Is Spec Work Evil?

Video and transcript of the SXSW ‘Is Spec Work evil’ panel debate

Spec work, design contests and ‘crowdsourcing’ have ignited passions across the graphic design community. Companies like 99designs, Crowdspring and their ilk are making millions from the efforts of unpaid designers and aren’t likely to go away. Are they the wave of the future that ‘democratizes’ design, opening up the industry to amateurs and hobbyists? Or are they exploitative for designers, risky for buyers and a threat to the graphic design industry itself? An ‘Is Spec Work Evil?’ panel was held at the 90 version of South by South West (SXSW) that tried to determine exactly that. Featuring industry leaders from both sides of the fence, the panel was lively an often heated – something that’s missing in the 10 minute YouTube video version (above). If you’re so inclined, you can read a transcript of the entire debate below.

Is Spec Work Evil? SXSW ’09 panel debate transcript

Jeff Howe (Wired): Alright, we miked? Yeah, we are – hey! Hey, everyone, welcome to ‘Is Spec Work Evil?’- the online creative community speaks. We want to go quickly up here, because we really want this to be about you guys speaking. We want to get a sense… Well let’s do introductions first so that you know who all of us are. My name is Jeff Howe, and I am a contributing editor to Wired Magazine, and last year I published a book called The Rise of Crowd Sourcing. Sorry-my publisher wrote – so I never remember. The crowd driving the future of business, and it was expanding on an article I had written for Wired Magazine about 3 years ago called the Rise of Crowd Sourcing, they coined that term. I’m going to let everyone else introduce themselves quickly, and then we want to jump in.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff (Threadless): Hi, I’m Jeffry Kalmikoff, partner and chief creative officer of Threadless and Skinny Corp. We were in Jeff’s book.

David Carson (David Carson Design): I’m David Carson, and I’m not in Jeff’s book, and I’ve been a graphic designer for about 20 years.

Lydia Mann (AIGA): I’m Lydia Mann, and I’m the web director at AIGA, the professional association for design.

Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research): I’m Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst at Forrester. I cover social media, a.k.a, crowd sourcing.

Mike Samson (Crowdspring): I’m Mike Samson, I’m the co-founder of

Howe: Alright, excellent. We want to get a sense of who you are, too, so I just want to do a quick poll. How many people here would self-identify as a graphics professional? How many people here would identify as a client of graphics professionals, that are a consumer of graphics work. Okay, that’s great. So, a pretty good mix. Okay – really quickly – we want… Just so we have a framework for this debate, we will define Spec Work, and we are going to use the AIGA definition which is, “It is work done without compensation for the clients speculation.” Spec Work has become a lot more controversial in the last couple years with rise of sites like Crowdspring, like 99designs, which have created a marketplace in which consumers of graphic work can post creative briefs directly to the creative communities that gather on those sites, at which point, the creators submit work in the hope of winning the contest. Let’s jump off here – we’re going to try to stick to our side of the debate to about half hour, thirty-five minutes to give you guys time to weigh in, as well. I think the central question-and there’s been a lot on the blog in the last couple weeks about this and what’s come up a lot in those blogs, and in comments, and on twitter as well – is, does Spec Work democratize the industry or is it devaluing the work of highly trained professionals? I’m going to let everyone weigh in here, and, let’s start with Jeffrey.

Kalmikoff: So, while I don’t agree with Spec Work, I guess my stance on it – which I wrote a blog post about two weeks ago – is that, as a designer, I see the design side of it: where there is fear that there can be this swell of amateur designers that could essentially dilute the pool of professional graphic designers, and it could have a negative effect on the industry. I think that the issue is that, it’s happening online which is basically a catalyst for having the amateurs sort of flood it in a lot faster. Also, as a business owner – in a black-and-white sense – while I don’t agree with Spec Work, I guess I see both sides of the issue. While it doesn’t necessarily answer the question directly of my opinion-which is something that I’m going to talk about further later- is that, I’m not sure, and that was the point of my blog post that I wrote two weeks ago. I’m kind of gray, kind of in the center of it.

Howe: Gray pride has been brought up. Proud to be nuance. Alright – David?

Carson: I would say absolutely that it devalues the value of the profession of individual designers, I think, in a shocking and horrible way. It cheapens the whole industry.

Howe: Lydia?

Mann: AIGA has a long standing and well known position against Spec Work, and yet, late last year we opened this all up for discussion again because there’s been a lot of talk. We posted on our site a request for feedback. We’re collecting feedback, and the question is, should AIGA’s position on spec work change? And, we’re eager to hear from all of you. I think that our position is, that it’s hard enough to do great designs under the best of circumstances and Spec Work pretty much guarantees the worst circumstances.

Howe: Hmm… Jeremiah?

Owyang: Yes, I look at this from an industry prospective. Almost like an economical prospective. Spec Work is here to stay, you cannot stop it, and it’s definitely going to increase during a recession- as buyers have less money, as a new market of people that want to build personal brands want to enter the lower end of the design area and buy designs, and also, some designers may be out of work and may need to find other sources of income. So, I don’t think it’s an ethical question or not.I just see that it’s definitely here to stay.

Howe: Okay, Mike.

Samson: I feel – we feel – that it democratizes the industry. That it gives the people opportunity and access that might not have otherwise had that opportunity and access. The internet enables this. The internet enables people from all over the world to compete on a purely level playing field. In ten months, Crowdspring has built a community of over 17,000 creatives. Some of them are good, some of them, not-so-much, but they all have an equal opportunity, and equal access to clients, and that’s democratization

Howe: We’re going to go back to Mike because I think there’s one question that comes up a lot, and is difficult to answer, is – who’s using this? Is this a new market? Or, is this a cannibalization of an existing market for graphic services?

Samson: Well, I can speak from Crowdspring’s experience and prospective and tell you who we’re seeing on both sides of the equation, because we speak equally to two audiences. We speak to an audience of buyers and consumers of these services, and to an audience of creators and suppliers of these services. On the buy side, we have a range of buyers. We see everything from mom-and-pop businesses, to people doing designs for their personal blogs, to people looking for a logo or brand identity for a new small business, all the way up to major brands, agencies, creative shops leveraging this community looking for ideas – looking for new fresh work that they might not have had access to before

Kalmikoff: But what percentage of small business versus large brands and existing agencies?

Samson: Small businesses are by and far the lion’s share of it, and that’s who we built Crowdspring for, frankly. We didn’t build Crowdspring for the brands and agencies, but we welcome them, and we recognize that there is value for them to find there.

Howe: So I think it’s safe to say that we’re in a state of transition here – of serious flux. Right now, Wired- a couple days ago – I made the case that what’s happening in graphic design is that, there’s a use for the knowledge. That happened to stock photography, and there’s differences, and certainly at the beginning the argument in stock photography was- well- it’s just a new market, and maybe just a little bit of re-lap, a little bit of cannibalization… But I think that we’ve all seen over the last, that it was a fenrel(?) state. It quickly became obvious that lot’s of traditional eaters of traditional stock photography just went to iStock photo, and other micro stocks. So this is a question for everyone – just raise hand-who wants to grab it? But, are we going to see the same thing with graphic design? Is this going to start gobbling our agents,our clients that are currently signed to big agencies,well established agencies, professional designers – going to move towards a crowd source model? Who wants it?

Mann: I’d like to talk to that.

Howe: Okay, go.

Mann: Design is about communication, and that starts with a relationship, and that’s what’s necessarily going to be missing. Spec is designed in a vacuum.. Actual design emerges when a designer who has a unique ability to understand the client’s specific needs and goals and challenges, is able to then extend from the consulting and problem solving processes, extend a solution that addresses that. Hosting a project without that kind of give-and-take forecludes that relationship. Money, or compensation, is the representation of the clients commitment to that relationship.

Howe: Are you saying that we’re not going to see… that it’s going to arrest itself at these- at what you would call, to me, yesterday when we spoke on the phone-decoration. That there’s a difference between decoration and design. Or are we going to see it? – As Jeremiah’s arguing, that it’s going to have a significant market presence.

Mann: We don’t foretell the future, and that’s why we opened this up for discussion again.

Howe: Okay.

Mann: I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Howe: David?

Carson: None of us knows what’s going to happen. And I’d say right now, that no serious or professional designer would be associated with this site, and I think in fact, by talking to some ad agencies recently that there’s almost a blacklisting of those that do. It’s kind of a negative to say, ‘Oh yeah, I submitted 5000 quick sketches and I didn’t win this time, but I might next time.’ We just think that there’s going to be a growing gap as opposed to some synchronization. I’d just like to – a couple things that Michael said – the number of hits and the number of people that come to your site doesn’t necessarily make it a good site. The people who judge these logos are selected because they contributed a small amount of money, which doesn’t mean they’re qualified or have any experience in judging graphic design, and I don’t think you’ll see any big self respecting organization go this route and spend as little as possible on something that’s probably their most important public design face representing their company.

Samson: Let me just speak to a couple things. First, design in a vacuum doesn’t happen on sites like Crowdspring. Crowdspring provides communication tools for buyers and providers. Does it replace a face to face relationship? – Not necessarily. But, are there tools for buyers and providers – and Jeremiah can speak to this from his experience, – to facilitate that communication, and to facilitate that give and take? Absolutely. To David’s point, there’s all kinds of people working on Crowdspring. There are many which many of us would consider hobbyists or amateurs competing. There are stay at home moms competing, there’s established professionals competing, including art directors from very large agencies who want to keep their skills sharp in logo design – or other types of design.Or just like to compete or are there to learn, or are there to be a member of the community. And I would push back, numbers do mean something. Numbers mean that there’s a demand. There’s a need, there’s a hunger for this, and that’s what we’re seeing on sites like ours.

Howe: Okay, Jeffrey.

Kalmikoff: Okay, a couple things: I agree that sites like Crowdspring basically strip the relationship out of – strip the relationship potential – between the designer and the client, and this isn’t agreeing with what Crowdspring is doing but, I would argue that what Crowdspring and the sites that are similar to it have found a niche where they’re able to basically pair, you know, like C&D level companies with inexperienced designers. From a designers stand point, I think that there’s a ‘being able to get any work done,just trying to practice all the time in any way you can’, I think that’s fine. The relationship part of it is that, the designer isn’t learning how to develop that relationship. It’s most likely that these type of companies are never going to need to need to have a relationship with the designer, because they’re never going to be.. because it’s a one-time shot. That mom-and-pop flower shop just needs something for a sign, right? And again, I’m not agreeing with it all, but I think that – but I don’t think that it’s ever going to creep up to like David said, where they’re never going to have these agencies that are diving into this because the quality of the work is never going to be at the level of what anyone who would be willing to participate on the site is capable of. It’s never going to be, it’s always going to be that kind of low quality, and comparative, comparatively.

Samson: I’d just kind of like to diffuse this idea of sharpening one’s skills by endlessly submitting cute logos, often times ripped off from clip books and this sort of thing, sitting in your kitchen or at home with your pets and your family and endlessly doing little logos, does not sharpen your skills. What sharpens your skills is working with other professionals, maybe attending training work shops, events like this week. But endlessly doing these little silly logos and then equating that to sharpening one’s skills, as I’ve heard a few times, is silly.

Howe: I just want to throw a wild card out there ’cause this is – again, this comes out of having read a lot, like hundreds, of comments the last couple days to these posts that wound up being very contentious- It was interesting seeing a split between, on one side-I mean within the design community – on one side, kind of what you can think of as the master journeyman class of designers, which is to say, established, and the young, as what you would think of as apprentice designers, people who are just coming out design schools, and the younger ones will be like, ‘Hey,I don’t know if you’ve noticed but,it’s a little tough.’ As one poster noted, you know, all the agencies require 3-5 years of experience, and how am I supposed to get that – this sort of class – it’s sort of a Catch-22, and these sites come up that can supply, that can give work to these young designers from companies that can’t afford agencies, seems innocuous that the markets is meeting a demand. Let’s. Jeremiah??

Owyang: I want to back that. So, the general assertion here is that a new market has formed – a lower tier. Bloggers like me that are like, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on blogs, on blog design, so I think a new tier of designers who – I did an experiment on Crowdspring. That’s part of my job- is to experiment with these tools, and a guy who ended up winning, and I didn’t know it ’till it was finished, was out of Budapest, and for him, $250.00 is a lot of money. So there’s a real global tier that is happening here. Now regarding the numbers- the numbers don’t matter, how many people go to Crowdspring, but on the other side, it doesn’t matter if they are a graphic designer with a trained eye like David, it matters on what me, the buyer, thinks is the best to buy. That’s what matters to that particular business.

Howe: Go ahead, David

Carson: Well, you have to remember that, half of all businesses go out of business within three years, and I would say some of that is related to your logo and if it’s bad or wrong – it may hasten that demise. I also want to say to your point that, this whole new market, and everything, and all of a sudden students can now have access to be…

[Cross talk]

Howe: To be accurate, recent graduates who need to pay rent.

Carson: Okay, recent graduates, people who need to pay rent – somehow, the system has worked for many many years, and it’s always been the exact same problem: new students coming out of school. Somehow people have been able to rise up, get work, whatever it took, to make successful careers without going to the kind of bottom-level of these sites.

Unidentified: They didn’t just quit their dreams and start waiting tables?

Carson: Not if they’re passionate about it

Howe: Alright, go ahead, Jeff

Kalmikoff: I guess – to kind of explain what I was saying earlier about participating in those sites to get experience – I agree with David, that just kind of endlessly doing the same thing over and over and over again, ’cause you do see that on the site where, there will be a logo and somebody will submit the same thing and the same style and just kind of, like, keep knocking it out and hoping that somebody grabs it. I think the biggest problem with sites like that – there’s not any feedback from anyone worthy of getting feedback from. The fact of the matter is, and this is one of the biggest reason our company stopped doing client work – and as much as it’s funny to say-we stopped doing client work because clients suck and they have terrible taste, and it became tiresome to convince them after they chose us based on our work that we were right. So, that’s kind of why we stopped doing that stuff, and, on sites like Crowdspring-or any other of those sites – there’s no feedback. There’s no communication from the designers. If you go on the community part of the Crowdspring site – it’s basically, nobody is talking to each other, they’re competing against each other, taking inexperienced designers and forcing them to compete against each other. They’re not helping each other out. Now, I can only speak for what I saw on Crowdspring. I can’t speak for anything I saw on any of the other sites. But, by creating this competition amongst themselves, there’s no opportunity to learn from each other. It’s basically right out of the gate you’re forcing them to compete with each other and they’re never going to learn anything from each other because there’s no point in them talking because it’s basically- you want the other person to fail so you can get your work published.

Howe: This is a very important point, so I just want to put a mic – maybe somebody from 99designs here, ’cause it’s how, you know, it’s not a dirty secret at all, but the secret of stock photos success is that they weren’t selling photos, they were selling community to photographers, is what made iStock suck a powerful model.So…go ahead

Samson: Let me push back strongly. If you’ve spent any time in our forums you will see thousands of threads. You will see in 10 months, about 100,000 posts. You will see the community collaborating on design guides which we post for buyers, how to write a good brief, how to post a good project, how to manage your project, how to get feedback. You will see them teaching one another; you will see them sharing templates with one another. A lot of teaching and collaboration goes on, a lot of collateral. Atmosphere happens, and it also happens in the threads for each project. Excuse me, you see them congratulating one another when they win, you see them saying ‘that’a boy’, ‘great job’, and we think that’s community, and that’s community with a capital ‘c’, and they tell us over and over again that they’re not just there to compete and hopefully win. They’re there to participate, they’re there to learn, they’re there to have a sense of community, they’re there to teach one another. I also just want to address one thing that David said, that absolutely forever, design students, film students, musicians…

Howe: Creators

Samson: Creators of all types come out of school and they need a job, and they need experience, and they’re stuck with that catch-22 that we were all stuck with when we were 22-years-old. And, they take internships, and they take apprenticeships, and they aren’t paid for those, but they do those to build their portfolio, they do those to gain experience, they do those to meet people, and Crowdspring and 99designs and sites like ours enable that in a different way, in a bigger way that the internet allows.

Howe: Someone respond to that, we have more questions, but I just, it seems like…

Carson: So they – on a much lower level – they’re having the discussions with people they might at a special school or program or training or something so – I’ve been to the site, I wasn’t able to find any of this material that he is talking about so…

Kalmikoff: Neither did I.

Carson: So I think, and he’s said the same thing, so I think it’s interesting that you have a site selling design that is so poorly designed, but I…

[Cross talk]

Samson: There’s a big link at the top of every page that says community that takes you right there..

Carson: Assume – well – we both saw this.

Owyang: Let’s talk about the buyer.

Mann: Yeah.

Owyang: Okay, yeah, I’m the buyer.

Kalmikoff: Wait – can I say something real quick-can I say something real quick?

Howe: Really quick, and I’m moving on with Jeremiah.

Kalmikoff: Just because you have community at the top of your site does not mean that you have community in your business, okay.

Samson: Just because you say that doesn’t mean we don’t

Owyang: Okay, so.

Mann: I’m with Jeremiah, I’d kinda’ like to move on to the buyer side of this.

Owyang: Yeah, so you know, there’ll be a lot of blog posts, just post some links to the community and we’ll settle that little tiff. Now, let’s talk about the buyers side- there’s been a lot of focus on the artist’s side, which is very important, but to make an economy work you have to have both of these things, so, I experimented with it and I got a lot of sub-standard designs, so that was one big problem with it, that there’s a lot of stuff there that I would pay for it to not be on my blog. Now the second thing is, I had to spend a lot of time filtering through, and providing comments.It took me. I think I did like 70 comments, and to reply, constant conversations, so, it was inexpensive, but it did cost me a lot of work as a buyer, and I would expect that would be the same for others

Samson: 97 comments (?)

Howe: And I just want to say something quickly, ’cause this is like what I’ve done 24 hours a day for the last 3 years is look at crowd sourcing models. 90% of what is submitted will suck. We know this. It’s no longer a topic for debate. I get this a lot, it’s like, most of it sucks, I say, ‘yep’, and if the community does not have a good filter on it, or if the person – the client – isn’t willing to wade through a lot of it then, that’s a problem. If the filters are good, then it’s not a problem, ’cause it’s often the 10%, and it’s often the clients find (?)- and I’ve seen this over and over again – you know, the clients are happy with what they’re getting, and it seems from my own personal research, that this has been the case with Crowdspring as it certainly is in other places. I do want to move on a little bit because we want to – I want to – know what my panelists think about the inevitability. There is this idea I’ve helped propagate myself, that, this is inevitable. There’s sort of three stances here, and I’m curious where people fall: It’s inevitable, and it is what it is, and you have to adapt to it, or stand by and watch it take over your industry, or be, it’s inevitable but we can shape it and we do have some power.Or, see that it’s not inevitable and this is that no-spec position that everyone here is more or less familiar with. Seems like people here are pretty well – no-spec is just taking a designer, clients should not use spec work, and designers should not design for them. That, the third stance being we can eradicate this or we can at least arrest its growth. Where do you guys fall? One minute each, and then let’s go to audience questions

Kalmikoff: Okay, so my standpoint on it is that, it’s both. You know.

Howe: You’re not that (?) – wow

Kalmikoff: I’m sorry, I’m outta’ here. Spec Work has been around for a super long time, I think that the biggest issue with it. And the reason it’s a super hot topic right now is because it was something that agencies did before and it was some of that gray area that – you know, it wasn’t that great – you know, sometimes the benefits outweigh the negatives because if, you know, you realize what you are getting yourself into. You realize the risks, and I spoke about that on my blog post, the entirety of Hollywood is based upon Spec Work, the auditioning of Spec Work, right. I think the biggest issue is that sites like Ross and Mike’s and everyone else’s that are similar to that are taking that spec model and turning it into a business itself, and pushing it online, and I think that’s where the negative is. But, at the same time, also looking at it from sort of a high up view, it’s a micro minority of the design industry as a whole, and right now, I think the fact that we’re even talking about this, is helping these sort of sites, and I think that once people – once it sort of – like the hoopla of it all – goes away, and sites like these just continue to – I don’t see them growing to take over the industry, I see them taking, at least being, a slightly bigger micro minority and it’s going to be it is what it is, but I don’t see it going away, but I also don’t see it being a threat industry as a whole, in a big way.

Howe: So the threat’s been overblown. Okay, here to stay, but on a smaller level – David?

Carson: I think I would say one of the initial problems I had with looking at this site is that, these are not artists. These are not people who are passionate about design, about art, about graphic design – these are business people trying to do a successful startup, and their site reflects that very, very strongly. That this is their priority, it happens to be artists and designers, but it could very well be another group or product. I think you’ll always have bottom dwellers, both in clients and buyers, so that probably isn’t going to go away, but hopefully, as I mentioned before, with half the businesses going out in three years, these groups will be part of that half. Having said that, they rely on these number of businesses going out because that means new businesses, new logos, more numbers, so it’s to their advantage if their crummy logo helps the company goes out, because there’ll be another company starting up.

Howe: Do you see this model growing?

Carson: About growing – well, lets hope not. But, if you look at their site or talk to them, they’ll tell you everyday how much it’s growing, so it’s very much a business proposition: a new launch, a hit study, and it seems to be successful in that respect.

Howe: Okay – Lydia?

Mann: Inevitable doesn’t apply because it’s already in existence. So, there’s that.

Howe: Well the AIGA gives the inevitability some credence as it’s decided to adjust it’s position and wants to take comments.

Mann: We’re taking information about that, but, kind of the most important comment I’d like to hear, and please, I’m inviting you all to come to our site and give it to us, but I’d love to hear stories about designers who have ended up having a positive experience, a growing client interaction over time, that started as Spec Work. Personally, I’ve never heard that, but I’m open to be convinced. There are… the technology has made this easier – that this has always existed and that technology has made this easier. Technology has also made it easier to help people use tools and present themselves as designers, and that’s great, but, call it what it is. That’s there. So AIGA encourages competition and supports designers through the entire span of their careers. So, let me hear from you.

Howe: Okay – Jeremiah?

Owyang: Yep, it’s here to stay. You know the Twitter bird logo that I see right there on the screen – that was spec worked. Mashable is doing a large design contest for 2500 bucks. It’s here to stay – they’re the top 8th most popular blog on the internet. However, Spec Work while has its upsides being inexpensive, it has a lot of downsides as well. So, there is a lot of lower quality work, no doubt about it. Two, it requires a lot of work from the buyer to be participating in it, and three, it’s very tactical. So, my specific recommendations to businesses are – the buyers, never outsource your design strategy, that stays close to heart. To designers, offer more than just tactics, be part of the strategy, give them more, understand the branding, understanding the marketing – so don’t be that small creative tactic going upmarket, that’s it.

Howe: that’s interesting, Mike

Samson: it’s here, it’s not going anywhere, it’s going to grow, we believe it’s a market expander, not a cannabilizer, we believe it gives access to lots of small businesses that didn’t have access to good design at a reasonable price before, and gives lots of access to designers young and old who didn’t or don’t have access to buyers, to clients in the same way. We’ve been tossing about dome pejoratives here about small business. In 2007 the US alone saw almost 500,000 new small businesses a month created. They’re the engine of growth in this country, listen to any politician , they’re going to tell you that 30% of our GDP plus is attributable to small businesses. Lots of them do go out of business, that’s always been the case, maybe design has something to do with it, maybe not, but they are the engine of growth in the world, and they need access to this, and they can’t afford a $5,000.00 logo many of them, and they can’t afford to pay for them, and they need a way to do this, and the internet enables it. I want to just respond quickly to one thing Lydia said, because I can answer it in part about follow on work. Our designers, roughly 50% of them, are getting follow on work with clients that happens off site after they win and many who don’t win a project are also getting work from clients they’ve met on Crowdspring and sites like ours. It continues to drive their careers, it continues to help them make a living, and it won’t go away because the need is there, there’s demand.

Mann: Then maybe you can get them to post a comment.

Samson: They have.

Mann: On AIGA’s site.

Samson: You bet’cha.

Howe: Alright, I just want to get that right, ’cause that’s actual an interesting that’ (?) something that people were asking on the forums is that, if a client picks a designer in this contest forum, then can they just go back to that client-maybe never use Crowdspring again; they found a designer to work with, is that…

Samson: That is not only our assumption, but that’s one of the bits of value we offer designers.

Howe: Right.

Samson: ‘Cause we don’t do anything to prevent that.

Howe: Okay

Samson: Some of the traditional sites, e-lance guru for instance that work on work on an RFP model do everything in their power to prevent those relationships from forming

Howe: Right

Samson: And we actually encourage those relationships, we think that this is value that both buyers and creators can extract

Howe: Alright.

Owyang: I’m likely to do that for that guy in Budapest.

Howe: Okay, I want to set up audience questions, and we’re going to set up a Twitter back channel here, it’s just going to be hash marks, Spec Work ’09. Everyone got that?- I was just going to have people send something in mind, but I realize this debate should go on after we end, and I’ll want my own Twitter account back, so, hashmarks, Spec Work ’09 – everyone got that, it’s not written down, and then we’re going to go to audience questions. So, we’ve got one right now. Line up at the mics for everyone that doesn’t know

Audience Question: I have a question about advertising agency creative professional versus the more new to the market. I think in the recession we see a lot of clients, and even before this, started to go to their agencies and they start to be extremely prescriptive, they stop listening to professional ideas, and they know what they want and they want to see you develop that specific thing, and –

Howe: We – please go ahead

Audience Question: And as a creative professional you know it sounds very high-and-mighty, but you know, hopefully know a little better, want to work with them to develop those ideas and those thoughts. Do we see this type of work as continuing? Is it watering it down? Is it sort of perpetuating that model of that lesser work, or is it contributing to it?

Howe: Whoever wants to take it, you’ve got one minute, ’cause we’ve got a lot of questions.

Kalmikoff: I just want to throw one thing out there real quick. I want to throw out the point that, as a creative professional, you do know better, and I think that any designer out there needs to stop doubting themselves as to whether or not they know better, what would serve the client. I mean, I don’t generally go to my doctor and say, you know, I’ve got like this crazy rash and I’m just looking for your opinion, and if he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, take this medicine’ and I’m like, ‘Alright, thanks, no.’ I mean, like, you go to somebody’s who’s a professional to get their professional opinion, and as a professional designer, if someone’s coming to you to get your work, then you know better than they do, and that should be the position, because if not, then they can do it themselves.

Howe: [Snickers]

Audience Question: Right – but is this not – sorry.

Howe: I… we… can’t… I’m sorry, we’ve got so many questions that I just want to give everyone a chance. We can’t do back and forth, sorry – um – please.

Audience Question: Hi. Yeah I’ve used Crowdspring, and I think for five or six logos now. I deal exclusively with small businesses. I just want to make sure I’m clear on this – David, you are not a fan of Spec Work.

[Cross talk][Laughter]

Carson: I’m weighing it, I’m weighing it.

Audience Question: But I just want to say, you know, where would you expect me. I think Mike made the comment, I mean, they can’t afford four or five thousand dollar logos, and they can’t, you know, so I am appreciative of sites like Crowdspring, and you know, where else would small businesses go to get this kind of work, and just one more comment – you know, don’t think that the customer’s stupid, I hear a lot of the customer’s stupid syndrome up there and the customer is not stupid.

Carson: I’m curious where you and these sites come up with these figures, $5,000.00 for a logo? That’s unheard of on the Crowdspring site, it’s closer to $200.00 or $500.00

Audience Question: Are you suggesting then, that to hire you?

Carson: So, I’m curious as to how these people-

Howe: That’s an agency.

Carson: Who aren’t designers come up with these figures, and then designers are supposed to nod and say okay, thank you. So, I think there’s a real discrepancy there. Somehow, again, businesses have been able to get logos for many many years without these services, and you know you say – what about these companies that can’t afford this $5,000, this figure you somehow came up with, which again I said out of thin air, I would certainly make the case to those companies maybe they cannot afford to not get a professionally designed logo even if it means paying a little extra than $125.00 on one of these anonymous sites.

Mann: Can I have a quick response on that.

Howe: If you can keep it under 15 seconds. Sorry, I just want to get through this.

Mann: Sliding scale is the answer, and once again AIGA’s position is not against people charging as much or as little as they’d like – it’s about being compensated for your intellectual property.

Howe: Okay.

Mann: Which is the concept that you’re selling.

Howe: Go ahead, sir.

Audience Question: Hi, I actually work for the local newspaper here in town, and they’re going from a print model to an online model, and I’m used to making a lot of flash ads, and they’re really used to doing Spec-ads from a print side, but it takes us way too long to do it on the web side and, how can we-how can I- try to convince my bosses and clients, that, you know, look at our large portfolio, and see that we’ve done a tonne of work and why do we need to be doing all this Spec Work and wasting that much time and money.

Howe: Anyone?

Samson: Well..

Howe: Go ahead.

Samson: It’s choice – buyers have a range of choice – buyers can choose speculative work, buyers can choose to work in a traditional model, there’s – there’s choices in all kinds of flavours and sizes out there, and the market is huge, and frankly, there’s plenty of room for either choice.

Audience Question: I mean – in this – in my particular business

Samson: Add value. What Jeremiah said – add value.

Howe: This is good. This is a comment coming off the Twitter channel. I’m having a hard time but its very popular channel, the channel’s been populated very quickly, but I like this one – Frank Gruber wonders why this is even a debate. Spec work – Spec Work is just another tier of design, just like blogging is to media. I guess I sort of like this personally because I advocated that what we see with Crowdspring isn’t the supplanting of professionals, it’s the emergence of a complex ecosystem, so I – we – any support or anyone want to throw this out?

Kalmikoff: That’s my stance, that this is – people say is this unique to design industry? Actually anybody in the market industry that has a blog – and this from Peter Kim, I’m quoting from wherever he is – we’re actually trying to tell and sell our ideas in the real time conversation without getting paid hopefully to show thought leadership, so this is happening in many industries.

Howe: If anyone else wants to comment really quickly…

Carson: Many industries are not art related, or are not graphic design, they’re not design at all and I just think you have a different mindset of the people who are passionate about that work and when you lower the value like these sites do – I just don’t think that’s a good thing.

[Cross talk]

Audience Question: Then, are you suggesting journalists and marketer are not passionate about their work..

Mann: Can I interject for a moment here that designers sell the concept… designers sell… need to show the concept by implementing the concept so that means that you are selling – selling the whole cow – and that’s different. That is different, it’s not like architects – or other – other fields that have been compared who might be – be just selling the sketch, basically. What we’re doing, we’re talking about are people selling, or giving away their full product.

Samson: I just have to say something to that. For hundreds of years, writers have written without a publisher – that’s the full product. For hundreds of years, musicians have composed without any kind of guarantee that that composition will be heard in public. How many kids do we know that play in garage bands just for the passion of doing it?

Mann: But are they, are they writing a song for someone else’s? To someone else’s spec?

Samson: Are they writing a song to someone else’s spec?

Mann: You know someone else’s common say, I –

Howe: I –

Mann: … need this song.

Howe: I need to say, this little, mini debate has a long history, and I’m going to weigh-in with Lydia. I think that there is a difference between you know, sitting down, and writing a poem or creating a movie or articulating a vision, than doing something to a client’s specification. I think that that, if you’re doing something to a client’s specification, I understand that ethical logic of wanting to receive compensation for that. I’m not saying that the spec model-

[Cross talk]

Howe: We’re not going to solve this. Let’s go back to the audience.

Mann: Yes

Howe: Well yeah, no, I agree.

Audience Question: So, first off, thanks to the panel – it’s been really interesting. You know, I’ve used large established designers, I’ve used little guys to Spec things out, but Dave, I just have to thank you for an amazing display of unmitigated arrogance. It really does sound – and the best part is – you’re on a sinking ship because it sounds a lot like traditional main stream journalism print 2001, saying ‘if it weren’t for those goddamn bloggers, people would just pay us for our print ads’ – and look – what industry has not been made better by competition, because it seems like all of the language that is anti-spec, and not to say that spec is the only way to go – is very similar to tools of shame, licensing protectionism, anything that gets in the way of charging an amazing amount of money for what in some cases is very good work, and in some cases is crap work, says who?

Howe: It’s arguable whether journalism would profit from the competition of loggers – I can definitely relate to both sides of this since the majority of my income comes from a print vehicle, but we’re all going to see over the next couple of years whether or not we suffer from, you know – how many of you are going to be living in towns that no longer have a check on their government’s or their private industry. So, I think that questions a little up for debate ,although I hear your points and a lot of them are well taken.

Audience Question: First of all, thanks for a great panel, it’s nice to see a real argument at South by Southwest. I want to say-

Howe: Thank you.

Audience Question: As a small business person for 11 years, I’ve used Hayes Design Outpost actually, and I’ve used it many times, and as a business that can’t certainly afford to pay for a designer to do something amazing. Part of the business-part of the way that you are as a small business – is you try something out, you throw it at the wall, you see what works, and if you get some traction you’ll then go back, you do something better, often I have maintained relationships with designers that have done work for us through these sites and so it’s insulting, David, to small business to say that we’re so stupid, ’cause we had a bad logo we’re out of business. You know, you’re attitude is really offensive

Howe: Okay, let’s move on over here.

Audience Question: Hi, just really a comment more than a question, but –

Howe: This is the last comment that’s not a question- we want some questions, too.

Audience Question: Just ’cause I wear a stethoscope doesn’t make me a doctor, you know, and just cause you have CS3 doesn’t make you a designer, and I think there’s a place for both. You know, I have been a small business owner, now we’re working back on the agency side, but I believe that there’s a place for Bob’s Plumbing to go and get a logo for $250.00 – that’s perfect, but there can be a distinction between what’s good quality graphic design and what just gets the job done and I haven’t heard that distinction made up there.

Mann: But you keep talking about a small business owner or a large business owner getting design for a certain sum of money. What about all the designers out there who are doing the work and are just throwing it up there on the wall and seeing what stuck? They didn’t get anything-that’s what Spec Work is. Spec Work is not a sliding scale. A sliding scale is what all of you can do, but Spec Work is different.

Kalmikoff: I still think that there’s many different ways to do this. I mean if you go back before – I think 99designs started was 2006-2007 something like that – So I mean that-

Howe: We have 2006

Kalmikoff: Okay, so two years ago, before this was possible, there were lot’s of small businesses – ’cause like you said, in 2007 there were 800 kajillion businesses getting started every 38 minutes – they somehow got work, they somehow got work done and I don’t necessarily believe that all of these businesses had blank business cards because they couldn’t afford the $5000.00 logo that everyone keeps talking about. And I think it isn’t the issue that is $5000.00 versus $250.00, I think the issue is that there’s come a way to get stuff done really, really, really simple so people are like grabbing onto that because it’s like, ‘Okay, this is the easiest way to go and get things done’ and then completely discounting any other way to get everything done.And there are many ways to get design work done, and there are many ways to get design work done for cheap. I know lot’s of small businesses that are like,’Hey, you’re a great designer and I can’t afford to pay you but I will give you a small equity stake in my company because I realize that I can’t afford you but I need your work.’ I mean, there are many, there is lot’s of different ways that you can do it. You can do it – appeal to designers emotions and say, ‘Hey look, I really need this, can you help me out?’ I mean, I’ve done work for free, I’ve done work for super cheap for people where I believe in what they’re doing. The problem is, by taking away that- by taking away that communication – you don’t give a shit about these people because you’re reading their brief. You’re not hearing them talk, you don’t hear their passion – you’re hearing what they expect of you, and I would argue that more often than not, small businesses can go and talk to a designer , and plead their case, and bring their price down with the promise of more work potentially, or with any other way to compensate them, and get work 100 times better than you can get by throwing up a creative brief on Crowdspring or whatever, and tossing out $250.00.

Owyang: Let’s go back to the crowd.

Carson: Right on – that’s exactly it.

Audience Question: Hi guys, I just have two questions, actually. The first one is, so how long did Jeff and Davis actually spend looking at the site? – because it took me exactly ten seconds to find the forums and count out the 6,475 threads that are currently going there, and the second part is, so how is Threadless different in the way of selecting t-shirts, compared to designs that are up on Crowdspring? Because to me, they seem to be exactly the same.

Kalmikoff: I know, and a lot of people think that way so, before you clap, you should probably hear the answer. The difference between Crowdspring and Threadless is simple: Crowdspring is a contest, Threadless is not. Threadless is not a contest, it’s never been a contest, it’s an open call. There is no start date, there’s no end date, and we don’t ask for anything except for, whatever you dream of has to fit within the specifications of what’s possible to get printed.

Audience Question: So, is that a Spec?

Kalmikoff: No, those are technical specifications – those aren’t creative specs – and that’s the difference. The difference would be if somebody put up a logo project on Crowdspring or 99designs that was for, you know, John’s Garage, right – they would be similar to us if a logo that said Jimi’s Sausage Factory could win. Now granted, that’s not the name of your business, but that’s okay because it didn’t follow the spec. There’s no spec on Threadless, there’s – and furthermore, I’d like to point out that Threadless pays five times the industry standard for a t-shirt design, you pay $2500.00. I wanna’ see $2500.00 from any big industry. We offer so much more to the community by way of artist programs, by way of paying designers every single $2500.00 for their design, another $2500.00 if it gets voted to be the best of the month, $20,000.00 if it gets voted to be the best of the year, $500.00 every single time it gets reprinted- a world of opportunities from people getting work and getting mentioned by big brands. I mean, but essentially it’s the same thing.

[Cross talk]

Unidentified: Jeff, I have a question.

Samson: Can I counter?

Unidentified: Can you answer the second question?-

Samson: I’m sorry, hold on one moment.

Howe: No, you can’t.

Samson: So, Crowdspring, in 10 months has escrowed over a million dollars in awards, has paid out $750,000.00 in awards.

Kalmikoff: In how many projects?

Samson: My basic –

Kalmikoff: In how many projects?

Samson: Well, we posted about 2,700 projects. My basic calculation is that, Threadless, an established business who we love, greatly admire – pays out about a million dollars a year. In 10 months, a million dollars, so it’s not about dollar value.

[Cross talk]

Kalmikoff: It’s about community, which you bring none.

Samson: Threadless provides wonderful opportunity for designers. Crowdspring, 99designs, provides wonderful opportunity-

Kalmikoff: For small business owners like yourself –

Samson: And designers, designers are –

Mann: We have 10 minutes, and –

Samson: But, let’s continue. I’m very sorry.

Howe: Yeah, we should keep going. Go ahead, sir.

Andrew Hyde: ( I’m Andrew Hyde, I am familiar to all the panelists. I’ve been very, very, very vocal about this.

Howe: But we owe our title to you.

Hyde: Spec Work is evil, says Andrew Hyde, and I’m in a unique post for having a blogpost being the 3rd thing for when you google Crowdspring, and I receive daily e-mails and complaints and such. I voice my negatives – actually we’ll pass through the next question. Like, I see this and what’s the goal and how does this solve the problem. The goal is that, a sliding scale designers don’t have a marketplace to really connect to a sliding scale market. I really am scared of an industry standard of having to complete custom work for the chance of getting paid. So, going down three or four years, and I’m not against sliding scale, I’m not against globalization, going down three or four years, you know – I don’t see half the people in this room getting into where they’re at without finding, you know, these small connections and building up their design industry being a US designer, if the industry standard is completing custom work as the standard to have a chance to get paid

Samson: Um, well,- I- we don’t claim to be the industry standard, nor do we see ourselves in the future.

Kalmikoff: But it evolves that way.

Samson: I – well – you’re looking in a crystal ball. Personally, I don’t think it will evolve that way. I think sites like Crowdspring will be an option. I gotta’ tell you, Andrew, I would be impressed if someone could start a sliding scale, global, internet based design business that-

Kalmikoff: Why don’t you do it?

Samson: Why don’t I do it?

Kalmikoff: Yeah.

Samson: I mean, it’s not our model.

Kalmikoff: You’re right – it’s 99designs model, which you guys took, so-

Samson: Well –

Howe: Oooh.

Samson: No, actually, the speculative work has been around for a long time, and the 99design guys will agree.

Kalmikoff: Right, speculative work has been around since the beginning, except for the fact that taking speculative work and turning it into a design model and putting it online – like what 99designs did , and you guys copied – is new

[Cross talk]

Samson: Right –

Kalmikoff: So, if you want to do something new, then why don’t you create a sliding scale business?

Samson: Actually, actually –

Kalmikoff: That actually provides value to designers-

Samson: I’d like to share with you, Jeffrey, that Threadless was our inspiration.

Kalmikoff: You know what – that’s pathetic

Samson: And iStock photos was our other inspiration.

[Cross talk]

Kalmikoff: Threadless being your inspiration – Threadless being your inspiration is a perfect example of you having no idea what you’re talking about.

Samson: Well, I think two can say that. I think there’s a lot of people who might disagree.

Kalmikoff: Right, like, your partner?

Samson: And – perhaps, and you can jump up and down, you can say we’re not Spec and people could argue that.

Kalmikoff: I’m not saying you’re not Spec Work.

Samson: I –

Howe: I wanna’-

Samson: And you also suggest that it’s a different business model and that perhaps it is to a certain degree that there’s lots of business models out there

Kalmikoff: It is a completely different business model, and completely ignoring the fact doesn’t make it not true.

Samson: Well it is a completely different business model that has margined significantly higher than 15%.

[Cross talk]

Carson: I think that you –

Kalmikoff: I don’t care about how much money you make, man. I mean, I really don’t want to find something else to do cause.

Howe: We can take this…

Kalmikoff: Your previous career wasn’t working out for you so, you know –

Howe: Yeah yeah yeah. So, I want to throw something out. I want to use my autocratic position as a, as a – I think there’s a note in the room that no one’s really talking about,’cause we’re talking about how this effects designers, but if we use iStock, and microstocks I should say to be a bit more vendor agnostic as a model, and again, there are differences but – it is a useful,- it’s a useful case study. Is that, you know what little empirical research that has been done on the iStock work force-or what ever you want to call it-the 60,000 artists that have their portfolios up there, 96% do not make their primary income off of photography, so we could say that the vast majority of them would be considered by the IRS to be amateur photographers. However, it’s interesting that also the majority, about 60-70% have some training in a creative field. So, you know part of what we’re seeing here – I would argue here – is not what’s happening to designers, per say, but it is – I want to hammer this point – that it’s a complex ecosystem. A lot more people are entering your field and they may not want to do, they may not want this, they may not want this, they may not want a sliding scale, they may not want clients, they may not want to, they may be the proverbial granny in Tennessee who doesn’t necessarily want to do professional design, they just want to create some logos. So, I just throw that out there as food for thought – that it’s – you know, but I want to stick with you guys, so let’s go over here.

Audience Question: Hi, I just want to admit that I am not a designer. I am a client, so my question is really from a client perspective. Listening to this panel today- it kind of educated me that I may not be educated to make a good decision, or make a good choice on how to select a logo, or how to select a designer for my website, so I kind of challenge the panel here to discuss for me how do I help myself make that decision without making it so much of a high effort for me from a time perspective that I can select someone like Jeff or David, or someone in your industry. How do I connect with you, how do you educate me? I mean, how do we start a dialogue that’s not be going to you and saying, ‘hey I need some work done,’ and you say ‘Okay, here’s the price.’ How do we get that dialogue online- because that’s what I’m looking for. I don’t want crap work

Howe: I agree with that.

Kalmikoff: You know if – so I think the answer to that is consulting and –

Owyang: No, I disagree.

Howe: No?

Owyang: No.

Howe: Okay

Kalmikoff: Lemme’, lemme-

Howe: Go ahead.

Owyang: You must have a branding and a marketing strategy, and that stays within your house.

Audience Question: Yeah, I got that-

Owyang: Good.

Audience Question: Help me

Owyang: So, what I had to do is create a creative brief, and decide what is the elements I want to have – what is the message I’m trying to communicate- who’s the audience I’m trying to reach, and then give some examples of things that I think are effective. One really good way to find out what your market wants, it’s to crowdsource it: You can ask them.

Howe: Jeff.

Kalmikoff: Okay, so-

Audience Question: That’s-

Kalmikoff: So my point – in saying consulting – isn’t like consulting for pay, what I was talking about before is that, people need to remember that designers are just human beings, right. There’s lot’s of times that I, like, went out to dinner with some random person who’s like, I just need some direction trying to figure out what to do, and it’s like, do you have ten minutes. I mean,maybe that’s the thing and I’m just like a community type guy, and I’m totally willing to be helpful, and when I was doing freelance work, I would totally do that because, hey, maybe it would turn into work for me, so, if you have an idea of what you’re looking for, but you’re not quite sure on how to disseminate that down into something to choose, you know, asking somebody for some of their time, I mean it, it’s the easiest way.

Audience Question: But no, no – but my question is about who, how do I find you, the qualified designers, because if I don’t crowdsource, I’m not going to be able to find you-

Howe: I’m going to ask that we, ’cause this could go offline as soon as we’re done here, hello there, go ahead-

Jason (99designs,com): Hi, I’m Jason from 99designs. I’m definitely part of this discussion so –

Howe: So, for those of you who don’t know, 99designs, has a similar, albeit pre-dating, model. They’re based in Australia, correct?

Jason: Yeah, yep. Although, I’m in San Francisco. Yeah so, I don’t have a question per say, but I just think that the value of the communication that does happen on this site is being way undervalued. I mean, the designers go back and forth with one another, they really help each other out, I mean-

Howe: Speak up a little bit , Jason.

Jason: Sorry sorry, this is a little low.

Howe: There.

Jason: I’ve had many conversations with designers who participate in our communities, who love what they’re doing and the feedback that they get and, the value that they get from just hearing and working with – I mean, you would say that they’re not professional designers, but they’re people who are really trying to express themselves in this way, and they’ve really honed those skills whether you like it or not, and developed an eye, and I know, it’s a key distinction, you know, that you have to realize we’re not talking about the fine graphic arts, that can exist up here, we’re talking about some other way, more functional different tier, and this is just a refinement of the market. And I don’t know, I mean, it’s that simple. But our service really does facilitate the connection and help these people build leads. Like Mike was saying – we also – it’s 50% of the projects done that lead to additional follow – on work completely outside of our service.

Howe: That may be one of the more important statements that was said here today ’cause that’s important to know that. So, as crowdsourcing is emerging in graphic design, what I’ve heard today is that is not just a market place, it’s also a talent finding mechanism. So, that’s important because a lot of the questions here have revolved around this idea of ‘how do I find a designer,’ ‘where is that connection?’ Well I, evidently, to believe these guys, it’s here, and unfortunately we’re going to have to end, but I do want to end with a couple things a couple people have very rightly pointed out. That David Carson here has, is not arrogant – he’s taking a strong stand, I don’t want to speak for you David, but he’s a, but I just want to point out – I asked him, I asked him to take a strong stand. We wanted to bring to you guys a debate, and not just be – and believe me I’ve moderated enough panels where people are nodding and falling asleep, so – You have some Twitter fans, David, they’re saying –

Howe: Yeah, a lot of them seem to appreciate, you know, the best panel at South by Southwest though, and to that, I credit my panelists.

Carson: Can I just quickly say one thing?

Howe: Yeah, go ahead David.

Mann: Can I just please ask people to go to and let me hear what you have to say?

Carson: I would just like to close – and you can take this however you want to interpret it – but, I think its, maybe you should know, this panel was set up by Crowdspring thinking they would get more publicity for their site. And I think they have.

Mann: And I only got added in last night at nine.