee of getting anything in return.
  • Avoiding real problem solving. The resources aren’t there to begin to truly understand the business/client, or solve any real problems via design. Most winners will simply be the person who produced the prettiest visuals.
  • Poor rates. If you commit a decent wedge of time, and are lucky enough to win, it’s unlikely your cash prize when looked at as an hourly rate will be anything impressive.

So, not the most respectable company you’ll ever stumble across in our industry. For that reason, the name “99designs” hadn’t crossed my mind in a long time, until yesterday morning when a 4 year old explicit filled article on Graphicpush seemed to do the rounds on Twitter once again. Despite deciding that I likely did read it closer to the original date of posting, I gave it another look, and couldn’t help but wonder how designers can get so frustrated and wound up by something that to me feels largely irrelevant.

Why I don’t care

“Its occurrence is inevitable”

Cheap, shit work will always exist and be on offer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s via a service like 99designs, forums, email, or even personal relations, its occurrence is inevitable. They’ll always be the client with a tiny budget and lack of respect for design, and a designer who will happily work for a low rate or the risk of no payment at all.

Good clients aren’t “lost” to crowdsourcing services

I wouldn’t want to work with a potential client who even considered crowdsourcing a project. We should always be educating clients in various aspects of design and project process, but no client you’d want to work with would ever contemplate the crowdsourced alternative. Everyone knows crowdsourcing is a bad thing (in any industry, not just design), but some people simply don’t care. Look on the bright side, 99designs groups them all in one place you can avoid.

There’s no lack of work

The industry’s booming. There’s great work available everywhere. If you’re struggling to find it, then you probably need to reassess and address other areas. Crowdsourcing services aren’t your enemy.

Nonetheless, keep an eye on spec work

I only begin to worry when slightly more subtle examples of spec world enter the “mainstream” side of the industry. If you’re bidding for a project, and the client hints at small but unpaid design deliverables, don’t be tempted. The design process should always begin after winning work.

The foolhardy “99designs” end of the spectrum I can happily ignore. The more subtle examples which can crop up while bidding for work are what concern me more. Don’t make the mistake of saying yes to unpaid work.

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