Should I Use 99Designs for Cheap Graphic Design?

It’s a question many businesses have been asking themselves since “crowdsourcing” and “design contest” sites started to spring up several years ago. Ostensibly offering businesses and companies a cheap solution to what is perceived to be a major expense in the business realm, hundreds of designers “compete” to win a prize offered by a company seeking a new logo, brand or other design project. What’s not to love? Companies save hundreds of dollars on a simple logo, inexperienced and/or student designers get the chance to build up a portfolio and hopefully earn some money doing it.

Before Crowdsourcing and Design Contests, It Was Called Spec Work

Prior to the onset of sites such as these, the method of producing design for a client with the hope that the client would eventually purchase the design was known as “spec” or “speculative” work. Most, if not all, professional designers and design associations are vehemently opposed to spec work as they consider the practice to be unethical both on the part of the designer and the client.

On the client’s end, it’s considered unethical to ask a professional to spend his or her time and expertise speculatively – without any promise of compensation. Professional designers are artists, most have invested in their education, all have spent years perfecting their craft. One of the most common analogies floating around is comparing asking a designer to perform spec work to asking 10 attorneys to write a brief for your company but only compensating the attorney whose brief you liked most. There’s a big difference between hiring a designer whose portfolio you loved and mutually working towards a design you’re thrilled with and expecting 10 designers to put in the time, effort and expertise without expectation of compensation.

On the designers end, it’s considered unethical to engage in spec work because it’s devaluing the craft and setting a poor industry standard.

The AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) has outlined its stance on the ethics (or lack of) in spec work, but lets take a break from the ethicality of using 99Designs and similar crowd sourcing design sites. I doubt most clients using these sites are out to delve into long moral debates about whether design crowd sourcing sites are ethical – most simply need design work and have heard that crowdsourcing or design contest sites are a cheap way to get good graphic design work. But is it? Will you really save money by using these design sites?

Cheap Graphic Design

Cheap Logo Design – Is it Really Cheap?

One of (if not THE) the most important aspects of our design work here at Ashworth Creative is the relationship we build with our clients. We get to know their business, their goals, their budgets and their personalities. With crowdsourcing and design contest sites such as 99Designs you never get that personal relationship. Indeed, you’ll most likely never even speak to the person who creates your logo.

“So what?”, you might be thinking. “I don’t need a new friend, I need a new logo.”

The relationship you develop with your graphic designer goes far beyond exchanging pleasantries. As experienced professionals, a good graphic designer can anticipate potential issues that could arise down the road and will address them at the preliminary stage, saving you time, money and stress.

For example, are you hoping for a design work in three different shades of blue? An inexperienced designer will go ahead and start visualizing how navy, turquoise and cerulean will work together. An experienced designer will advise you that blue ink can be difficult to dry completely and offer you suggestions on how to circumvent this issue.

Let’s say you want to put your logo on billboard – do you think the tiny little .jpeg or .eps file will be sufficient? Or, perhaps you need a black and white version of your logo. Maybe you want to use your logo as your Facebook cover page, but the file you have has a vertical orientation, not a horizontal one. What if you want to add it to a Power Point presentation, but your logo’s current color scheme renders it essentially invisible on the spread? With most crowd sourcing sites, you receive only a .jpeg and .eps file and only have a short window of time (5 days) to request additional artwork. You never know what you will need down the line. If you’re working with an experienced professional designer, the changes you need are a phone call away.

Plagiarism. According to a number of review sites, plagiarism runs rampant on these sites with most “designs” merely being templates with tiny elements tweaked. So, do you really want to spend the money on a design contest prize only to find yourself with something completely unoriginal? Or, even worse, land up with a lawsuit for trademark infringement? Are the “savings” really worth it?

Using Crowdsourced Design Sites Vs. Working With an Agency

When you “hire” someone on 99Designs you are paying for the artwork. That’s it. Can that designer help you market your business down the line? Do they have any press contacts? Can they handle media buys? Can they recommend an agency to work with (or even more important, which agency to avoid)?

What about web design? Are you planning on incorporating your logo or brand identity onto your website, either now or in the future? With crowdsourcing and design contest sites, you’re simply purchasing the artwork. There is no coding involved. If you ever plan to have your logo integrating onto your website, you’ll still have to find a developer to implement these designs on your website.

When you engage with an agency from day one, you have an entire team devoted to helping your company reach its marketing goals. That is an entire force of people ensuring that your design work and any subsequent marketing initiatives are cohesive and complementary. When you cherry pick a bunch of unrelated professionals to perform piecemeal tasks, the results can be spotty, jumbled — and in some cases quite costly when you factor in the expenses, revisions and time your company will spend.

Investing in agency or professional design work will give you a much higher return on your investment. Even if you begin your relationship with a small project, you’re still setting an anticipatory plan in action to ensure continued marketing success down the road as your business expands. The level of knowledge and expertise a professional designer or agency can impart on your business is priceless.