Why Pixish is not the devil

Pixish is a new website from Derek Powazek, the founder of JPG Magazine, that aims to be a marketplace to connect people who need illustrations, images, and design with artists, photographers, and designers. The site has only been public for a day now and there's already criticism that the whole thing is terribly flawed because it's spec work. Spec work is when a design client says to one or more designers, "mock up the work and maybe we'll buy it". Spec work is bad because it devalues design, spec work is bad because sometimes clients use speced work and don't pay for it, and spec work is bad because it wastes the time of professionals.

As well, the cheap nature of many of the "rewards" on Pixish has already been well-mocked.

And I agree that if someone who was going to hire a design professional instead uses Pixish, then yes, that's spec work and designers shouldn't participate (and should at least take note of that company's actions, if not following Adam Howell's suggestion to outright boycott them).

BUT I think there's still a place for Pixish. I was struck by one of the very first Assignments, posted by Derek Powazek himself. Derek is offering $100 for a tattoo design. And that price point and that level of design need is where I think Pixish could be a real benefit.

Let's say (as a real example) I'm in an improv group* that performs a couple times a month at a non-profit co-op improv theater and we think it'd be groovy to have a logo for our MySpace page and maybe print up a dozen shirts for ourselves and our six fans. I'm not going to go to a real design firm, because that's not my budget or need. I could bug my artist friends, but I've already had them design stuff for my last six groups. Now, I could go to Pixish and offer $50. And someone who is willing to work for $50 will give me a design that's worth $50, which is all I need.

And I'm not just speaking as a consumer of design. A long time ago I had a (very) small graphic design company in a smallish town. These days my full time job is as a network guy, but I keep my hand in the game by designing improv show posters** and such. I just did a job for a group where I did a poster, postcard, and show photos all for a bundle price of, guess what, $100. It's cheap, I know it's cheap, but they don't have the budget and I'm not going after higher paying jobs. Heck, I don't want the responsibility that comes with a higher paying design job. Before this it's been hard to find those kinds of jobs. So maybe I'll enter a few designs in Pixish contests assignments. And maybe I won't win them, but for me half the point is just about keeping my design skills up. Heck, that's why I entered all those side-contests and remixes on Layer Tennis.

So doesn't this devalue design, though? Well, yes, somewhat. But it's also a democratization. There are people with design needs and people with design ability and they deserve to get hooked up. It's messy. It's change. Ask the music industry -- do bands with free music on their MySpace pages devalue CDs? (Or Jonathan Coulton, to pick on another Pixish Assignmenter.)***

OK, I'm typed this out pretty fast and my thoughts on this are still geling. Partly I wrote this because neither Daring Fireball, nor Adam Howell, nor Pixish has open comments. But comments here are always open, so feel free to tell how I'm wrong.

Update: Well, they said the site was a beta and would be evolving, and I guess they mean it, because they've already removed all design assignments from the site.

Erica and I talked about this whole brouhaha on our way to dinner with friends tonight and one of the things I realized in that time is that I some of my thoughts might not actually be about Pixish as such, but about this niche I'm seeing. Ever since the desktop publishing revolution, the tools of design are in more and more hands. And more and more people are realizing that they have design needs. There have to be ways to connect those people. Colin, who commented here, has some interesting ideas about a portfolio-and-bidding based site.

It probably doesn't help that I'm in the middle of Accelerando, so I'm thinking about post-scarcity economics. Which is, of course, science fiction, as of yet.

* If you're not in Chicago with our odd improv comedy culture, think "band".
** Again, for the rest of the world think "rock show poster".
*** This is likely a very shaky analogy -- comparisons to the music industry may be the new Godwin's Law.