99designs: Bullshit 2.0
99designs, a new site of considerably questionable motives and ethics, further cheapens the value of original design and is one of the worst yet. Under the transparent guise of “contests,” the site forces designers into spec work for despicable money, undermining all of the value a proper client-designer relationship builds and furthering the idea of design as a disposable business commodity.
Just when I think the design community is becoming educated about Elance and its destructive and malignant brethren, along comes another site that appears to be even worse. 99designs, founded by some SitePoint guys, uses inane web 2.0 vernacular (“crowdsourcing”), deceivingly open-armed design (“oh look, it’s a paper airplane icon! tee-hee!”), and the thin veil of “contests” to come across as a legit alternative to traditional business practices.
One has to look no further than their About Us page to understand the fundamentally flawed and sheer asinine perspective Mark Harbottle and those that share his vision.
99designs is a disruptive startup which connects passionate designers from around the globe with savvy clients who need design projects completed in a timely fashion without the usual risk or cost associated with professional design.
Now go back and read that again, and let the multiple levels of bullshit sink in before I continue. I’ll avoid pointing out the obvious idiocy (“disruptive”, “savvy clients”), which would be about as sporting as kicking a sleeping one-legged dog, and instead focus on the last part of the mission statement, “without the usual risk or cost associated with professional design.”
Hmm. Yes, by all means, we want to avoid the time and consideration professional designers offer and go right to the lowest common denominator of grade-school dropouts whose portfolio’s crown jewel is a logo for their dad’s wholesale llama manure clearing house. We definitely do not want any in-depth communication. We do not want any understanding of the company, the brand, or the direction and aspirations of the organization. We definitely do not want any long-term working relationships or any real investment in the single most important public-facing piece of design a company owns. We just want a fucking logo for $250.
99designs works by essentially soliciting spec work from its registered designers. You can’t just bid on a project. You have to actually do the project, submit it, and then pray. If you don’t “win,” well, you lose. The time and effort taking a shot into the dark is completely lost. Those “savvy clients” just got a shitty design, the winner got some shitty pittance for their effort, and all of the other shitty designers got jack shit for their shitty work.
Let’s look at some numbers. 99designs actually sucks more than Elance because it encourages shockingly low prices — “$50 to $500” according to their how it works page. At least Elance doesn’t presume any price point and just lets the market play itself out. Here, design being treated as a cheap commodity is mandatory.
At the time of this writing, $1,226,703 has been awarded across 346,171 entries. Second-grade math teaches us this averages out to $3.54 per entry. So playing the odds, over a long period of time, every logo (or website, or business card, or whatever) you submit cannot even buy you a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. By comparison, 99designs pulls in $39 for every posted “contest”. That’s more than a 10:1 differential in averaged earnings. Not only that, you have to transfer the copyright whether you want to or not, so you’re essentially engaging in a work for hire agreement.
To summarize: you’re doing spec work for third-world prices with no option for copyright retention. Everyone wins! Oh wait, except you. At the core, 99design’s business model is as evil as any oil company’s — it relies totally on the ignorance and desperation of its constituents.
And finally, perhaps most insulting is this little ditty on their about page:
99designs was started by designers for designers.
I am struggling to form the intensely negative, logic-dismantling superlatives I need to accurately convey the sheer depth of absolute bullshit this clump of words was pulled from. This is one of the most hollow and forced statement I have ever seen. It insults everything about the real-world graphic design industry and the hard-working professionals that make a living building long-term client relationships, crafting deep and varied portfolios, and routinely putting their blood, sweat and tears into their work.