Disruption is supposed to be an upending of the old guard by introducing a different method of doing things via revolutionary change, as opposed to evolutionary change – faster, cheaper with less headaches.
No industry is immune and the disruption of the design world started some time ago with design contests and crowdsourcing, bringing us finally and ultimately to Fiverr and the so-called “gig” or “sharing economy.”
But first, a trip down memory lane..
The absurdity of the $5 logo.
Several years back, a couple of disparate designers set up some websites meant to poke fun at bargain-basement logo design services, then popping up all over the internet. Most notable was Five Minute Logo, the brainchild of designer and illustrator Von Glitschka where for $5, Von would spend five minutes cranking out a ‘craptacular’ logo when he got around to it on weekends:
Then there was $5 Horrible Logos – a website where somebody would sketch out a truly “horrible logo” for $5 in “beer money.” Yeah, beer money. That’s actually how it was, and still is, marketed:
And my, how we laughed. See, we all understood that these sites were lampooning the notion of a $5 logo. That was the joke. It was far-fetched, nonsensical parody and no-one really thought that $5 – the price of a premium coffee at Starbucks – would actually amount to a decent, usable logo but instead accepted the notion of an awful one. Nobody, I mean nobody, could have imagined that we’d actually be having the following conversation several years later. Of course, all this was before Fiverr – the “anything for $5” site – came along.
Fiverr & the ‘gig’ economy.
If you’re not familiar with Fiverr, here’s the deal – almost anything that can be done or delivered on the internet can be had for five bucks. Many of their ‘gigs’ – that’s what Fiverr offerings are called – are kinda sleazy. For five bones, people will post hundreds, nay thousands, of comments on blogs (and hapless blog publishers – myself included – will spend hours cleaning this crap out of their comment moderation queues.) You can get tons of likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter (paid likes and followers are against Facebook and Twitter TOS – they prefer things to be organic.) For a measly fiver – where the service gets their name – some guy in Pakistan will give your book, product or service a boatload of positive reviews on Amazon or similar sites (once again screwing up the internet ecosphere – Amazon prefers natural and non-biased reviews.) Anyhoo, you get the idea – anything for a buck, or in this case five bucks, incorporated.
The $5 logo.
In this digital design era, it was only a matter of time before Fiverr started their graphic design offerings and viola – the $5 logo was born. For reals this time. Most designers took this in stride with a collective “meh.” As an experiment, designer Sacha Greif took Fiverr up on their offer and ran a project through the service, only to find that many of the portfolios presented were full of other designers’ work, and the delivered logos were knocked off from somewhere else. Quelle surprise. Other than that, most people in the business – myself included – ignored the entire thing. Then Fiverr decided to get a little aggressive and persnippity. How so? Let’s all listen in as they lecture us that anyone charging more that $5.00 for a logo are “ripping” people off:
Gauntlet thrown I guess. Accordingly, and in the interest of fair play, let’s take a closer look at Fiverr, shall we? We can start with this:
Hmmm. See, that’s not us (though we did have to register an account to bitch about it.) That’s some guy from England who decided to use our trademarked house logo and name to market his services on Fiverr, adding insult to injury by doing a piss-poor job of it.
Pro Tip: the chances of buying an original logo from a designer is inversely proportional to whether they nicked their own logo from somebody else.
Then there’s this guy and his fabulous A logo for some company called Asian Builders, registered trademark thingy and all:
Trouble is, that logo is pinched from The Academy – those Oscar guys – and was part of their highly publicized re-brand last year. So either Asian Builders are a fake company, using a knocked-off logo, or this guy just sold The Academy’s new logo to some Asian builders. For five dollars. Of which Fiver takes a buck-and-change in commission (that’s how they make their money.) Either way, methinks the chances of an original logo are slim.
Then there’s this restaurant and food logo gig, featuring some stellar design work for City Burger which is vaguely reminiscent of Burger King‘s logo. Which would be awesome, except that Burger King got to the design first and trademarked it up the wazoo:
Let’s take these two guys – one claims to be from Sri Lanka, the other claims to be from the US but both feature the same examples of their work:
Trouble is, all the logos featured can be found elsewhere – mostly on gallery site Logopond – and are from another set of designers entirely:
Digging into their gig profiles, we can find other examples of logo designs:
We can also find the designs on Brandcrowd – a stock logo site:
Did either of the designers have anything to do with creating these logo examples? Who knows. But both certainly didn’t.
Logo designer Jeff Fisher of Logomotives has been cataloging some of the Fiverr portfolio shenanigans and discovered that gig after gig – supposedly from different providers – all contain the same example logos, one of which is Fisher’s Cat Adoption Team design. Take a look at this guy:
And this guy:
And this guy:
And this lady:
And so on.
Other designers have reported their stuff showing up in Fiverr ‘gig’ portfolios too. Von Glitschka for example, found his concept logo for Logo Lounge being used to promote the services of another ‘designer.’ Let’s break this down graphically to drive the point home:
And on. And on.
Sure, some people might argue that these folks aren’t specifically laying claim to the works (though many are) and that these merely represent logos that a Fiverr denizen could come up with if someone threw a few bucks their way. How important are design portfolios anyway? Well, let’s listen once again to Fiverr, as they give us all sorts of handy logo design tips on their blog:
Now, that’s what I call $5 worth of irony.
Putting food on the table.
Having said all that, am I going to begrudge some poor schmuck selling logos on Fiverr for five bucks? Not a chance. We all do what we need to do in order to put bread on the table (truth to tell, we’ve spent some time in the barrel when designers harped about The Logo Factory’s name, business model and pricing structure.) And the people that buy logos from Fiverr? Well, generally accepted truisms include “you get what you pay for” and “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The whole deal is a massive case of caveat emptor, though it should be noted that purchasing, and using, a toxic logo can end up in some major headaches and expense. Especially if that use goes beyond slapping it on a website banner or Facebook page – re-doing stationery, vehicle wraps and the like can get very costly indeed. My sympathy for a purchaser would be moderated mind you, by the notion that anyone caught out really should have known better.
Ultimately my issue is with Fiverr who take 20% in commission for this nonsense (by comparison 99designs and other crowdsourcing sites take over 40%) while insinuating that anyone who charges more than $5 for a logo – the cornerstone of a corporate identity – is somehow ripping people off. That implies fraud. Theft even. While logo design examples – scraped from logo showcases all over the internet – continue to show up in their gig portfolios? That’s off-the-charts cynical, ironic, sorta douchey and an affront to, oh I dunno, every hard working, ethical designer on the planet. Trouble is, this abuse of intellectual property doesn’t stop there..
Crossing the line?
Fiverr gigs also feature a lot of Photoshop type services too. Amongst them, and again tor $5, a Gigger (is that a thing?) will remove those pesky watermarks and copyright notices from photos so you can use them on your blog, advertising, whatever. The problem with that? Well, those watermarks are usually there for a reason and put there by the owner of the image, invariably to stop this very thing from happening. Controlling image use is the point of these watermarks in the first place.
Watermarks and image control.
Stock photo companies – iStock, Getty, Shutterstock, et al – and their member photographers want to show you their photographs. They make it easy to download watermarked images – called comps – so that you can play around with them in layouts before ponying up for the license and the un-watermarked version. These watermarks are supposed to protect the stock agency and the photographer who makes a few bucks if and when the photograph is purchased. Fiverr gigs throw a wrench into that with stuff like this:
See, that big ‘C’ in a circle is a copyright symbol. What the photographer is telling you is that this photograph is his copyright and he doesn’t want anyone to use it without a) paying and/or b) asking permish. Don’t worry about that though – $5 and it’s gone through Fiverr. How about this guy, who only needs a link to a Getty Images picture and he’ll download the comp for you and take out the protective watermark:
All fine and dandy I suppose – actually it really isn’t – but Getty Images are infamous for seeking out unpaid usage of their images, getting real nasty and threatening offenders for big bucks. Which would get this guy’s “clients” into a world of hurt should they decide to bypass Getty’s licensing fees by hiring this guy for a fiver. Moving along, apparently this guy doesn’t like iStockphoto watermarks at all:
Again, it’s the creatives – in this case photographers – who ultimately get the shaft. Just like the logo designers we talked about earlier.
It’s vectors too.
Services like iStockphoto and Shutterstock also feature a repository of illustration and artwork. Here’s how that works – you can view pixel-based web images on their site, but in order to get vector versions – the editable, usable files – you have to pay a license fee, a portion of which goes to the designer via royalties. Nah – just hire this guy and he’ll bypass all of this legalese mumbo-jumbo. For $5 natch. With Fiverr taking their cut. And the original designer or illustrator getting jack-on-a-stick. His gig (now suspended) shows you how he removes an iStock watermark from a cartoon illustration (the screengrab was taken via my iPhone:)
This guy cuts to the chase. Any vector. Any service. Watermark gone and vector versions delivered. For $5:
That screengrab has been reduced somewhat and the type hard to read, so let’s quote exactly what this gig promises:
“I am going to remove the watermark and convert the illustration you want from shutterstock (or other image bank) on [sic] a vectorized image.”
Awesome, huh? Now, nobody’s ever accused me of being a fan of stock agencies – they pay their photographers, illustrators and designers peanuts while eviscerating the photography industry, my old stomping ground – but it is what it is. I use them from time-to-time, aware that the creatives only get a portion of the fee I paid. It does however, aggravate me to no end when the folks who created this stuff aren’t getting a thin red dime at all.
In the interest of accuracy, it did take me a couple of days to put this post together and some of the gigs have expired, been suspended or no longer show up in a search. Though at time of writing, some still do (at least at 3:08 on Saturday, August 30 when the following screengrab was taken with my iPad:)
In their defense, Fiverr pay lip-service to respecting intellectual property rights – as most that don’t are prone to do – and will take these gigs down if pressed. Trouble is, there’s no report button, you have to make an account to complain and who has the time to police Fiverr’s rapidly growing platform playing whack-a-mole for knocked off stuff? I certainly don’t. Nor does any designer or photographer I know.
A $30 million ‘gig’ economy?
All of this wouldn’t be so bad I suppose, if Fiverr hadn’t just got funded to the tune of $30 million. Though the investors could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and money by hiring this nice lady:
On Fiverr. For $5.