If design was an iceberg:
I can understand the investor attraction to spec work websites. After all, the sites profit through nothing more than the sale of contest-listings. So as long as the listing database is intact, and the turnstiles are kept moving, the concept appears hugely scalable.
I can also understand the initial client attraction. The cost of a service plays an important role in the purchase decision, and with spec work, the client spends as little as she wants. Often nothing.
But work produced ‘on spec’ isn’t just a cheaper form of design, on the whole it’s also vastly inferior, because once the volunteers producing the artwork figure-out how to win, the design process has long since disappeared. What designer puts 100% into a project when there’s a minuscule chance of getting paid? And those who do give 100% are even likelier to leave with nothing but a sense of dejection.
Ultimately, contest holders are left to compensate for the emaciated design process by attempting to fill-in the gaps, “Change this. Add that. Combine these. Try it in blue.” They’re paying to be designer-for-a-day, when the reality is that they either don’t need a designer (imagine hiring a plumber then telling him what to do), or they haven’t realised the time-sapping downsides.
Multi-million dollar investments in contest-listing websites will inevitably prompt a more aggressive marketing push, but as long as self-respecting designers continue to differentiate themselves this won’t affect client acquisition.
There are plenty of ways to set yourself apart. Here’s a very quick example from my book:
Where Photoshop comes into play
Showing your designs in context — in other words, as they will be seen by others — is key to helping your clients visualise how great you can make their companies look. It’s comparable to buying a new car. The car might show a fresh paint job and have that “new car smell,” but unless you take it for a test drive, you won’t be entirely convinced. That’s why showing your designs in context can be what finally cements the deal with your clients.
p144, Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, New Riders, 2010
As a designer, what are you doing to differentiate yourself?
As a client, what are you looking for when choosing a designer?
Iceberg photo composite by Ralph Clevenger