CrowdSPRING: boon for freelancers, bane for designers?

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Came across this post about CrowdSPRING, over at The Marketing Technology Blog. CrowdSPRING labels itself as a marketplace for creative services. Essentially, buyers post their requirement for logos, T-shirt designs and the like on the site. They also specify a budget and the deadline. Then designers or just about anybody can submit their actual designs. So in essence, the designs are for all to see and there is no guarantee of compensation. CriwdSPRING keeps 15% of the pledged amount and guarantees at least 25 submissions per bid. Forbes said in this February article that ‘CrowdSpring aims to slash the cost of graphic design work–and democratize a snooty business‘. Check out the video of how CrowdSPRING works.


Clients like ConAgra Foods and Guy Kawasaki have used CrowdSPRING’s services. But it’s not all smooth sailing. The business model has attracted a lot of heated debate about spec work. The argument against it is mainly that it commoditizes the design business and is unfair to skilled professionals who invest time & money behind the creation of a design. It is also alleged that one can easily copy someone else’s design on this service. See:

Why CrowdSpring Owners Should Be Ashamed of Their Business
Spec Work Is Evil / Why I Hate CrowdSpring
The NO!SPEC campaign vs. crowdSPRING

Advertising agencies are all too familiar with this situation. Speculative pitches for multi-million dollar accounts or small sized businesses are all too common. The argument that professional agencies rip-off clients when it comes to stuff like logos, brand identities etc. is all too common. In India too, sites like afaqs! offer an exchange of sorts for freelance professionals. Sites like OpenAd have also attempted to throw open creative briefs to creative professionals worldwide. But they have not been major threats to professionals and ad agencies. An Openad-like service was also launched in India but I forget the name. I am not sure if large, mainstream clients use such services and if small/medium-sized clients in Tier-II cities have even heard of such services.

My two-bits on the whole issue:

1. Services like CrowdSPRING are seen as unethical and a threat by professional designers. Understandably so. The services provided are both tangible and intangible at the same time. What one sees is the output – it could be a logo or banner design. What went behind it – the quality of thinking, the expertise in putting it together, the understanding of the business implications of the work, arriving at what is right for the business problem at hand – all of these are not within the grasp of all. A grandma can also come up with an idea for a logo in her free time. But there is a huge element of risk in her chancing upon an idea which the client likes. The hit rate could be very low if creative work is left to all and sundry.
2. It is quite like inviting opinion about your impending hip-replacement surgery from non-medical experts. The advice may come but it can’t be guaranteed that it arises out of an expertise in the field. That’s why people go to the experts.
3. The trouble is, everyone considers themselves to be experts in advertising (and related design services). It is very easy to comment on an ad, a logo and say ‘even I could do better’.
4. Services like CrowdSPRING will find favour among a certain set of clients and freelance professionals. There will be takers for a $200 (Rs.10000 approx) logo both from the buyer & seller’s side. Serious professionals who feel that their talent & service is being undervalued should not feel threatened. I think they operate in a different playing field.
5. Freelancers, quasi-experts and laymen supplying submitting speculative work will continue to thrive. But they may be caught out soon. They may deliver a pretty logotype but calling upon them to understand complex business needs, understanding how logos work across media etc. may be a bit too much.
6. Specialists have also spoilt the party by creating a perception that they are over-priced and full of BS. The media coverage of the Tropicana packaging change fiasco, the Gatorade logo change and the Pepsi logo document etc. (all created by big name agencies) has only furthered the notion that millions of dollars are being wasted by big corporates, when they ‘can’ get it done at a fraction of that cost. In India too, the fee charged by specialist design agencies for brand identity programmes is always mentioned with a smirk.

Any comments on speculative work, on CrowdSPRING and related issues? Do tell.

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