Why you should stop entering design competitions

Digital Arts | 29 August 17

This is the general reaction of designers and artists to another attempt to get them to work for free dressed up as a competition. Image: iStock

Many design 'competitions' are just ways for brands to get you to work for free – and we need to put a stop to them.

The design and illustration industries are becoming infected with attempts to exploit creatives by getting them to work for big brands for nothing. Dressed up as 'competitions', these campaigns ask you to create marketing or advertising content for big brands in exchange for the often-empty promise of possible prize money.

As with the actually-quite-correctly-maligned 99designs, there is usually only one prize. Everyone else who's put the time, effort and skill into fashioning pieces for the campaign gets nothing. And, worse than with 99designs, sometimes by submitting you give the agency or brand the rights to use your work even if you haven't 'won'.

These 'exploititions' aren't new: they've been around for years. But the number we've seen – and been contacted about helping promote – has grown exponentially recently, with larger brands becoming involved, and I've an increasing feeling from how these things play out on social media and are covered in the non-creative press that exploititions are becoming seen as normal, indeed quite positive.

Over the past six months, I've been hit up by requests to provide coverage to exploititions on behalf of organisations and brands from the Royal Albert Hall to Dan Brown. Possibly worst of all, it's not been too long since I was sent a press release from Writtle School of Art & Design to 'highlight' that one of their students came second in a exploitition by Talenthouse – on behalf of faded pop singer Mark Owen. I'm sure whoever wrote that wasn't aware that the real message their release was conveying was 'we teach creative students to devalue their skills ' – but that's exactly what it means. We've also been contacted by a new firm, Scoopshot, which is attempting to adapt the 99 Designs model to getting photographers to work for free.

I've chosen to politely decline or ignore all of these rather than give them the flattery of even negative coverage. But it's now got too much, and too often.

So brands and agencies, from now on, if you're thinking of asking us to ask our readers to work for you for free – on the possibility that they might get paid if they're a 'winner" – you can expect to get told to fuck off. Seriously. And then pointed at this column (which is essentially also telling you to fuck off).

Respect yourself – and what you're worth

The same arguments against these expolititions apply as with 99 designs. They're disrespectful to your talent – you wouldn't get three plumbers to fix a leak and pay only the person who did what you thought was the best job, or get three accountants to do you books for free, paying only the one who got you the most tax back. Claims of 'you'll get exposure' are, as Jessica Hische so rightly puts in her bang-on infographic Should I work for free?, "the most toxic line of bullshit anyone will ever feed you". You won't. You'll get nothing – except the reputation that you're cheap, that you're willing to work for nothing, that you're easy to exploit.

For the sake of balance I should say here that not everything Talenthouse does is an exploitition. Like everyone else in the industry, we celebrated its crowdsourcing efforts for the Secret 7" campaign for Record Store Day and the Art Against Knives charity. That's exactly what crowdsourced creative campaigns should be about – bringing together artists and designers in support of a cause they believe in to boost exposure and/or fundraising efforts – not ripping off people who are trying to make a living from their talents.

However, I am singling out Talenthouse here as a most pernicious offender – and as a commercial company that, just like the obvious target of 99 Designs, has built its business out of getting talented creatives to devalue themselves. The problem bigger than one company though: it's industry-wide – and we need to put a stop to it.

If creatives continue to take part in these exploititions and the brands and agencies behind them see them as a success, then they will become even more pervasive – even the norm. We need to educate brands that running these competitions doesn't make them appear creative or 'edgy', but like Gordon Gecko exploiting the talents of the little guy. Most of all though, we need to stop talented creatives from taking part in these exploititions – as if the brands don't get good work out of them, they'll soon stop.

And as an industry, a community – or just a bunch of right-minded individuals – we need to tell the likes of Talenthouse, 99 Designs and Scoopshot to fuck right off. Seriously.

Neil Bennett is editor of Digital Arts.


Katie Cross said: Completely agree, creative world needs to kick this into touch. Do not work for free, enter competitions even in interviews I get grilled for details on suppliers & manufacturers, information they do not have... it's just rude... If you want to be known for your work, take the time, effort and dedication to be excellent at what you do! If your good at it you will make a name for yourself, too many creative people rely on managers (x fa*tor) who feed on someone's talent to make them wealthy. As a creative person try to manage yourself it's called protection from being exploited.You hear about models and actresses being told they are pretty and they will go far, most end up sleeping with the producer who told them this...

Strange One said: Yes, because artists make OH SO MUCH money. Ever heard the term "starving artist?" I make less than McDonald's employees are asking for.

ReidDesigns said: Bravo. I've been a supporter of http://no-spec.com/ for years. This article needs to be spread far and wide.

dasaideabox said: "Why on earth would you take a chance as a corporation on having your identity in the hands of a recent grad or someone who is desperate and probably using less than legitimate software to design or stock photos, fonts, video that they torrented."I respect your opinion, but I think that is a pretty unfair statement. Don't be so quick to draw such conclusions. Yes, there are some individuals (I will not call them designers, as their work is way, way below anything I would label "design") taking part in competitions, who can fit your above description. But myself, and many other designers (some of who I know personally), have many years of professional experience and great talent. Unfortunately, not all talented, experienced designers have a client base that can support them on a monthly basis. We all come from very different backgrounds and regions. (I have written a comment below, so you can check out my experience from 99designs.) But, to give you a quick insight into my world: I am a Visual Communications Design graduate - I am also a recipient of 3 scholarships - two of which (to SCAD and MICA), I was unfortunately unable to accept because, at the time (end of 90s), I could not afford living in the US. Since then, I have been building my client base here - in Split, Croatia. Things were fine for a while, until business started closing down (financial crisis) and I started losing clients because they could no longer afford any new advertising, redesigns, etc. Finding new clients was an almost impossible mission - then I started competing through 99designs. The rest, you can read in my comment, so I don't repeat myself :)My point is - some very talented and professional designers take part in these competitions. Also... don't underestimate clients (well most of them, anyway). ALL of the clients I have worked with through 99designs have been VERY professional and knew exactly how they wanted their company to be represented. And what do they get from me as a final result? NO STOCK, completely original logo design in various file types / sizes / RGB, CMYK & bw (the standard), fonts (ONLY if they are free, otherwise I sent them a link to where it can be purchased). For my most recent client on 99designs, I have handed over 72 (yes.. 72!) final logo versions (the logo is a spider with 7 alternate variations). So, I would say they get the same level of professionalism and quality from me as they would from an agency. I don't know how it works where you are from, but in Croatia, even some agencies offer VERY low quality designs. So this isn't a matter of Design Competitions VS Agencies, because competitions help designers build a client base and build their portfolio. We, professional designers (competition or agency), all want our clients to get a quality product. It's simple, if you are a talented, professional designer, you will work just as hard for a client through 99designs as you would through an agency. Amateur "designers" are increasing in numbers (because software and stock logos are easy to acquire nowadays) and they will swipe low budget clients, which will result in an increased quantity of substandard design. So why not encourage more TALENTED designers to take part in competitions, to win them and to gain clients? Why discourage them? Believe me, amateur "designers" will not be discouraged, they will continue to take part in online competitions and will take that job from you, me or another experienced designer. Personally, I don't care if I sometimes design a $200 logo, if that will means I will get more work from that client in the future - and that is a very big possibility at 99designs if you show the client your capacity and level of professionalism. And followup work has been made a lot easier on 99d since their implementation of 1-on-1 projects.The only issue I see with some online competitions is with those sites where designers bid on a project without even submitting a design. THAT is a recipe for disaster for clients - not sites like 99 where you have constant interaction with the client throughout the design process. No on exploits you there, you are volunteering your time and talent. Most of the time you will know after your first submission to a project if it is worth continuing (if it meets client's expectations) or if you should move on to the next one.

suztv said: I couldn't agree with you more. I don't enter competitions to win clients. If I'm doing freelance it's usually because the client knows me or I was recommended via a colleague. Doing design, animation, vfx etc., takes patience, skill and experience - I have those and talent, so I don't enter because I have work and really don't see the point in giving that away at a reduced rate. If you're a new designer it would be better to do non-profit work for a legitimate company and boost your portfolio that way. Or if you do enter contests, do so because it's fun and something you enjoy - not because you need the work.On the other side of this is that clients are really hurting themselves in the long run - new, un-professional, and less than savvy designers doing work for companies. This is a recipe for disaster. New designers may or may not be aware of trademark restrictions, printing processes (CMYK, SPOT etc), web design practices etc. There is also the problem with cohesiveness and direction. There is a reason that Ad Agencies have the structure that they do - it's to make sure that the client's immediate needs meet their overall strategies and goals of that client. It would be hard to make a cohesive strategy with disparate and unconnected designs.Why on earth would you take a chance as a corporation on having your identity in the hands of a recent grad or someone who is desperate and probably using less than legitimate software to design or stock photos, fonts, video that they torrented. I'm sure there are plenty of designers who partake in 99 Designs that are legit, but how many aren't? How can you be sure? A better question would be - how many lawyers or law firms do you employ and are you willing to risk your company's reputation on a two-bit competition?As far as Agency rates being so high - remember they run a business and provide the overhead as well as services that no one individual could offer. Not only that - if your company runs into a snafu with legal ramifications, an agency has the resources and background to help in those matters. I seriously doubt a recent grad or lone designer would withstand a legal onslaught from using a font without the proper licensing.

mark said: Wow Neil never thought of it this way. You made some valuable points that were ignored or never was thought of. As an Artist i see a lot of competitions out there and always wanted and eager to enter. I think competitions should be fun and challenging, not about the prizes so much but pushing the boundaries of your creativity. But when these brands are holding competitions for the benefit of their company i think its exploiting ones time, effort and creativity. And in most cases their can only be one winner, and i am sure that the prize whatever it is cannot compensate for your design.

dasaideabox said: Hi all,I haven't read all the other comments yet, but from personal experience, I've got nothing but positive things from working through 99designs. I've been a freelance graphic designer for over 10 years now, with several steady clients. I tried 99designs 2 years ago during a pretty "quiet" period when designers here (in Croatia) started losing clients because many businesses were closing due to the financial crisis, etc. - right off the bat I won a few contest. Up until now I have won 41, and gained a year long contract with a well paying (and more importantly, very fair and respectful) client who I am working with one several big projects. If it had not been for 99designs, I'd still be doing many, less profitable local freelance projects - which is very time consuming - and frustrating! Through 99designs I've gained 5 steady clients so far, who often contact me for extra work. One new client as recently as last week!So, really, I can't say one single bad thing about 99designs.Aside from being a freelance designer, I also work part time as a graphic designer educator (at the Art Academy in Split). I think 99designs is also a great tool for designers who are just starting out in the business, because they learn quickly how communicating with clients works - what the clients want, and how fierce the competition can be.As for the money awarded - personally, I am a perfectionist, so I always give more than is asked of me, and I don't mind doing so because I want the client to be satisfied with the end product. So sometimes I will spend way more time on a $200 project than on a $500 project. In any case, the money awarded is sometimes greater than what I could get for the same project if it was based locally - that's the reality, unfortunately. Overall, with my 41 won contests on 99designs, I've earned $12,142 - I am not boasting, just pointing out that that is $12,142 less than I would have earned if I hadn't began using 99designs. Sure, some may view it as designers "devaluing" themselves, but when you are not in the position to gain well paying clients / projects, then 99designs is VERY useful and it can certainly help you strengthen your client base. It has done so for me! So I would actually ENCOURAGE designers to use it. And yes, I respect myself and what I (my work) is worth, but sometimes respect alone won't pay bills :)

Neil Bennett said: Sorry for not replying before, I've been on holiday in a rural area without access to the Internet. I was using the made-up word 'exploitition' as shorthand for something that's pretending to be a competition and exploitative.Just because 99designs are the best of a bad bunch doesn't mean we should praise them. We should be educating designers that by taking work from them that they're making the problem worse - and educating clients that by using those services you're going to get what you pay for: a rushed job with minimum thought that's probably quickly adapted from a template (as Tom Actman found when he tested the service last year: http://www.matdolphin.com/blog....

Smithereens said: Wrong.That's why this kind exploitation thrives - the bogus idea that "art" is a purely subjective enterprise. It is isn't. We're talking about design here, which requires skill, craft and graft to get right. There are processes that must be learned and practiced. Even the aesthetics of design has rules which a designer must choose to follow (or break creatively). But without that knowledge, the creative act is little more than smearing shit on walls.Design is as much a profession as accounting. And it deserves to be remunerated accordingly.

Amos Pizzey said: What an amazing healthy response this article generated . As the founder of talenthouse ( and someone who made a living as an artist ) i want to assure you all that we ( the entire talenthouse team ) are 100% committed in our mission to help " Liberate all artists " by launching/hosting as many creative opportunity's as possible for all artists all over the world . Coming up in the recoding industry i was always aware that the system prevented so much talent from getting through (This is was true of all the creative industry's ) and it was this knowledge combined with the learning that many brands actively wanted to sponsor the arts and new artists that led to the creation of the talenthouse platform . Over the last 5 years we as a team have made many mistakes and gained many victories (and we still have a long way to go ) but with the incredible support of our creative community and the many internationally renowned artists who have hosted opportunity's ( free of any charge )to our members and our forward thinking brand partners and their sponsorship , we are moving closer everyday to a platform that allows all creatives to be seen , heard and compensated . If anyone here has any suggestions or advice on how we can improve our service please contact me directly on [email protected] Thank you for helping us to get better everyday , All creative. xx

alex_b said: Well... Six days have passed, and got no reply as well as it seems the comments stopped in general. Too bad.

Chip Chase said: Hey Neil,This is all about designer exploitation right? How many designers from the 99designs platform have you spoken to?99designs is the perfect avenue to express your creativity, meet a world of designers, make friends, build an online profile, make some cash and best of all, establish client relations through their platform - furthermore, the 99designs team encourage designers to explore these avenues. So when you speak of exploitation, I too am guilty, guilty of exploiting the 99designs market of clients to benifit my own personal business.Now call that a "toxic line of bullshit"!I'm not sure why you have to resort to utilising your position as an editor to verbally blast their existance... envy perhaps?! I think you should take the time to recognise and appreciate the positives that come out of 99designs, rather than focusing on your negative agenda.I can promise you this... we will not 'fuck right off'!Seriously,mase

Ryan said: I couldn't agree more. I had this conversation last week with a co-worker and actually used your accountant analogy myself (before reading this). As long as designers continue to participate in these 'competitions' then they're going to keep happening more frequently. Unfortunately, for every one talented designer who participates there are 20 more sub-par designers participating and will continue to do so because they aren't getting "real" work anywhere else. And since a lot of these companies can't differentiate good creative from bad by themselves, they will continue to look for those cheap "designers" who know how to push the magic Photoshop button. It's going to be an uphill climb to get those creatives to stop.

Trevia Baltimore said: I remember back when I was a freelancer, this was quite common. And not only with competition websites, but also with larger companies 'wanting to hire you' but would need a 'free sample' of your work first, your current list of clients, and if they decided to proceed with a job offer, an agreement to work a full-time position with them exclusively in exchange for less than 15% of your regular rate. Tsk.I'd rant frequently as a freelancer, that "If you can't afford to pay someone what they're worth, do it yourself until you can!" We still apply this principle in our hiring decisions, today. We specialize in eCommerce web development. Each member of our team has a creative background and is able to design for and code websites, despite their actual occupation - including myself as I serve as Creative Director. When we expand, that decision is only made if we can afford to pay the new team member what they're truly worth and not just whatever we can get away with. If we can't, we handle it ourselves.Just scales prosper. Unjust ones do not.

Bob said: As an experienced designer/art editor who has worked for, and employed, designers, I can understand why graduates/redundees might go for these 'competitions', but I remain unconvinced of any real-world or long-term benefit these can bring to a creative.When an employer looks through CVs they don't (or shouldn't) be looking at what competitions they've won. The list of 'I won this; runner up in that' means bollock-all. You look for actual experience, education and/or a portfolio that shows a bit of talent and some technical know-how.Your portfolio doesn't have to be published work necessarily. Mock-up your own magazines, websites, whatever, and get it up there and explain why they're good and why they work. Then make big list of every business in your area or field of particular interest. Send them each a postcard-mailer by way of an introduction, then a week later follow that up with an email - to the right person! Make a database and keep a record of who've contacted and when. Then send them something every three or four months. It doesn't matter if you write to 100 and only get one day's freelance or one project, you're IN.As a freelancer I've got jobs like this and as an art editor in the past I've employed people who've done this.Fuck 'competitions'. They are a waste of your time and your talent and your worth. Just keep designing, keep plugging away and don't give up. Persistence pays.

GRMLN said: I think it is incredibly unprofessional to attack two companies without offering a spokesperson from that business to offer their point of view. Have you ever read the Talenthouse Blog? There are over 400 success stories offered by the winners and finalists. These artists share stories on how the opportunity gave them a chance to be seen and grow supporters of their work. Why would you want to stop artists from expressing their work and growing their digital following? Talenthouse is not an agency, they are simply offering creatives (at any level) a chance to be recognised and rewarded on the free platform. True professionals will never be afraid or angry because there is enough opportunity to go around. Baring in mind you have 28 comments perhaps you should do the ethical thing yourself and ask for 99 Designs and Talenthouse to join the conversation and have a fair debate.

hellomuller said: I completely agree that as a designer its a constant effort to get your work out there, to be seen, generate buzz and press which hopefully generates leads, builds connections and — most importantly — leads to paid work. I understand that a competition is one way of trying to achieve that. With the right property attached to a competition its a very attractive way to gain visibility. Its also a system that is set up to fail from the start. In an average pitch situation you will be pitching your idea and design against maybe 3-5 other studios (or designers), maybe 10 maximum. In this pitch situation you are usually also given a platform to properly present your reasoning behind a design and meet the people who will decide wether or not they like you and your work face-to-face. In your average only talent competition you're up against 10 times that (and thats a very conservative number), limited to uploading a lo-res JPG and a text box to try and explain yourself. Add a voting system, and it doesn't take much for one competitor to push out the competition by artificially inflating Likes on his or her design, we've all done it ("Hey Friends! Vote for me!") — with my 8000+ Twitter followers against your paltry 200 you don't stand a chance. Similarly, against a designer with 50K+ followers I get swatted away like a fly. Its an uneven balance, but its real, and it doesn't always favour the best, and your work can easily get lost in the flotsam of entries. You just spent a few days or more, designing for scraps with as much chance of bagging the job as winning the lottery.Lets look at the prizes. I've had a cursory glance at whats on at Talent House and I can immediately see a few competitions I could easily enter. Then I look what's actually asked of me and what I get out of it. Most of them give me — IF I win — £1000! One thousand pounds for designing Jessy J a costume. One thousand pounds to remix a track for Rizzle Kicks. One thousand pounds to design a mural for the O2 Academy in Glasgow! If I was still in college I'd take a punt at those things immediately. But I'm not, I'm an independent designer, with a long career behind him working at independent design agencies, who has certain monetary responsibilities (mortgage, business expenses, tax,…), whilst maintaining a balance of pulling in "big money jobs" and smaller more "artistic" projects. One informs the other. What I can't afford is waste time "competing" for the inside of the O2 in Glasgow (a project I'd love to pitch for properly), because £1000 in the adult world doesn't last you that long (regardless of where you are in life), and I can't buy groceries on "being promoted on the official YouTube channel of Celeb A and 2 free gig tickets.If you're a commercial entity looking for a design project, or a music remix, or a piece of clothing, then you shouldn't mask it as a competition which will cost you maybe £1500 in total (BARGAIN!) and exploit hundreds of designers desperate for work and a spotlight on their craft.Last month I saw two separate competitions on Facebook from film distributors for fans to design the official DVD packaging for upcoming releases. There was no prize money, just that fuzzy feeling that if you win, we'll use your design and here's a signed free copy of the DVD.How am I supposed to pay my internet connection with that? I'm open to ideas.Which brings me to the argument that designers and agencies are "overpriced" and rip you off and that crowdsourcing is the future and a good idea.It's not. It really isn't. Not because they undercut me. Not because most of the design submissions on there are shit (sorry, but its true. A copy of CS doesn't make you a designer).Its a bad idea because it cultivates the idea that its OK for big brands to get access to hundreds of hours of design work without having to pay for it. Its a bad idea because it cultivates bad design that gets up-voted without a critical eye looking at it. Its a bad idea because it blinds designers with imaginary carrots.Most of all, its a bad idea because it makes it harder as an independent designer to make a living doing interesting work and build meaningful client and industry relationships — forcing them out of the industry and into a spiral of competing in crowd-sourced competitions in order to make ends meet.

Matt Gypps said: Completely agree with this, nicely put Steven!

Matt Gypps said: There seems to be a growing trend towards the "what if" side of design — if I do this piece of work for free then maybe I'll get some paid in the future; a promise of being introduced to more people; come and do an internship for free and you might have a chance of a job at the end of it (see Dick Powell's comments the other week). All of this is rubbish that rarely, if ever, comes to fruition.You should never undersell yourself. You have abilities, and have invested time and money refining them, so why would you then want to give that away for free?There are far better ways to network than by doing spec work. Get involved in online communities such as Dribbble, where you can meet likeminded designers who will give valuable feedback on your work and allow you to learn. Put up a portfolio on a freelancer directory. And best of all: step away from the computer, get out in to the real world, and meet people! Word of mouth is probably the most powerful way to get work or a job, so use it.

Steven Bonner said: Good article. I completely agree with the negative sentiments expressed about sites like – but not exclusive to – 99designs and Talenthouse.I suppose it's very easy to get swept up in the lottery that these sites provide, and let's not kid ourselves, it very much is a chance-driven business model. If you're trying to base your career on 'winning' the odd small project from 99designs, good luck to you; you deserve each other. All you're doing is propping up a business model that benefits no one but the site skimming their commission from the prize. You lose, the client loses, and the crowdsourcing site laughs all the way to the bank.I can understand why people get defensive of Talenthouse due to the bigger name clients and 'amazing' prizes (however, please do sit and think over whether $1000 and 2 tickets to a show you'd otherwise have no interest in is actually amazing for the amount of work involved) but the fact remains, when you strip away the blinding glitz, if you don't win the competition, you're still left with a job that in the majority of cases, because it was created to brand a specific company or drawn to a specific them, you can't then repurpose for anything other than your portfolio. I for one can think of quite a few better ways to spend my time.You guys can go battle each other day in and day out, and convince yourself it's an opportunity, but the only opportunity with these sites is for the client to get cheap (and oftentimes substandard) work, and the site owner to exploit those of you who will do most anything to get your break.There are much better ways to build a career, believe me.

Onlydee said: Do you ever imagine, how many unfortunate people in my country now gets so much luck with 99designs? they came from poor society just like me, now i can paid my bills and send my parents money and still get savings for my future. my dreams beside designing is came true. I just wanted people who have opinions like you Neil, could open their eyes wider. This isn't just about design scoop, crowdsourcing vs agency. this is about how people find their way to get success in career as a designer, to get notice and opportunity, to learn from other culture.they, who had chance and could paid expensive for design school and entered a well-known big design agency, will pissed off with crowdsourcing's designer which didn't get the same chance like them. But then life is the real school, real challenge and reality bites! and life full with competitions, don't you think? so... without talking about design competition, this article is a competition itself, what's wrong with crowdsourcing then? am i right?anyway, my name is Dee, my 99designs ID is onlydee* and 99designs is the door to my bigger career in designs. cheers! :)

alex_b said: Neil Bennett, I have a very simple question following your statement:"Most of all though, we need to stop talented creatives from taking part in these exploititions"- how? what is the alternative right now?(if I understood correctly, sorry as I'm not a native English speaker - you mean exploitations? please correct me if I got this wrong).Anyway, it would be perfect if you could propose a new world-changing model for this.From my point of view, and I'm not familiar with Talenthouse, 99designs is not as demonic as sometimes such articles want us to believe and as this article screams out loud. I have a personal experience... After working in advertising industry for years (as a designer and art director), due to economical situation most agencies here in my country (in Europe) as a first measure just decided to lay off their entire design departments. Most of my colleagues just found themselves suddenly unemployed. Yeah, it's very easy to bitch about "don't work for free / respect your work / don't let them exploit you" when you are employed full-time in a big agency - I would know that as I was in the same shoes. ;) But for the last couple of years I am not in those shoes anymore. And if it weren't for 99designs, who really suck the least out of all other design crowdsourcing sites, I would probably be back leeching my parents or changing profession. This way I got the chance to do my job, connect with clients worldwide and to build long-lasting business and personal relationships with them. Yes, they do come back to me, and yes, I train both them and remind myself about how the actual design process should look like.Back then while I was working as an agency designer, we sometimes had a few hours or a day to complete the full pitch for a new client and then spend the next few hours bullshittin' about the idea, concept and how the whole agency was involved in the project etc. C'mon, honestly speaking, there are no huge differences between then and now...just that now I can choose my projects and live a less stressful life. That part when I "work for free" (or don't manage to connect with the client) just makes me remember how it was when I worked for an agency. Not to mention that working the same amount of time brings me around x3 "salary" than I had. Oh yes, I get to sign my designs by myself...not the agency.Just to note, I am not a talented individual who is brushing up his skills and who started designing for fun and for a few bucks - I'm an educated designer who happens to make a living through 99designs and follow-up work.I am looking forward to reading your answer regarding the question at the beginning of this post. Thanks.

Peper said: I suggest you look for another or a new avenue where your classic and traditional approach to clients were still the best for them. Designers from 99designs participate on design contest voluntarily and educated regarding the setup of the site and the consequences. I met and talked with a lot of US based clients, they are all happy with how the system worked for them and of course how glad they are to meet me from the other side of this planet, and establish a friendly, simple and easy business relation. "Hey, I have a designer from Manila, I will just email him and he responds really quick!" Issue of respect? uhm, I feel honoured every time a client expresses their satisfaction towards each of the design I present to them. And that.... the clients say please to me, and thank me for every successful job I did for them, that's how I simply define respect. :) Until now I still can not figure out how this thousands of clients around the world will get the service they wanted if they have not found this design contest site like 99DESIGNS and stucked on the system you are suggesting them, where creativity is limited to the design agencies who dominate their market. Now, dear curious clients, compare this: a design agency with few designers to work on your design requirement versus 99DESIGNS with a large number of seasoned designers and fresh brains around the world that will compete each other to give you the best of what you wanted and exceed your expectations - - - isn't that a wise deal? By the way, I am an Asian designer from 99designs and I am commenting here to support 99d and the OPPORTUNITY they are giving to THOUSANDS OF DESIGNERS AROUND THE WORLD and because I do not agree on what is negatively written here against 99designs, you can check my profile by the name Peper Pascual. :)

Giulio Rossi said: Hi Neil...I respect your opinion but let me tell you something about 99designs. (Don't know Talenthouse actually..). Always feel respected by crowdsourcing based websites, I mean as a designer I choose to participate, do I think it's a regular well-paid job like working inside an agency? No I don't think so. It's opportunity. 99designs gave me lots of chances to grow, to improve my skills and to have an open window to worldwide designers community (something I can call experience? oh yeah it is!) I'm not going to list you my personal success&achievements 'cause I think you'll consider them as pure useless glory...but I can tell you that it has represented a very important step to start my career as a designer, and you know what? Now I'm looking for a job in my country (Italy) and situation it's not that easy, - and trust me I know I got some talent :) - because the agencies here are very closed places where you need to know someone inside it only to get the chance for a job interview! So I'm not feeling all this willing to feed talents actually...but as I always been treated so well, respected, by the 99designs crew I will definitely keep going with them because it worth!....and if you have something to offer me to better preserve my talent just let me know! I'll be glad to learn new ways! :)

Terry said: I can understand the frustration when you're not able to have a big fat expensive star bucks cap on your table everyday. And its all because of those evil crowdsourcing websites stealing the last peace of bread from your $100,000 tables along with the star bucks you used to enjoy everyday. Although the plumber and accounting examples were'nt even worth a chuckle but if I were to speak in the same delusioned language then I must cite an example of the accountant who's job was replaced by a computer, and the rightous accountant cursed the computers, and claimed the evils of computers because it stole his job while offering efficient solutions at a better cost. Heaven knows why the accountant couldnt learn to work in a more efficient model or learn about the computer before cussing it.Unfortunately it is this ultimate moment when these starbucks-deprived, oppressed, so called creatives become actors, portraying to be massiahs who have been given the responsibility to guide and support the lost sheeps of the holy land of creativity. As if their articles are to save the humanity from the crimes of the starbucks steallers. Which unholy land were they in when there was no crowdsourcing? Has anyone heard of articles written by these massiahs of creativity on how new creatives can make money and have realtime experience? How many articles did they write to help new creatives. Nay... they had no time to write such articles because life at their end at the time served plenty of starbucks everyday. But now they are running out of business and writing bitchy articles is actually quite creative way to utilize your sphere time when you have nothing to do. Offcourse you pay people to write such articles but its a bad investment because you have nothing to offer here. Just trying hard to make a fortune back by defamation.Now some serious note: You should come back to reality. If there is a dollar store right beside an your Armani shop then you need not to cry like a baby about how bad the dollar store is. Either offer what people want or move your shop elsewere. This baby like bitching will get you nowhere. Also by reading your article I can easily understand that you know very little about the sites that you demonized in this article. I have been designing for my own clients as well as on these venues for more than 8 years and I think you're dead wrong and illogical in your examples.

Michael said: Oh another one of these bull anti spec articles .99designs or Talenthouse are ways in which a newbie designer can get out in the design world and be seen and heard .He can build relationships with clients , learn , gain experience , constantly push his limits . Sure there are ups and downs , loosing , winning , that's part of the process of getting better .People who stop to read these articles should ask themselves what would an oppinion from a successful designer sound like ?Either this article is written by someone who doesn't know anything about these websites or it's written by someone who lost 5 contests in one of them and decided to bash them . It's like me going to Harvard , failing in the first semester and going out shouting Harvard sucks ! If you are the kind of guy who joins a contest just cause it has a sweet prize or has few competitors then there is your main problem why you loose .

Jerzy Kurowski said: Well maybe you have a better idea on how to allow creatives work directly for companies. If you have why not go ahead with an Internet startup, create a platform to beat all those "shitty crowdsourced design contests" and get rich?You propose nothing besides protecting old deal: agencies abusing designers in an invisible way, Please don't be a hypocrite and don't tell us you you "protect creatives". You protect "art directors", "executives", "IP owners" and other folks that have no talent and need protection to continue selling bad designs priced 100USD/hour.Contests are not for everybody, and have it's issues. But it's just an open market for design an I think a much better platform than elance or the like.Certainly some people loose but I'd bet that on the loosing side there are more useless agency's executives than real designers. On the winning side there are both companies and designers so you can hardly convince them that "old way" of relying on agency wisdom is better.

DG said: The quality sucks! Maybe you should practice what you preach and start paying in cash instead of peanuts, that way you won't have to publish work by monkeys!

Drew said: Talenthouse official response: http://bit.ly/18RZlb1

Adelina said: I don't know if this is a PR move, but I lean towards the idea that Talenthouse offer some pretty great opportunities for people who are willing to work their bums off to get out there: http://www.2nonpareil.com/1/po...

Neil Bennett said: We don't get people to blog for free on Digital Arts. Occasionally we publish opinion pieces by prominent industry figures but we pay journalists, artists and designers to write the articles, features and tutorials we publish. It keeps the quality high, which helps us stand out in the noise of the Internet.

Neil Bennett said: I wouldn't go so far as to compare Talenthouse or 99 Designs to Napster - Napster's influence was due to it allowing illegal stealing of music - but to continue your analogy, creatives deserve something that's more like the iTunes Store than Napster.Also, isn't Talenthouse also taking a premium for doing the same things as an agency structure does - dealing with clients, studio overheads, etc - but with an agency the designer is getting remuneration for work done, rather than a maybe

Aleks said: Agency: It's common for creatives to bill $200 per hour, yet the money goes to overheads and the business, while the designer gets $20 of that. I've also seen so many clients get put to the bottom of the work priority list and designs are pumped out in the last minute. Not only that, but the designer personally never gets the credit anyway, only the agency.What small business can afford to spend an extra $180 per hour for overheads and filling the pockets of high level management and investors?I think contest sites open up design to businesses which would be otherwise out of luck. Also, the contests have always simply been a way of getting exposed for me, and I build customer relationship from them which allow me to work freelance with them afterwards.Success in design isn't only about design itself... you need to learn how to be customer focuses, nurture relationships etc. Sites like 99designs were fundamental in learning this in the real world, not just the theory at university.Also, given how good some of the designs are in contests, it's raising the bar for the design industry as a whole. I'm now doing a lot of work on solving complicated design problems... the 'how' it works, which was purely driven by wanting to 'get ahead of the pack'. I've become a better designer thanks to new business models.Metallica started whining about Napster... but the truth was that internet distribution was an overdue market correction for the record industry. You can cry and die, or embrace it and look to the future. I vote for progress. Let's get better, together.

Samantha said: Why stop at design / art sites? It seems that you loathe the entire model of crowdsourcing. In case you haven't noticed, it is increasingly becoming the go-to business model for a lot of companies, big and small.Let's put it this way - I'm sure that at least a small portion of writers for online publications had submitted in their writing samples to get published. They keep engaging blogs that get quite a number of hits. Then editors pick which ones would get offered more permanent gigs at these online publications. You certainly can't pick all of the bloggers, writers and commentators that exist in this world, because, well, all of them just don't match your particular brand of voice.And by the way, a lot of people will fail to take your rant seriously because you didn't even research on how to spell a company name correctly. It's 99designs, not 99 Designs.

Michelle said: Here's an alternative view on Talenthouse: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

Michelle said: Neil - How about you exploiting your audience by feeding them mis-informtation and deliberately writing inflammatory material in order to drive page-views and advertising impressions? Talenthouse and 99Designs seem to be offering an avenue for artists to become better know for their work and build their portfolio. Specifically in Talenthouse's case, it seems they work pretty hard to have winning work promoted and essentially provides a "big break" for emerging talent to be seen, not to mention I just scanned the site and almost every single item has a cash prize of 250-5000 . . .Oh, and by the way, who are you to judge what art/creative is worth or not worth? In the age of the Internet, it's the new marketplace and it will set the bar for pricing/quality. No one is forcing artists to participate in these programs but by discouraging them you are doing them a disservice when they have a real chance a decent money where they might otherwise be making $0. I am sure anyone who participates in these kinds of programs gets more friends and followers helping them build their personal social reach. Finally, I just read Talenthouse's legal disclaimers on their site. The artist's retain 100% ownership of their work.

Emma said: You can't compare plumbing with creativity and you can't compare 99designs with Talent House. Anything like plumbing or accounting is knowledge based. There is one way to do the job and this is what you are paying for. The best and worst thing about creativity is that it is unique to that one individual - and so is the way that they would interpret a brief. But then throw in the fact that creativity is often totally subjective (no one can argue whether they like the way you fixed the toilet!) and it makes it very different to any other kind of work. 99 Designs DOES undervalue design but Talent House allows creative people to do what they love to win 'money can't buy' prizes. If you want to stop Talent House then perhaps you should stop all competitions that allow you to use a creative skill to make you eligible to enter and win?

Jack said: I think you have a point here, BUT I don't think this is a fair statement about Talenthouse. They don't give away shitty prizes in exchange for 'free work'. They offer amazing opportunities with amazing prizes that benefit winners and users 100% with support and sponsorship from big brands/charities etc. They are the only social network that pays it's members for every social share.

Andy 'Uriel' Green said: What a load of bollocks! Talenthouse is one of the best creative collaboration sites I know. The prizes are amazing and I always get loads of new fans and followers when I take part. My portfolio is sponsored now too - every time someone share my work on Twitter or Facebook I get paid!!!

CrniZEC said: I left 99 design for the same thing that are mentioned in this article. On 99designs I had a number of times getting myself into final round with 5 stars. And then the winner is some guy that had 3 stars. I always wondered how the fuck is that possible?! Why value someones work with 5 stars if work with 2 or 3 stars will win?! It just makes me waste my time that I could spend on some better things. And best thing comes at the end. Other competitors then starts to send me a message that winning designs are stolen from design of some other major company, so I should do report of winning design and his author for stealing from big brands design. After 9-10 times I had enough because if you do not steal from major brands you do not win. When I sow that on 99 design is everything about stealing and reselling... I don't know. Thats not design, thats idiotism where you put yourself and the client in danger of being called on court to be judged by laws of your country for fraud.

Helen Dryden said: Right on! I am similarly enraged with the practice of artists paying to enter competitions. Have a look at my blog post about it! http://helendryden.wordpress.c...

Adelina Pintea said: Quite demoralising but I completely see what you mean. It is hard to keep away from these 'competitions' when you are just starting out as a freelancer because exploitation sometimes can mean the right person noticing your work. But,for anyone else who has their foot in the door, I would say 'just stick to your values and avoid it'.

JΞSSY said: Agree with this. Although those competitions are a good way to train for young creatives like me (I participated to 3 of them), I usually find it hard to feel what the client really wants without talking directly to him/her as most of the time the briefs lack of depth.

uberkraaft said: Great article Neil. In my experience though, even the charity initiatives often have another agenda beyond the 'good cause' and it's all too common for artists to be treated shabbily by self serving organisers of these events.