Pixish, web2.0 spec work

February 12, 2008 at 4:30 pm by in design

Some of you may have read about the Derek Powazek’s launch of Pixish. What is Pixish you might ask? Well according to the site pixish works as follows.

1. Create an Assignment. Ask for what you want.
2. Get Submissions. People create and submit their work.
3. Peer Review. Community voting helps find the best.
4. Pick Winners. Select your favorites and download.
5. Rewards! Winners get published and paid.

I.E., Pixish’s business model is to use Web2.0 to encourage spec work. You and a bunch of other artists do a bunch of work and maybe the client likes it and you get paid. Actually it’s worse than spec work as on Pixish, all you get is a fragging prize.

As a professional designer and illustrator, I find spec work insulting and damaging to the creative profession as a whole, as do others. I’m not only one to see Pixish in this light either: Adam Howell wrote an excellent post comparing Pixish to spec work.

On the Pixish blog, Derek Powazek, has replied to these criticisms. Well here’s my rebuttal:

1. We’re in beta. We’re nowhere near done yet. The reason we put the site out publicly at this early stage is to gather feedback, so trust me when I say that we’re listening and will be making changes. Thanks for helping!

Great. Well I hope you actually listen and don’t just plow ahead with criticism blinders on because you think your idea’s nifty.

2. One of the reasons spec work is evil is because it’s sometimes required by big companies, which takes advantage of small designers. But in Pixish, everything is in the hands of the artist. So if you think an assignment isn’t worth your time, don’t do it! It’s our hope that Pixish becomes a true marketplace, where publishers who list assignments with too few rewards will have to raise their pay to what the community thinks is fair. This is good for artists.

Actually the main reason that spec work is evil is that you are being asked to do work with no guarantee of pay. Your business model does nothing to change that it only makes it easier for the client to get a larger pool of spec artists. Thus, making sure that even more artists end up doing work for nothing.

3. Generally, when people talk about spec work, they’re talking about design. Pixish is not really for completed designs. It’s mainly for design elements: photos and illustrations that will be incorporated into a larger design project.

Actually, spec work has always also negatively affected photography and illustration — possibly even more so. Hell that’s one of the reasons I went into design rather than follow a career in illustration — even though I have a degree in illustration. The amount of unpaid/cheap work clients expect out of illustrators is painful to the wallet.

4. We’re sincere in our desire to help artists get paid. So we’re working on tools that will better distinguish paid assignments from the “just for fun” ones. Right now, the payment is left to the publisher and the winning artists to work out. In the near future we’ll be releasing tools that make this much more formal, making the process more secure for artists. [emphasis mine]

Pixish’s current business model: “loosing” artists get squat, and even the “winning” artists must beg to get any compensation.
Pixish’s future business model: “loosing” artists still get squat, and “winning” artists will probably get compensated (unless it’s labeled “just for fun!”)

The latter is slightly better than the former, but both of these models are still spec work.

5. No one owns your work but you, period. You are giving up no rights by uploading your work to Pixish, and you can remove it at any time. If you submit your work to an assignment, you’re entering into the terms set by the publisher. We’re working on tools to make those terms more explicit, but don’t worry, publishers have no rights to your work if you don’t submit it to them.

So I can upload whatever, but as soon as I submit my artwork to an assignment I loose the rights. So how is this different than spec work again?

6. There are lots more tools we’re developing to help artists. For example, a publisher will soon be able to offer an assignment directly to an artist, privately. This way, an artist can set up a great Pixish portfolio, get noticed by publishers, and get offers for paid work.

OK Great. How about this being the main emphasis of the site rather than this whole web2.0 spec work concept?

Here at Pixish, we know that none of this works without the trust and support of awesome artists like you. We’re going to do our best to help you get found, get published, and get paid. Thanks for giving us a chance.

Actually no what you’re offering is a means to streamline the process of spec work to make it easier for clients to get a bunch of designs/photos/art and only have to pay one person — if they pay them at all.

This response has done nothing to assuage my concerns about this project. I’m willing to change my opinion if Derek Powazek comes back with a real response to these issues. However for now I’m boycotting having anything to do with this site and encourage other designers, illustrators, and photographers to do the same.

UPDATE (Others who are also dismayed by the whole Pixish thing):

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  2. What are your thoughts on the other side of the fence, i.e. the people looking for this creative work to be done? As anyone who has seen my sites, I’m not so good on the interface and design side of things and would much rather focus on the back-end. Perhaps I haven’t looked into Pixish enough yet, but I thought at first glance it might be helpful for people like me. By my understanding I would post a request for say a new header logo for a website. I would receive several submissions from artists and I would then select the one I would like to use (using the community to filter out the poor ones), compensate that submitter and have rights to use that on my site. The other people who submitted work wouldn’t be compensated (part of the risk), but they would have another project to add to a portfolio, giving them more exposure on the site for possible direct selection in the future. I see this as more of a benefit for the up and coming designer.

    For someone in my position, this allows me to avoid putting “all my eggs in one basket” when looking for someone to do design work for me and I don’t have to continuously shop around. It means I don’t have to hand over a check and hope that things turn out the way I want them too. Sure, in the long run I’ll probably end up sticking with someone that I know their work meshes with my needs, but wouldn’t this be a good method for finding that person? If not, I would be very eager to hear your opinions on how to find someone to do those occasional logos and web designs. I recognize this is totally not my industry, so my outsider view may be seeking education.

  3. Actually upon further reflection and reading on AIGA’s site, I think I get it. It’s doing to the design community what American Idol does to the music industry. It forces members of an industry into direct competition when there is enough room for all of them to coexist since they each offer something a little different. There’s no “better” or “worse design since everything is subjective. It’s not a directly measurable thing like a car repairman or a bank loan since it’s an artistic endeavor.

  4. Ed, you’re correct to say that spec work is great for the client — you get tons of versions for free! But for the artists it’s crap. The argument that you get something for your portfolio is junk as a logo/design that wasn’t used is worth almost nothing in a portfolio.

    What if I offered you and a bunch of other programmers the chance to build a site for me on spec? I would then select the best programmed site and only pay that single programmer. Would you regard this as fair? What if this became the normal way to hire programmers?

    I understand that it can be hard to shop around for designers. A Flickr type site that specializes in design portfolios could be a great resource. — something that would allow you to easily compare several designers styles. The choice should be made on the portfolio: Has this designer done work before in a style I want? Does this designer have experience with my audience?

    Forcing a designer to actually do work for you before you pay them — ie., Spec work — is not the solution.

  5. You are spot on with your assessment of Pixish, as well as Derek’s follow-up (which was full of weak excuses and contradictions). Check my site for my full opinion on the matter.

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  7. Thanks Mike. It’s good to know that others are having the same negative reaction to this.

    Oh and wow: “Um, if I get a design I like I’ll pay you US$50. Via PayPal. How does that sound?”

    That right there screams broken.

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