Recently I lost a potential client opportunity who claimed my modest price of $600 for a logo package was “out of budget” and they decided to try a crowd sourcing site. You’d think I would be furious to have lost to such mediocrity, but I realized my energies would be better spent educating, so that maybe next time this won’t happen. The first Design Bad Word is “crowdsourcing”.

Originally coined by Jeff Howe in an article for Wired Magazine, crowdsourcing (I’m calling it CS) has become the topic of many controversial debates on both sides of the fence. You may have heard of it in passing, or maybe you have a full argument for or against it. There have been countless other articles written on the subject, but I feel that the more it’s talked about, the more awareness everyone will have, and hopefully people will see the big picture and form an appropriate opinion.

First off, what the heck is crowdsourcing?

CS, defined by Meriam-Webster.com is,“the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”. 

The basic (bad) idea:

Crowdsourcing sites like 99designs provide a service to businesses who need designs done quickly and cheaply. The client submits a short design brief, maybe a company bio, and any additional requirements. The budget is set by the client, usually at a very low price, and anyone with a computer can submit designs to be considered but only one gets chosen by the client and thus, gets paid. None of the other designers that volunteer their time, ideas, and effort are compensated.

It’s cheap, fast (and greasy)! 

For a young startup with zero budget, no direction, and no clue as to what marketing truly means, the daunting prospect of finding a designer and paying them to produce branding and marketing materials can seem overwhelming when you don’t know where to look or what price is “fair”. Now, through crowd sourcing, you can buy a whole branding kit for a fraction of the cost that it would take if they hired a professional designer or agency. But what are you really getting?

The harsh and greasy truth:

As we know, rarely are things made cheap and fast actually good for us. Sure, there’s immediate satisfaction when you order your food and 5 minutes later you’re chomping away at some tasty mystery meat, but what happens a month (or an hour) later when you realize that the product you were given, is coming back to haunt you?

By using crowd sourcing services, you sacrifice quality and uniqueness. You may get a handful of ideas that “look cool”, but if you scratch away at the surface, you find it’s just a P.O.S covered in gold paint. There’s no strong idea or strategy behind the designs you get from those sites because the whole design process was thrown out the window. And don’t be fooled, most respectable (and informed) designers won’t be the one’s submitting. You’ll most likely get a student, hungry for experience, and more likely to produce an underdeveloped idea, or worse, someone with absolutely not training whatsoever. The end result is almost always the same: a poorly executed unoriginal (and possibly stolen) concept with zero strategy or thought behind how it will work with your brand as a whole.

Here’s some examples of the “gems” you’ll get from crowdsourcing

Source: http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/logo-sunlight-tables-163117

By using crowdsourcing services, you’re supporting and promoting a service that exploits designers and doesn’t give them the just compensation that is deserved.

Gorge yourself on a buffet of (bad) options

As a client of CS sites, you receive submissions from not just one designer but potentially dozens. The prospects of “getting something good” seem higher when more than one candidate is applying.  It’s essentially like placing an order.  “I want a logo that has a dog in it,  I really like the color green, and I’d want it to look similar to the Petco logo”, oh and can I have fries with that?. Boom. A smorgasbord of 25+ logos all very similar to each other will be waiting for you to pick a lucky winner. Easy right? Then why do you feel so dirty?

The Obese Reality:

Working with a designer is not like placing an order, nor should the process be treated as such. You aren’t purchasing a logo, but rather investing in an idea represented by a logo. An idea that is carefully thought through, researched, and revised by professional designers. This is what we went to school for, this is what we pay our bills with and support our families with. It’s a career, not a hobby, and it takes time and effort to accomplish. We are the experts, and we bring so much more to the table than a commodity. We bring our expertise, strategy, and a partnership through out the process.

Doing it the right way:

I definitely think there are possibilities to use crowdsourcing techniques for good, but I think it works best when drawing information for market research, much like Netflix does when they ask you to rate your recently viewed movies. It works because the data they are collecting is based off of the user’s tastes, not their knowledge. However it’s used, I believe it should wary of the mixed bag of results you’re likely to receive from anonymous sources and to not rely on this tactic as a means to build the foundations of your business.

Changing your outlook:

Of course business owners want to get design done as cheaply as possible. Doesn’t everyone want everything as cheap as they can get it? Value is relative, and the value of design will differ from person to person. The key is to consider the process of how it is made and the strategy behind it. I don’t question a brain surgeon’s salary because I know that they attended school for a very long time and they know much more about their field than me. Designers should be treated the same way. Don’t let misconceptions of what we do cloud your judgement on what we are worth and don’t seek out sites that promote “design as a commodity”.

Designers, there will always be the “penny pincher” clients. It’s up to you to rise above it and educate your clients about the value of design and how in the long run, paying more for quality, originality, and thought will make for a much more successful company than anything that could come out of a crowd sourcing site.


For more articles on crowdsourcing, I suggest you read: 

What’s the Harm In Crowdsourcing? by AIGA

The Rise of Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe

Crowdsourcing Design: Pro or Con by How Magazine


Take action: Join the Anti Spec work movement!