Join 3,382 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Derek Powazek Closing Up Pixish
October 21, 2008 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Pixish is Closing. Today, Derek Powazek announced on his blog that the collaborative website for creative and design work will close on October 31, openly admitting "We underestimated the 'spec work' issue."

To wit: Pixish launched in February 2008, at which point MeFi discussed heatedly whether this latest web venture from perennial web-venturer (and MeFite #44) Derek Powazek was a good-faith effort to promote designers -- or a critically flawed project promoting evil via spec work. Jonathan Coulton was even involved at one point, and things got very meta.

In his post, Powazek offers several additional compelling reasons for the business decision... but can't they all be traced back to the spec work fracas, really?
posted by pineapple (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sorry to see a promising project die due to pressure from spec fundamentalists. The future of art will be collaboration and self promotion, not contract and competition.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:50 PM on October 21, 2008


"but can't they all be traced back to the spec work fracas, really?"

Powazek cites a whole bunch of reasons, very few of which correlate to any concerns over spec work. Unless you've got specific evidence that correlates Pixish's closure first and foremost to the spec work issue, you're speculating.

I have no opinion of the spec work issue (though I did use Pixish successfully once for a personal project). I do, however, think it's unfair to misrepresent Powazek's blog post.
posted by dbarefoot at 10:21 PM on October 21, 2008


Seems to me that there are way too many designers and not nearly enough fresh design in this world.

Whatever happened to the good old days of design, where one person would make fonts, design appliances, cars, and create ten logos that all were evocative before lunchtime?

Now everybody who has Illustrator or, science forbid, Corel, and can trace on a Wacom is a Designer.
posted by Sukiari at 10:21 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whatever happened to the good old days of design, where one person would make fonts, design appliances, cars, and create ten logos that all were evocative before lunchtime?

Well, if Mad Men is any guide, they all died of cirrhosis and emphysema.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:58 PM on October 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


Aw man, that's a bummer. I know there was pixish and a couple other clones of the site getting the spec work critiques. I still get bummed reading the original thread and seeing how Derek and Jonathan Coulton got raked over the coals and how one comment I made kinda unintentionally sparked some of it.

I still think a crowd sourced design site could be done.
posted by mathowie at 11:10 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nobody really cares!
posted by thedailygrowl at 11:34 PM on October 21, 2008


Seems to me that there are way too many designers and not nearly enough fresh design in this world.

There is a conceit I see among people who label themselves Designers — the idea that Sturgeon’s Law does not apply to them, that crappy software UI is wrought by programmers and not 'UX Designers', that crappy graphic design is done by secretaries and not AIGA members.

Most professionals (especially programmers) will readily admit that a substantial portion of their cohorts are idiots, but I've not seen that in the design community.
posted by blasdelf at 11:40 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well... just for the record, people pay for my design work and I'm not lacking in the "things to do" department. But I gladly submitted a t-shirt design to Young American's contest on Pixish. No I didn't win, but it was a fun thing to do for a cause I believe in. I didn't think it was a big deal. Any pro designer who didn't want to "work on spec" was always free to ignore the whole thing. And having a specific assignment to work on is good experience for anyone who wanted to get involved.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 1:08 AM on October 22, 2008


From the Jonathan Coulton T-Shirt entry:

Just to be clear, the winning design may end up getting printed on shirts that I then sell and then give you zero dollars. But there are fabulous prizes. And of course I will be very grateful.

That's fucking disgusting. Fellow MeFite or no, I am very happy that Pixish failed. Unethical, hideous, well-deserved.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:08 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, hey, that's the very comment Matt talked about. Small world.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:11 AM on October 22, 2008


>> Just to be clear, the winning design may end up getting printed on shirts that I then sell and then give you zero dollars.
>> But there are fabulous prizes. And of course I will be very grateful.
>
> That's fucking disgusting. Fellow MeFite or no, I am very happy that Pixish failed. Unethical, hideous, well-deserved.

It's easy to see what pisses pro designers off about pixish (it's yet another reminder of the single greatest problem of life as an artist, namely that pretty much everybody else in the universe thinks they're an artist too--"I could do that! And for an iPod I might try.") But I'm having a hard time seeing the unethical part. How could a proposition possibly be more up-front than the one you quoted? If somebody offers you what you think is a bad deal, and they're not concealing any of the terms of the offer, and nobody is forcing you to say yes, what's the problem? It might be a very good offer for others, e.g. folks looking to take the next step up from DeviantArt.
posted by jfuller at 4:43 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


But, but ... information and intellectual property want to be free. We'll, uh, crowdsource this and stuff will just appear. And we've got this whole free market element in this, so ...

Yeah, as a business plan, it doesn't appear to be a lot more than some Web 2.0 BoingBoingery clutch of new capitalism layered over your basic Web 0.0 "artists, dance for your treat!" mentality. I love his lessons learned:

1) "We didn’t describe what we wanted to do clearly enough." Translation: guy learns that people will use your site/community/concept in ways you never imagined, feels sad that they don't "get it."

2) "We underestimated the 'spec work' issue." Translation: Surprise that people can tell when they're being manipulated and when their community as a whole is getting shafted, even if it has a fresh Web 2.0 shiny glossy coat on it. Additional surprise: people don't like it.

3) "In community-generated media, trust is everything." Translation: So, yeah, build it and they will come, right?

And so forth.

That Jonathan Coulton T-Shirt quote just makes me want to hit something. I thought, "maybe he didn't quite mean it that way," but after "Then I’ll just buy an iPod and smash it in the street, I don’t care, I’m rich" I thought, "No, that still sounds pretty scuzzy."
posted by adipocere at 4:48 AM on October 22, 2008


So, it's ok for programmers to give away their time making things like firefox and bittorrent, but it's bad for designers to devalue their time by giving stuff away?

Can someone explain this nospec stuff to me beyond wanted to get paid for your work that others are willing to give away for free?
posted by garlic at 5:30 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It seems that the main problem is having tens or hundreds of people submit work for a competition and get no reward. One solution would be to charge a fee for every work submitted by a designer and to allow the client to choose which people he or she wants to see work for. In other words, normalize the procedure: make the competition about who gets to submit work instead.
posted by romanb at 5:46 AM on October 22, 2008


Ok? There's usually a huge backlash when people take open-source programming work that was done for free and sell it.
posted by smackfu at 6:04 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Who here owns a Threadless T-shirt?
posted by dirtdirt at 6:08 AM on October 22, 2008



Who here owns a Threadless T-shirt?


I was just coming here to ask about that. What's the difference between the musician tshirt contest and Threadless?
posted by bluefly at 6:12 AM on October 22, 2008


The difference is they tell you what to design about.
posted by smackfu at 6:31 AM on October 22, 2008


Unless you've got specific evidence that correlates Pixish's closure first and foremost to the spec work issue, you're speculating.

Well, sure.

I do, however, think it's unfair to misrepresent Powazek's blog post.

That wasn't my intent, and I apologize to all who read as a statement of fact what was intended as a conversation spark.

I'm not looking at this event from the designer standpoint, because while I've done design work, at gunpoint or in dire need, I was not the Pixish audience as a creative provider.

But where I do have some experience is on the start-up side, and the way I see this is that Derek Powazek took a chance on a crowdsourced-creative concept -- and three days after launch, designers went insane, against it, because of the spec work problem. Even right here at MeFi, Pixish was roundly assaulted. It seemed that no one was indifferent; people vehemently hated or loved the idea, and the haters seemed to be much more vocal. The internet tirades against Pixish, and against Derek personally, were swift and merciless.

So when Derek offers reasons for the closing such as "In community-generated media, trust is everything... We should have done more to earn that trust, and help members trust each other" (Example offered by Derek on that point: 'contributors go through an instant internal calculation: “Do I trust these people with my work?”' Spec work issue.)

or a statement like "There’s a difference between building a community and a network" (Example offered by Derek on that point, "When musician Jonathan Coulton posted a t-shirt contest, people in his community were stoked to participate, but people outside of his community were like, who’s this guy and why should I give him my work?" Spec work issue.).

or a statement like "Launch fast, but not too fast. That old cliché about not getting a second chance to make a first impression? Corny but true. When you stumble out of the gate, it can be hard to regain your footing. We should have done more testing of both the core idea and the site itself." Again, the stumble was the community backlash over... the spec work issue.

Or a statement like "the site’s community never really gelled. In nine months we only grew to about 5,000 members. With time short and usage low, we’ve decided it’s time to pull the plug."

I mean, sure -- one can try to brainstorm other outlier reasons that users didn't get excited about the project and swell the ranks. Or, one can reasonably say that the horse-not-zebra explanation is that, after the initial stumble, the project was tainted ever after by any designer who might go to Google to vet the site before signing up... and find all the ranting over... the spec work issue.

I didn't intend to put words in Derek's mouth... but I did read between the lines. Others might disagree with my read, and I hope they'll say so.

Regardless, I think that there's a silver lining about the end of any Powazek or Powazek/Champ project: the anticipation of what might come next. These are really special minds, who tend to be at the front of cool things. Hope the next one works out better than Pixish and JPG did.
posted by pineapple at 6:35 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


The people who have a problem with "design on spec" don't understand the difference between value and price. Yes, your work has value. If 5000 people produce the same kind of work, then the price of each person's valuable work is zero.

More specifically, it seems to me that designers rely on their reputation and portfolio to get new work. So the value of the portfolio is greater than the prices charged for what's in it, because the portfolio can be leveraged to secure future revenue. For this reason, a designer starting out would be foolish not to do high visibility spec work, because that allows them to build a valuable portfolio.

Furthermore, there is a tremendous amount of arrogance on some of those spec-fundamentalist sites. How dare you tell someone else not to work for free. If they think it's in their best interests to charge 0 in exchange for experience or an opportunity, too bad for you. Welcome to the free market. And some of the highest paid lawyers in America routinely work for free. Very often they write down their bills. Same with doctors and accountants and ad agencies.

The market is communicating something that spec fundamentalists are ignoring - the price for the vast majority of design work is nearly zero. The price is not what you say it is, it's what the market says it is. In a world where musicians routinely give their music away as a loss leader, are you surprised that someone wants a T-shirt design for free?

Perhaps the value in design work is not the final product, it's the process before hand - the consultation, the interaction with the client to assess their needs and their expectations, etc. Maybe that's the work you should be looking to be compensated for, and not the Adobe Illustrator file end product.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:08 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


The difference is they tell you what to design about.

Which they? Threadless "Loves" are theme contests, and have the best prizes. For the recent Travel one the winner gets the dough, round-trip tockets to Reykjavik, assorted other goodies and a song written about your entry by Calexico.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:11 AM on October 22, 2008


More to the point, recent 'loves' have been about commercial ventures - Lomo, Big Buck Hunter, Maxim Magazine, etc.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:14 AM on October 22, 2008


Furthermore, there is a tremendous amount of arrogance on some of those spec-fundamentalist sites. How dare you tell someone else not to work for free. If they think it's in their best interests to charge 0 in exchange for experience or an opportunity, too bad for you. Welcome to the free market. And some of the highest paid lawyers in America routinely work for free. Very often they write down their bills. Same with doctors and accountants and ad agencies.

Pastabagel, you are being - what's the word? - stupid.

No one is putting a gun to the heads of designers and telling them that they aren't allowed to do spec work. Not me, not AIGA, not anyone. What we are doing is telling them that they are hurting themselves along with every other designer when they give away their work. it's a huge waste of man-hours to have 100 people work for three hours apiece to do a logo for eBeenzQuikCash.ru. And the results will be worse, probably, than if they worked closely with a single designer or agency.

But whatever, because the part you're being just mind-numbingly stupid about is "some of the highest paid lawyers in America routinely work for free," as if all designers have little dollar signs in our eyes. If we wanted money that bad, we'd instead be the assholes who try to rip off college students and novice designers for free shit to put on more dumb t-shirts.

Because that tells me that you have never met or spoken to a professional designer. I have done extensive work for non-profits, NGOs, and charities for free. Every professional creative I know has as well. But there is a huge difference between pro bono work done for charity, for a cause, and free work done to help some jerk webguy make a little extra dough this quarter.

I mean, fuck, do you even know what pro bono publico means? Do you honestly not see the difference between doing pro bono design work for Amnesty International and free design work for yet another fly-by-night web startup with thousand-dollar chairs?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:34 AM on October 22, 2008


Perhaps the value in design work is not the final product, it's the process before hand - the consultation, the interaction with the client to assess their needs and their expectations, etc. Maybe that's the work you should be looking to be compensated for, and not the Adobe Illustrator file end product.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:08 AM on October 22


P.S.: no shit thanx for the tip
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:35 AM on October 22, 2008


Yeah, pro bono work isn't comparable to spec at all.

An appropriate comparison would be inviting 50 starving lawyers (and law enthusiasts) to prepare a full defence for your felony charges, and then paying the lawyer that writes the best case.
posted by Jairus at 7:44 AM on October 22, 2008


I can see both sides of it:

The who-cares side: How is entering a t-shirt design contest fundamentally different from a creating made-up companies and designing logos for your portfolio? At least with the contest you have a chance of your design being used, and you might win something. So what if someone is profiting from your design? You still have the piece to add to your portfolio.

The anti-spec side: If all designers refused to do spec work, they'd all get paid more because clients couldn't get the job done for free. Designers would also be more invested in the quality of their work if they got paid, and we wouldn't see so much crap out there from wannabes.
posted by desjardins at 8:03 AM on October 22, 2008


Btw, I used to work with corporate lawyers who did pro bono work. None of them were hurting for work, or for cash. They were not competing against each other for a case; rather the client often had some pre-existing relationship with that lawyer, or with the firm. I'm sure much of it was done because the attorney genuinely believed in the cause, but an important secondary benefit was the great PR it brought to the firm. It also helped their career since it was suggested (required?) that each associate devote X hours per year to pro bono work. I don't see how the analogy holds up at all. Licensed lawyers and doctors have already established their credentials, unlike an art student or some dude who bought Illustrator yesterday.
posted by desjardins at 8:10 AM on October 22, 2008


I mean, fuck, do you even know what pro bono publico means? Do you honestly not see the difference between doing pro bono design work for Amnesty International and free design work for yet another fly-by-night web startup with thousand-dollar chairs?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:34 AM on October 22


Wow. I wasn't talking about pro-bono work at all. Lawyers routinely write off work done for major paying clients. Jesus Christ, relax.

And yes, I realize no one holds a gun to anyone's head. But the vitriol directed at people who work for free is both vicious and completely unwarranted.

An appropriate comparison would be inviting 50 starving lawyers (and law enthusiasts) to prepare a full defence for your felony charges, and then paying the lawyer that writes the best case.
posted by Jairus at 10:44 AM on October 22


And yet that example never seems to happen. Why is that? Maybe because in order to call yourself a lawyer you had to, you know, go to a law school, sit for the bar, etc. All of which cost a massive amount of money and serves to limit the supply of lawyers in the market. This is what is called a "barrier to entry" which raises the price that lawyers can charge. By contrast, anyone can call themselves a designer, whether they went to Parsons or dropped out of high school. There are no barriers to entry, therefore the price for design should be low.

The point you aren't getting is that this statement What we are doing is telling them that they are hurting themselves along with every other designer when they give away their work. is completely wrong. You can't say that someone is hurting themselves by working for free if they've already decided that they benefit by working for free. They know what's in their best interests better than you do. Same for the client. If the client thinks what they are getting for free is unusable crap, they'll start paying for something better. The fact that you think their output is crap is completely fucking irrelevant. You aren't a party to the contract.

P.S.: no shit thanx for the tip
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:35 AM on October 22


And yet you completely missed the point. If you agree that the value of design work is almost entirely in the consultation with the client, and these websites that encourage people to submit work on spec require the designer do no consultation with the client, then what of value is "eBeenzQuikCash.ru" getting for free?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:11 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The who-cares side: How is entering a t-shirt design contest fundamentally different from a creating made-up companies and designing logos for your portfolio?

No, but that is a portfolio that's worth nothing. The point is to have a portfolio that represents work that that you did for someone else that they were happy with, regardless of what you got paid for it.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:13 AM on October 22, 2008


> Ok? There's usually a huge backlash when people take open-source programming work that was done for free and sell it.
> posted by smackfu at 9:04 AM on October 22 [+] [!]

Well, at least that's as true as any of the other orotund generalizations lobbed about here. In fact the Free Software Foundation specifically encourages people who redistribute open source software to charge as much as they want.
posted by jfuller at 9:02 AM on October 22, 2008


Orotund has now been used 56,701 times on the internet.

Oops, make that 56,702 times.
posted by smackfu at 9:07 AM on October 22, 2008


I hate spec work, nobody should have to do it anymore, we're better than this. If your design skills aren't up to snuff to charge money for, you shouldn't be designing anything. Start small ask for some work from friends and family, learn te precess of consultation and managing expectations.

The Biggest problem I have with spec work is 2 fold: It creates crappy work from 100 crappy designers, and it only gives value to 1 designer, leaving 99 with wasted time and frustration. It's bull shit and I'm glad to see this site go.
posted by joelf at 1:48 PM on October 22, 2008


Jeez, this makes me want to build a site called SpecWorkDoneHere.com or something.

Seriously -- if people do design work for free, and it's all crap, then that company with the thousand-dollar chairs will either go belly-up after burning all the venture capital, or wise up and hire somebody competent. Outlawing incompetence -- or even intimidating it out of existence -- is really not the answer.

Look, no matter what our fields of expertise, we all have the boss's nephew getting hired to do crap while we're not respected. You know how often I've been "replaced" as a technical translator by somebody who thought, why not just buy translation software and cut out the expensive expert? (Full disclosure -- only once, I think, but take this as an example.) Sure, I belittle those fools to my wife and to my colleagues in the translation industry, but if somebody set up a site where you could, say, run automatic software to translate stuff (*coff*Babelfish*coff*) you wouldn't see me railing against it in a public forum, because that would be -- what's the word? -- oh, yeah, stupid.

Instead, as a rational individual, I recognize that this, too, is part of the market. If people need things translated to real English, and without falling into linguistic traps of ambiguity, they hire me. If they don't care, they don't hire me. And when Google eventually manages to get those statistical algorithms working, I'll be out of a job, I suppose -- should I try to stop that? Or should I just do the best job I can, and learn how to be professional instead of thinking the world owes me a living?
posted by Michael Roberts at 4:08 PM on October 22, 2008


Well, never mind -- after reading more about spec work, it appears I'm full of crap in several key ways. Still -- it seems as though the vitriol heaped upon Pixish is misplaced. That model could have been fixed, but people just decided they hated these guys, and that was that.
posted by Michael Roberts at 4:34 PM on October 22, 2008


Is this the whore getting pissed off because a bunch of sluts are now hanging out at the bar she gets her tricks at?
posted by garlic at 3:26 AM on October 23, 2008


I was against the Pixish when I learned more about it, because I felt that while the crowd-sourcing, good-faith approach to design was a nice one, the site failed to take measures of protection from client exploiting the users — devolving the high-minded concept into a Design Dollar Store. Looking back at the original MeFi thread, while I vented over the cheapness of the concept, I did offer several suggestions on how Pixish should stay online, but offer bigger incentives and higher tier levels of work (should the client spring for it).

The market will always have its place for discount items, but many designers felt Pixish would become a slick Web 2.0 front for a "dive bar" design pool, which ultimately dilutes the efforts to get quality design out in the world.

I will admit it: I am a pissed-off whore.
posted by Down10 at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2008


I'm sorta surprised that people are still signing up for Pixish.. when it says right on their site that they're closing down by the end of October.
posted by mhh5 at 7:12 PM on October 23, 2008


« Older OCTOBER 22 IS INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY!!! EVERY...  |  Hear the Wind Sing... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments