A Perfect Dichotomy

Holy cats! I stumbled into a storm. At play here: the difference between a business need and a passionate class of worker. Here’s the story:

I am starting a new blog project. I asked my friend, John, if they designed logos, as he’s doing my site work. He said, no, we use 99 Designs. I said, well, okay! And went over.

The basic premise is that you can pay around $300 (I think the total was $363) and so I started a design project. Seems easy enough to do. The process is really easy.

I then Tweeted about it to see what people had to say about 99Designs and the process.

Holy cats.

So, first off, there’s a site that talks about the designers’ position: No-Spec. They essentially say that this devalues the designer’s work, and that it’s scammy. Here’s some of the comments of designers:

negative view

And here are some more thoughts:

positive 1
positive 2

To be fair to this post, more people than not had a negative opinion.

But Here’s the Big Important Point

Business people were all FOR 99designs. Designers, who get hurt by this kind of process, were all against it. This is the big point. Because from the designers’ side of the argument, this is something that matters deeply to them.

Let’s talk about my logo for a moment:

chrisbroganlogo

This was designed by stresslimitdesign, and it normally would retail for around $20,000 USD (or that was the rate around the time it was developed). It’s a good logo, with lots of thoughtfulness to the design. The process was good, with lots of iteration, etc. It’s a powerful thing.

But, I wouldn’t have known who stresslimit was, if it weren’t for Julien. And I wouldn’t have been that into the process, had I not had someone to hold my hand and explain why I wanted this and not just something whipped up in Photoshop Elements.

But… and this is the bigger but (I like those, as does Mixalot), a business person looking to launch a blog or whatever and get the project served might find it hard to see the difference between a $365 project and a $20,000 project, especially if his or her goal is just to get the thing launched and start creating something of value.

You, the passionate designer might, but the consumer of such services might not.

See where this gets tricky? And by tricky, all the passion in the world doesn’t change how people make their purchasing decisions. It just doesn’t. Example: WalMart. You can be as small-town-local-supporting as you want, but sales are up end over end and people (like me) use those stores for some of their purchases.

Other People’s Thoughts

You should be informed. Here are some blog posts by designer types:

What’s the Deal with 99 Designs.

The Downfalls of Crowdsourcing.

When I read the responses still rolling in on Twitter, the designers are all passionately opposed and saying that you get what you pay for.

When I read the responses from business people, they’re saying, “I got what I paid for, and I’m up and running.”

See why this is tricky?

I’m very curious about your thoughts.

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  • http://twitter.com/christinakjn Christina Newberry

    It's the same in all creative industries. I have a hard time making potential clients understand why they I charge $150 for something a writer they found on eLance will do for $7. But if you're running an Internet business you know is only ever going to make a few thousand dollars a year because it's a tight niche market, it's just never going to be worth your money to spend $20K on a logo, or an equivalent amount on a good communications strategy. Yet these websites are worth launching. So what to do about a logo and design (and copy, and communications)?

  • AnneLikesRed

    Last point I'll make here, because it rather feels like the horse is already dead. In response to:

    “But Here’s the Big Important Point

    Business people were all FOR 99designs. Designers, who get hurt by this kind of process, were all against it.”

    As a self-employed designer, I AM a businessperson!

  • erikdeckers

    Okay, let's look adopt the designer's viewpoint for the businessperson:

    Chris, I need a social media campaign. I would like you to write up a strategy, set up some social media accounts, build each of them out to about 5,000 people, and then let me see your work. If I like your strategy, and if I like the people you added to the accounts, I'll pay you $400. If I don't, well, too bad.

    You'll be competing against other social media strategists, like Jason Falls, Tara Strong, and Scott Stratten. The winning bid will get $400, while the losing bids will go away empty handed, with nothing to show except some social networks they spent 7 – 10 hours to create and grow.

    Interested?

    How about this? I need a speaker for an upcoming event. I would like to see a written text of your speech, your PowerPoint slides, and a video of the speech you're going to give. I'm going to choose between you and the other three social media pros I mentioned earlier. Winning bidder gets $700. The other three, well, they'll get to share their slides and the video on SlideShare and YouTube, and get some valuable exposure, which may get them seen by someone else who wants to hire them.

    Bullshit.

    I'm a business owner, but I'm also a creative type. When I write something, I get paid for it. I don't have the time to do anything on spec, because I've grown beyond the need for possibilities of payment and “exposure.” The time I spend writing on spec is the same time I could be using to write for pay.

    I think asking designers to submit themselves to this kind of creative minimum wage is heinous, because we would never ask a businessperson to do it. You would never write a full-blown campaign and start executing it for the possibility of $400. You would never do all the work for a talk only for the possibility of landing it, and you would especially never do it for a fraction of what you're actually worth.

    Yet, this is what 99Designs does.

    You know, I'm so proud of this comment, I'm beefing it up and posting it to my own blog. Thanks, Chris! (If you publish this comment, do I get $300?)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shawn-Morton/500320191 Shawn Morton

      Erik,
      I think where the arguments like this fall apart is when you factor in that Chris (or any of the social media consultants you mention) can just say, “No, thank you. I charge $X for my work.” Same for every single designer on the planet.

      No one is being forced to take less than they think their work is worth. I would assert that the designers on 99 think $300 (or whatever the agreed upon price is) is about right for the effort they put into it (or that they get other benefits outside of money — experience, exposure, etc.). Otherwise, why do it?

      I used 99 a couple of years ago for a small startup I was working on in my spare time. I paid $150 for the “winning” design and I don’t feel a bit bad about it. I also didn’t hear any complaints from the winning designer or from *any* of the other designers that didn’t “win.”

      There can be a big difference between a $300 logo and a $20K logo and there is a market for each one (and everything in between). It’s up to you as a designer to determine which customer you’re going after. I think Chris’ more recent post about “Who is your buyer” applies here.

      I think the bigger underlying fear is that most people *don’t* see the difference between a $300 and a $20K logo. Shaming the buyers and sellers of $300 logos into raising their rates isn’t going to solve that.

      • Anonymous

        Shawn,
        I don’t disagree with you on this. I think everyone SHOULD have the ability to say, “no thank you.” However, I think 99Degrees sets an unrealistic expectation for business owners who think: 1) they can get a quality logo (that hasn’t been ripped off or violates copyrights) for $300, and 2) more importantly, when they meet a REAL professional designer, they should be able to get a logo for $300 from them too.

        “But I got another logo for $300 from a website. Why are you charging me $2,000?”

        While a professional designer is going to turn down the $300 job, the business owner is going to think that all real designers are a ripoff, because they’re charging what they’re truly worth, and trying to make a living.

        I don’t begrudge you getting a $150 logo, because you were on a budget. But you also seem to be a bit more realistic in knowing that while there is such a thing as a $150 logo, you also recognize that there are $2,000 logos too.

        (Although I have to admit, I have a hard time accepting 20,000 damn dollars for a logo. Seriously? I’m in the wrong friggin’ business!)

        I also wrote about this issue a little further on my own blog, Shawn, so check it out if you want.

        Thanks for the feedback.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m not in love with 99designs. I’m saying there’s a model out there that is more affordable to business people seeking to get by with something less than a top shelf design for simple projects.

      I’m not asking designers to do anything. The service exists. They opt in. There are no guns to heads, as far as I know.

      I need an inexpensive design for a side project. THat’s what was made available. What other options do you have for me?

      Because so far, no one’s offered me alternatives besides paying $8000 for their amazing competes-with-nike design.

      • Anonymous

        Chris,
        There may not be any guns to heads for the designers, but I think it creates the myth for businesspeople that ALL designers should be willing to do designs for $300. That’s my complaint with 99Designs.

        My alternate recommendation is that you hire a college student majoring in graphic design for the same amount of money as you would pay the 99Designs designer. Post a message on Twitter saying you’re looking to hire a college student to work on a special design project. I’ve gotten some freelance writers this way.

        99Designs may end up giving you the same result — a college student breaking into graphic design — but it seems less unsavory.

      • Anonymous

        Chris,
        There may not be any guns to heads for the designers, but I think it creates the myth for businesspeople that ALL designers should be willing to do designs for $300. That’s my complaint with 99Designs.

        My alternate recommendation is that you hire a college student majoring in graphic design for the same amount of money as you would pay the 99Designs designer. Post a message on Twitter saying you’re looking to hire a college student to work on a special design project. I’ve gotten some freelance writers this way.

        99Designs may end up giving you the same result — a college student breaking into graphic design — but it seems less unsavory.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m not in love with 99designs. I’m saying there’s a model out there that is more affordable to business people seeking to get by with something less than a top shelf design for simple projects.

      I’m not asking designers to do anything. The service exists. They opt in. There are no guns to heads, as far as I know.

      I need an inexpensive design for a side project. THat’s what was made available. What other options do you have for me?

      Because so far, no one’s offered me alternatives besides paying $8000 for their amazing competes-with-nike design.

  • ewkrause

    Chris, the one piece I missed in your post, above, is how YOU feel about your own logo. IMHO, it's lovely. Clean, spare, but memorable. And I'm guessing it's the iterations and the “settling in together” that made that happen. You didn't specifically say you spent $20,000 on it. Maybe you got a deal, some barter something or other. But, personally, I think it may very well be worth $20,000 for a design that reflects YOU and meshes nicely with your theme etc. Quality speaks to quality, and elicits trust. On some level people probably take you more seriously because of your (and your design team's) attention to detail — and to nuance.

    It's the nuance you're (probably) not going to get for $200 to $300.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      But if the $300 project is not exactly something that has to reflect ME, but just has to be serviceable? I’m not looking for a replacement design for chrisbrogan.com . I’m getting something for a new travel blog I’m starting. It doesn’t HAVE to be amazing. It has to be recognizable.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      But if the $300 project is not exactly something that has to reflect ME, but just has to be serviceable? I’m not looking for a replacement design for chrisbrogan.com . I’m getting something for a new travel blog I’m starting. It doesn’t HAVE to be amazing. It has to be recognizable.

  • http://www.r4cards.co.uk/ m3i zero

    I had read this article, it is rally very informative. A Perfect Dichotomy is very important and great information given on it. This Dichotomy is very vast subject to discuss and very nicely described.
    This process seems really very easy. For write up a strategy or set up some social media accounts, this will really helpful. Low cost does not mean low quality- i totally agree with this sentence.

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  • http://www.RoninMarketeer.com John Wall

    Ultimately this just comes down to what you can afford and how much you value a bargain (price) versus the service you get. Would Steve Jobs ever use something like this for anything involved with his products? Not while he lives and breathes. Can Joey's Pizza Shack and Ammo Shop get a logo that's 80% as good as something a pro would do at 1% of the cost, yes.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      And I am most certainly Joey’s Pizza Shack and Ammo Shop on this project.

      • http://www.RoninMarketeer.com John Wall

        Yee Haw! Send me a card at the Grand Opening…

      • http://www.RoninMarketeer.com John Wall

        Yee Haw! Send me a card at the Grand Opening…

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      And I am most certainly Joey’s Pizza Shack and Ammo Shop on this project.

  • http://www.businessbuilderbookclub.com Joy Johnson

    I thought about this a lot last summer when Anderson's “FREE” came out. Interestingly enough, Ellen Ruppel Shell’s “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture” came out the same month. My thoughts are still cloudy – not distilled – but it seems to me that we are going to go through a stretch of time when what most people offer to others in exchange for that roof and food is going to be pretty much worthless.

    In business we talk about how there's always someone else willing to go broke faster. Now everyone who wants to make a living in most fields that are not licensed, fields with no bar to entry, has to deal with the vast majority of the bytes, words, or columns of information they'd like to charge for, being offered by someone else for free. The way one competes, it seems, is to offer better and better stuff for free – out-free your competition. The hope is that doing so builds the “know, like, trust, try, buy” stream to end with a few dollars in your pocket. What I’m seeing, however, is that instead of buying, potential customers, driven by their own lack of income, and ever growing amounts of time spent on the web, simply more on to other sources of “free” information and services. The effect really is similar to the traditional downward pull of the underground economy.

    99designs works because thousands of people are willing to treat their jobs as if they were taking a trip to the casino. They'll throw hours of their most precious resource, their existence, onto the craps table of life, in hopes they will be chosen. If one extrapolates that backwards, one sees that they have nothing to do with their time that is more valuable, i.e. not working on a design for someone who can afford to pay $20,000 for a logo.

    So, we will have a few people at the top of the design field, just like there are a few people at the top of the blog field, who have worked their way up, who make the big bucks. In the meantime the vast majority of humanity is fighting over scraps in the bottom. I'm not sure what the ultimate outcome will be but I do know that it's just getting started and I have a feeling it's going to get quite ugly. I don't see it as good, or bad, it just is. We are, at our base level, not much different than the animals on the Savannah when the water starts drying up. This little issue you brought up is a tiny microcosm of a global issue that has yet to settle.

    I was pondering the other night, to take this to a very dark place, exactly how much does stand between life, as we know it, and another “dark age.” I know I've taken this topic way beyond anything necessary or called for when you asked for comments but since I started pondering the concept of infinity as a pre-schooler, it's hard for me to do less. It does seem that great periods of darkness punctuate great periods of light and advancement in our history. The ruins tell us so. Human nature and financial constraints drive people to services like 99designs and I appreciate that. However, I can’t help but wonder exactly how it fits into the greater scheme of things.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Same thing hit photography. istockphoto crushed everyone.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Same thing hit photography. istockphoto crushed everyone.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    Really great way to put it.

  • dancingbaglady

    For me it was very important that my designer “got it”. She probably spent 3 hours with me (informal diner meetings etc) mind dumping before we got started.

    I started with the logo (me, my brand) and from there built other digital assets. I didn't spend $20,000, but it was more than $363. For the price I got concepts, hired artist and many visual assets to go with the logo.

    I am so thrilled with my designer. Her guidance was invaluable. She absolutely took my stick figures and made them come to life.

    First, I knew my brand was everything and visually it had to be great. I was in it for the long haul and everything it would do stemmed from it. I didn't have $20,000, but I did make healthy investment. I do not regret it.

    She is my designer. We will work together again.

    BTW: I didn't spend as much on my first business logo, but then again that business I was not very passionate about.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I think it's all about perspective and which perspective you or I are coming from. Many times though, the seller can have a value placed on something that is out of sync to vast majority of buyers. Like selling something on Craig's List. I can put $500 on my Yoda figurine and justify to myself why it's worth it but most buyers say I'm crazy. In that case, I can choose to ignore “most buyers” and hold out for the 1 who holds my same value proposition or I can come down off my price. It's a choice between supply, demand and perceived value based on the perspective of the seller and buyer.

    I agree that great designers don't need to do spec work as it cheapens their trade BUT they also have to be okay with that fact that not everyone can afford a great designer. Keyword “great.” So when those two perspectives don't mix, there's tension but the buyer is ultimately the one who drives the future of the transactions.

    • Anonymous

      I agree Daniel, but there has to be a middle ground. There are lots of independent – talented and affordable – designers out there who would be thrilled to have the work that’s going to 99 designs and crowdspring. When I first started designing I submitted to a couple contests, but never won and wasted a TON of time doing it – shame on me for not knowing better, but I learned my lesson.

  • http://gorillawebstudio.com BryanG

    The one thing I know, I will no longer purchase any books or materials from Sitepoint. Sitepoint started 99Designs and for a longtime has sponsored spec work on their own site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jodee.ferrari Joe DeFerrari

    This is the core issue here, yet somehow everyone is having trouble getting past the “$300 vs. $20000″ designer.

    Somewhere along the line design work became viewed as something we do just for the fun of it, and we're willing to do the work just for the hell of it because we enjoy it so much. I would counter that any of these entrepreneurs/small business owners thoroughly enjoy their business, yet they're probably the most shrewd people around when it comes to how they're willing to spend their time and money. It's a terrible double standard on their part.

  • http://azzcatdesign.com Catherine Azzarello

    Maybe I'm oversimplifying the argument. But isn't the difference between the $300 logo contest and the $20K logo hire less about Walmart vs. Saks and more about nothing vs. something?

    30 pairs of jeans at Walmart sell for $10 each. Sure, cheap. BUT every item sells. Walmart gets paid. The distributor gets paid. The laborer gets paid. For each and every pair.

    1 $300 pair of jeans sells at Saks. Same thing…Saks makes money. Distributor makes money. Laborer makes money.

    Different price points for different markets. But everyone makes money on the jeans.

    No one works for free.

    Not so for the logo competition. 30 people produce a product (logo/pair of jeans).

    One gets paid. 29 don't.

    Plus, they lose their rights to the product.

    The arguments about new business model, etc. just don't hold up. Call it a contest. Call it competition. Call it whatever.

    Those are rationalizations and do not change the fact that by 'hiring' 99 Designs, you request a product from people–the majority of whom–you will not pay.

    It's not Walmart jeans for less, it's jeans for nothing.

    And it is wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jodee.ferrari Joe DeFerrari

    That's dead-on correct.

  • http://hotblogtips.com/ Keith Bloemendaal

    I have never used 99, but if the designers that are submitting their work agreed with you, then 99 wouldn't exist? (maybe I am out in left field…)

  • http://hotblogtips.com/ Keith Bloemendaal

    I guess I look at this differently than some. For some reason, I keep thinking of the local community college where you can go get your teeth cleaned for less money because a student does it, or a hair cut, or your car worked on (not every CC college does this, but some do). This might be a bad example, but designers, like everyone else, have to start somewhere, build up a portfolio. So while they might not get paid for every submission, when they do, they are building trust and a portfolio.

    Does every designer come out making top dollar right off the bat? If so, maybe I should rethink my own businesses.

    I certainly understand why designers don't like 99D, but I don't see anything wrong with it as a business. Everyone knows the terms up front, if you don't like it, don't participate in it.

    The other thing I see is, the designs are obviously worth what you are paying for them (meaning you get what you pay for ie: a $300 logo). But I have a hard time seeing the $20k value in the CB logo. Seems like a pretty basic logo to me (again I am NOT a designer).

    One last point, can the consumer on one of my sites really tell the difference?

    As a business person, I have to look at ROI, and I don't see ROI on a $20k logo, period. I see companies that have that money to waste, and a good sales person convincing them that without it, they won't make sales.

    The bottom line is, there is a market for it. There are designers willing to risk not getting the “sale”. And it gives startups a place to get a “decent” logo, that they can certainly upgrade later.

    I am sure the designers here will shoot me down for this comment, but I am just giving my opinion, take it or leave it….

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  • http://twitter.com/PatAlexander PatAlexander

    Chris, great post. While I have not used 99Designs I know people that have and have also used similar companies. They had great results. I have been involved in the creation of a number of businesses over the years. Those I have owned and those I have worked for. I have worked with designers and have done some self design. I think all of these options have their place based on the needs of the individual or business. Even when I do self design, there are a number of people who opinion I trust and the self designs get reviewed and approved or declined based on this input.

    As with everything else in today's world, design is available at many levels. The professionals have to make their product compelling and more valuable than an online service to secure and retain clients. In my business as a consultant, there are those that try to do what I do via online calls. Do they accomplish the same results? Sometimes. If I want to stand out and secure a client, I have to make my onsite work (which usually costs more than the online) more valuable to the client than the alternatives.

    That means I have to be more engaged and I have to deliver more. Even in today's world of great technology tools which I engage everyday, there is still value in some things to occur in person. My job is to show why and then deliver.

  • media designer

    ALL Business owners were for 99designs? Are you sure about that? What you are really saying is that business owners do not value design services as highly as designers.

    Obviously my list of testimonials on my own website don't count for anything then. They are all individuals who obviously value my services.

    Another thing – $20,000 for your logo is misleading. I personally know some highly successful and high profile agencies who wouldn't charge 1/10 of that for a logo. $20,000 doesn't get you a PSD or a pack of JPGs. I know just from the price tag that you are trying to compare a logo (a set of graphics) with a brand development. Two completely different processes. It's like comparing a car paint job with an engine overhaul.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    I didn't say all. You did. And you're viewing it from the holywar lens.

    If a business has a need for a low cost offering, and many designers don't make that offering available, of course a site like 99d or Crowdspring will show up to service that need.

    $20K isn't misleading just because you know cheaper agencies. My point is that there's a gamut of pricing. The agency that priced it at $20K gets sometimes 10x that for a full fledged project for a big company with more diverse needs than me.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    So, the model is that there's a marketplace for affordable designs. I'm just not seeing people other than 99d and Crowdspring offering it.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    The thing is, I'm not choosing the model here. A company sprung up and designers staff it. If you want to point me at someone else that sells inexpensive designs for my needs, I'll take it, but at present, in the big wide open Internet, I know about 99d and Crowdspring, because they're out there selling to businesses.

  • http://hotblogtips.com/ Keith Bloemendaal

    I have heard oDesk has affordable designers, but it isn't a “contest” like 99. I am starting a new project this week and need an affordable logo, so I will be looking into all of these for my needs.

  • http://inthebellyofthefailwhale.com Rob Gokee

    This is interesting to me because I am a composer for film & television (Creative), but I also run two blogs and promote my first book (Business Owner). I totally understand this from a creative standpoint. I'm not likely going to write music for someone as part of 300 people all vying for a job. I don't like the odds, and I'm better off finding my customers the ways that have worked best in the past. But if I need a logo designed, I don't have $20,000 to spend on it. If people are willing to do the work for a chance at my business, it's not my job to stop them. There's a need in the marketplace, and this service fills it. If there was no need, it wouldn't be present.

  • beckyblanton

    I totally understand the designer's side and the business side. Sure, I want to be loved and paid what I'm worth without having to compete for every job. But the fact is, we do compete in everything we do. That's the juice for me anyway – competing. It's all in how you look at it Chris. I do spec work to GET new clients, not to keep them. Once they see what I can do I don't do spec on additional jobs. I've proven myself. If I'm good, I'm good. Hire me. If not, there are thousands of other people out there waiting to see what I've got. If I'm good enough it only takes a few spec jobs to land steady clients. Then you're no longer doing the dreaded spec work. Me? It's a choice. I want to work, I like the competition and I know my limits/boundaries – so I do it and enjoy it. When I get tired of it – I stop. It's that simple. I think it's a fantastic way for new designers to get their work seen and it's how I got my foot in so many doors. So, while I sympathize with the designers and creatives I also say, “This is reality,” and I spend a set amount of time doing spec work. And it does pay off.

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  • http://escapehatcher.com Escape Hatcher

    Myriad species know the answer, adapt or die. If the train has already left the station – and it has in my opinion with regards to crowdsourcing, then find a way to make it work for your business.

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  • Pingback: Intent & The Line In The Sand « Techguerilla

  • francis

    Yes, though everyone involved in producing the big mac got paid, no matter how expensive or cheap it is. You don’t seem to want to address that repeated criticism at all.

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  • straight shooter

    It isn’t tricky at all. Good design needs to be factored in as a cost of doing business. I’m a designer and a small business owner. I don’t pick and choose what work I’ll pay my lawyer for, I don’t get to decide how much a store should charge me for my groceries. Start-ups on a shoe string are personal choices and you get what you pay for…

  • straight shooter

    It isn’t tricky at all. Good design needs to be factored in as a cost of doing business. I’m a designer and a small business owner. I don’t pick and choose what work I’ll pay my lawyer for, I don’t get to decide how much a store should charge me for my groceries. Start-ups on a shoe string are personal choices and you get what you pay for…

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