A SPECtacular series of links

A mess of links, news and resources on the latest design bugaboos – design contests, crowdsourcing and spec work. Presented for your entertainment (mostly) without comment.

Rather than dying the death that pro-spec advocates predicted, the debate about spec work, so-called “design crowdsourcing” and design contest sites seems to be heating up across the internet, as more and more designers become aware of the issue, with many seeing it as a threat to the graphic design profession itself. On the pro-spec side, there are a few more design contest companies Oliver Twist - please pick my logorolling out their websites, presumably as more people figure getting a whole load of designers to work for free and selling the work to their clients is an awesome business plan. With summer vacation schedules, working on our new logo, retooling our website and focusing our brand, I’ve sorta been out of the loop for a month or so and thought a trip around the webs might be just what the doctor ordered. Without further ado, here’s a few places where spec work debates have flared up in the last few weeks or so, as well as a look at the latest design contest sites now trundling down the pike.

Agency killers?

The Marketing and Tech Blog opened a floodgate of comments when site-owner Douglas Karr suggested that design crowdsourcing ‘marketplace’ Crowdspring was an ‘Agency Killer‘ with it’s spec-driven business model. As part of dialogue with Crowdspring co-founder Ross Kimbarovsky, you’ll find a couple of my comments as we got into it on whether or not design contest sites signal the death-knell of the graphic design industry, or are a previously untapped avenue of “opportunity” for designers just starting out in their careers. Speaking about Crowdspring, they’ve posted a Crowdspring by the numbers featurette, no doubt in an attempt to quell critics who’ve been vocal about the site. Don’t know how to introduce this post, so let’s just point you in the appropriate direction and quote the title of Brian Jung‘s opinion piece Crowdspring Blows Donkey Balls.

Incoming over book design contest.

Professional blogging consultant Problogger probably didn’t expect the designer pushback he received, both on his blog comment section and via messages on Twitter, as designers railed against his promotion of blog design contests on Australia-based 99designs, the largest and most prolific of all the design contest sites currently operating. But once his Run a Competition to Find Your Next WordPress Blog Design was published, rail they did. 99designs pushed back, adding a few snippy comments, one of which I couldn’t resist answering. Before you think that everyone’s feeling the hate towards 99designs, I should probably hit you up with a link to Tim FerrissDesign Competition: Want to Design My Next Cover? post in which he directs readers to submit their work to a contest he’s running on 99D and as per usual, his comment section has turned into a pro cs. anti gripe-fest. Worthwhile noting that Ferriss is the author of The Four Hour Workweek, a principle that probably doesn’t apply to poor bastards slogging away, without pay, on his next cover artwork.

Specwatch interview.

Spec Watch LogoCouple of weeks ago, we told you about SpecWatch, a designer initiative that’s been documenting some pretty surprising goings-on at design contest sites via their Twitter account and causing quite a stir with online designers. UK graphic designer David Airey managed to score an interview with SpecWatch for Web Designer Depot that reveals some interesting stuff about the hows and whys of the apparently publicity-shy outfit. The comment section is particularly compelling as designers and design contest management chime in to express their varied, and often strong, opinions.

Pro-spec POV.

Self-described “creative and crowdsourcing specialist” Jason Spector waded into the fray with his positively beaming article Why Starting Designers Should Crowdsource which tells young designers of all the lovely reasons why design contests and spec work are a healthy choice for their careers. In an effort to be even-handed, he looks at some of the risks but in toto, his outlook on spec work is an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’. Can’t say I agree, which probably explains why his article isn’t quite as snarky as our similarly-named Why You Should Crowdsource Your Logo feature from a few months back. Or it’s companion piece How To Win a Logo Design Contest. Spector’s blog post is worth a looksee if you’re interested in how pro-spec work people tend to think.

New design contest sites.

A couple of new design contest sites began announcing that they’d be launching soon, no doubt to recruit designers before contest holders come a-calling. One, Design Tourney, promises that it will be “the biggest threat to Logo Tournament, 99designs, and Crowdspring” when it opens up shop this fall. Another outfit, Freshly Branded, promised that their contest site would launch in July, but recently revised Logo Go Round Newsthat to an August date via their website once the clock chimed 12:00 July 31. Over at Graphicdesignblog.org, some cat called “Charlie B. Johnson” has been pimping an in-BETA design contest site, the oddly named MycroBurst.com via an article here and in the thinly disguised pro design article entitled Spec Work – Curse or Blessing?. All of this ‘excitement’ is kinda odd because MyrcoBurst.com is currently nothing more than a couple of place holder pages with a come-on for designers to sign up for contests “launching soon”. Makes me think that good old “Charlie” has connections to MycroBurst.com that are a little more involved than meets the eye.

Pre-fab or spec work with a fancy name.

Pre-designed logo and brand ‘marketplace’ Brandstack (abruptly renamed from the much nicer IncSpring, shortly after Crowdspring hit the scene) is now taking some fire from designers who are viewing the service as spec work, rather than than the pre-fabricated logo agency BrandStack would like to see themselves as. Bad boy designer Toni Zova has penned a provocative piece Why Brandstack is The Silent Killer in which he opines that far from being an ‘opportunity’ for designers to sell unused concepts, Brandstack is something else entirely. Almost simultaneously, designer Fatima Mekkaoui explains in fairly dense detail why she pulled all her logo designs from Brandstack. I’ve always been non-plussed about IncSpring, whoops, Brandstack, so it’s interesting to read others’ perspectives on the service.

All this spec stuff kinda makes me want to get into the mix with yet another ranting, railing anti-spec work special that will bore half our readers and jazz up the other half. Be right back…