99Designs: Crowdsourcer Crowdsources its Own Site

There’s a scourge chipping away at the freelance design industry: It’s called crowdsourcing. If you aren’t familiar with crowdsourcing, it’s the practice of getting a bunch of people to do work for free in the hopes that they’ll “win” and actually get paid. This, my friends, is also known as spec work, and it is a dangerous path for professional designers to take. 

Why’s that? Among other things, when you submit a design to a crowdsourced “competition” for new logos or whatever, you usually hand over all rights to the work. You’re also singlehandedly helping devalue the work you and your fellow graphic designers do. Good job!

Crowdsourcing apologists say it serves only small clients looking for a bargain and doesn’t affect the design industry at all. They’ll also tell you that the great exposure you’ll get makes up for the lack of money you’ll get. (There’s a great recap of a panel on crowdsourcing from last year’s Creative Freelancer Conference here.)

99designs crowdsourcing design website

One of the biggest crowdsourcing sites, 99Designs (named for the average 99 designs each client will receive for consideration) is crowdsourcing their own website. According to a press release, 99Designs: 

the largest online marketplace for crowdsourced graphic design services is challenging its own community of more than 150,000 graphic designers to revamp its homepage. The 99designs Homepage Redesign Contest kicks off today and will accept entries through May 14.

… 99designs will choose up to three winning homepage designs, and will award a $1,000 cash prize to each winning designer. Following the contest, 99designs will test the homepage designs using its internal testing methodologies, and will incorporate winning elements into the next version of its homepage.

That’s surely the best way to get a website that’s well-designed and serves the needs of your audience. /sarcasm

99 designs logo contest

Note that nothing comes up when you search 99designs' FAQ for "spec."

In the FAQ section on the 99Designs site, the question of, “Can I get designers to revise the designs they created for me?” is answered with: “Absolutely. Designers thrive on guidance, so the more feedback you provide, the better the quality of your finished product.” Designers love getting endless revisions on a job that they competed for against hundreds of others in the hopes of winning a $299 payment. 

Every organization that represents creatives is against spec work, and they’re especially against giving up all the rights to your work. So who are these 150,000 designers hanging around on 99Designs? I suspect they’re designers living in countries that have a lower cost of living than the United States, or they’re “hobbyist” designers or beginners who need professional samples for their portfolios but can’t find clients. But I urge all designers with any modicum of self-respect to steer clear of crowdsourcing projects like this. 

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2 thoughts on “99Designs: Crowdsourcer Crowdsources its Own Site

  1. cre8ivetype

    Thanks for speaking out on behalf of all of us. Crowdsourcing is shameful and I totally agree that it devalues all of our work.

    I wonder what would happen if they “crowdsourced” doctors or other professionals?

    You will usually find that you get what you pay (or don’t pay) for.

  2. nyc_professional

    Shit companies that are going nowhere get shit logos from designers that are going nowhere. It sounds like a perfect match…

    This 99designs business model only benefits the owner. Why all of these people, “businesses” and “designers”, would want to make that guy rich is beyond me.