There is a recent trend that suggests the commoditization of the visual identity design process is a good thing. This has been powered in part by the explosive growth of start-ups and small businesses driven by the continued shift in employment in modern economies from manufacturing to knowledge work. This growing need for visual branding has created an opportunity for designers and sites like 99Designs and crowdSPRING are more than happy to fill it. It seems like a match made in heaven. But is it?

The process goes something like this. A company initiates a competition for a logo and designers are free to submit multiple designs. If a designer is to make money one of their designs has to be selected. They then complete all additional company directed refinements which are included in the agreement and receive a portion of the fee that the company is charged by the site. So no small feat for a lowly creative struggling to make a name for themselves. In order to make these long odds work in their favour a designer needs to be lucky and in practical terms as efficient as possible. The company likes the low price and the fact that the competition is open to a pool of potentially thousands of designers. They also like that they can walk away without penalty if they don’t like any of the work.  This forces designers to cut corners and commoditize their designs as much as possible. On a good day this is simply iteration but on a bad day it’s cut and paste and edit copy. It’s a cookie cutter approach and is not a recipe for quality branding. Therein lies the trade off.

In the end it all comes back to getting what you pay for. These flawed arrangements exist because companies believe they are benefiting from the more options means better options theorem and because competing designers are willing to do spec work. The reality in most cases is no one wins. With no financial incentive to buy combined with a designers need to cut corners the results are what you’d expect. Now to be fair the sites are modifying the arrangments and encouraging companies to offer a base payment. None the less it still looks more and more like these long odds means a slim chance of a successful outcome for companies in need of branding or the designers producing them. The only ones rolling a hard six at this table might just be the sites themselves.


Follow Ted Blanchard on Twitter. Ted Blanchard is a Senior Creative Producer, Art Director and Design Practitioner.