Freelancer.com goes public – sharemarket launch values it at nearly $1 billion.
So I checked them out. Essentially it seems much the same as 99designs.com, which I’d signed up for earlier in the year and investigated as a possible source of income. It wasn’t, and the whole experience had left me disappointed, angry, insecure and afraid for the future of the design industry as a whole. So naturally I signed up and gave freelancer.com a go. Yes I know, I’m a glutton for punishment but I was bored and had nothing better to do. “I was young, I needed the money!”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these types of site, the idea is that the client posts their job and designers battle it out. This can be a single task, such as a logo design with a set ‘prize’ of whatever they are willing to pay and designers submit designs, or ongoing work like creating 10 banner ads per week and people place a bid for the contract.
I didn’t place any bids on contracts. The rewards on offer worked out to a couple of dollars per hour – basically third world rates. Sod that.
One logo design job I saw was perfect to test out the process with minimal effort. A bookstore wanted a dragon with some gothic text and I have a dragon I’d designed for someone else years ago that never got used. It took me about 20 minutes to choose a font, type the company name, wrap it around my dragon and post it as an entry. Mine was the second one to appear, so someone else had taken even less time than I had!
The offered ‘prize’ was a whole $115. For a logo design. Really.
I received a private message from the client an hour later, “I think it’s great!” but could I face the dragon in the opposite direction. No problem, this took about 5 minutes. If this was just a normal client who’d come into my office and I’d presented this design he’d have accepted it and been happy, but now there were 20 other entries and 6 days left to run.
By the next day there were over 50 entries. In the comments section someone had singled out 3 that he said were stolen, with links to where they’d been stolen from. Mine was one of them. I followed his link and it looked nothing like mine, #2, at all. It was exactly the same as someone else’s though, #12, so I replied, pointed out his mistake and requested that he fix his typo. He didn’t, there’s no option to do so, and his published comment just sat there, wrongly branding me a cheat.
Yesterday I had another look and there were over 100 entries. The client had posted a comment, 3 days before the competition was supposed to end. “The winner will be the best variation on the logo in #92 combined with the font in #79. first one to display the best combination of those 2 elements gets the win.”
To which I publicly replied, “So the first person to plagiarise the work of 2 other designers gets to win? Even by the low standards of this type of site, that’s an appalling outcome.” My comment was deleted. The person who had created the preferred dragon changed the font and won. As always, everybody else gets nothing.
These sites are bad for the design industry and here’s why…
I’ll use a hypothetical case with nice round numbers to make the maths easy.
Let’s say a client wants a logo for $500.
Designers charge $100 per hour when dealing with direct clients, so that’s 5 hours worth of work.
501 designers submit designs.
One happy designer collects $500.
500 designers get nothing.
If each of them have also spent 5 hours on their work, that’s a total of 2,500 unpaid man-hours that have been thrown at this client’s job for free. That is $250,000 worth of work that nobody is getting paid for.
Look at the design industry as just that, an industry, and consider these figures. Could any industry sustain itself by providing over $250,000 worth of work for a mere $500 return? No. Is it reasonable for a client to expect 2,500 hours of work for $500? Of course not but that’s exactly what is happening.
Yeah sure, we’re not an organised industry, many of the people submitting designs aren’t even designers, but so what?
The issue is that these sites completely diminish the perceived value of what professional designers do.
There is, well there should be, a lot more to creating a design for a client than fulfilling a one paragraph brief. The solution is bound to be a bit generic and the best designs aren’t even winning. Many entries are stolen. Unfortunately most clients won’t care or wouldn’t know the difference and why wouldn’t they love the idea of having so much to choose from for so little cost?
Ideally, clients and designers alike will shun sites such as these. If designers cut off their source of well designed material they will become known for what they basically are, amateur design competitions, and genuine clients will continue to seek out real designers to achieve quality results and genuine service without contributing to a concept that has made the site owners very rich indeed off the backs of so many unpaid contributors.