In the past couple of years, demand for good design has risen tremendously, and designer salaries in the Bay Area now routinely break the six-figure mark. But that’s not the world I want to focus on today. Instead, I want you to join me on an adventure exploring the jungle of super-cheap, single-figure design to try and answer a simple question: what happens when you only pay someone $5 to design your logo?
The answer might surprise you. Or more likely, it won’t. In any case, read on for an epic tale of lies, deception, stolen work, and crappy logos.
The price of design
First, just to get it out of the way: my own startup, Folyo, helps connect start-ups with a selection of hand-picked, freelance designers. Yes, there’s a conflict of interest here since Folyo and Fiverr are both in the business of helping people find designers. However, that doesn’t make what you’re about to read any less true.
Posting a project on Folyo costs $100, and the designer’s own fee can often reach in the several thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the job. And on the higher end of the market, hiring an agency can often cost several tens of thousands of dollars.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned about a site offering design services for $5. That site is Fiverr, and they’ve built their whole business on the promise of cheaper-than-cheap prices. Fiverr seemed to be a direct threat to traditional designers and sites like Folyo. After all, why pay a logo designer $1,000 when you could get 200 logos for the same price? Even if these aren’t all of the highest quality, there’s bound to be a few good ideas among them based on sheer variety alone. Yet it also seemed too good to be true: how on earth could anybody make a living creating logos for $5?
I decided to find out for myself by going undercover. I would make up a fake company, hire three logo designers on Fiverr, and see what kind of results I’d get. Best of all, I could accomplish all this for a mere $15.
My first task was coming up with a plausible-sounding fake company. I settled on “SkyStats,” a SaaS analytics app for travel sites. Don’t ask me what “analytics for travel sites” really means. The important part was that the name was evocative enough: planes, clouds, graphs…For $5, I didn’t want to make my designers think too hard to find a good metaphor.
Now for the fun part: finding the three lucky designers who would get the job, and thus receive a princely $5 apiece. This is when I encountered the first problem. While browsing Fiverr, I saw many designers with impressive work on their profile. But when I’d browse their on-site portfolio, the quality would suddenly drop after a few pages, quickly going from sleek, glossy renders to amateurish, clumsy clip-art. See a side-by-side comparison, below:
After noticing this pattern on a few profiles, the explanation became clear: these designers were appropriating other designers’ work, and passing it off as their own. This little switcheroo is a big no-no in the design community, and it’s obviously quite misleading for prospective clients as well. Yet it seemed to be common practice on Fiverr (I emailed them about it and never received any reply).
I finally found three designers who weren’t stealing other people’s work (as far as I could tell) and sent them the following message:
We’re SkyStats, a two-man startup based in Boston and Tokyo. We’re building an analytics dashboard for travel sites (such as Expedia or Kayak) to help them track visitors, sales, and bookings.
We need a new logo for our upcoming marketing site. We’re looking for something clean and modern that communicates what we do. Maybe featuring a plane or cloud to represent travel?
Now I should mention that although design services on Fiverr start at $5, you have to pay more for extra services such as receiving your logo’s source files (which is pretty much a requirement if you’re hoping do anything useful with it). Still, my goal was to see what I’d get for $5, so I picked the cheapest option, paid via PayPal, and waited.
I had to wait 8 days before receiving the first submission:
One day later, I received the second designer's logo:
And I had to wait a grand total of 14 days before getting the last entry:
(Did I mention that faster delivery was one of the options you can pay extra for?)
The logos ranged from the expectedly bad to the surprisingly good, but I was especially impressed with the submissions from the third designer. Not only did he design two logos, both of which were quite decent, he also sent along high-quality versions even though I hadn’t paid for that option. By contrast, the other two designers only sent low-quality images set on a textured background, making it harder to reuse the logo.
The plot thickens
As I mentioned, I first posted the results of my little experiment over at the Folyo blog with detailed reviews of each logo, my own take on the SkyStats logo, and a poll to vote for your favorite logo. The story could’ve stopped here—with me being quite impressed with my $5 logo—if it wasn’t for the ever-vigilant force for good (well, sometimes) known as internet commenters. That original post amassed a massive thread of over 150 comments. Among heated debates over the validity of $5 design services and a fair bit of name-calling, a few people pointed out something that–now that I look back on it—should have been obvious: my beloved cloud—ribbon logo was a rip-off.
The $5 rip-off
It wasn’t a coincidence if my favorite logo looked a lot classier than the average $5 effort. It was actually derived from a stock template with only a few minor tweaks.
What’s more, a quick reverse image search by commenter AimeeD uncovered example after example of companies already using that same exact logo.
But at least, the second logo was a fresh, original idea, right? Guess again.
What about the second designer’s offering? Nope, also a rip-off.
As far as I can tell, the only original efforts were the first’s designer’s two logos, which coincidentally also happen to be my least favorite of the bunch...
What you get for $5
There’s a scene in Anchorman 2 where David Koechner’s washed-up sports anchor character has opened a fast-food joint. He defends his choice to pass off fried bat as fried chicken by explaining they only serve the “good-quality kind” of bats, and that “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
I have to say that just like the fried bat-chicken presumably would, this whole Fiverr experience has left a bad taste in my mouth.
There’s nothing wrong with going with a cheaper freelancer instead of hiring an expensive agency, just like there’s nothing wrong with choosing McDonalds over a 3-star restaurant.
But people trying to deceive you by passing other people’s work as their own, and stock art as original work is another matter altogether. Sadly, this is the kind of incentives you create when you drive price down to such an extent.
When I submitted this very article to a popular tech blog, their editor refused it, calling it “an ad hominem takedown of a competitor.”
I can certainly see his point. But I believe that as long as Fiverr continues making money off dishonest business practices it’s only fair to call them out on it, if only so that people know what they’re really getting before parting with their hard-earned $5.
It remains to be seen whether my efforts will have any impact in that direction. But at the end of the day, at least we can still take comfort in one thing: as far as I know, McDonalds has yet to try and serve us fried bats...
—Sacha Greif is a designer from Paris, France, now living in Osaka, Japan, who specializes in user interfaces for web and mobile apps. Follow him on @SachaGrief.This article originally appeared on Medium.
Photo by Scott via Flickr
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