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Spec work rears its ugly head

Author: JLB

Published On: February 24, 2009

Today I read a post from one of my former professors at the design school I attended that talks about a site called “Basically people post graphic design projects and a bunch of so-called ‘designers’ (read: people with no training who have managed to get their hands on a copy of CS and a couple gigs of RAM) ‘compete’ for the job. THIS IS CALLED SPEC WORK, AND IT IS WRONG.” – Paula Rozelle Hanback (Hey, Miss P!) (“It’s easy, just post your project, watch the world submit ideas and choose the one you like”) is a “multi-resource vendor” site that lets people upload creative projects that they need design work done for. I’ve mostly seen logo design requests, but there are other project types posted there as well (book covers, websites, t-shirts…etc). People from all over the world respond to these design requests by uploading design ideas that they think fit the client’s description. The client looks over all of the uploaded creative images and decides which design gets the “award” or payment. The client is then able to take the design and use it however they see fit.

I, much like Miss Paula, completely disagree with this model. The AIGA is very specific about this kind of work. You can read what they have to say here.

Just a small handful of reasons I don’t like Crowdspring:

  1. Christopher Steiner’s (somewhat offensive) article in Forbes entitled “The Creativity of Crowds: CrowdSpring aims to slash the cost of graphic design work–and democratize a snooty business” tries to promote the idea. In it, Michael Samson, co-creator of, is quoted saying, “The beauty of our site is that it doesn’t matter if you have a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design or if you’re a grandma in Tennessee with a bunch of free time and Adobe Illustrator,” says Samson. “If the client likes the grandma’s work better, then she’s going to get the job.”

    It doesn’t matter if the client likes the logo the grandmother creates — it might not work properly for the clients’ application. Part of a designer’s job is to guide the client and tell them when something they want to do isn’t a good idea or is going to be too expensive for the client to work with.

  2. If I have a great idea and upload a design, what’s stopping someone uploading a design after me using my ideas but altering them? What if a client likes my design, but likes the color scheme of another design? If the client posts his thoughts, another designer can come in and take my design, adjusting only the color scheme.
  3. What about the client / designer relationship anyway? “…the only way to do genuinely good work is for designer and client to form a partnership and explore all angles together in a mutually trusting and open way,” says Adrian Shaughness, author of “How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul.” Not only is this sound advice for a good marriage, it offers important perspective on the designer / client relationship.
  4. Branding is more than a logo. Clients that participate in “multi-resource vendor” sites such as this are only getting a logo and not an overall visual / physical representation of the clients personality. Before a designer can work on a clients branding, the client needs to explore who they are and the kind of philosophies they subscribe to. Once the client shares their findings (particular colors, typefaces, substrates, tagline, copy, etc.) with the designer, this information allows the designer to creatively further the client’s ethos.


 Well, that’s it for me. Thanks to Miss Paula for the original post.

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