Devaluing Design

April 21, 2013 § 6 Comments

Warning: My usual positive outlook took a wee turn this morning. I’m peeved.


We’ve all heard of crowd-sourcing by now. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a way to get your job done as inexpensively as possible. Sounds good, right? Let’s say you need a logo for your new business. Some start-ups, especially individuals or very small businesses, just don’t have a budget to hire a graphic designer (much less a design firm or an ad agency). For cases like these, in the past you could ask your cousin Sally (who’s “good in art”) to create something for you for free, or maybe you know a student, or someone just starting out in the design field to create something on the cheap that’ll help build their portfolio.

But now you can go online to any number of websites that provide either a.) logos for $99, or b.) crowd-sourced options. In crowd-sourcing, you describe what you need, name your price, and in this world of high-high-tech, your project is seen overnight by thousands of graphic designers who have signed up with the crowd-source listing who can all submit any number of designs to you for consideration. This means you can potentially receive thousands of design options from all over the world ~ for a fee that is, by all professional standards, incredibly, ridiculously low. And I do understand that this can be the right, if not necessary, solution for many folks. It’s a way for everyone to get a logo, not just the “wealthy”, and I can’t argue with that. I’ve even made the suggestion to a few people myself. We all need to decide where to cut corners in today’s economy.

The downside is the devaluing of design. For myself and a world of other professionals, this can feel like the beginning of the end, because there’s no way to compete. We’ve honed our skills and sensibilities over many, many years, we are among the best and brightest, we are “thinking” designers who not only offer smart, creative solutions but provide ongoing service, becoming a key player in your business. This is how we put food on the table ~ by understanding where you’re coming from, what you want and need, what will best represent you and your business in a busy, noisy landscape by creating something uniquely yours, not cut from a cookie template, not one-size-fits-all. It’s not just talent, it’s experience and insight and labor. We are your visual voice.

So, in a way, there’s a quietly raging battle going on that we’re all kind of wading through, to see what happens. But this morning it got my ire up.

I’d dropped my daughter at the train station and turned on the radio for the drive home, figuring I’d catch up on some news. Apparently Sunday mornings are filled with financial shows, and I happened on WOR 710 with Ric Edelman and his show The Truth About Money. He was explaining crowd-sourcing, and how it’s changing our world. He explained it in terms of the recent Boston Marathon bombings, how police and other law enforcement were able to nab the suspects so much more easily because of the sheer volume of phones with cameras, the capability to instantly send images and videos over the internet, being able to information-gather from thousands – millions – of people via social media instead of the old, time-consuming way of person-to-person investigating. All good. Makes sense. Except I had this bad feeling about where he was taking this…

And sure enough, he went on to add another example. “Say you want a logo for your business…. before, you would hire a graphic designer, but now… (insert reiteration of what I said in second paragraph above)” And THEN he said, “Of course this spreads fear in the hearts of designers, because it means they’ll have to now work on spec, and they probably don’t want to do that…”

Excuse me? Do YOU work on spec Ric Edelman? Do you not get paid for your radio show, your lectures or client consultations? Does your producer wait and see if anybody tuned in that day before cutting your paycheck? What? You have years of experience behind you? Oh, that matters? That makes you worth more than, say, a beginner? How about this – do you go to a fine restaurant and ask for a few variations on your meal, name a low-ball price, then decide if you’ll pay for it or not? Do you have any understanding that a designer not “wanting” to work on spec might have something to do with the fact that this is how some of us keep a roof overhead? This isn’t just fun & games. Or wait! Maybe it is! Maybe we should all find different jobs, then possibly make a couple hundred dollars on the side every so often dabbling in logos for crowd-sourcing opportunities. You know, just for fun.

Funny how this harkens back to the notion that artists and writers do what they do no matter how poorly they are paid. The historical documentation of the poor artist, wearing hole-ridden shoes, driven by passion alone…unless fortunate enough to find a patron like the Medici’s or the Pope ….. to become wildly famous after death, cashed in on by hordes of wise art dealers. But I digress.

No thanks to you, sir, for stirring this pot. For not only sharing, but encouraging this demeaning insight with your audience. For degrading the time, effort, intelligence and talent of those who feed their families through their hard work in a creative field. Not to mention the individuals and business who have benefitted from the vision and fantastic work of many a gifted designer.

That the world is evolving, that we’re well on our way, that change is already here, embraced by many and on the move, I have no disagreement. And time, of course, will tell the final tale. But I am, frankly, appalled at your cavalier disregard for the creative professional. You’re basically saying “why call a pro when you can get it done for free by somebody else!”

So far there are still reasons why people call on us. One of them is called professionalism. Something that, at least for now, is still valued.


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§ 6 Responses to Devaluing Design

  • I notice Edelman did not suggest we won’t need police investigators, bomb squads, or sharpshooters any more, now that we can crowdsource evidence gathering and can easily incite large numbers people to take the law into their own hands.

    Street vendors don’t put fine restaurants out of work. And on spec graphic designers do not put talented, experienced, and professional graphic designers out of work. They serve a brand new market, not yours., where we can now launch a new business for peanuts instead of doing old-style market research. But when the research is done, those that survive still very much need your services.


  • Elephant says:

    A good rant! I would be reluctant to accept logo design work from a “nobody.” Perhaps I am overly worried, but how do you know its original and not the logo for something, even something big, elsewhere in the world. I would worry about copyright and trademark infringement.

    A logo is VERY important and communicates so much – it can be a big help with brand and name recognition – plus you want to keep your logo not get into a fight over it! If you absolutely can’t afford to get it any other way and you are willing to invest some time in being sure it is really “yours” then maybe, but I think something so important to a business’ identity should not be a cheapest-is-best item!

    If you wouldn’t let the lowest bidder total stranger do your taxes – why let them design the symbol that represents your entire enterprise!



    • saxtonstudio says:

      Amen! Well said. We know this, and our clients know this, (and someone ought to tell Mr. Edelman), but the trend is completely disrespectful on all accounts, not only for artists but the businesses they serve or intend to serve. And when even big brand names get in on the act of “talent for cheap”, I really fume. (I forget now which one… will have to refresh my memory on that…!) Thanks so much for your excellent commentary.


  • Rand MacIvor says:

    I usually advise clients who wish to look for cheaper alternatives to go ahead, but that they’d better watch the quality and integrity of the work they receive.


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