Spec Watch


Design contests and crowdsourcing sites have been marketed as the "future of graphic design", a "new reality", call themselves "disruptive" and their stated goal (as per Forbes magazine) is, "to slash the cost of graphic design work and democratize a snooty business". Critics have been called "Dinosaurs", "gatekeepers fighting hard to maintain the status quo", advised to "evolve or die" and other such sentiments. Crowdsourcing and design contests have stated that they aim to turn the graphic design industry "on it's head". Crowdsourcing and design contest site owners have "welcomed the debate" about spec work, and are very vocal about defending their business model on blogs, forums and some have even participated in a SXSW panel debate entitled "Is Spec Work Evil".

While debate is certainly needed, we also thought it would be a worthwhile to look behind the platitudes and the hype, and actually analyze the business model that people who advocate spec design tell us is the new reality.

We're not going to debate the morality and or ethics of participating in design contests and calls for crowdsourced design. We're not going to debate whether these kinds of services are an effective way for buyers and clients to obtain design services. We're not even going to debate how good, or bad, the work produced by design contests is or isn't. Those arguments are raging elsewhere. Our main purpose is to look at the actual logistics of design contests and crowdsourcing to present the facts behind same. We're not going to comment. We're not going to editorialize. No 'spin' or talking points. We're simply going to present the facts, as we discover them, on this website and through Twitter.

There is no 'magic' to what we're doing. We did not 'hack' into any of these services. We did not masquerade as participating designers in order to obtain any information. All the links we'll present are available on the linked websites and are accurate as of posting date. They are available through fairly simple keyword searches on Google. All the links are available in the Google index and reachable publicly via a simple browser. As many of the contests will still be 'open' at time of writing, some details may change, and new information may be available over time.

Admittedly, we are biased against designers working at high-risk without payment, so we will point you towards selections that re-enforce that position. While there are examples of happy customers, and enthusiastic designers, design contest sites have been heralding those on their own sites and in other media were owners are often interviewed and promoted. They're not about to point out the very real risks of their self-described "communities".

We also believe that even designers who are participating have no idea of the scope of the copyright violation problems or unawarded, unpaid, past due and extended contests or that most crowdsourcing sites frequently fail to enforce their own terms of service, the very promises and so-called safeguards that persuaded designers and creatives to donate their time, talents and efforts in the first place.

That's where SPECWATCH comes in.

At the very least, designers can make an educated decision whether design contest sites are worthwhile supporting. How can you contact us? Simple. If you have any comments, praises, complaints, legal threats, squeals of indignation or would like to tell us how 'whiny' we're being, feel free to contact us @specwatch via Twitter.

Just don't tell us to "evolve or die". Somebody already has.

Evolve or Die

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