No-spec shenanigans

June 6, 2008

Overnight we had someone presumably from no-spec posting propaganda in our contests. They posted their no-spec logo to 127 of our contests.  Isn’t it ironic that a group which claims to be out to protect designers would make life hard for our design community who at the end of day are just trying to make a living like everyone else. Thanks to everyone who quickly reported this to us – it’s all sorted now. Apologies to any contest holders who were inconvenienced.

31 Responses to “No-spec shenanigans”

  1. psygn Says:

    Yeah, it got quite annoying. At first I thought it was just your typical idiot who skips the brief and believes everything on 99 designs is a logo contest, but I saw the ad posted as an entry on many other contests.

    Good job taking care of them!

  2. cat Says:

    I have better things to do with my time then run around the internet posting the logo.

    Has 99Designs pissed people off? Sure. But you already knew that was going to happen so no surprises there.

  3. psygn Says:

    At least you don’t waste your time posting such rubbish in every contest — that’s just being pathetic.

    I’m sure the no-spec logo being branded on every contest page pissed more people off here at 99Designs than did 99Designs itself.

    Whoever’s submitting the logo here is preaching to the wrong crowd.

  4. cat Says:

    “Whoever’s submitting the logo here is preaching to the wrong crowd.”

    I’m afraid that is not true at all.

    Every week I receive emails from designers who only realised what working spec is all about after they’ve seen the site / logo.

    And recently, they are mostly coming from 99Designs.

  5. psygn Says:

    I’m just speaking in general from what I feel to be true, and I know there will always be converts in a crowd.

    I understand how spec work devalues the graphic design industry. Unfortunately, the client could probably care less about it and would rather have 30 designs to choose from, so of course they would choose the spec work route. There are also designers out there that are desperate for cash and are willing to submit to this route. It becomes a slippery slope for both parties, and then there’s 99Designs.

    Anyway, it all comes down to realization and skill.
    You willingly enter these contests knowing that you will be pitted against other great designers. It’s a hard thought to swallow, but it’s your own loss if you lose and submit to this type of atmosphere. If you have the necessary skill set to compete, you shouldn’t have a hard time winning contests as there are plenty available to choose from. Evolution is inevitable and happens in every industry, for better or for worse. This is one evolution that works well for some, and not so well for others. I agree it hurts everyone in general, though.

    That said, I respect you for trying to hold down the floodgates, but change in an industry is inevitable. This is one change that is attracting many people at a rapid rate.

  6. DLCreative Says:

    Hey, whoever’s posting NO-SPEC logos everywhere…in the nicest possible way…sling it!!! I’ve never been quite so enraged, by a group of seemingly pompous design professionals who have banded together under the banner of this pseudo-guerilla organisation to allegedly protect their beloved industry.

    I’ve been a design professional working in international advertising and design agencies in London for nearly 12 years. Now on the freelance path, trying to grow my own business, I often rely on sites such as 99Designs, not merely for potential income, but also as a base to generate ideas and cross-pollinate thinking with other creatives during ‘leaner’ periods when regular clients and freelance agencies aren’t so busy (such as now, coming up to the end of the financial year when everyone is tightening belts and budgets are practically runnning on vapour).

    You cite the fact that designers potentially receive no recompense for their efforts, but yet this is no different to a agencies pitching against one and other for clients, unless you happen to be working back in the 1980’s when agencies used to charge for pitches. Designers don;t have to submit work, nor are they tied into doing so to be a member of the website.

    You also cite the lack of a ‘client-designer’ face-to-face relationship harmful to the industry and its standards. However, having worked with several clients from this site, via email and mobile phone, I’ve had a very clear understanding of the requirements of the brief and the client’s expectations. Conversely, the clients have also understood the rationale of my work through clear writing and communication.

    All in all, and given that most of the soundbites on the NO-SPEC website come from professionals based within design groups, it strikes me that sites such this have got agencies worried, and too bloody right they should be. They’ve been overcharging clients for years and this is the backlash.

    If businesses are voting with their feet and seeking cheaper design through the internet, perhaps you should ask whether or not the design agencies and their professionals actually have a desirable product any more. And remember, cheaper rates, doesn’t have to mean ‘cheaper’ work.

  7. Tony Says:

    Is the search feature currently down?

    I’m trying to search old contests and it doesn’t seem to be working.

  8. mark Says:

    NO-SPEC are simply spammers and should be treated as such. They have lost all credibility.

  9. RonnieFizz Says:

    I can understand that they have good intentions on protecting graphics artists but one thing is certainly clear looks like these guys are a bunch on people who keep on loosing to contests. and doesn’t have what it take to be an artist.

  10. […] No-Spec! logos as entries into 99 Designs contests. According to the 99 Designs blog and their no-spec shenanigans post Overnight we had someone presumably from no-spec posting propaganda in our contests. They […]

  11. Paul Says:

    The problem isn’t the spec(culation). It’s the price.

    There’s too many cheap project offers, as low as $250 for a web site. It’s kind like slave work.

    I think 99designs should put a reasonable minimum price and $250 is not reasonable.

    Now, how much should it be? Whatever you choose, it will never satisfy everybody, because of the different costs of living where the participants live in.

    However, 99designs has to keep in mind that what you offer is a unique value proposition to contest holders. Where else a client could receive ideas and multiple iteractions from several designers? Is that worth only $250?

    So, while I don’t know what is the minimum price for every designer here, I think websites shouldn’t be priced for less that $1k. It’s certainly not enough for everybody, but it’s better than $250.

  12. Paul, how is what you’re proposing not a nice way of saying price fixing? Prize money has been steadily growing as interest in 99designs grows, we have contests above $1000 nearly every day now. The free market approach seems to be working nicely.

    My opinion is the focus on price is the wrong way of looking at it, because contests can’t be compared based on price. Some contests will require an hour of effort, others will require many hours. If you can find a contest that requires an hour of effort and it pays $200 then that is great, even by American standards. In a lot of ways, the cheaper, quicker design contests represent the best value for designers.

    We are seeing more than 40 new contests a day. This is driving contest holders to work harder to make their contest more attractive to designers, competition works both ways.

  13. kroz Says:

    I’d love for these “NO-SPEC” fighters to try and be a designer in a country such as mine. A 3rd world country, where, most of the time, a logo designer could only be paid about $45 per work. And thats if your lucky! Personally, this site has become a way for me to find value in my graphic design skills. If I had only decided to rely on doing Design Works for local Agencies, I wouldn’t be able to provide myself at least three meals a day right now. I would’ve been piss-poor by now. Additionally, this site is the sole reason why my design skills have reached the level it is right now. This is because 99designs gave me the opportunity to work with international clients and designers which has challenged and motivated me to become a better designer. Try being in my place and lets see if you’d still be unwilling to do what you would call “Spec-Work”!

    I understand where you are coming from but then again, we, the designers, are given the choice of which contests to join. Now that alone clearly isn’t “slave” work. What we need are Contest Holders who set great examples to others and show everyone the true value of our works, not necessarily with just the prize money but also with the attention they give to the contests and the appreciation for our designs.

    I LOVE IT HERE and I don’t see any “No-Spec” Propaganda could ever change that!

  14. Paul Says:

    @Donald, thanks for your reply.

    However, I am talking about web site design, and a site clearly can’t be done in an hour or even 4 hours (even for “only” the .PSD home page). You need to do information architecture. You need to choose the correct colors for harmony and to experiment with layouts… you need to do a lot of things that require experience, time and experimentation to get right.

    When I say that it can’t be done in that timeframe, I mean that the client don’t want something generic, but a site specific to her needs (as the contest holder usually puts it: something “unique”, “professional” and “creative” – at least those that post contests for $250 ask for that). If she wanted a generic site, she could simply buy a template at TemplateMonster for $65,00.

    Yes, it’s an open market, however there’s no shortage of designers that will compete for pennies, as you can see here:

    And if there’s no shortage of submissions, contest holders have no incentive to increase the prize.

    Currently, there’s 54 web design contests.

    1 has a prize of $1600
    3 have a prize between $1000 and $1100.
    10 have a prize between $600 and $850.
    40 have a prize at $500 or bellow.

    Take your own conclusions.

    If the market doesn’t regulate itself, 99designs should increase the minimum prize to create a healthier environment for designers, the same way that it regulates the market imposing a minimum prize now of $250 (and a suggested prize of $500).

    Also, you need to take in consideration 4 more points:

    1) the risk that the designer will not win after hours of work. If there’s such a risk, the prize needs to be higher

    2) the possibility that the client has to see the work before to decide to buy it – the speculation.

    3) the capacity that the client has to choose between the work of several designers

    4) the capacity that the client has to choose between several iterations from several designers before to buy one of them.

    Clearly, the value proposition is worth much more to the client than the prizes offered right now.

  15. @Paul

    In general, I agree with you, Web Design is a category we really hope to drive prizes up in. The prize recommendation is $250 PER PAGE, which is unfortunately tough to enforce. That said, I still strongly believe a free-market economy is the way to go. I will be keen to see how the Web Design category responds to the impending introduction of pre-paid and guaranteed contests.

  16. secondgig Says:

    I don’t think it’s going to be possible to please everyone in regards to the prize money or spec or no-spec.

    generally speaking your always going to get a mix of both client and designer here and on other sites. heck generally speaking as a freelancer your always going to find both good and bad clients who have a range of budgets and should be looked at with a discerning eye when it comes to your relationship with them.

    the issue of prize money should be addressed but sometimes I think people don’t quite look at it in the same way.

    in all of the spec work that I’ve done here I’ve taken note of how long its taking me and compare that to to how much prize money I’ve earned. (plus associated work after the original contest)
    so far it’s worked out that I am making a little under the hourly rate that I set myself for this work. It’s nothing great but it’s comparable if I was doing this part time at that rate.

    I do think more emphasis should be put on getting the prize money up, in the last few days I’ve been seeing plenty of small to mid size business’ only offering a $100 for thir logo design , I do think that should be raised to at least a $250 minimum.

    generally speaking the only difference I see between spec and no-spec is the pitching process, I’m pitching designs related to the client rather than designs that I have previously done. The difference is in how you pitch to them and what sort of impression you make.

    The one thing that does truly annoy me though are clients that take advantage of this and run you dry with change upon change only to have someone else jump in and win the contest, especially with the amount of buttering up they do.
    I think there should be some kind of ethical rules put in place to protect designers who are putting in more time past the original designs that they do.
    This is one point which I believe would definetely put me off competing in any more competitions.

    I do think there is room for a lot of improvement in the competition area, mainly focusing on the points made above (prize money and ethics) but I do think the process is comparable to standard design practises.
    Generally a freelancer goes through the same things but usually they have recourse especially with contracts and deposits go they’re not usually working for free from the get go.

  17. Rawhide Rex Says:

    “….I can understand that they have good intentions on protecting graphics artists but one thing is certainly clear looks like these guys are a bunch on people who keep on loosing to contests. and doesn’t have what it take to be an artist….”

    HA! If you had what it takes to be a professional level graphic artist or web designer…you wouldnt have to resort to design contests to make money.

    Dont you guys value your hard earned skills? Don’t you think the time you spend trying to “win” one these contests would be better spent looking for actual paying clients you can build a relationship with?

    Anyway…you are all free to do what you want. If you guys don’t value what you do..then by all mean…join as many contests as you want. Those of us who know what we are doing will be out selling our skills to clients who give a dam about their business and are willing to pay what we’re worth.

  18. Rawhide: Or on the flip side, if you were a professional level graphic artist or web designer, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to put down your peers. I would advise having a look around the site and reading some of the comments above from our designers.

  19. Tinfoil Tim Says:


    While I agree that disparaging designers is not going to gin up support for people opposed to your site, I’m a little puzzled by this statement, particularly the use of the word ‘our’ in the context of ‘your’ designers.

    “I would advise having a look around the site and reading some of the comments above from *our* designers.”

    When you say ‘our’ designers, what aspect of ‘our’ are you referring to? That these designers ‘work’ for you (they don’t), the fact that you pay ‘your’ designers salaries, health benefits or other socially accepted and often legally-mandated conditions of employment (you don’t), supply them hardware and legitimately licensed software (you don’t) or the fact that you take responsibility for ‘your’ designers’ conduct and end product (you don’t).

    For future reference, when design firms typically boast about the skills of *our* designers to prospective clients, one or more of the previous conditions is at least implied. Usually, being responsible TO and responsible FOR *our* designers is what denotes a professional design service.

    To be considered as one of ‘your’ designers, all someone has to do is supply an e-mail addy and a myriad of free design work. Overall, this is atypical of the working conditions that most professional designers – regardless of skill level – are accustomed to. Nor is it a type of employment that the design community at large is going to support, hence the resistance to your ‘design contest’ model and the introduction of the No-Spec! logos as a form of protest.

    I can understand why you would launch such a business and grudgingly applaud you for the chutzpah which it would require. I can imagine that during initial planning sessions you had quite the chuckle about a business model that involved supposedly ‘professional’ level designers supplying time, hardware, software and the design work itself without expecting payment. Unless, of course, they are selected as a winner of one of your ‘contests’ (a prospect which, according to the method you used to name your site, is approximately 1 in 99). And that’s after expending time and financial resources in order to obtain the skill level to participate in the first place.

    Traditionally, getting paid is one of the conditions of being labeled as ‘our’ designer, by a firm that was offering that designer’s work as part of its services. In my earlier days, desperation may have forced me into entering your contests in the hope of picking up some much-needed scratch, but I certainly wouldn’t have defended such activities as a legitimate type of employment or a positive manner in which to begin my career. Nor would I have accepted be referred to as ‘our’ designer by someone who shouldered absolutely no responsibility to, or for, me.

    Accordingly, I find it odd that so many designers – of a wide range of skill levels – go along and defend giving away their work for free so vociferously. There’s an old saying about ‘cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face’ that seems pretty apropos.

  20. Paul Annesley Says:

    Tinfoil Tim: we’re not a design firm, we’re a design community, and we’re certainly not claiming to own or have power over the participating designers.

    Nor did we chuckle over the business model – this community grew naturally from the SitePoint forums, with designers choosing to use forum threads to compete in informal design contests. They asked us to help them run the process by adding custom features and a set of ground rules, and eventually SitePoint Contests and then 99designs grew up.

    To say “our designers” is like saying “our family” at the dinner table – a sense of belonging, but not a claim of ownership.

  21. kroz Says:

    Yes! This is OUR community! and WE are here by choice! This community has given me more than just extra “scratch”. It is here where I got respect and recognition for my design skills. Not to mention friendship and guidance from people in the same field. All of which I could never acquire in a million years in my local design industry. You have no idea about the term “exploitation of skills” until you try to be employed in a design agency here. I almost gave up on my desire to develop my design skills but thankfully, I found this community. If you have a better place for a designer like me then by all means present it but I will forever be thankful for what this community has done for me.

  22. ck Says:

    Spec or no-spec, thats the question, there are a couple of comments here that have grabbed my attention.

    The industry is changing, true! Yet if you feel this is the way the industry should go let me point out a couple of things. First off if you are a designer you made the choice for either a pay check or love of design either way with the 99 designs contest system and its future impact on the industry I can give you a very clear image of what to expect. Devalue of your skills and trade leading to the next step less money for what we do. If this is a future you like then by all means continue with what you are doing.

    The idea of competing with my fellow designers is exciting, but I don’t feel that a person who ultimately knows nothing about design is not a person to defining what good design is. Maybe if each contest winner was a choice made by his or her peers then maybe I could agree these contests are worth being apart of.

    I could go on and on but frankly I am not desperate enough for the money I have other skills to make money, I don’t design for just the paycheck. If this is the last place to make something of your self as a designer, then we as a community of designers really should re-evaluate our reasons for becoming designers.

    Final point, I have entered contests, and well it took a little time but I realized why I went to school for design, and it wasn’t cheapen myself my skill and my fellow designers, by participating in the devaluation of my industry. I wish you all luck in you careers, I no its a struggle, because I struggle everyday, but I rather struggle than sell out.


  23. angiers Says:

    What is 99 designs doing about the questions of the legality of running contest like these? The logoworks guy even though biased against spec work makes good points about the laws governing games, contest and gambling in states, nationally and internationally. I’ve tryed to find more specific legal mombo jumbo concerning these laws and I’ve come up with bupkis. Just curious for your point of view on this. Maybe 99 designs should be talking to some lawyers just in case.

  24. angiers Says:

    sorry not the logoworks i meant logo factory guy.

  25. angiers Says:

    @Paul Annesley
    You say the contests grew organiclly then why charge the $39 rate to submit a contest? Surely it desn’t cost that nearly that much to host each and every contest. It’s more then a community it’s a business for you too. It’s not like you’re sacrificing anything to provide this service to your clients. The only real sacrifice is by the designers. Not saying anyhting about the morality of the situation but you are making a profit from 99designs. Otherwise you wouldn’t have moved it off the sitepoint boards.

  26. Angiers: There isn’t a question of legality, as far as the variety of actual lawyers we have consulted are concerned. I tend to ignore speculation on the matter on blogs, particularly biased ones.

    As for your second point, I’m not sure what you are getting at. We are absolutely a business, in a strikingly similar situation to designers. We risk investing cost and effort (you perhaps don’t realize how much) with the risk that it may outweigh the return.

    I think of the 99designs community as “our” community because I spend day in and day out interacting, learning and growing with the designers that hang around these parts. We work out ways to build a system that benefits designers and us. It’s called a symbiotic relationship.

    I see lots of designers making a better wage then they would in many countries and I get paid for doing what I love, someone explain to me why I should be feeling guilty?

  27. Kevin Says:

    Can someone point out whether or not designers own their submitted-but-not-selected designs?

    For me, that would be the only important point as I firmly believe in the free market to drive down cost services/products.

  28. Yes, designers own their designs right up until the point where they receive payment. Only then does copyright transfer to the customer.

  29. Jessica Says:

    I just want to say that frankly, I am starting to agree with the no spec people. I mean, I work for hours on a design, only to have someone take my concept and pretty much copy it, add something to it the CH likes better, and then they win. My designs are not bad. I have many four and five star entries, but that doesn’t mean anything. I have worked on revisions for a CH, only to have someone come in at the last minute and win with one entry. Also, for those of you who are saying that the designers who get mad about this are just poor designers, what about some of the CHs who have bad taste?
    I have seen some downright ugly and tacky entries win contests.
    Then there are the many contests I have entered where the CH gives no feedback.
    Then there are the contests where everyone copies everyone else.
    It does get old.

  30. John Says:

    Anyone who gives away their work is NOT a professional designer. ONLY an amateur would see this as a legitimate business model.

  31. John, if your definition of a professional designer is one who ALWAYS gets paid for every piece of work they produce you have just excluded most freelancers. All areas of design have clients that don’t pay, at least 99designs allows designers to make an educated decision about what they are getting themselves into and who they are working for based on other designers experience with that contest holder.

    Might I also add, mathematically, if you win a certain percentage of contests you enter and you enter a reasonable amount of contests, then you have an hourly rate just like anyone else.

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