Small Rant

So... the other day a friend of mine sent me an email and said her company was looking for some new design work to be done and she thought I might be interested. Well, always looking for more freelance work, I followed her link to get more info on the project and came across this site, 99designs. And, suddenly I was revolted. I mean, don't get me wrong... I was happy my friend thought of me and passed along word of work - but I think I as a designer, am going to have to put my foot down and take a stance on things like this.

Basically, what 99designs is a website where companies, who are looking for design work to be done, can basically sponsor a "contest". And any designer or artist with some time to spare can take as much time as they want to... and enter the contest. The company then picks the design they like best and 99designs pays the designer for their work. Overall, it seems simple and great for the company. They never have to actually deal with an artist and they have tons of designs to choose from.... all submitted to them for free! On the designer end though... if they win the "contest" - great they get some cash. If they don't win... well.... they get nothing.

Full disclosure here, yes.... I have done some design "contests" and yes, I have won some of them. Most of them have been from small companies who didn't really know any better or I myself, didn't really know better. Or, maybe I just had some work that I had done prior that never saw the light of day and entering it into a logo contest was an easy way to earn a few bucks (in that case I get the last laugh). But what we have here with sites like 99designs, is a company who is basically "whoring out" designers. It's letting small companies who don't know any better or maybe have no idea how to hire a graphic designer, get cheap labor and spec work. It makes us as designers... seem like we are all starving artists who will gladly toil our time and creativity away for the small chance that we might win a few bucks here and there. It treats that small company as if they were the king of the world and if we, as designers, should feel privileged to do work for free. That we are salivating... waiting for bread crumbs that come in the form of the sheer overwhelming joy of the slight opportunity to design a logo for your wedding invitation.

And the thing is.... yeah, some of us are going to do it. Sadly, times are tough... no one knows this more than creatives, we understand, we feel... and we need to put food on the table as much as everyone else. So yeah, dangle a carrot in front of our face and we might grab for it. At the same time, it is killing our profession. It is killing the value that goes into what we do and coming up with a unique and original design catered to each project. It is removing the humanity from the craft. Shit, you might as well be going out and buying clip art if that's all you expect your work to be like.

I don't know if this kinda crap happens in any other industry? If I want a custom bike, do I have each custom bike builder spend their time and hard earned money creating the perfect bike for me and then I pick the one I like best and then pay them? No. Would you call ten plumbers over to your house and only pay the one that fixed your leaky pipe the best? No... even though you migth want to. Would you have six different architects create and design a house catered just for you and then you decide to pick and pay the one you like best? No. I mean, yeah... a lot of time designers and companies have to bid for work and make proposals... but they are never actually finished products. Usually those things mean that you'll get the job and then get more work from those clients as you work with them, but here... no, it's slam bam thank you mam and don't let the door hit you on the way out. Oh, and maybe here is an extra $5 for the bus ride home.

As well, as a client buying into 99designs, how do you know that you are getting original creative work suited for you? How do you know that artist didn't just pull it off some clip art page? How do you know it's not something they directly copied from someone else? How do you know that you aren't gonna get sued when someone discovers your logo is the same as theirs?

Take for example, this summer one of Seattle's biggest music festivals "Bumbershoot" created a contest so that designers could create a new logo for the festival. When word got out about this, the design community of Seattle went bat shit crazy? People expect this kinda stuff from small fry companies... but from Bumbershoot? A festival that is supposed to be supporting the arts? So... hackles were raised, letters were written and eventually, Bumbershoot admitted they had no idea that people were passionate about the issue, they were just uninformed and didn't know any better and later canceled the contest.

AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, has a strong stance against "spec work" and even works hard to inform students, educators, designers, clients, and the general public on the risks of compromising the design process. "AIGA believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for the value of their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through engagements with their clients."

Basically, I don't want to come across wholier than thou - but I am going to have to start putting my foot down about this and informing some people about this because they just don't know. And when I say "some people" I mean you. You out there reading this. I may know you, I may not know you, but you probably have a skill or a trade that I myself cannot do. I value you. I value your education and the time you put into your job and your work because that is what makes you... you. If I hire or ask you to do something, it's because I intend on paying you for what your services and skills are worth. At the same time, I value myself. I value my skills and my time and what makes my work unique, creative and original. Unless you buy me tons of beer (my keg of ninkasi is starting to run low) or I am a friend helping you out because I respect you, I am not going to whore myself and my talents out. I am putting my foot down and saying no. No more free spec work. No more "contests". No more work under the guise of "good exposure". And... even if I have to work at Subway making sandwiches to put food on the table, at least I can go to bed at night knowing that I didn't comprise myself or my peers. I can look at myself in the mirror and then wipe the mustard off the side of my face and eat another sandwhich (from Subway, you know?)

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