A few weeks ago, I posted an article about corporations asking designers for free work. The article cited the New York-based start up, Pingg.com. To recap, Pingg is a company that allows users to create invitations on their platform, schedule and plan events and then invite their guests. They differ from a competitor like eVite in that they ask designers and artists to contribute images and then give the creatives a profile page, thereby inciting Pingg users to visit designers’ websites and Etsy shops. Thus, designers are compensated through [potential] promotion rather than actual dollars; a model I find problematic.
So, when I received a comment from Lorien Gabel, the company’s CEO, I was honored. And kind of nervous. The thing about a blog is that you don’t always know your audience. So when someone actively lets you know they’re paying attention, it’s the author’s responsibility to be accountable for her opinions. And here we are.
After some emailing with Lorien, we set up a phone conversation in which he described to me a few pay models currently in development. Pingg just released the first iteration of the model, and, though it’s still in development, there will probably be two tiers through which designers/artists are compensated. This is worth discussing because it’s an interesting (and possibly new) way for designers to earn revenue. Here is the gist of our conversation (my comments are in italics).
Tier One // Awarding Design
The first method to be released is the award system, in which the most popular designers each month are awarded $50. Additionally, there is a weekly Staff Pick where the Pingg team selects a design and awards $50. Lastly, there will be design challenges (as yet undefined) awarding money to the best designs based presumably on some theme. (Perhaps a design jury will be used? That might be a bonus promotional tool for Pingg.) This is somewhat similar to the Threadless system, in which anyone can submit shirt designs and, if selected by voting users, they are paid up to $2,500. Interestingly, when Threadless designers are paid, they are also giving exclusive rights to the company to use their designs. In other words, the work cannot appear anywhere else. With Pingg, on the other hand, there is no exclusivity agreement, meaning the designs can be used elsewhere as another source of income.
- It’s definitely interesting to pay designers based on usage, and gives them something to work for. Also, because the images are non-exclusive, they can be used elsewhere. In other words, if I create illustrations for one client, where I keep the copyright, and then post them up on Pingg for some extra revenue (potentially), this really doesn’t affect me negatively.
- This is certainly a step in the right direction, but differs from Threadless in a critical way. Threadless pays all of their selected designers, thereby valuing the art significantly and equally. In fact, they won’t use a design without paying the creator. The Pingg system only pays the most popular designs, so is still using the majority of their designs for free. I imagine that Pingg’s revenue limits their reward-capability and the second tier of the payment model might negate this issue; but it borders on spec work, or is spec work, and so it’s up to the designer to choose her position on this type of payment.
- Designers should consider two things when working this way. First is the level of distribution of an image and second is the medium through which they are showing their work (invitations). Personally, I like invitations and consider them a means of connecting humans. But I wouldn’t paint the Mona Lisa and reproduce it on paper. The choice is a matter of perspective of the designer and the specific piece of work being used.
Tier Two // Royalties
Pingg is still very much in a growth stage, where they are exploring different ways to monetize (buzzword!) their services. One way is through user upgrades. For instance, if I want to send out paper invitations, Pingg will do that for me and it will cost about $1.50/card. For this type of revenue, they are building a platform to potentially pay some share of this to the designer whose card has been upgraded to print. (Notice, print is an upgrade from the web. One point for the printed word!) The actual dollar amount would likely be small to start and so designers might be paid quarterly.
- This seems like a fair way to compensate artists. It also brings transparency to the process, which would empower designers to feel some sense of ownership over the use of their work. This autonomy would incite them to promote their own invitations perhaps, thereby spreading both brands and creating a win-win scenario for both designer and Pingg.
Other Commentary, of Varying Usefulness
After we discussed the payment types, I kept Lorien a little longer to tell him other general thoughts I had. Not that he asked…Anyway, by creating a transparent platform, designers would experience the journey of start-up-growth alongside Pingg, rather than entering into an opaque company. By giving designers autonomy, Pingg is first recognizing the importance of creative contribution and second, making that contribution personal, as the artists can experience the excitement of growth, too.
Further, the more a company or site can engage the power of community, the larger it can grow. Think of sites like Behance, like Threadless, like Core77 that invite users to participate. Their potential for engagement is infinite because the platform for participation is in place. Further, the web is inherently democratic, with information becoming increasingly accessible, so corporate sites should work within this concept, rather than around it. Democracy + participation + community = growth.