When I first heard about 99designs.com on TwitTV's iPad Today netcast, I thought it sounded like a great idea. As a freelance designer I saw it as a possible source of income.
For those of you who aren't familiar with it, 99 Designs is a site where clients post their design jobs as a competition with a set prize. People submit ideas and, at a set date, the competition is closed and a shortlist of designs is chosen. There is some communication back and forth with the finalists and completed artwork is produced. A winner is chosen and they get the prize as payment for their work.
I joined up, picked something that I had an immediate idea for with a prize of $819. I spent most of a day realising my concept into a polished design and submitted it. So did nearly 500 other people.
Nearly all of the submissions were truly awful. Clearly there were a lot of people entering who were not designers. This made me feel better about my chances of winning. The competition was closed so the client could choose the finalists and then… nothing. Weeks of nothing. Then an announcement that the client had failed to make any choices so nobody would win. The end.
I mentioned my having entered the competition on Twitter and was bombarded with messages from strangers telling me that 99 Designs was evil and killing the industry and that I should have nothing to do with them. I read some articles and decided that they were right, although some of their reasoning seemed a bit "The Sky Is Falling!" I've come up with my own argument on the topic, based on hypothetical figures chosen largely to make the maths easy, which is as follows:
Let's say a client wants a logo, for which he is willing to pay $500.
Graphic designers charge $100 per hour when dealing with direct clients, so that's 5 hours worth of work.
501 designers submit designs for this job.
One design is chosen, the designer collects his $500. He's happy.
OK, but what of the other 500 designers? They get nothing. If each of them have also spent 5 hours on their work, that's a total of 2,500 unpaid man-hours that have been thrown at this client's job for free.
That is $250,000 worth of work that nobody is getting paid for.
Look at the design industry as just that, an industry, and consider the above figures. Could any industry sustain itself by providing over $250,000 worth of work for a mere $500 return? No.
Is it reasonable for a client to expect 2,500 hours of work to be provided to it for a mere $500 outlay? Of course not.
But that's exactly what is happening.
Yeah sure, we're not an organised industry, many of the people submitting designs aren't even designers, but so what?
The issue is that this sort of site completely diminishes the perceived value of what some of us, as professional designers, do. There is, well there should be, a lot more to creating a design for a client than fulfilling a typed out brief. The solution is only ever going to be a bit generic. Unfortunately most clients won't care or wouldn't know the difference. And why wouldn't the bulk of uninformed clients love the idea of having so much to choose from without having to commit to anything?
Ideally, designers will shun sites such as these. If we cut off their source of well designed material they will become known for what they basically are, an amateur design competition site, and genuine clients will continue to seek out real designers to achieve quality results. Yeah right.
We're all doomed.