How I Quit Working for 99Designs, Crowdspring and Mycroburst

Building up the creative soul

how i quit spec

THE SPEC ADDICTION
Spec work could become an addiction of some sort. It’s a trap a beginning designer could easily fall into and one where sadly, some experienced ones choose to stay in. It may start with “Wow, that’s easy! I can do a much better design than that.” So you sign up and if you are any good, you might get 4 or 5 stars and feedback that goes something like: “I really, really love your design! Could you please make the following changes…?” Anticipating a win, you happily make the changes, create as many variations as possible and go so far as to show your design in context. Unfortunately, you lose. You wonder what you did wrong, was definitely sure you were going to win, and overall feel pretty rotten. But you move on to the next contest. Well, W.E. Hickson did say: ‘Tis a lesson you should heed: Try, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again.”*

So you hope you win this one, or perhaps the next, or the one after that. Eventually you do win, and the euphoria of winning fires you up to join even more contests. It’s a pathetic cycle of excitement-discouragement-delight-dejection… and taken as a whole, is all just a waste of time. The misery of working for spec outweighs the pleasure of winning a couple hundred bucks.

THE SPEC CONTAGION
With all the talk against spec work, it’s a shame many designers still choose this route. As of Sunday, March 13, I count 74 new “creatives” at Crowdspring. I went backwards to check weekday stats and tried Wednesday, March 9. I counted 115 new signups. To date, they boast of 87,000+ designers. 99Designs is in the lead with 96,000+. Mycroburst doesn’t say and I didn’t bother to check the other contest sites. But anyway, can you imagine all those thousands of designers spread across these crowdsourcing sites exposing themselves to exploitation?

Having worked on these sites for some time, I can think of some reasons why designers sign up (and stay).

■ Ignorance
Most (like me) probably didn’t have formal education in design, and/or did not learn the professional ethics which should include dealing with spec work. I don’t know if this is actually covered in design schools but I do hope it is. Anyway, we simply didn’t/don’t know any better.
■ Economics
$200 for a few hours of work is a lot of money in most developing countries. Some families live on this amount for a month.
■ Poor Communication Skills
Some would rather show their work right off than try to create a decent proposal or job application.
■ No respect
Probably the worst offender is having no respect for the design profession itself and preferring to cut corners—never mind the detailed brief, the exhaustive research, the extensive design process and all the other aspects of being a design professional.

Admit it or not, the designers in these contests are the biggest losers, followed by the client who believes he/she got a good deal but actually missed out on a more rewarding designer-client relationship. And the contest site wins, hands down. In effect, the design industry begins to resemble a factory of unpaid skilled laborers, working zealously for the promise of possible reward.

SPEAKING AGAINST SPEC
I stumbled into design through this (crowdsourcing) design backdoor while looking for online work. Although I am grateful that these contest sites introduced me to a passion I wasn’t previously aware of, I am certainly not proud of it. After reading countless anti-spec articles (you can start by reading David Airey and No!Spec), I was convinced spec work was unethical. You can sum up all the arguments in a simple analogy like, would you order various dishes at a restaurant and pay only for the one you like best? It is embarrassing that I used to value myself so poorly as to be counted among seemingly dispensable designers who get no compensation for hours of work.

KICKING THE SPEC HABIT
If you are convinced that you are doing yourself and the industry an injustice by working for free for contest sites, stop already. Like kicking a bad habit, here are some tips that could help you stop doing spec.

Address your reasons for joining spec contests (note: there are legitimate design contests)

1. You don’t know any better
Well, now you do. But don’t stop there. Go ahead and work towards becoming a professional designer in the real sense of the word. Go back to the basics and relearn design if you have to. If you don’t have a degree, get one if you feel you need it.
2. You need the money
If you live in a developing country like I do, chances are, converted to your local currency, you would happily work for a $100 logo design. Broaden your perspective and look at yourself from a global point of view then determine your value.
3. You prefer to show off your work than talk/write
To be able to work well with clients, you definitely need good communication skills. Not knowing how to express yourself well in English can be  a serious handicap for some very promising designers. If you happen to fall in this category, nothing is stopping you from working on your communication skills. I say it’s a much better investment of your time than doing unpaid work.
4. You have no respect for the profession
Maybe you are in the wrong one.

“Repair” your name/brand

First, withdraw your entries and delete your accounts on contest sites. Crowdspring has a delete button, 99Designs won’t let you and Mycroburst has no information on the site (I wrote asking them to deactivate my account and they did). Stop visiting and delete your bookmarks to these sites. Now create your own site or create accounts on portfolio sites (Behance, Coroflot, Flickr, etc).

Define your goals as a designer and commit to them
Create goals, mini-goals and timelines to keep you on track. Do you want to be looked upon as a respected professional? Have a look at AIGA’s Standards of Professional Practice.

Rebuild your portfolio
You can start with work from your spec experience (it’s still your work after all), but as you gain new clients, I think it’s a good idea to replace them with—for lack of a better word—”legitimate” work. I also suggest designing for non-profits, local businesses and doing personal projects.

Market yourself
There’s a lot of advice out there about growing your design business. You can start with Graphic Design Blender and Lateral Action among others.

Reap and enjoy the rewards of being “spec-free”
Sooner or later, you will start getting clients. You are in control of the quality of your work and how you deal with your clients. Do well and you will definitely get repeat, referred and new business. This is a much more secure and relaxed situation than the contest environment where your status (financial and emotional) was at the mercy of a contest holder’s whim.

There’s a Filipino saying that goes: “Walang manloloko kung walang magpapaloko.” This may sound a bit harsh but it’s something to think about. The best translation I can come up with is: “There would be no charlatans if there were no fools.”

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

*Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition). Oxford University Press. 1979.  p.251.
  • March 15th, 2011 /
  • 130 Comments

130 Comments to “How I Quit Working for 99Designs, Crowdspring and Mycroburst”

  1. Mike Watters says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this, Grace. It’s exactly what the design community needs to hear from someone who has actually been there. As more and more designers discover the folly of unpaid work, I can only hope that these sites will die out.

  2. grace says:

    Hello Mike. I do hope there are more designers opting out than signing up and eventually put these sites out of business.

    Other than being unpaid, the atmosphere could eat at you. Some contest holders just up and leave, no winner. When the prize amount is higher than usual, the bickering starts and you get to see (read) the worst in designers and clients. Concepts are copied, reused and overused. The list of wrongs is long. If one is serious about a design career, a contest site won’t help.

  3. David Airey says:

    Well said, Grace, and all the very best with your new designer/client relationships.

  4. grace says:

    Thank you, David. You are an inspiration.

  5. As one who’s railed against crowdsourcing, spec work, and contests for some time, I’m thrilled to see someone who’s spent time doing it and quit articulate so well the “lack of respect for design as a profession” angle. If folks want to participate as professionals, they need to understand that spec, etc. has the long-term effect of tearing down the professional aspect.

    Well done! And good luck in your career!

  6. gerry suchy says:

    Well said Grace! There are many of us who have been ranting about this very topic for a long while now. Thanks for lending your voice to the discussion. Best of luck with your business.

    gerry

  7. DKdesigner says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for this article that I definately find insightful and thought provoking. I’ve actually done some spec work myself (99Designs only) and have had some success with a few wins.

    I don’t have a design degree either (would like to, but is not easy to achieve when you have a family and a full-time job … ), but saw spec sites as a kind of way to get me started – and that actually worked ok in the way that I really learned a lot from participating in something like 12-14 competitions.

    Another fortunate outcome for me was that I actually landed a good client-relationship on a longer-term based on a competition-win. I fear that this outcome is rather rare though, unfortunately.

    However, I’ve been giving the subject a lot of thought as well and have decided to do no more spec work and instead try to get more work from local clients + do pro-bono work for non-profit organisations and the like.

    So again – thanks for the article from someone who would fall into category one in your list above :)

    Regards,
    An aspiring, non-spec-working :), designer

  8. Great article. I’ve been in this business for more than 38 years, and until recently, requests for spec work were always refused. Asking someone to work for free was then, and should now be, considered an insult. I hope your article makes designers think twice before participating.

  9. Preston says:

    Excellent article here, Grace. Very well-said. Thanks for mentioning GraphicDesignBlender.com too!

    Best of luck in your ventures!

  10. grace says:

    Thank you, Stephen. When I studied Engineering, we had a course dedicated to professional ethics. I wonder if design schools emphasize this aspect. And perhaps more for the benefit of self-taught designers, I hope design books will include a chapter or two about spec too.

  11. grace says:

    Gerry, it took awhile :) but I hope this will encourage those still working on spec to stop. Thanks!

  12. grace says:

    DKdesigner, glad to hear you’re going the non-spec direction. I did get repeat business from a couple of wins too but just as you said, those are rare. Most contest holders prefer to use crowdsourcing again. I wish you well in your non-spec work :)

  13. grace says:

    You are so right, Michele. It should be taken as an insult. Even a simple laborer expects to be paid. Beats me why designers expect none at all.

  14. grace says:

    My pleasure, Preston. You have good advice worth sharing over at GDB. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. phil says:

    Would it be fair to say those “designers” who contribute to spec work perpetuate the undervaluing of design in general and erode the very industry they are supposed to be contributing?
    On the flip side it means these sites attract exactly the sort of clients I don’t want to work with, which in turn keeps them the hell away from me

  16. Maybe, Phil, but the danger is that as more people use crowdsourcing, spec work, and contests to get their design work done, this will increasingly become the accepted way. And the lowest common denominator of design sense among the non-design savvy public will keep lowering. SO fewer and fewer people will even think about properly contracting design work.

  17. grace says:

    Phil, I’d like to believe that some clients who use crowdsourcing don’t know any better. I’m sure there are those who realize their mistake later on. The problem is when clients start thinking it’s the best way to go about getting design work done and worse, sing its praises! But yes, I think these designers are much to blame too.

  18. pericat says:

    They do, or at least the schools and associations my partner works with do. You should hear her on the subject of spec work – it would warm the cockles of your heart. She teaches graphic design courses at two schools in the Lower Mainland (BC) and her students get an earful of the pernicious evils of spec and contests.

    You nailed it in your essay here. Spec is not any kind of a path to success.

  19. grace says:

    pericat, that’s good to know. I hope all the students take it to heart and stay away from spec. Thanks for reading!

  20. phil says:

    @stephen tiano. It might simply boil down to this: there are two types of people – ones who respect your expertise and the value of what you do and one’s that don’t. Peanuts/Monkeys. Who would choose a plastic surgeon who offers their services for free?

    Those that choose the lowest common denominator of design deserve only that. It also strikes me as a reactive rather than strategic choice for most businesses who use them. A “jeez we need this like now” or a “we just need something asap so we can get started doing business.”

    People like to deal with people, and mostly still face-to-face. Design is a service industry but also a relationship-building one. This fact will keep solid professionals in business – I doubt Saatchis are worried about losing business to crowdsourcing.

    And while there may be a shift for more small operators to use crowdsourcing, I think medium size businesses will continue to value the level of thinking, level of service and level of quality that non-crowdsourcing delivers.

  21. Faiz says:

    Good to see someone from a third world perspective like me.
    Just like you, I’m also Sick at spec work with 99bullshit
    and rude pathetic contest holders who are so pretentious

  22. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Faiz. It’s a dismal picture. We in developing countries allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by contest holders who get away with cheap (if they even finish the contest) and free labor. I hope there will be more like us who speak out against spec work and eventually start improving the image of this side of the world.

  23. JJ says:

    I’m guilty of doing some spec work at 99designs, but I mainly do it to get some practice, sharpen my skills (I just started out doing logo design), and build a portfolio.

    Didn’t realize the “evils” of these contest sites until I read your article. It was a great, informative read. Thank you, kababayan! :)

  24. Grace,
    Wonderful and articulate article. And your logo is incredible.

    I came to design through engineering as well, and I still regret never attending design school. I did manage to avoid the no-spec thing, but did get scorched on eLance in the writing arena, before the advent of these contest sites – I wouldn’t touch the design job offerings because nearly all of them demanded spec mockups with the bids.

    I’ve been an advocate for “living wages” for designers, writers, and musicians for years, and it’s gratifying to see others in the creative fields speaking up in the face of Those Who Would Exploit Us.

  25. Grace Oris says:

    JJ, buti naman at napadpad ka dito. Great to see a kababayan here! I hope the article was convincing enough to keep you out of spec work altogether. I just took down from my portfolio all my work done on spec. I realized I’m much prouder of work I did outside of spec. If you need a portfolio, you can always start with personal projects and can also offer your services for charity. Hope to see you more often here. Thanks for dropping by.

    Wendy, thank you! Good for you for being able to avoid spec work. I hope more and more would speak out. It’s disgusting that there are those who exploit, but just as bad or even worse, that there are those willing to be exploited.

  26. Roger Coles says:

    Thank you for the warning. I literally started putting up designs yesterday at 99 Designs. I confess my newbness. I was looking at it as a place to practice since logos are my weakest link.

    Thanks for the tip to get out now.

  27. Grace Oris says:

    Hi Roger. You’re very welcome and welcome to my blog too. A good way to practice logo design would be to offer services to non-profits (why not start with your church/ministries?) or small local businesses.

    Thanks for the visit and hope to see you more often around here.

  28. Jacquie says:

    Uhg, I hate these sites and I also hate bidding sites. There is just something about them that just piss me off. I’ve found that spending my time dealing with these sites to get jobs/clients in such a waste of my time. I find that learning how to improve my networking skills is a MUCH better use of my time as all of my clients have come from referrals and general networking.

    I understand the need for money, hell I need money badly as I’m broke, but you can’t build a business if you don’t value yourself or what you do. I signed up with Crowdspring unaware, at the time, that it was a contest site. As soon as I found out I just never went back. I don’t have time to bother with it. Thank god other people out there have some sense because I was starting to think I was crazy or something.

  29. Grace Oris says:

    Well said, Jacqquie—”you can’t build a business if you don’t value yourself or what you do”.

    Thanks for coming over and sharing.

  30. Piolo Pascual says:

    Inggit lng yan marahil dahil hindi kayo makapaniwalang may mga designer na nagsucceed na kamay at utak lng ang puhunan. E kahit naman ako, gumradweyt man ako ng fine arts sa UST eh hindi tlga ako papatol sa 200$ lng. Come to think of it, if you have reasons why you just cant go with that type of labor, then maybe ask yourself, why there are a lot of those people around the world who are engaging themselves to those kind of things. There should be a reason. And that’s something your engineering degree can not figure out. Unless you enroll yourself to the course they are into now. Bachelor of science in L.I.F.E, major in poverty. Do not be selfish, art is for every one. They are the masters of their brushes, do not teach them what to paint. By the way, this is your friend from Quezon City, earned some 150k pesos in 6mos of active participation. Thanks for reading.

  31. Grace Oris says:

    [trans: “That’s just envy, perhaps you all just can’t believe that there are designers who can succeed with only their hands and brains as capital. I myself am a graduate of fine arts at UST (University of Santo Tomas) and I definitely wouldn’t work for a mere $200. Come to think of it…]

    Congratulations on your wins, Piolo. Good for you.

    You are right, I was actually envious I didn’t win as often as I wished. This was one of the things that got me thinking there must be another way of succeeding in this design business. I found Blair Enns’ “Win Without Pitching Manifesto” (http://www.winwithoutpitching.com/manifesto) really helpful.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and hope to see you here more often. Thanks!

  32. Piolo Pascual says:

    Try it again and you’ll see how good designers enjoy participating there. There must be a reason that you failed to look at because of some frustrations. I was actually in confusions when I started at 99designs, thinking that it was just fake contests or my designs are not actually qualified yet still posted just to make the submissions look plenty. I see you’re really an artist as you think and write intelligently, and I believe you can be better in particular graphic design category if you’ll give it a shot again. My first logo design is done in photoshop and now I am doing it in coreldraw vector program, see how literal my development is? I have to admit that you’ve got nice logo. See you in some contest there again. By the way, I got my first win on my 40th contest. And I am averaging 1 win for every 20 contests now. Do not look at my boasts or even on my earnings. Mas maganda makita mo ung development na binibigay nito sa isang artist na katulad ko. It can happen to everyone. Cheers!

  33. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks “Piolo”, but no. I’m done with contests. I’m finding more success and fulfillment doing what I do now not to mention a greater sense of self-worth.

    Thank you too for the compliments :)

  34. I did try spec work and then quit. Unfortunately this is a trend that will not go away. Good for clients bad for designers. Check out my site. Thanks.

  35. Cherlyn says:

    I’m sorry to be harsh, but 1 win per 20 contests? And how much time do you spend altogether on these 20 contests, just to generate one pathetic win? Is it worth it? I will have to say NO. If you are talented and used your time wisely, you could have gathered 20 clients, each with a guaranteed payment for you and you only, not a potential payment.

    You simply do not value yourself, which is a very sad thing, I must say.

  36. Cherlyn says:

    I signed up as a designer on DesignCrowd just to see the inner workings of it and to see what the hubbub was about.

    I saw a project which I was personally attracted to, and submitted 3 well-designed logos (the payout was also reasonable).

    But then I started browsing around even more, and was simply appalled at what I saw. For example, DesignCrowd allows the buyers to extend the deadlines and ask the designers for revisions to submitted logos if unhappy with the current logos, even for projects with guaranteed payouts.

    I saw a project with 186 submissions, not because of the payout, which wasn’t a lot, but because the deadline kept being extended! In fact, it was extended 6 months! So there you are, a designer who has worked hard and submitted a great logo, and your potential clients asks you to revise it a little, and you do, and then you hope you’ll be the one receiving a payout soon, but no, the person goes and EXTENDS the project not once, but 4-5 times, to get more designs, EVEN though they’ve been satisfied enough with the first batch of designs to ask for revisions!

    Tell me, at the end of 6 months, will you still be that hopeful of getting that “pot of gold”? No way. In fact, I’m more than willing to bet that if the client comes around and asks you to revise your logo again because it’s one of the top few out of the 6 month’s worth of submitted designs, you would telling him/her to just jump off a cliff.

    This one injustice alone already shows how deeply biased DesignCrowd are to their clients. How is this not taking complete advantage of a designer?

    I really value myself and my work, even though I have just graduated. I know that I do good work, and I care enough about it to ask for what I am worth, and I really hope that future hopeful designers will too.

  37. Cherlyn says:

    Just to add, needless to say, this is the first and last time I will be submitting anything on DesignCrowd. I rather use my time to network and gain clients that i can build a rewarding relationship with.

  38. I don’t know what else there is to say. I think about all that’s wrong with crowdsourcing and contests has been covered here over the past months. If any of you persist in going those wrotes or spec work, you only have yourselves to blame if you never get taken seriously and wind up never able to earn a living as a designer.

  39. Grace Oris says:

    Robert — actually it really isn’t all that good for clients either and they don’t even know what they missed.

    Cherlyn — good for you, you realized the truth about contests early on. You’re right, your time will be better spent on networking and marketing your skills.

    Stephen — exactly. Sad that some just don’t get it.

  40. RevuGuy says:

    Quote:
    “There would be no charlatans if there were no fools.”

    Reality is sometimes harsh, love it Grace!

  41. Peter Bacani says:

    Just last week (for the first time) I tried joining a crowdsourcing site and joined mycroburst so far I’m not liking the experience of spec work (its quite frustrating) , but admittedly its addicting and it doesnt help if you really need the moolah.

    I happened to read about the John Engle incident, just shows what desperate contestants go through just to win the project. I guess the industry is evolving (actually more like devolving if you ask me).

  42. If the “devolving” you speak of, Peter, is in fact taking place, it’s at least in part because artists like yourself are pushing the crowdsourcing/spec side of things forward by participating. Of course spec work is “frustrating,” odds are you work at getting inspired, go thru your process for creating, and submit. And someone else wins the “moolah,” which in any case is not what a professional would make for the job. Try listing crowdsourcing on your résumé, by the way. See if it enhances your professional reputation.

  43. Asw P says:

    I would like to add a comment from a contest holder perspective.

    I come from a 3rd world country and I’m sad to say that the previous attempts I have had with designers locally, most of their designs are uninspiring and the average level of local designers I suspect are at a much lower standard than those in the developing countries such as USA, Europe, etc…

    A company I worked for paid USD$7K to develop a website from my company (from the No. 1 rated corporate design outfit in my country) and it looks and navigates like it was developed by a high school graduate.

    I agree, if you are from the USA, Europe, Australia for example, use a proper designer. But if you are from developing countries where designers are far less sophisticated and psychologically shallow in their research and thought processes, then 99designs is a great platform to start your design process.

  44. Mii says:

    I don’t completely agree with this. I’m fairly inexperienced in design (Just finished a multimedia bsc) now I’m wanting to get into graphic design and I find that looking around those sort of sites is helpful.

    It’s nice challenging yourself to work to a brief for fun, helps you learn new skills by coming out of your comfort zone and yeah, you’ll probably not win, but the fact that you finished another design is the reward in it’s self.

    I often ask friends to spurt random words out off the top of their head, then aim to make an illustration out of it – I find this just as fun, though I’ll admit it doesn’t work out every time. :)

  45. Grace Oris says:

    Asw P, sorry to hear about your experience but I have to say not all designers from developing countries are “far less sophisticated and psychologically shallow in their research and thought processes”. I am from one (Philippines) and I pride myself with my research and overall design process. One major factor I see as to why a lot of designers on contest sites don’t produce better work is the fact that payment is not guaranteed. Only one gets the prize. If I was the sole designer, with a contract in place and an advance payment for services, I’d give the project all I’ve got.

    Mii, yes you do get to learn new skills working on contests, but there are ethical ways of getting some practice like your exercises with your friends. If you want client work, you can find some local businesses or charities to work for. That’s still better “real world” experience.

  46. xjapan says:

    yea, im not a designer.
    but i can buy a house by doing SPECWORK in less than 1year.
    sad eh?

  47. Asw P says:

    The internet not only serves those in developed countries.

    With the economics of most developing countries, for example in my country the average monthly salary of most graphic design school graduate is probably USD250-300 (min wage is about USD120/month, usually for physical laborer), being able to have a site like 99designs.com and to have a chance to get USD300, 500 or 700 for a winning design for a few hours/days work is an incredible boost to a person’s income.

    Not only that but he gets a chance to network with a Contest Holder and potentially another stream of income from this relationship, outside of the context of the 99designs network.

  48. And then pretty soon none of us will be able to live anywhere but in your country, because the wage for designers won’t allow us to afford to live in our own. Competition will be so fierce that it’ll further force down rates, you won’t get as much work because some of it will go to your new competition, us, and design will cease to be a professional pursuit.

  49. Asw P says:

    Steve, you may wish for A to happen (or not to happen). But fact is fact. Look at how many factories (in the developed world and also in my country) close down because they cannot compete with the low cost Chinese made goods.

    I am angry at this too, but being angry and wishing for something to happen or not happen doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. It’s economics.

    90%+ of the designers in my 99design contest (almost 400 entries) come from Eastern European or Asian origin, where I assume the basic salary for designers is nowhere near in the USA or Euro zone. This is a fact.

    A mature designer may hold online spec work in contempt but it is an alternative growth process for budding young designers to build their portfolios and potentially get more income. If they are any good, through this network, they may get a better job overseas or in a better company, through which they will get better salaries and escape the world of online spec work.

  50. There’s a lot of “facts” many of us wish weren’t. And vice versa. If we all kept our mouths shut about all of them, nothing would ever change or improve in the world. You’re entitled to want what you want. I’m entitled to see it as killing an industry. You may or may not be a capable graphic artist. The majority of people plying their trade via crowdsourcing and the like are not. And the people engaging their services, for the most part, don’t know the difference. That’s the blind leading the blind; and it–I repeat–may spell the end of an industry, turning it into an amateur-hour production where people who don’t know what the hell design is about set the market and establish the new aesthetics. Brave new world, indeed!

  51. Michael Ussher says:

    From the other side of the table and not knowing much about design…

    Im a programmer currently building a design contest module for my site at earner.net in order to be able to run design competions.

    I would like to know more about what the part where you say “(note: there are legitimate design contests)”.

    Could you explain that more please. I would like to build something that my customers and designers both appreciate, so it would be great to hear from the designers.

    Is there a way to make a design competion that respects the designers? What would it definately need to have?

    I think im a couple of weeks away from adding the Design Competition module to the live site. Still plenty of time to add/change/upgrade stuff.

    Thanks very much.

  52. Hi Michael,

    Imagine a website where programmers submit completed applications to vague specifications then one of them might get a few hundred dollars for their work.

    These “contests” are worse than the lowball bidding on places like elance and guru, because they require doing the work up front instead of simply wasting time crafting an actual proposal.

    Your customers, if they are looking for design work, should be selecting their designer based on price and portfolio only, not mockups or designs. Isn’t that how your customers choose programmers?

  53. Michael Ussher says:

    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for the reply. Currently on earner.net there is a projects system like elance, scriptlance etc where the person who is posting the project says what they want then the programmers try to guess how long it will take them and thow out a number of what they want to do it. But even if they DO win, then what happens alot i see is that the person asking for the job to be done has one idea of what “Finished” is and the programmer has a different idea.

    You end up with a situation where the programmers bid was for what was written, where as the person paying wants what they had in their mind, so Yes. It can turn into submit many versions of an application (each one taking time to program) and the owner still not paying because its not “Finished.”.

    What I have tried to do for the programmers in this case on our system is to add Hourly work and an invoicing system so that if things keep changing, the programer keeps getting paid. so instead of a bid of $400 they can bid $40/hour with an estimate of 10 hours.

    Im hoping to learn here what are the key points that designers want in a competition to make the competition fair for them.

    I can see there is a conflict of interests.

    For me, someone with Zero design sense, I don’t need a design to be an original work of art in order to be able to use it as, say, a webpage logo. But I do need someone with the sense to put all the bits together for me. If that means a the ‘designer’ has just picked some clipart and combined it with some colored fonts, in a lot of cases that will do.

  54. I understand about scope creep; that is what contracts, down payments and milestone payments are for. It happens in the design world as well as the engineering world all the time.

    If all you need is someone with some color and font sense to cobble together some clip art and typefaces, that still doesn’t warrant a request for spec work, and your design area should function like your programmer solicitation area – where designers bid a rate, and the client reviews their portfolio of prior work to see if they like what the designer has done for others.

    Let me try my analogy another way, because I am not sure you understand what I was trying to communicate:

    Let’s say there is a competition site for software developers and each developer is asked to submit a working application and post their source code. Everyone who is entered in the competition can see everyone else’s code. That’s the analogy.

  55. Michael Ussher says:

    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks very much. You really are awsome. I appreciate it.

    On my site there is no problem with someone posting a design project and having separate designers bidding on it now via the current projects system in the same way programmers do. There is also a place already for the designers to post their portfolios.

    What im wondering is is there a legitimate way to actually run a design competition? Or is the entire concept flawed.

    So I guess my question is “Does design competion = spec work in all forms of a competition or is there a form of a competition where a competiton IS a competition?”.

  56. Stephen Tiano says:

    Whether a competition IS a competition or not, a design competition IS spec work, because you do it not knowing whether you’ll get paid and only the winner gets paid. It’s work done speculatively–that is, it’s only possible that you’ll get paid (and unlikely at that for any single person in the competition) not a definite. Real work is paid for on completion. Period.

  57. Grace Oris says:

    Hello Michael. Thanks for the visit.

    By “legitimate design contests”, I was referring to competitions where the best designs are awarded recognition such as those sponsored by HOW Design. These are not design proposals for clients.

    The only fair “competition” I can think of is clients choosing designers based on their portfolios, not on proposals.

  58. IJones says:

    From a clients perspective I agree as well. On one end, it’s the low cost that drives clients there but one can’t help but realize you might not be getting the quality and time you or the designer deserves not to mention it creates a weird relationship where you feel forced to pick a design even if it’s not really what you want but of course you feel compelled to pay anyway because you know the designer took time out to do it and then you feel even funkier because you can only give the money to the one person although several other people have taken the time to create and submit designs. It’s messed up.

    I recently decided to try out 48hourslogo and when the designs started coming in, I immediately realized how terrible of a system it was from both sides. Here you have all these little boxes with designs in them and somehow you are supposed to keep going back and forth with each other blindly and somehow get what what you want… I didn’t see how that would work and it didn’t.

    Besides there isn’t enough time, you don’t know if what you are getting is “clear” to use, tons of clip art bandits and fonts you already know aren’t clear to use for commercial purposes and in the end the real question is, well why should they do 100% when there is so little in it for them?

    Like you said, everyone loses except the company who runs the website.

    I think there is something to be said about being able to pick up the phone and tell the designer about your project and your idea for your logo or what not and have them be able to pick up on the emotional cues that are also a part of the design process.

    In the end, one just has to settle for not having a logo until the money is there to pay for not only the design but the relationship and process as well.

    Cheers for the article!

  59. Grace Oris says:

    IJones, great to hear from the client’s side, thank you. You’re right, there’s more to the design process than just drawing a mark and attaching a company name to it. This is what most designers tend to do since as you said, there’s so little in it for them.

    I hope more and more clients realize all this too and not go into contests because it’s cheaper.

    Thank you for adding to the discussion!

  60. Michael Ussher says:

    Hi Grace,

    Ive finished my competition module for my site. (I know you said all competitions were bad, but i had almost finished the module by then and do like the idea of competitions. :) )

    But after reading this post, I tried to take into account what you and everyone else wrote here and to make the system a bit more fair to the designers.

    Im looking for some designers to take it for a test run for me. Don’t need to actually do any design work, I just want to know where the interface went wrong.

    The twist I put into it was that any design that is uploaded as an “original design” to the competition gets the option of what to do with it once the competition ends. earner.net already has a marketplace for services and a downloads section so any design that doesn’t win the competition can go on sale as either a straight download as is or as a service “I will make alterations to this design to match your site.”.

    The designs in the competition gallery that win get a 1st, 2nd etc and the other ones get a “For Sale”, so entering designs into competitions is a way to get them promoted. If you win the competition, even better.

    If anyone would be open to helping me get the system right, i have a beta testing site to.

    Send me a mail to contact@earner.net “attn: ill help beta test”

    Hopefully this is fairer to designers.

    P.S. If anyone from specwatch is reading, can you keep an eye on us too. Thanks.

  61. Amy Pfeiffer says:

    Grace, thank you so much for confirming everything that I ever thought was wrong with spec work! I joined crowdspring a couple of years ago to rebuild my portfolio after choosing career suicide over staying at home with my child. I only chose projects that were interesting to me, and even then I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t likely to win after all the thought and time put into them. In fact, I’ve only had one awarded out of 30+. After the final files are delivered, you have no control what happens after that. So needless to say I’ve not seen my wine label design out there in the real world.
    I have huge issues with bidding places like Elance and Freelancer as well, where the value of a designer is grossly undermined. When I graduated from college, a graphic designer was regarded as a professional much like an architect – now the entire field has become horribly diluted by crowdsourcing and the ilk.

  62. Grace Oris says:

    Hello Amy. I don’t like bidding sites either, logo design bids start at $20 I think. You’re right, graphic design isn’t regarded as much as before. I guess we’ll just have to use that as an “excuse” to do even better work and be more professional then. Thanks for the visit!

  63. Lutu Nicolae says:

    Hi Grace! I`m currently working on these sites and now and them win a contest or have few clients coming back to me over the years. I have found these sites 3 years ago and since i had no job and did graphic design as a hobby it was great working for an actual client with and actual business name and brief. My first win was after competing in a 30 or so contests and after that i was a little easier with the usual ups and downs. It all comes to the subjective view of the client who most of the time has no actual idea of what he wants or a design eye. So, even though (you think), yours is closest to the brief or has a great use of negative space or whatever you don`t win.
    Recently i have bought a domain with my name and built a website. I have built a good portfolio over the years and gain some clients from contest websites but mostly from bidding websites where i make average bids and win few a month.
    I agree with you about the spec work but i have a 1 year and 9 months old son that i have to support and if i quit this i don`t have enough work for making enough earnings to support my family. So, you see, i`m in a tight spot right now. The question is, where to find work as there are dry months when nobody needs me. The bidding websites are filled with designers who bid, like you said 20$ and they are willing to work for that amount. I don`t have a problem communicating in english, have a good portfolio, and always try to be as original as i can be but in lack of clients. I live in Romania where the people prefer an ” Arial Black over a red background” rather to spend more money on hiring an experienced designer.
    Do you have any suggestions for me?
    My website still needs work so for you to see my works you can check out either my daportfolio link or the one i`m working on right now witch has my name and new logo lutunicolae.com

    Thank you,

  64. Grace Oris says:

    Hi Lutu. There are several comments on this post (When Designers Run Out of Jobs) where you could gain some insights as to how to go about freelancing. I hope you find them helpful. All the best in your design business and launch of your new website.

  65. Ravi says:

    Excellent article, in coherence with my thoughts!
    I have more or less the same story – tried 5 times in Designcrowd, failed, succeeded the 6th time, then realized thats not how I wanted to work, packed working for crowdsourcing, set up my own design firm, very happy with my nature of work now!

  66. Grace Oris says:

    Great to hear that, Ravi!

  67. Thank you so much for this article, I must admit that I fell prey their ads and joined a few contests at 99designs and failed, I stopped when I’m sensed this is going nowhere.

    I was researching about the evils of 99designs and I must say your blogpost was right on the money.

  68. Applex says:

    Grace Oris.
    This is a really good point of view.
    Compliments!!!!

  69. Ivan Raszl says:

    I agree with you on all points.

    You didn’t mention StockLogos.com, probably because we’re fairly new and you had no chance to try it. We are not like the spec sites your mentioned. With us don’t do any work for free. You build your gallery of logos and sell each and every one of them over time. The idea behind StockLogos is that you upload the unsold ideas that you presented to your clients. This way you give those great unappreciated ideas another chance to end up with a company somewhere in the world who wanted just the logo you designed and who will give it the deserved love. Subsequently you get in touch with new clients and thus generate more business as well.

  70. Priyanka Agrawal says:

    Thank you for such such a inspirational article, I’m a beginner in this field, this article is really helpful for me.

    thanx
    :)

  71. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks for reading, Ivan. Glad to hear you don’t go for spec work. The thing is, I’m not so keen about stock logos either. It’s the same model as Brandstack (which recently closed) and there’s an interesting discussion about this over at LogoDesignLove where I said it’s like designing backwards. I understand of course that it works for some designers as a means to get some income and make use of unused designs. I’m sure there are clients who are happy going this route too. We’ll probably have to agree to disagree about this way of doing business but I am glad we stand on the same side against spec.

  72. Grace Oris says:

    Anna, they do seem to have their ads all over the web! Glad you weren’t hooked much longer.

    Applex, I hope we share the same views :)

    Priyanka, glad to be of some help.

  73. I’ve got to agree with you Grace and disagree with you Ivan re: logo recyling.

    It is impossible for the graphic expression of one brand to be shoe-horned onto another. The logo should have been evolved from a process specific to that client: their target audience, USPs, core values, vision, their position in the marketplace.

    You can’t ditch all that methodology and just apply to another company. Come on.

    Stocklogos is surely just saying, “the thinking doesn’t matter, our clients only care that it looks good”. That’s shallow.

  74. Ivan Raszl says:

    Let me address this question on “designing backwards”. The premise is that the ultimate solution to a branding problem is to brief a designer who then finds a solution to the brief.

    I agree that putting the brief first is the ideal solution when a single designer is working for a client, because this ensures the highest chance this designer can come up with the perfect solution.

    In case of StockLogos we suggest a different solution. The client who has a brief in mind can look around the store to see if there is a logo that matches his needs. Sometimes he is lucky and he finds a match, other times not and he moves on to other solutions.

    In both cases client has a chance of finding the perfect logo and neither options are perfect or guarantee success in every case. In case of one-on-one consulting more designer experience increases the chance of success, in case of a logo store the number of logos increase the change of success.

    The criticism of working backwards is false because it focuses on a single work method (design based on a brief) instead of focusing on the primary goal (finding the right identity for a specific client).

    There are no ethical issues here. No designer is working for free and clients only need to accept work that fits their branding objective.

    Clients see the reality that both are viable options, but many designers refuse to accept it because they are afraid it threatens the classic business model. In fact they should not be afraid for two reasons. For one, consulting is a different level of service which is not in competition with stock logos. StockLogos is in competition with home made logos created in powerpoint using clipart. Two, designers can use StockLogos.com as a dumping ground for rejected ideas giving these logos a second chance and use the site as way to find new customers.

    Big names in the industry do not need leads to small clients present on StockLogos.com. Their clients pay thousands of dollars for an identity. So they readily speak out against anything that threatens the old way of doing business. But most freelance designers looking for more revenue can take advantage of this system and generate a new sales and clients with little effort without compromising their professional integrity.

  75. Ivan Raszl says:

    Please don’t tell me you never pulled out an old rejected idea for a new client because you felt that old brilliant design solves the current problem perfectly. Every designer does this. Famous designers frequently tell stories like this. We do the same together in a larger scale, so there is a higher chance for those rejected ideas to find a new home faster.

    Let’s face it, bakery owners, lawyers, janitorial services, kindergarten owners, etc. have fairly similar briefs in minds. If they have many logos to choose from there is a chance they find a match.

    We do not ditch the methodology. In fact we use it on StockLogos. Clients can post their briefs with their USP, core values, etc. publicly if they don’t find a logo that matches their needs. We also put clients in touch with designers they like based on their portfolios for one-on-one consultation.

  76. I am actually going to tell you I’ve never done that. But agree that many do, I’m just not one of them.

    I can see that there is a need for more affordable logos for certain areas of business and yours is a service that fulfils that need. I am not afraid that this is a threat to me, just that it undermines the value perception of our business in general.

    Let’s say a client paid for $100 a logo for their startup business. The business is a great success and the client (now an entrepreneur) decides to launch several other business. Even though he/she has decent money to spend, why would they spend it on a logo when they know they can get another one for $100?

    I don’t believe logos need re-homing like unwanted puppies and this sort of stuff seems aimed at those designers who are able to deliver an endless series of graphic “stunts” after watching a few how-to tutorials in Adobe CS, rather work of any substance.

    But as a business idea, yours works fine. There is a need, you are fulfilling that need. You get paid, the designer gets paid, the client gets a logo they want. It works.. it’s just that I don’t like it.

  77. Ivan Raszl says:

    I see your point fully and I appreciate that you acknowledge the legitimacy of our business model.

    At one point in time we had to go to a tailor to get a suit. Now we have ready made suits to choose from in stores. Lately you can simply order it online. I’m sure tailors complained at the time too. And now the brick and mortar store start to complain. But none of these changes devalue the profession of tailorship. We still have amazing suits, they are just more readily available, and we still have tailors if the store quality is not enough.

    The world goes on. One day in the future StockLogos will complain when a new paradigm shift will make it less relevant. I don’t know… maybe an artificial intelligence software that can do the work of a designer based on an interview with client… scary!

    We allow any prices up to $2,000. We don’t force people to sell for $100. We’re just a marketplace, we don’t dictate the price. The price is up to the designers. StockLogos can not be held responsible for any pricing trends.

    In developing countries $100 is a lot of money and we in the developed world suffer from this competition, but on the other hand we are happy to buy cheap products at supermarkets because of the same reason. So it’s a win on one hand and lost revenue on the other. With time developing markets will hopefully grow into developed markets and then the prices will balance out.

  78. Grace Oris says:

    I just think the client is missing out and is usually not even aware of it. Stock logos provide a less-than-ideal solution when an ideal solution can be had. It may not necessarily be unethical but I’m just not comfortable with it, take it simply as personal ethics.

    As I said, I admit there are clients happy with stock logos and your business serves them. I do not feel threatened nor do I see your model as competition, but with logos now being sold as stock, design is no longer as valued as it should be.

  79. lemi says:

    I live in a poorest, corrupted third world country and I am very happy these such websites are exists, so far i had won $ 6000+, yes $200 is pretty good money for me but i only participated for $400 and up contests, one thing i regret is why i didn’t discover these sites long time ago when i was jobless and wasting my time playing call of duty ><

    excuse my english, its not my native language, good luck to all.

  80. aan says:

    I agree with lemi

    Most people didn’t so lucky enough to lived in country with high wage rates as you Grace.
    and since crowd source design you could say had above our average salary, there’s no stopping for those crowd source i guess.. (i hope)
    poor people such as i, suddenly become so filthy rich from 99designs alone, because of our own effort, and not from stealing, or rob a bank even-though i had those in mind..

    the best thing is now my mama look on me with proud on her face, it’s something that money can’t buy..

  81. Charlie says:

    Oh my! Thank you for this article! I didn’t know that by joining these “contests”, I’m giving design a bad name. I joined crowdspring recently for the sake of practicing logo design and if I’m lucky enough, I might win a prize. I have an art degree (I’m a fresh grad) but my kryptonite is logo design. So far I’ve only joined 1 contest. The contest is still ongoing and I’m thinking of joining more contests but this article gave me the reason to quit. It’s a good thing I found this article before I get addicted to spec work.

  82. fil-graphics says:

    hello grace,

    Grace everything you said is true. I’m on this field right now… When I won, there’s a great feeling that I could not define even though its $90 and the $20 will go to the website but still I am happy with having $70.. some are 100.. some are big enough but when the big prize contest comes in.. there are lot of designers that I could not beat that’s why I keep trying in a small prize.
    but when I lose..
    There are times that I get emotionally depress…It feels like I did my best but what happen.. I got nothing.. There are also times that my co-designer is copying designs from me.. Some client are offering extra design service offer but when the client got the file they just disappear like a bubbles. It feels like something has been stolen from me..
    During that time I am not hoping for payment.
    I am just hoping that the client will honestly say “thank you for a beautiful design but I don’t have money to pay you”..

    when I read this post… I said to myself that everything posted here is true. I trying to think of applying for a job but the salary of graphics artist here is to low.. that I could not support my needs…

    My father is too old right now but he still working to support our family. When I compute all the winnings that I got… I was depress..
    I already got 250,000 pesos (currency in my country) but I only save 18,000 pesos… I spend it with my girlfriend for buying gadgets and some expensive food.. I love her that I got nothing left for myself.

    Now when I read you post. I got some idea to have some deal with the client for some future designs…
    Hope everything will works fine for me.

    (sorry for the bad communication skill)

    :-)
    I will make some designs now.
    thank you for this post grace. :-)

  83. Grace Oris says:

    All the best to you, Lemi but I still hope you see the futility of it soon enough.

    Aan, I live in the Philippines. Minimum wage here can go as low as $4 A DAY. Fathers and mothers leave their families and go overseas to earn more and be able to provide for them. The internet has opened up a great opportunity for designers like us. I don’t have to leave my family and I look at crowdsourced design contests as a waste of this opportunity. I prefer to look and work for clients who pay for my work and not just work and hope to be paid. It’s much more honest, don’t you think?

  84. Grace Oris says:

    Glad to hear it Charlie :). Would love to hear how you go on.

  85. Grace Oris says:

    Thank you for sharing. Finding and choosing clients who pay well can be difficult but well worth the effort.

  86. Charlie says:

    Hi Grace! Just to give you an update, I quit crowdspring recently. My realizations?

    I realized it’s hard to do logos when you don’t have that client-designer interaction. Sure I get to upload a lot of entries but I have no clue whether I’m doing the right thing or not. The buyer just doesn’t provide a feedback regarding my logo concepts.

    Moreover, my logo concepts were ripped-off by other users. It’s a frustrating experience actually because I put a lot of work into that logo (did research and even did initial concepts on paper) only to find out that someone else is going to copy it.

    You’re right. Spec work is just a waste of time. It’s a great thing I’ve read your article while it’s still early!

  87. Charlie, I’m very happy you arrived at this realisation as soon as you did.
    At the end of the day business is about relationships: people like to deal with people. To look a client in the eye when you present your work (or when they deliver a brief) is vastly more valuable to cementing a long, ongoing relationship with them beyond the immediate job. Ultimately, maximizng the lifetime value of that customer.
    When we start out, we all want to get “jobs from people” but as time goes by we quickly realise that actually we want the “right type of jobs from the right type of people”. In the meantime, you can make do with the “less than ideal jobs but still from the right kind of people”. The person bond is important.
    Finding the right people who value your skills and expertise can be hard. Some of us put up with unreasonable client behaviour because we we want the job. When I culled the 20% of clients who were causing 80% of the headaches in my business there was more positivity in the team, we produced better work and we could give more of our time to those good clients who valued what we did. Possibly crowsourcing gives those “difficult” clients a place to go where they can be someone else’s problem.

  88. Grace Oris says:

    I’m glad you agree Charlie. Phil has also added some wonderful insights below.

  89. Mary says:

    I agree with you, and I have a suspect that some contest holders would use designer’s entries without paying them. It’s so easy to save the logos in png or jpg format!
    I tried to make some logos for 99designs, but there too many people who partecipate, it’s hard to win and I decided to quit, too.
    Then I found your post, and I think you are right. I’m not a designer, I like drawing and I would improve my knowledge but I thin this is the wrong way.

  90. Charlie says:

    Very well said Phil! I totally agree!

  91. mac attack says:

    I disagree, from a recipient end…. I live in the Bay Area and have worked for numerous start ups. We hate when we have a limited budget and you try to rope us into your file retainer and vision.

    Sure there is less continuity doing this type of crowd sourcing, but you get what you want in the end. Also, it’s a start-up, it may not be here tomorrow, sometimes the funds dry up overnight….

    Gone are the days of being trapped into a designers vision and file holdings! Or waiting till there dog gets better or their hard drive crashed, etc for your project to be done….

    You guys did this to yourselves!

  92. Chris says:

    Well this is a big let down from the community especially for as amateur designers. In some cases maybe there is a slim chance of winning but you get to prove that you have something in you. I’m from a third world country and this crowdsourcing sites helps more than a lot.

    Exploitation? In my opinion “exposure” – in the sense that you’re just like saying “Hey I’m Chris, look at my awesome portfolio from my awesome clients!” Some design related sites would even encourage you to have exposure, participate, contribute, build your profile, build your name.

    I’m not the “some” (and I’m sure most) of those who would just submit their entry without even giving the contest holder a reason why this? why that? That’s why they’ve put a comment section, where we can ask feedback, where we can communicate. I’m sure most of us in this sites appreciate getting feedback.

    I try to learn as much as those guys who earned a degree in graphic design etc., learn hard even if I have to research what those or this word means. It is very challenging, yet in the end rewarding.

    So I’ll fight for what I believe, I’ll fight for my self, and will never say “I quit!”

    To those who are just starting to get their feet wet in this kind of sites- watch, learn, observe. Before getting excited creating entries for a contest look for feedbacks, is the holder communicating, is the contest guaranteed, has the holder had successful contest? It’s always good to look where you’re crossing.

  93. Alex Tokmakchiev says:

    Hey, Grace,

    First of all I’d like to thank you for this interesting read. It really gave me a different perspective at sites such as 99designs. I want to ask you a question though. How does one graphic designer start?

    I am 18 years old and I have been studying Graphic Design, Multimedia & Animation for the past 2-3 years in school. I’m planning on joining in the National Academy of Arts in my country and get a degree in graphic and advertising design, but in the mean time I would really like to start actually working.

    I’ve tried to start a small design firm with a friend of mine, but it’s hard as hell here in Bulgaria to get clients to pay for graphic design. People here just steal whatever they want from the Internet and no one cares about it. In the span of 4 months we have had exactly 1 client who hired us to build their brand identity and website, but we can’t finish the work for 3 months now, because they won’t provide us the actual content needed to code and finish the website, even though we have created the design. So we are stuck with waiting for them in order to get our money.

    I discovered 99designs a few days ago and I have entered into 2 contests for now, the first I did not win and the second is still running. I don’t see it as the best way to make money as a graphic designer, but it’s a starting point. Yes, one week is very limiting when it comes to design (I myself have decided not to join competitions such as “Design a book cover”, because I do not believe a good book cover can be designed for 1 week or less, without even reading the book), but there are competitions for small things like banner ads, e-mail newsletter templates and such that don’t take much thought and time to create.

    So yeah, with that said I did consider 99designs to be a good alternative. I admit that I am very worried about transfers of the Copyright and such, but still I am ignorant of another opportunity. Care to share one with me?

    Can you advice me on how does one semi-professional graphic designer who is willing to do ANY graphic design, just because he loves it, start his career? What should I do?

    Thanks

  94. Grace Oris says:

    Thank you for your comment, Chris. I’m also from the third world and I really find it frustrating that we value ourselves so little that we’re willing to work mostly for free for those from developed countries. I don’t deny that these sites do help when you think in terms of currency conversion rates. And yes one is forced to learn fast if you want to stay ahead of the competition and win more.

    BUT…this is a shaky foundation on which to build oneself as a professional graphic designer. Where is self-respect when you don’t value your time and charge for it? Have you truly grounded yourself on design fundamentals? The motivation is more likely to learn the software so you can make better-looking designs and win. Rarely is it to go further backwards to know why and how to create a design solution that is really effective in the first place and not merely something nice to look at.

    And doesn’t it just hurt when you thought all the while that you were sure to win but lost anyway? Wouldn’t it be much better to simply work outside 99designs, get a client who will sign a contract, gladly send you a deposit and work with you until you get the design right and pay you for it? No worries about losing, about not getting paid for your time and you’ll have a project in your portfolio that actually gets used in real life. You can even charge what you’re worth.

  95. Grace Oris says:

    Hi Alex. Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear about your client, I hope you at least got a deposit. This experience just highlights the need for a contract, a time frame and at least a 50% deposit before you even start working.

    My advice would be to first put together an online portfolio, whether self-hosted or on any free portfolio site, then start networking. People you know are very likely to lead you to other people who need your skills. You can start by asking your friends and family to spread the word about you. Self-promotion can be difficult but it’s necessary. Of course don’t forget to keep doing your best work too. Hope this helps.

  96. Silas says:

    Hey Grace

    Your description of how to work for crowdSPRING is sad but
    true.

    Many clients know nothing or very little about graphic design,
    and play big guy when giving stars and comments.

    Last week I was informed by crowdSPRING, they have closed
    my account, and robbed all the money two clients have paid
    for awarding my two logo designs – 625 $ – and put in to their
    own pockets.

    I have got no money at all for my hard work.

    They falsely have accuse me of violating their rules, and gave
    me no opportunity to defend or explain my self.

    It make me very sad, because I love my work as graphic designer,
    and have done my very best to contribute in a positive and
    creative way. I have not violated the rules at crowdSPRING, and
    are chocked about their judgmental and dishonest conduct.

    PS: I love your logo!

  97. Grace Oris says:

    Hi Silas. This just shows how spec sites are not very reliable sources of income. There are better and more ethical means of growing one’s design career or business and I wish you all the best!

  98. Angelo says:

    There would’nt be liars if there were no one to lie to.

    baka pilipino ang nag-post nito at maganda ‘to (love it)

  99. Maria Makiling says:

    Hi! Im 19 years old. I am studying BS Biology and take graphic design as a hobby for years now. I found out about 99designs on ads across the web and tried it.

    I take a good look at the categories and examine them carefully. Logos and websites are definitely not good for me to join because I saw their level (most looks professional) and there are a lot of entries per contest so I decided not to try it. Just as Im about to close the tab, I noticed the category Tshirt design and found some open contests. Then I realized, Hey, I can do better than this designs and there are fewer entries so my chances of winning is higher.

    So I tried submitting, got positive feedbacks, I market my designs by providing why they should choose it, ie. screen print wise, cheaper manufacturing because of colors and design, placement, and I really do what the design brief says. I choose contests that requires minimal designs, corporate or org shirts. I won contests and build some good long term work relationships with contest holders. And since Feb, I earned roughly $1000 (Im from philippines btw.) and $200 incoming after I handover the final files from my recent win.

    DO YOU THINK I SHOULD QUIT? (let’s be practical here) Contest should be a fun learning experience especially for starters like me. I learned how to use Illustrator in just one month because its necessary. Im happy with some new skills and techniques I learned through time. I bought some gadgets that I dont think I can buy from the past.

    People should not be frustrated in making contest sites as a source of income. An intelligent person should know how to choose a contest that gives them a very high chance of winning, like I did. You’ll learn this as you grow on this site. You should also know how to talk to contests holders. Marami pa ko gusto sabihin kaso kapagod na magtype. Haha

    So to cut it short, here is my stat:

    I joined 99designs on Feb. 2 2012

    $500
    prizes
    5
    won
    24
    entered

    PLUS: $200 worth of design project outside 99 design from a webmaster
    $200 runner up prize (they still bought my designs outside for $100 each)
    $120 follow up designs for another client

    INCOMING:
    a website design project without coding.
    -im a finalist for another $100 contest. Dalawa nalang kami naglalaban at ako nalang ang active na nakakausap ng contest holder at sabi nya bka piliin nya yung dlawang design ko.

    If you know how to choose contest wisely, then you wont be frustrated. I spend 2 hours or less in making tshirt designs. Because I choose company or corporate shirt that requires very minimal design :)
    Now tell me, should I quit like you? Come on let’s be practical, taga Pilipinas din ako at bihira ang ganitong oppurtunity. Agree?

  100. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks for sharing, “Maria.” Congratulations on your wins but it might surprise you to know that there are clients out there who are willing to pay $1000 for a single project which you can wrap up in a couple of weeks. If you intend to take design seriously as a profession, claiming spec work as experience won’t sit too well for your reputation—consider the fact that most spec workers don’t use their real names when they comment, conscious or not, it’s not something to be proud of, is it?

    Yes indeed, let’s be practical. You may think that contests are an opportunity (I used to), but there’s a bigger and better opportunity to use the internet to make a name for yourself as a designer, work for clients worldwide and get paid for sure. It’s like being an OFW who doesn’t have to leave home.

  101. Maria Makiling says:

    “there are clients out there who are willing to pay $1000 for a single project”

    But these clients have requirements, and as a starter, no one would hire me and pay me that high because. I don’t have much experience and solid portfolio. Please don’t tell starters to work for free or less while building portfolio, that’s so old school. I just learned Illustrator weeks ago and now I’m accepting a number of $100-projects from clients I met at 99designs. Accept it, it’s a big help for starters like me, you’re just whining because while you are a starter there are no opportunities like these. that’s envy.

    And as a bio student, here’s my tip. You should learn how to adjust to the ever-changing environment. Hindi ang environment ang magaadjust para sayo. Hindi titigili ang mundo para lang sayo. This is micro evolution happening here. This is change, a change that even all professional designers worldwide combined. Quit whining and learn how to play the game of life. Puro lang kayo reklamo kasi ang totoo, dumadami ang mga may talent na nabibigyan ng chance.

    “He who is resistant to change, is destined to perish.”

  102. Glen Atkinson says:

    Grace, your assertions that submitting work at crowd sourcing sites like crowdSPRING is somehow unethical and that customers who use crowd sourcing are damaging the business are nonsense. Your assertion that people who submit entries into what are essentially design competitions are emotional train wrecks suffering from low self-esteem is positively offensive. Where did you get your degree in psychology from?

    I have been doing full-spectrum graphics layout and design for more than 22 years. I offer a full satisfaction moneyback guarantee on my work. In that time exactly one client has taken advantage of that guarantee. What’s the real difference between a moneyback guarantee and working on spec? Do you actually think it was unethical of me to return the client’s deposit because they weren’t satisfied with the result? The clients on crowdSPRING pay for the projects upfront. Essentially, their deposit is full payment. I should say at this point that I decline to participate in any crowd sourcing project where the client has not made full payment in escrow or where there is the possibility that a winner will not be chosen.

    For some time now I’ve been using websites like crowdSPRING submitting designs. I absolutely love it. I’m competitive by nature. It feels great to win. My personality allows me to accept losses without giving one whit. I can certainly see that if you judge yourself by what others think of you, and by extension your designs, this could be a real emotional roller coaster. I don’t recommend this for the weak of heart. Nor do I consider that it would be a good idea to make crowd sourcing competitions your exclusive source of income. But to suggest that it is unethical or that I must be some sort of emotional cripple because I enjoy it is offensive in the extreme.

    I didn’t see any mention of websites like Elance and sections of Freelancer where designers submit proposals for work without actually doing work on spec. If you haven’t already, I suggest you try one of them. Be warned however that rejection is rejection. I find there is little emotional difference between spending time doing some T-shirt design and not winning the $100, spending hours on a proposal which is then rejected or spending time with a client who then decides to go with another firm.

    Whatever you do, please try to enjoy it and best of luck. But consider coming down off your high horse and joining the rest of us troops here on the ground. If you don’t like crowd sourcing design competitions don’t participate but please don’t continue to tell people that they are somehow degrading or damaging themselves by doing so. In the words of the devil in Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so.

  103. The problem with crowd sourcing is not psychological. Rather it’s the lowering of the bar for entry; the fact that (as with all spec work) that it increases the number of designers and artists doing their work with, ultimately, no hope of getting paid; and the lessening of the chance of professional designers and artists being able to do such work for a living. I hear the argument about loving competition; I’m down with that. But I prefer to compete at the pitching stage and showing my samples. I love and value what I do much too much to give it away. And even if I didn’t, I’d be leery of a path that made things bleaker for a whole industry.

  104. Bob Dylan says:

    The problem is just. You are old. We are young. And times are a changin. Bow. :)

  105. Javier Silva says:

    As long as there are enough designers from undeveloped countries , crowd sourcing will prosper , sad but true.

  106. Glen Atkinson says:

    Stephen, I think you might be tilting at windmills. How much money do you suspect crowd sourcing took out of your pocket last year? Honestly, how many clients do you think you didn’t get because they went to someplace like 99 Designs? On the flip side 99 Designs alone will put tens of millions of dollars into the hands of hundreds of thousands of designers, writers and yes, wannabes this year. Personally, I made a not insubstantial additional income pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and expanding my abilities without sacrificing any of my regular clients.

    Crowd sourcing does bring in new designers. But that’s only half the equation. It also brings in new clients and demonstrates to the otherwise uninitiated the benefits of working with a designer. I recently completely failed to win ;) a T-shirt contest put up by a lower school administrator for their 1st grade class. I think that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the school would have gone to Murdoch, More and Finley Graphic Designs in the absence of crowd sourcing. Much more likely that the design would have come from the guy who printed the shirts or the janitor’s nephew who is “good with computers.”

    So who got harmed here? Certainly not the creative who won. Certainly not the school. Not me, I’ve already adapted my “losing” design and sold several copies on Cafe Press. You? I doubt that. The 100 or so other designers who lost, were they harmed? That is something that each of them must decide for themselves. I’m in their ranks and as I said don’t consider myself harmed in the least.

  107. Glen Atkinson says:

    Hey, Mr Dylan, check your zipper I think your youth is escaping.

    I’m 57 and think crowd sourcing design is a good thing so I don’t think age is the issue here. Perhaps you confused age and experience. If that’s the case don’t sweat it that sort of confusion happens to us all as we get OLDER :P

  108. Kat says:

    Well I am a designer, with a degree, graduated with honors. I do come from a developing country and I have studied both at my home country and at a developed one (Which I have to object about not having great designers or perspectives for good pricing your work, it does take a while to get clients that pay your work for what you are worth but it IS possible, you can ask my friends!!!!). But here is the thing, the past few years I have done very little design work (life happens). So when I started building my portfolio again I realized that some things have to be updated and I need more work to show around in order to get clients or get a new job. I hate spec work and of course is one of the main things taught in school (and I have been out of school for several years now). So what happens if you do not really care for the winning and more to get more work for your portfolio? I am guilty for joining one of those pages, and I have only submitted for one project that I felt compelled to. I didn’t really care for winning in the first place. In fact I just wanted to do the project to challenge me. I got feedback from the “client” and he asked of course for changes. I did worked on them, BUT never submitted them! I just wanted to do it. (yes there was a contract thing that didn’t say I could not use it in my portfolio, plus the project was not private, and I never signed anything).I live in a small place, these kind of projects (like the one I did) are not exactly something popular so is hard to do it for free on my own. I have to say, I did enjoy my experience but I didn’t feel ripped off or shamed, I signed up for one reason and one reason only. Did they get advantage of me? perhaps… but I surely got more advantage from them!!!!

  109. Tommy says:

    There’s a simple solution to this quandary: those who participate on crowd sourcing sites should not be considered professionals. There, problem solved. If crowd sourcing brings down the perceived value of design work, then those who use it will no longer be working with professionals. They get what they pay for.

    If you one day go hungry because you refused to adapt to the changing times, and because 90% of clients eventually prefer crowd source, you can still be happy as a clam because you are still a professional.

    There, I think that’s a good, round-about solution.

  110. Kat says:

    You know what, you are absolutely right. The so called clients there have no really idea what they want even though they pretend to do so and they just go for the flashy and whatever gets the most effects that somebody learned to use on photoshop and doesn’t really matter if it works or not. This is not design, this is making things look in a certain way. Forget about usability, navigation, information architecture, readability, if is right for the the target audience… yes there is not point for this.

  111. bobskie says:

    True to designer’s life as mine .. and this wakes me up. I still join contest if I have time and at times i feel like I can easily win a prize.. but after reading this, i guess I won’t try again. Before I get my job, I started with 99designs, RentACoder(now VWorker) and other design contest /crowdsourcing sites. Well, last time I tried a contest at 99designs and lose, i feel the hurt even I got 4 or 5 stars, stars didn’t matter anyway.

  112. Kat says:

    oh stars don’t matter at all!!! The “clients” there have no clue of what they want or better yet what they need. They say they want certain style but when they get it they don’t want it and go for something absolutely different. You can get 5 stars or 2 and that does not mean you don’t have a good design it just means the client wants to see how much more you will do for him. I also noticed a lot of designers and clients don’t care if it good for the target audience is intended for. One client once asked for a certain typeface without proving it (meaning oh designers get it for me for free). So if you want to get into it, do it for fun, for the sake of designing and do it cause you want to and you know you can do it better than anybody there. don’t do it for the prize and don’t take it personally or hurt, they have no idea what is good for them or what is design whatsoever

  113. Preston Lee says:

    Grace,
    Very well said! Thank you for the mention of GDB as a place to learn how to market your design business. I wish you the best of luck in everything!

  114. Josh says:

    Hi, well I started just this February in 99designs so far I got 56 contest and 6 wins and already have $4165. I’m from Philippines too, and for me that’s a lot already comparing a minimum wage of 272 pesos ($6+/day or around $156+/month as a Computer Technician/Graphic Designer at the same time) here in Baguio City.

    A let down for this kind of site is yes too much spent time without the assurance of winning because of the competition. But of course why not assure yourself to win. I can also say that most contest I entered in to, I didn’t really give my best. Another wasted time, yes. But now I only go for the contest where I know I have the chance of winning and I know I can nail it. It is really hard when your starting, but I can see my self improving and being competent. Not bad earning $1000+ in a month I believe even though I don’t have a diploma in design.

    …just curious, some big companies ie. WWE, got there site made by a well known design agency, but I thought it wasn’t competitive enough. I mean a lot of big companies doesn’t have even great sites made by known design agencies.

    And by the way, I know most designers know to educate there client if they don’t know what they’re up to, right?

    I enjoyed reading your article! Great job!

  115. Rayman says:

    Please don’t blame crowdsourcing site’s when graduate graphic designers/web designers/etc. can’t get any client or making the design industry go to where it shouldn’t – that is so selfish.

  116. No, selfish (and stupid) are the amateurs who are ruining the design and publishing industries by their short-sighted support of crowdsourcing when experienced hands try to enlighten them on why crowdsourcing is such a bad thing.

  117. Rayman says:

    I don’t want to argue. But I just want to say I earn $2500+ a month from 99designs.com with competitive designs.

  118. Rayman says:

    And another thing, I believe we all have our opinions and us who are here has the right to be where we want to be. So don’t lecture us on what we must to do and tell us where we must be, and don’t blame us and call us stupid just because clients prefer crowdsourcing sites, bad thing for you but good thing for us. That’s just how the world goes, accept it.

  119. Well, first off, as a professional designer I have every right to tell you–in a civil tone, of course, which I believe I have maintained–that those of you who take part and maintain these “competitive” jobs boards are supporting the bane of the whole industry. When the next wave of penny-on-the-dollar designers come along and price you folks out of the ability to make a living–and come they will, attracted by your example–you’ll be in the same boat. And if you can’t see that it’s unwise and against your own self-interest to keep on the path you’re on, I don’t know that there’s much hope you’ll ever get it. Design should be more than the commodity your participation in such boards and competitions makes it. But if you don’t understand the lack of respect that demonstrates for the profession, all other designers, and ultimately yourself, you’re missing out.

  120. Tommy says:

    Regardless of whether you are right or wrong, Stephen – and Grace, for that matter – you still come off as a couple of people telling other people what’s best for them.

    Couple of things:

    1) There will always be folks who see the value in going with a single designer, and paying a fair price, so this entire conversation is kind of pointless. Crowd sourcing isn’t the boogey man you seem to think it is. If anything, it makes it easier for you by helping to filter out the cheapos from the people who will pay a real price.

    2) There will always be people who make consistent money from these contests, either through sheer luck, or through developing a reputation among the contest holders. Therefor, it’s safe to say that these sites are going to continue to attract designers to them. Deal with it.

    3) Like it or not, there are a lot of business who see the value of crowd sourcing. It is only going to get bigger. Deal with it.

  121. Stephen Tiano says:

    Tommy, with all due respect, I’m not TELLING anyone anything about THEMselves. I’m relaying what in MY experience is bad for the industry I’ve been in in one form or another since 1978, publishing, and in design since about 1990. If it makes anyone uncomfortable, don’t read anything with my name on it. I’m sure people with far less experience than I can tell you things that are more in line with what you’d like to hear.

    As for your “couple of things” …

    1. Conversation is never pointless. You can take what you want and filter out whatever you want. I don’t THINK crowdsourcing is a bogeyman. I do, on the other hand, know that it lowers the lowest common denominator over time. And although you think you know that it “filters out cheapos,” what you fail to either see or acknowledge is that this leads to lower expectations over time. I realize that younger people–it was that way when I was young, it’s not unique to today’s younger people alone; and I’m not implying that I know you’re young or not, I’m just pointing out this–tend to be impatient and don’t look at the the long picture. But this is what tends to happen over time, despite your thinking conversation is pointless and that crowdsourcing is not so bad.

    2. These sites will continue to exist as long as contestants and the people seeking work his way don’t realize that the people really making out are the parasites who own these contest sites.

    3. The businesses who see value in crowdsourcing are low-quality, low-imagination excuses for entrepreneurs who aren’t willing or able to invest in their own success but want guarantees that they’ll be successful, kind of like sports franchise owners who want ballplayers to willingly limit what the owners can offer to pay them. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: There’s no guaranteeing in capitalism. Deal with it. ;-)

  122. Tommy says:

    With all due respect in turn, your reply is full of opinion. Take your reply on number 3 as an example. What is your basis for claiming that businesses that use crowd sourcing are low-quality?

    Crowd sourcing makes sense to business owners because they can see lots of versions of their logo at a lower price. There’s nothing “low-quality” about that, it’s just shrewed business sense.

    For number 2, you completely missed or ignored my point. Despite your opinion on the matter, there are a few people who consistently make money on these sites. Surely you can’t fault them for doing something that works for them. That thousands of designers would flock to what they’re doing is only natural, and is not their fault.

    Of course the site owners make the most money. That doesn’t make the enterprise any more evil than any other for-profit business model.

    1. Yes, it cheapens design over time. As I said, however, there will always be those who are willing to pay for quality. If you want to compete, start your own site and advertise, and then have the quality to justify the higher price.

    What it boils down to is this: adapt or die.

    That has always been, and will always be, the nature of business. Not even huge paper back publishers can stand in the way of the Kindle. Likewise, you will not be able to stem the tide here, either. You’re just talkin’ into the wind, bud. Sorry.

  123. Rayman says:

    And again, please don’t blame us. We are just doing want we want to do, because we chose to.

    This is what the real world is, survival of the fittest, face it.

  124. Tommy says:

    Just for the record, I don’t participate in crowd sourcing, myself. I’m just saying that it’s futile to moan about it.

    I’m sure lumberjacks moaned about the chainsaw when it was first invented. Evolution is the nature of things.

  125. Lutu Nicolae says:

    Hey guys,

    Here`s one designer that doesn`t do spec work (at least not on this site) and he does logo design for 5$.
    http://fiverr.com/scorpion6/make-any-kind-of-logo-design?autoplay=true
    And there are a lot more from where that came from. What do you have to say about that? Surely you don`t blame the guy for making an honest living. Or what about the thousants of designers on bidding sites that bid less than 30$ for logo design, stationary and even web design. Let`s complain about them too. If i bid 200-400$ for a logo maybe i will get one job a month (because i have a great portfolio; that`s me being modest ). But if i participate in few contests and reuse my old logos if not sold i could easy make more than 1000$ a month (average salary in my country 200$). And don`t think that i work my a.. off. NO! I have a 2 and a half year old boy and spend a lot of time with him, i choose my contests wise and if i don`t like one i simply don`t enter. I have developed working relations with lots of my clients from the winning contests and guess what. They pay me a lot better than the ones i have from bidding sites.
    And there are a lot of professional designers on those crowdsourcing websites that you`ll feel ashamed showing your portfolio to, so quit about not being professionals or not knowing about typography or design. The downside is that you might not get paid for that particular contest but you know that before entering so no one is forcing you to enter and you still own copyright to your own designs and you could adapt them to other competitions. So if you`re weak and don`t handle the pressure or you are a crybaby because you loose please, all you great designers out there, don`t enter. Let us try our luck at it but don`t preach us that is wrong to do it.

  126. Stephen Tiano says:

    What in the hell is it with you crybabies who feel the need to tell those of us with experience and a point of view that doesn’t conveniently agree with your short-sighted, selfish reasoning for entering into design contests and crowdsourcing angles? I’m not saying you can’t do it–as if I could stop you! And I’m not telling you to shut up when you talk about it. But I expect the same courtesy. I’m always suspicious of people who tell me to pipe down, but expect the world to greet every word of theirs as a pearl of wisdom. Makes me think that, deep down, they, too, suspect that their position is full of holes.

  127. Tommy says:

    Wow. You should probably have re-read your earlier posts before making that comment.

  128. Actually, I did. Nowhere did I tell anyone they shouldn’t speak their opinion.

    Tommy, I’m curious … Do you support yourself with your graphic design work? Do you have a family, a household, to support? Would you like to get to a point where your principal income is from design work and it helps you enjoy a comfortable lifestyle? Do you think that encouraging more buyers of graphic design work to operate on the nickel and dime model will help you reach goals like that?

  129. G Machey says:

    Having worked in an in-house design team, the scenario she described is very realistic. Only I was paid.

  130. Abraham Ayala says:

    Thank you! I just fond 99designs today, and I am afraid to admit it, I signed up. :( After reading this article, I sent an email requesting to deactivate my account. Times are though right now, I just graduated with a Graphic Design Degree, and I didn’t realize that by signing up and exploiting myself this way, I was causing harm to Our profession. It is websites like 99designs that make customers think that anyone can design. I will begin to take more pride in what I do! Thank you for Opening my eyes! I hope others realize this and opt out!