Spec work is evil and unethical… no way!

There are a lot of designers out there whom I respect tremendously. Some of those same designers are completely against doing spec work, and I can definitely see their point of view.

I am referring to Andrew Hyde and Arlo Bryan Guthrie. Both designers/entrepreneurs I respect deeply and their accomplishments speak for themselves.

I feel as though I have a unique perspective and can add something to the conversations about crowdsourcing.

Unique Blog Designs and Crowdsourcing…

As you all know I co-founded Unique Blog Designs with Matt and Nate almost 2 years ago, and even before that, Nate and I co-owned a different web design firm which we dissolved upon launching UBD.

So from that angle, I would assume that most of you would think I would be siding with the designers I mentioned above… but I’m not.

You see, we have seen all the stages and the positives and negatives about being a freelance designer as well as a professional design firm who does work for fortune 500 companies.

I remember the days when I was trolling malls and local small businesses to find work for infinFX (Nate and I’s other design company before UBD). It was basically Nate who was the designer and me who was the Biz Dev guy trying to make it work. We did get some business but having many consistent paying customers eluded us.

Over time we found sites like digitalpoint.com and freelanceswitch.com that gave us ideas and some additional work.

The goal for us was not to stay freelancers but to build revenue and clients well enough to form a solid company.

With the launch of crowdsourcing sites like 99designs.com and crowdspring.com, the dynamic of being a freelance designer has changed. I think for the better.

Better for both the consumer and the freelancer. When we were just getting started, it would have been great to have tons of options and consistent work for us to do while building our brand and customer base. Both of which freelancers can more easily do using 99designs.com and crowdspring.com.

For the consumer, they now have access to thousands of designers for their projects and can also get them done for a lower price… generally. The best part is that they don’t have to pay for anything that they don’t want to use.

Now, Why Crowdsourcing Does NOT Negatively Affect Professional Design Firms…

I would consider Unique Blog Designs a professional design firm, although we are very small. It is Myself, Matt, Nate and 4 in-house employees. I can only speak from my own experiences.

We have worked with everyone from the individual doing a first time start up, to Shoemoney.com and JohnChow.com, to working with Yahoo and Nike.

Most owners of professional design firms that I have talked to, take pride in the fact that they turn down customers all the time in order to make every project that they take on as successful as possible.

Over time you come to realize that not all projects are worth taking on, even if they pay a lot of money.

What’s the reason?

Not every type of client can match well with your particular firm. This design firm can specialize in artsy design, another can specialize in b2b design, one can specialize in UI, another can specialize in Ecommerce, etc, etc.

Professional design firms build their brand and success by ensuring that each client that chooses them, will be more successful for doing so. We pride ourselves greatly on trying to achieve this goal.

It is impossible for us to take on even 25% of the clients who want to work with us. Mostly for budgetary concerns but also because of the things that we specialize in and don’t specialize in.

Having sites like sitepoint.com, 99designs.com, and crowdspring.com, are great resources for us to be able to refer potential clients to, without having to put our own brand on the line.

Final Word

I would really love to hear what some of the guys who also own professional design firms would say about my perspective.

I would also strongly recommed reading Jeremiah Owyang‘s post on the subject. He is an analyst from Forrester Research and was a UI designer in a past life.

Another resource for crowdsoucing is crowdsourcing.com by Jeff Howe. I have personally read his book and it is a must for anyone interested in the subject. Jeff is also a writer for Wired.com.

Please let me know your thoughts and opinions as I am open to discussion about this seemingly controversial subject.

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17 comments on “Spec work is evil and unethical… no way!Add yours →

  1. Awesome thoughts on the subject. It’s terribly difficult to “get out of the sandbox” for freelancers, and you’ve given good points as to how crowd sourcing can help them.

  2. Great points here, Josh. A web design firm can’t take on every project and provide the best service to all customers. I agree with your comments about being selective.

  3. As client of some of these sites, I think they are great. It provides cost effective solutions and easy access to firms and individuals that were previously hard to find.
    We find start-ups and develop longer term relationships with them.

  4. I just got the link from a good friend of mine, the funny part is that I have design the header blog of Jeremiah Owyang. He posted a contest on crowdspring and I have own.
    crowd-sourcing isn’t bag from my point of view it will take the design to a new stage; if you are talented you will win. also with crowd-sourcing the designers can improve the ability of communicating with the customer.

    great post.

  5. I didn’t expect to get so much value in reading the post, but I very much appreciated the read. I’ll surely be dropping in on a regular basis, to see what’s new.

  6. Graphic design is a qualified profession! What other profession has implemented ‘crowd-sourcing’ and work for nothing? None that I know of.
    Accepting unrealistic design budgets, whether you are a start up design company, a freelancer or established creative studio, is wrong. Working for no fee at all is wrong and stupid.
    Do you want to sell your knowledge, your skills, your professionalism short, just to get some work? I’d rather stack tins up on supermarket shelves.
    Say no to spec work.

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