In The Future: All Design Will Be Free

Hear me out on this one. In the future, All Design Will Be Free.

That's right. Free. Anything that can be digitally created: graphic design, music, video, animation, photography, illustration, etc. will be created specifically for you, for free. 

Just look at what's happening around us in the branding and design landscape. In the past big branding consultancies could charge top dollar for corporate identities, branding, packaging, collateral, visual media, film, videos, animation. It wasn't uncommon for a Landor, a Pentagram, a Vignelli Associates, to charge $1MM or more from a large corporate ID project. Oodles of research, focus groups, rounds and rounds of explorations and revisions, massive style guides. Don't get me started on advertising. Those dollar figures are sick. 

Not to say that those projects don't still happen today, they do. But there is a shift happening.

Those budgets are half what they used to be. Companies are bringing in smaller and smaller agency players that are doing things on the cheap and they are getting cheaper all the time. But corporate ID has taken the smallest hit, all things considered. Where the real bite has come is in the smaller projects. The $50K- $250K projects. "Smaller" being a relative term here.

A couple years ago, I worked on developing a new natural food brand for the biggest grocery store chain in the US. At the last minute, the EVP of private label brands decided to "crowdsource" the brand identity logo. The creative brief was drafted, posted on one of the largest crowdsourcing websites and a prize of $2500 was offered to the winner. We, the agency, were shocked and dismayed, of course. We just watched $100K of our project revenue evaporate. Poof.

Now the design phase of this particular crowdsourcing project saga is a topic for another post. Its long, head-spinning and funny if it wasn't so terrifying. Suffice to say that the client burned 6 weeks of design development time and we were handed a very subpar identity to deal with at the end if it all.

From the point of view of the client, if they could get an identity they liked for $2500 when it was originally going to cost them $100K from the agency, who wouldn't do it? 

That's a 97.5% cost reduction, by the way.

We all know crowdsourcing design sites like DesignCrowd, Crowdspring, 99Designs are devaluing design and the design industry as a whole. For example, 99Designs has had 6.5 million logos submitted in the past three years. The company has paid out $20MM - or an average of $3 per design. A sobering figure.

The UK designer Andrew Kelsall posted on his blog a response to a client who decided, after engaging him for a quote, to crowdsource their design project:

" putting hard-working designers out of business. 99% of the designers (on the site)...effectively work for free."

Sadly, this monster was created by the designers themselves. By participating in crowdsourcing, they have driven down prices of design, are promoting pitch-work, and are lowering their own chances of making a living.

But now specifically commissioned creative work is being done for pennies, too.

On there are literally hundreds of designers who are willing to create work for just five dollars. The site has coders, website builders, videographers, photographers, animators, voice-over artists, musicians, all who offer services for five bucks. In many cases what you get for five bucks is pretty amazing. Granted, designers on the site up-sell for elevated levels of deliverables services, but the precedent is set. And the competition is fierce. 

Every day creatives on are offering more and more for your five bucks.

Hoping to be among the chosen for a project, design hopefuls are doing work for free. Creatives in the developing world economies in particular are making out-sourcing digital creative work incredibly easy and competitive.

In the natural food brand project for the grocery chain I mentioned above, the client received 800 logo submissions to choose from. There were over 250 designers who did work, and some of it very good work, for only the slightest of hope of being chosen. The client saw all the work, evaluated all the work and asked for revisions on a great deal of the work. Then they paid one person for one design. 

The rest, 799 designs, they got for free.

Today anything that can be digitally created and transferred: music, design, photography, coding, etc. is being given away for free by talented people who just want their work to be appreciated by someone, somewhere. On, there are currently 58 million photographs available to use under an Attribution Only Creative Commons License. Which means you can use the photos for free commercially, as long as it is attributed to the photographer.

Increasingly, if you want free design work, fonts, video, animations you can get them. Easily. You can use them with the creators blessing. The quality of the work is going up everyday. And it's only going to get better.

And eventually, it will all be free.

Image source: "Free Design"