If you’ve been following the design and advertising industry news over the past month or so, you’ve probably bumped into someone sqwaking about the CP+B (Crispin, Porter & Bogusky) crowdsourced project for the Brammo company, creator of the Enteria electric ‘power bike’. If not, let’s recap quickly. CP+B, a big thing among trendy ad agencies, held a $1000 logo design contest for one of their clients, Brammo, on Crowdspring, a Chicago-based design contest (they like to call themselves “crowdsourcing”) website and company. Half the industry freaked out, caterwalling about the gig for days on Twitter and on blogs across the internet. Designers have been carping about design contests (guilty as charged) for years, preaching mostly to the choir – other designers – through organizations like the AIGA and advocacy groups like No-Spec and recent addition Spec Watch. This time was different. This was an ad agency for chrissake, went the thinking. Designers having their lawn mowed by contest sites and so-called crowdsourcing platforms was one thing. An ad agency, high profile one at that, farming out their work was a little bit much (at this point, we could probably insert some “we should all stick together” platitude, but as this is a post that slams platitudes, we’ll leave that for another day). At points the fracas took on a ‘theater of the absurd’ as “Up Yours CP+B” tweets were fed, by RSS, right into the company’s new website home page. When dissenters realized that, their Tweets and messages got a whole bunch of creative.
Yes, we got another spec-work fracas going on.
In the end, CP+B had touched off yet another spec work firestorm (personally, I avoided the mess, and opined on Twitter that if designers had an issue with a company like Brammo crowdsourcing their logo, simply refrain from buying one of their silly, and over-priced, electric motorcycles. But I digress). Whether it was, as some thought, a cynical ploy to get some ‘buzz’ going, or a genuine experiment in logo design contestry (if it’s not a word, it is now) is anyone’s guess. At the end of it all, Brammo took some heat, as did CP+B, while Crowdspring got another load of publicity as people on both sides of the equation hotly debated whether the company itself was a darling of design innovation, or robber barons of the highest magnitude. And whether designers were defending their profession, or carrying on like a gaggle of crybabies, reluctant to sign on to the inevitable result of the global ‘village’.
Defending & opposing spec work and design contests.
There’s lots of blogs that tackled the subject – Creativity Unbound (pro), Fast Company (not so much) to name two – but now CP+B’s Alex Bogusky has weighed in, launching a long blog post over on Posterous entitled “I’ll take ideas for a thousand, Alex“. In it, Bogusky talks about creativity in general, the Crowdspring project in specific as well as throwing out the usual platitudes that are used to defend spec work, design contests and its repackaged cousin “crowdsourcing”. An interesting read, but it misses the point about spec work and CP+B’s contest on Crowdspring entirely.
Is it only about ‘ideas’?
Bogusky talks about everyone having ideas (goes as far to say they’re a “dime a dozen”) and that companies like Crowdspring allow the masses to unleash those ideas. That’s a wonderful sentiment. Truly. And if it were true, hell, I’d be one of the blogs supporting spec work and design contests. Trouble is, this isn’t just about ideas. That’s the concept part. In context, that idea would be me coming up with an “idea” for a logo in the Brammo contest to whit “Hey, I got an idea. Lets use a Bull. A red bull. Just the head. Make the horns into motorcycle handlebars. Have lightning bolts coming out of the snout” (I know it’s lame, but its 7 am and the first cup of coffee hasn’t kicked in just yet). In the context of the Brammo Crowdspring contest, that ‘idea’ isn’t enough. I now have to render the design using software that takes a couple of years to really learn. Unless I’m using a hacked warez version, cost me about a G note to buy. Then I have to upload this rendering to the Crowdspring server, agreeing (through their ‘user’s agreement’) to give Crowdspring an “worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform the content in connection with the Site, in any media known now or in the future.” Usually, I’ll then have to perform a series of revisions to my ‘idea’, completely at the ‘buyer’s’ whim, in order to stay in the running for the vaunted prize (this doesn’t apply to the CP+B contest, something which we’ll get to in a minute). At the end of most design contests, chances are my beloved “idea” has been bastardized into oblivion by the buyer’s “move this, move that, take this other thing out” directions. My “idea”, 21 versions ago, is no longer my “idea”.
Democratization of design or cynical tool for free stuff?
Granted, none of this sounds as romantic as “everybody can be creative and shit”, but hey, what’s a few platitudes between friends. See, Crowdspring (and to be fair 99designs, Logo Tournament, Design Bay, Hatch Wise, Mycroburst, Design Tourney et al) aren’t about “ideas”. They’re about free design work. Concept. Production. Revisions. The works. People who are pro spec-work keep trying to pivot the argument to one of airy-fairy defendobabble (my word, use at will). Because “getting free shit from a whole bunch of designers” doesn’t sound half as nice as “leveling the playing field” and “democratizing design”. Alas, I’ve always been of the “if the shoe fits” variety.
The value of a ‘creative’s time.
So let’s take a look at the Brammo contest itself. $1000 bucks. Over 700 entries. A number that Bogusky tells us “blew everybody’s mind involved”. Fair enough. 700 plus entries would blow anyone’s mind I suppose. But it didn’t blow Brammo or CP+B’s collective minds enough for them to comment, or even leave a “out of five” star ranking, on over 600 of those entries. Why’s that a big deal? Well, over 500 designers submitted their work, without any chance of being selected, obstensibly for the “honor” of being critiqued and receiving feedback on their work from a major ad agency. I didn’t make that up from whole cloth, by the way. It is part and parcel of Crowdspring’s come-hither pitch to designers. They even tell buyers the following:
“If you don’t provide timely feedback [score entries], you’re sending a message to the creatives that you don’t value your project or their time.”
According to Crowdspring’s OWN raison d’être, neither Brammo or CP+B “value [creatives] time” or their own logo design project. We can argue all day about spec work, but that’s one of those “from the horse’s mouth” kinda quotes.
Bogusky then uses how some screenwriters conduct themselves (writing scripts on spec) as a rationale for designers to quit their fearful bellyaching and embrace spec work as the future. This is a classic example of a bandwagon fallacy – using one set of behaviors to defend another set of behaviors. On the otherhand, I did like his idea of a designer’s guild though (using the WGA as an example). As a member of the WGA, before pitching a script, screenwriters register it with the guild, and the guild protects its members’ intellectual property ferociously, going after residuals, royalties and plagiarism with gusto. Not sure how the mechanics would work out, or how a similar organization for designers could be funded, but it’s certainly an idea that’s worth further exploration.
The Nike logo chestnut.
In closing his article, Bogusky also throws in the old Nike logo chestnut. Pro-spec people like to do this. Alex isn’t as literal as most, but the thinking goes something like this (from his article)
What if the woman who designed the Nike logo had been in a union that insured that instead of a fee of fifty bucks, she received a royalty of a penny a shoe? I’m not great at math but I think that works out to about 20 million dollars in the last ten years alone.
Actually, the Nike logo cost less than $50. The designer, Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University, billed the precursor to the company $2 per hour for a total of $35.00. In 1971, that was the going wage (my first job, five years later, paid $2.35 per hour, the result of a minimum wage increase, mandated the summer before I started placing stock on shelves). Not only that, but in 1983, Carolyn received a diamond and gold ring from the company, as well as an envelope full of Nike stock (the amount of which was never disclosed, but one can assume it made her involvement with Nike a profitable venture indeed). Accordingly, I’m not sure what the point is, or what it has to do with the issue at hand. It might be applicable to this discussion if one designer was selected to design the Brammo logo, was paid what they billed, and Brammo, via corporate largess, is going to reward them with a diamond Brammo ring and an envelope of stock sometime in the future. Has anyone suggested this is what’s going on with the CP+B contest?
Nah, didn’t think so.
- The Crowdsourcing Dilemma. Spec work, crowdsourcing and Crowdspring on NPR
- AIGA softening positon on spec and design contests?
- Again with the design contests
- Spec work hackery redux. More of our work copied & entered into 99designs logo design contest
- The grim realities of spec work and crowdsourcing