08 September 2009

[design] PortlandOnline Design Contest Throws Light On The Poison Of "Spec Work"

2206.The recent retracking of the PortlandOnline.com "Refresh" web design contest into a banner-design only contest (thanks to local creative professionals standing up along with AIGA to remind the city that good design work comes from committed professionals, and not from a cattle-call) is welcome news, and gives us a chance to see what "spec-work" really means to the graphic design profession – as well as, maybe a profession near you.

Spec-work – speculative work – is something that happens when one is expected to do a job for free in hopes to get a plum (or any) assignment.

How would you feel if, say, you worked in a fast-food restaurant, any shift, and there was a new plan of compensation: there was an amazingly big paycheck at the end of the night – but only one person was going to get it, and the winner was the person who worked the entire shift and not only did their job better than anyone else, but also won the popularity contest amongst the customers?

Manifestly unfair, isn't it? I don't think anyone would argue that if you work in such an occupation, you deserve to be paid – however much you have a right to expect to be paid – for your work if you delivered a skillful performance.

There are sites out there, most notably 99designs.com and crowdSPRING.com, that work under just such this principle. Contests are fielded for designs for logos, websites, anything a graphic or digital designer could be expected to do, and prizes are awarded for the best designs. Customers expect everyone to bring their A game, but if they don't like your design – well, that's the breaks, kiddos. You've done a complete job, you've invested time, sweat, and skin, but sorry. You lost.

If you're like me, you and everyone you know, you can't get that time and effort back.

But it's making bank for the proprietors of crowdsourcing sites, and others are noticing there's big money to be made off desperation. Some purveyors are offering turnkey site kits that allow you to set up your own design contest site in no time. Spec work poisons the profession by encouraging the perception of the professional designer as someone who will do anything for the chance at a couple of bucks, which drives down the amount of money designers can expect to get for their hard work, which undermines professionals, and makes easier for beginners to get in the profession and actually become professionals themselves, a negative feedback loop; also, the quality of the work tends to go down, because you can't get professional work from people you don't treat as professionals.

If you've chosen to become a professional, to really commit to creating, then you deserve to be paid, not to hope for a chance at getting paid. Designing is more than just getting a hot computer and a copy of Photoshop. It requires training, and any designer that respects themselves and their work will tell you that design, like any other creative work, is hard work.

The greatest logo designer of the 20th Century was the great Paul Rand. A modern-day Paul Rand wouldn't stand a chance in today's crowdsourcing environment.

So, Portland's decision to recast the web design competition was welcome, if not 100% perfect; I appreciate the creative professionals in this town and the local AIGA for standing up for people who believe that a profession should be treated as one, and the best way to get a professional job is to contact with one.

You pay a professional, you get a professional job.

You cut corners with crowdsourcing, you get what you get. Hope that works out for you.

No!Spec is essential for anyone who wants to understand why crowdsourcing is poison to the design profession. You can visit them at http://no-spec.com.

SpecWatch is a Twitterer who provides an ongoing look at what a sordid web crowdsourcing sites can become. Visit their stream at http://twitter.com/specwatch.

Respect your profession. Respect your work. Respect yourself. Avoid crowdsourcing and spec work contests.

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1 comment:

Dale said...

Thanks for pointing this out. "Spec work" is degrading and wrong. The way people exploit the hardships of the current economic pit we're in makes me wish there was a hell so they could be sent to a special level of it.