Trials and Tribulations of SpecWork and CrowdSpring

There is no subject more controversial then SpecWork. It never ceases to amaze me the levels of emotion, even hatred that someone people exhibit when arguing against companies such as 99Designs and CrowdSpring. If SpecWork were a religion, we would bear witness to holy wars erupting between believers and non believers. This is my take…

This will easily be a monster of a post, I find it easy to waffle on about things, to explain in inordinate length about whatever it is I may be talking or writing about. So, please bear with my whilst I try to put this rabid subject into perspective. This is crucial so that my views are taken in context and are not that of some arrogant, obnoxious and naive silver spoon fed egotistical creative.

This is my own view. These are views formed from experiencing both sides of this holy war. This is not some rampant preaching sermon about one or the other. More, it is to just explain that things are never as simple as people make out.

Is SpecWork Evil?

Ask most seasoned designers or employed creatives and you will get a big meaty ‘yes’, SpecWork IS evil. Ask those creatives struggling to make a living, those who have lost a job and find themselves without a personal portfolio, those seeking to earn a living whilst living with a illness and you are likely to get quite the opposite reply.

So who is wrong? I dare you to answer that with one or the other. If you find it easy to judge those mentioned above, the ones that do participate in SpecWork as being reckless and irresponsible, then you ‘Creative Person’ need to open your eyes to the reality of the world.

Nothing in life is as we would like. Nothing in life is as we would love it to be. It’s easy to preach, rant and argue against aspects of life that has not directly affected us. Those who live in the ‘rose tinted palace’ high atop of the there supposed ‘moral high ground’, who believe they are right and everyone else is wrong.

I have seen plenty of anti SpecWork advocates, and frankly, I am often disgusted at their obvious bloody minded opinion, often spoke or acted on with venom. These are often individuals or companies that are, as I mention above, employed, have a cushy job, or have just not experienced much of hardship or life challenges that many people experience whilst continuing to smile and just get ‘the fuck on with life’.

Or you get the hangers on, those just tagging along for the ride and fun of it, eager to express any opinion, so long as someone listens.

A brief potted employment history

So, to put this into context, so you know roughly the type of person I am, here is a quick summary of my employment history.

  1. At 18 started 3 year apprenticeship in traditional artwork, paste-up, planning, photography and platemaking. This was for a large commercial printers in Eastbourne called Manor Park Press.
  2. At age of 21, I was made redundant from Manor Park Press.
  3. Spent 6 months unemployed whilst retraining at home with a Mac LC, many books on Mac’s and appropriate software.
  4. 6 months later, and several hundred job letters later, ended up working for a Reprographics house, specializing in Mac’s, Scitex and Crossfield scanning.
  5. Short stint there, then ended up working for a advertising and marketing agency, working on a PC, Pagemaker and CorelDraw. Guh.
  6. Another short stint there saw me then moving to a small design and print company where I stayed for 3 years. Learning from an experienced typographer, all the in’s and out’s of QuarkXpress and typography.
  7. 3 years later, I moved to Gemini Press in Shoreham, a large and significant commercial printers. Here I rose through the ranks of graphic designer through to Senior Designer and IT Manager for the whole company.
  8. Here I work tirelessly for 8 years. Here I had a breakdown due to excessive hours, stress, poor management and excessive mental and emotional bullying.

As you can see, I have significant real world industry experience across the board. What I say in my posts, within this blog, in this post, is with all the experience I have gathered in these 24+ years of working full time. I do know what I am talking about.

CrowdSpring and SpecWork

Not to dawdle to much on the breakdown, as this does not define me as a person, but it has ‘shaped’ my life and more importantly, my whole perspective on life. This changed everything for me. I left Gemini the day of the breakdown, never to return to full time employed work. This meant having to sell my house, leave and abandon all the trapping of modern life. Move back with my parents and consider where the fuck I go from here. Choosing to give up everything that one has spent most of his working life trying to obtain is not the easiest of choices.

In this cross over time, I traveled, played with eBay, potted around a bit, read books and drank copious amount of coffee and ultimately considered my return to graphic design. ImJustCreative was born.

One of many problems and potential challenges now surfaced. I had no portfolio. I had no contacts. I had nothing to show for my 24+ years of design and print. Yet, here was I, hoping to start working for myself.

At the age of 34, a designer with no portfolio, with no experience as a freelancer, with no history of solo working behind me I realised things would be pretty damn hard to get off the ground.

Let me introduce CrowdSpring

I do have a soft spot for Ross and those behind the scenes at CrowdSpring. Without a shadow of a doubt, had CS not been around for the short time it had, when I was looking at trying to create a portfolio and earn some pocket money, I am not sure where I would have ended up.

CrowdSpring, for me, for the reasons you have read above, allowed me to get on the ladder. To start designing real projects. To get the creative juices flowing.

More importantly, to start inducing some much needed self confidence and motivation. To feel that I did still have ‘it’ as a designer. The risks I took with spending countless hours on projects that I didn’t win were my choices alone to make. Not CrowdSpring neither the clients posting the jobs.

CrowdSpring gave me the much needed boost to get things moving along in a much more realistic time frame. Time is of the essence when you are considering life as a freelancer. Don’t have time, money or the luxury to start thinking idealistically about the virtues or evils of SpecWork.

Often, the challenges of life means you have to make choices that suit you and you alone.

You don’t have the luxury to ponder the evils of SpecWork. It is at this point I had to choose to survive or just give-up. If I had listened to the anti SpecWork brigade, if there had been some law against taking part in SpecWork, I would not be where I am now.

Don’t get me wrong

I see perfectly the negative aspects of SpecWork, I truly do. I am not naive or ignorant of the issues and longer term problems to the creative industry. I for one and witnessing them for myself, the cheapening of what we do is widespread.

But that’s not just all down to SpecWork, and it’s pretty lame to just keep using that as an excuse. There are plenty of other reasons for this wide scale perception that designing is just quick, easy and cheap. Half the time, all you anti SpecWorkers spend so much time moaning, that you fail to tackle the real problem. The one problem every individual designer can control and take into our own hands, our own marketing, branding and our own efforts to educate the clients.

SpecWork is competition. Where there is business, there is competition. Fair or unfair.

Spend less time moaning about SpecWork, it’s not going anywhere. It’s here to stay and likely to become more prominent, best to just accept that and do the best you can to keep bringing the work for you and your family. You need to survive, focus more on yourself, your business, your employees or co workers, and less time about those other companies also looking to survive in today’s world, the likes of CrowdSpring and iStock.

It’s all business ladies and gentlemen.

As designers, need to loose this idealistic, ‘we are so special’ atitude and just get over it. We don’t own design, we just do it. We design because we love it and mostly also because we have mouths to feed and bills to pay.

Accept the challenges of having to fight for work. Collectively, we all have to continually raise the ante. We can’t become complacent about the important of our own hand in the diluting of this mass perception that design is cheap.

CrowdSpring had only been around for a few months the time I started dangling my feet in the torrent of freelancing. For me, and many others, it’s a means to an end. I owe a lot to companies like them.

The solution is that now, I need to keep or two steps ahead of them. I used CrowdSpring for my own very important ends, they used me, the clients used them, and I used the clients.

That next corner could be YOUR undoing

As an anti SpecWork individual, would you now be saying I didn’t have the right, after my breakdown, to do what I had to do to get my life back on track? That I should have always done the so called ‘right thing’ for the industry and not for myself?

Say you end up in my position, you have a family, you are desperate, you need help. Would you make those reliant on you suffer because of your idealistic views on SpecWork?

Dear hardworking creative, trust me when I say, you do NOT know what is round that corner. You could also end up experiencing a life changing event, such as a major breakdown like I did 5 years ago.

Open your minds and look past the convenience of thinking in black or white.


Written by: Graham Smith: The Logo Smith
1st Posted: 2009/10/06 & Post Updated: 2014/05/09
Filed In Categories: Books, Graphic Design, Opinion, Photography, Portfolio

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