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Marco Echevarria
Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
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Crowdsourcing your graphic design work. Is it a good idea?

Crowdsourcing design services for everything from logo development and ads to brochures and websites is all the rage these days. But is this method of acquiring design services really a good idea?
Written May 19, 2011, read 3828 times since then.
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For years there have been crowdsourcing websites that run contests for just about any type of graphic design work you can think of. You just log on to a website, write a short project description, post the fee you are willing to pay the winner and in no time you will have a no-holds-barred, battle royal of design taking place. 

On the surface this may seem like a winning approach for acquiring graphic design services. After all, you will save money since these contests usually run at a fraction of the going rate for design work. You will also have a multitude of designs to select from, from sometimes dozens of designers. Best of all you only have to pay the winner when it's over and done with. Now, how could this possibly not be a good thing? 

The reality is that there are serious underlying issues when you take a closer look at crowdsourcing. First of all, you have to wonder who's in the "crowd". Do they really know what they are doing? These sites mainly attract "designers" that aren't really designers at all, or at least not very good ones. Most are just hobbyists that occasionally fiddle around with Photoshop in their spare time. Some are high school and college students that don't have the skill and experience to work without the close supervision of an art director. Others are just not very talented at all, even with formal training and working experience. 

One of the biggest issues with crowdsourcing is the very premise of it, which is a bunch of people working for free with no guarantee of compensation. That type of working situation doesn't exactly attract top level talent or inspire anyone to put forth their best effort. In fact, they will end up putting as little time as possible into your project since they most likely aren't going to be paid anyway. That, in turn, leads to shoddy, low quality work. 

The impersonal nature of crowdsourcing doesn't do much to help matters either. It is necessary to get to know a client and their business as much as possible. This helps the designer make decisions on how to go about designing what the client needs and what will suit them best. Without really knowing you, your business, competitors, target market... designers are essentially taking a shot in the dark with no real insight into what you need or what it will take to do the job right.  

After looking a bit more into crowdsourcing it should be easy to see that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, you'll save a few bucks, but it will be at the cost of quality and your business image will suffer for it. If you really want the best results then hiring one designer to work on your projects is the way to go about doing so. It just takes a bit of research which starts by looking at designers portfolios online, asking questions about their services and following through with a quote request.

Learn more about the author, Marco Echevarria.

Comment on this article

  • Marketing Design 
San Rafael, California 
George Sandoval
    Posted by George Sandoval, San Rafael, California | May 20, 2011

    Hi Marco.

    Interesting point. You've missed touching on why crowd-sourcing is available and why clients are turning to the resource.

    The perspective is well appreciated being from young designers, but quite literally, crowdsourcing is not a new concept.

    Self service is the original format, and were you to look further back, so is printing, propaganda design, the genre of constructivism, and the long evolution of graphic design itself.

    The demand is clear.

    I recently had a conversation with a local chapter of the AIGA on the topic, referencing a recent contest of theirs to GAP Corporation having turned to the service - it is a service - rather than rely on agencies or studios, for their logo redesign.

    My point as someone who has a little bit of marketing to make himself self- endangering - - but who also has an interest to secure a degree, phew! - - is that we as creatives need to look at who we work for.

    A client, in today's terminology is the consumer.

    The corporation who has, as all rights allow, affords and secure, the consumer's ear as guide and mentor for any topic including those on aesthetic, purpose, goal, intent and appeal should rely on the consumer when ever and where ever possible.

    Crowdsourcing is best described as part of the "design" in use to communicate with them.

    It's not a pleasant thing arguing with clients a "devalued" role for premise of a creative. Which of course if fault of the creative. It's much easier and smarter to be smarter. To know what will work and why, and how far a why will work.

    More importantly to know how to make a "far" and a "why" work together.

    Crowdsourcing is part of that median.

    But back to the current concern. In general, designers have been suffering from a distinct split in our psychology.

    Art vs commerce, culture vs business.

    I've always said to others, if you want to be an artist, be an artists, graphic design has evolved too far to be an artists' retreat.

    Really... illustrators are so much better, more skilled and faster at "designs" popular these days than a GD.

    If you want to be a communicator who takes part in driving an economy, business, changing society step by step, and building bridges - across issues, across hostilities, across oceans... Welcome aboard.

    If you'd like to make a mark in life, really do something different, write. Be an artists and write with your business skills. Write about life. Write about anything. You can pick up just about any tools these days. A pen. A pencil. A paint brush. A travel ticket. A permit. A survey. A Chisel. A Stage. A petition.

    A statement.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 20, 2011

    I've been in the industry for a while now so I definitely know that crowdsourcing is not new. But I certainly see how it has negatively impacted the industry, and it has been getting worse in the last few years, mainly for freelance designers.

  • Marketing Consultant 
San Diego, California 
Michele  Engel
    Posted by Michele Engel, San Diego, California | May 20, 2011

    Perhaps I am missing the point here. You have made some interesting assumptions about the graphic designers who participate in these contests.

    If they are "not very good" designers or hobbyists or unskilled students with little experience or without talent BUT one of them comes up with a design that you really like and are willing to pay for, then the winner's qualifications hardly matter.

    My guess is that there are some highly skilled, talented designers in the crowd who might offer a high-quality entry.

    And, what makes you say that the members of this crowd would not do their best work for what seems (to you) like a small amount of compensation? I'm thinking they wouldn't bother to participate if they did not want to win, and winning requires they produce something of value to the contest "judge."

    I'm not sure just how much information about a business's product/service, goals & objectives, etc. is necessary to arrive at a good design, but it seems that it's the responsibility of the contest underwriter to provide as much information as possible to achieve the desired results. Some underwriters will be better than others at communicating relevant information.

    In fact, what you're suggesting is that the most expensive graphic designer in the world ought to be the go-to vendor of choice for anyone looking for a quality design. In reality, is it true that a design that costs $1000.00 must not be nearly as good (or acceptable to the consumer) as that which costs $150,000.00? I wish it were all that logical.

    The fact of the matter is that, especially in our current economic climate, jobs with agencies are scarce, as are corporate in-house designer jobs, and plenty of talented, highly-skilled (with and without formal training) are looking for any way possible to earn a living doing what they are good at doing.

    If the quality output from design crowd-sourcing were so universally poor, then it would have ceased to exist long ago.

    And, by the way, I have never used crowd-sourcing to purchase design services, so I am not just defending my decisions here. Your argument just seems to be without merit.

  • Graphic Design 
Oakhurst, California 
Laura Frederick
    Posted by Laura Frederick, Oakhurst, California | May 20, 2011

    Like every other kind of site out there, there are great ones and there are not so great ones. As opposed to Marco's opinion, I think a quality crowdsourcing site works for a few reasons: it can help a designer build a portfolio, while getting feedback from other designers and consumers, and mostly, it gives consumers (who rarely know what they want) a wide range of choices. Have you ever churned out dozens of thumbs to a client that doesn't know what they want - highly frustrating. Crowdsourcing is perfect for those kinds of clients.
    And believe it or not some of us design and illustrate because we love to, not just to get paid the big bucks.
    Winning a crowdsourced project often leads to further work for the client, too. And as far as "knowing what they are doing" in design, that's defined as knowing when and how to break the rules.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 20, 2011

    Michele,

    No, I'm not suggesting that you have to go to the most expensive designer to get the best design. But do you really think that the ones that are wasting time, essentially doing the work for free, with no guarantee of compensation really offering the best service? I can tell you that the answer is no. Especially when I know how time consuming design work is.

    People may like the work that they select but it certainly does not mean it is good. As creative as most people think that they are, they do not have the qualifications to be an art director. Playing art director is pretty much what they are doing when they crowdsource design work. Take a look at the contests and comments that are posted on these sites. The designers essentially end up doing production work for the clients and just agree to everything they request. So, what is being selected is what people like, not necessarily what is actually good for their business.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 20, 2011

    Laura,

    I love to do design and illustration work too. But I also like to pay my bills and earn a living. Participating in contest-based work isn't going to accomplish that.

    Honestly, crowdsourcing sites are not doing much for the design industry besides feeding into the misconception that the work we do is easy and not worth much. Because hey, how much value could there possibly be in design and illustration when so many people are busy giving it away for free or for little pay?

  • Graphic Designer 
Issaquah, Washington 
Kevin O'Conner
    Posted by Kevin O'Conner, Issaquah, Washington | May 21, 2011

    As an AIGA member, I'm familiar with AIGA's reasoning against crowdsourcing. In fact, AIGA's Seattle chapter last year essentially browbeat the folks who put on the Bumbershoot festival every year into rescinding the contest they had started to design the 2010 Bumbershoot logo.

    If you believe the AIGA, crowdsourcing, as mentioned above, "devalues" graphic design, by getting people involved who don't necessarily follow the same procedures as practicing graphic designers do when they approach a project. The implication is that you'll end up with a bunch of crappy work produced by talentless yahoos who don't know what they're doing but think they do because they have a computer and some software. (As if AIGA or any designer knows everyone who submits work under such arrangements, and knows exactly what the qualifications of each of those people are.)

    Imagine if we applied the same criteria to music. Say that only professional musicians with the proper training were the only ones qualified to create, record, and/or produce music. Well, a lot of the music produced during the last three or four decades would not exist. No Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, or any of the bands that formed in their wake or were later influenced by them. No Kool Herc or Grandmaster Flash, or any of the other hip-hop artists who followed them. None of the synth bands who helped spearhead the "second British invasion" of the early 1980s. And so on, and so forth, etc., ad infinitum.

    And I just love the implication that the folks who turn to crowdsourcing are guaranteed to end up with a substandard product. That's certainly a possibility—but doesn't that assume that these same folks are essentially clueless idiots who'd never know the difference in the first place?

    Whatever happened to the idea that competition will ultimately result in a better product? I can see where you'd expect a shoddy logo if you just picked some yabbo off the street and had that person give you a logo. But I'm pretty sure that the majority of the people who submit work under a crowdsourcing arrangement realize that other folks will be submitting work as well, and that they're not going to stand a chance against the work those other folks produce if what they produce isn't up to snuff.

    My stance? If you don't believe in crowdsourcing, don't do it. Don't participate in it in any way, shape, or form. But be careful about denigrating those who are willing to participate, because it ultimately just makes you look whiny and petty.

    If you feel it devalues your work, then maybe you need to take another look at your work to see how you can make it even better. Because if your work is that good, people will be willing to pay for it—and those who aren't willing to pay for it aren't going to be the kind of folks you want as clients in the first place.

  • President | Director of Production 
Minneapolis, Minnesota 
Jeff High
    Posted by Jeff High, Minneapolis, Minnesota | May 21, 2011

    We "crowdsource" from time to time and it is an option for some of our clients who are looking for good design for less than what it would cost our dedicated designers to produce.

    Granted, it can be hit or miss, but most of the time it produces something the client can work with, and with a few tweaks on our end we can more often than not produce a very nice design, albeit not typically an award winner.

    It's not for everyone. One of the most obvious issues is, and I think this is Marco's primary point, you have no control over the design pool. Anyone can join but not everyone will, and there is always a little anxiety over the first several submissions, hoping that someone (or preferably, some few) with the chops will, by chance, opt in to your competition.

    We're a design company, and it's not something you would immediately think that, on the surface, is good for business, but we've decided to work with it, find ways to make it an asset for our firm.

    1. It's a GREAT learning tool. Most of these sites have case studies and will display the majority of their entries online. We will sometimes have critique parties where we review them as if they came out of our crew.

    2. It provides a broader range of design options than we can produce internally. At the end of the day we're looking to please the client - if they're not happy with the design, they're not excited about it, and no matter how good it is, if they're not excited about it, they're not going to use it properly. There have been many times that we've been underwhelmed by a design choice, but the client is able to make it work for them because they're emotionally hooked and motivated to broadcast the new image everywhere they can.

    3. It gives small businesses an opportunity to walk away with some incredibly professional designs. It doesn't always work out that way, but when it does it boosts our company's reputation through the roof. Our flexibility in this area, our ability to integrate crowdsourcing into the project dynamic, has proven itself successful in a number of ways.

    I should note that even with all of this, we've discovered that most of our larger clients still use and prefer our internal designers. Our design team can be on conference calls, can review with the client personally, and can better speak to their designs than an anonymous contributor.

    We're not always as happy with the final product as we'd like to be, not everything winds up in our corporate portfolio, and certainly not everything is a candidate for an industry award, but if it brings a level of design that our clients would not otherwise have access to, if it makes them happy and more inclined to use their designed resources, if it increases our options when planning a project, then it can be a very good thing.

    As Kevin says above, one of the prevailing arguments against crowdsourcing is that it "devalues graphic design, by getting people involved who don't necessarily follow the same procedures" but in my opinion this is (essentially) a good thing. Google Bruce Mau's "Incomplete Manifesto" - it voices some of the many reasons why shaking the tree can benefit not just your company (or if you are an individual, your design), but the industry as a whole.

    All that said, I think Marco's article lays a lot of truth on the table, and it is something everyone should consider when making a decision. As an agency that embraces crowdsourcing and has seen it working for clients I can say from years of experience that it is a useful tool, but should never be an automatic, or even a first, option.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 21, 2011

    Kevin,

    "If you believe the AIGA, crowdsourcing, as mentioned above,"devalues" graphic design, by getting people involved who don't necessarily follow the same procedures as practicing graphic designers do when they approach a project."

    http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/position-spec-work

    If by that you mean getting paid for the work they do, then yes, that does in fact devalue the design industry. And yes, there is a bunch of crappy work on those sites done by people who don't know what they are doing but happen to have a computer and some software. One of the founders of a popular crowdsourcing site has admitted to that fact himself.

    What's the analogy between the music industry and design? That they have no formal training but are good bands? First of all, most musicians are good because they practice for years. They don't just buy a cheap used guitar and then start shredding two days later. Secondly, it's easy to make the case when you happen to selectively pick out some of the most popular bands of their time. Any argument can be made when you point out the exception to the rule. I can point out a bunch of people that got rich by playing the lottery, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that everyone quit their jobs, buy srcatch-off tickets and live happily ever after?

    Are folks that turn to crowdsourcing clueless idiots? I've made no such assumption. Clueless, not that either but more like not knowledgeable enough about design to make an informed decision without the guidance of someone who knows what they are doing.

    "majority of the people who submit work under a crowdsourcing arrangement realize that other folks will be submitting work as well, and that they're not going to stand a chance against the work those other folks produce if what they produce isn't up to snuff."

    People that participate in crowdsourcing do realize that others are submitting work as well, but the prevailing strategy against that is the shotgun approach. Which is pumping out as many designs as they, as fast as possible, in as many contests as they can to try and get a win. Now, slapping designs together as fast as possible isn't exactly a recipe for good results.

    "My stance? If you don't believe in crowdsourcing, don't do it. Don't participate in it in any way, shape, or form. But be careful about denigrating those who are willing to participate, because it ultimately just makes you look whiny and petty."

    Feel free to see at as whiny and petty if you like, but I'm merely pointing out the realities of what is going in crowdsourcing.

    "If you feel it devalues your work, then maybe you need to take another look at your work to see how you can make it even better. Because if your work is that good, people will be willing to pay for it—and those who aren't willing to pay for it aren't going to be the kind of folks you want as clients in the first place."

    Well, it's not a case of devaluing my work excessively, so there's nothing about it that needs to be changed. Crowdsourcing devalues everyones work. Especially independent designers, who's clients aren't usually large, established corporate clients but smaller businesses and startups...

  • Graphic Designer / Transmedia Producer / Cartoonist 
Seattle, Washington 
Michael Foster
    Posted by Michael Foster, Seattle, Washington | May 21, 2011

    In response....

    http://biznik.com/articles/crowdsourcing-your-graphic-design-work-it-blows-i-have-proof

    5.6 so far? This article Marco wrote is far better than that... I'm giving him 10 points.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 21, 2011

    That last paragraph was supposed to be "exclusively" not "excessively". That's it, I'm turning auto text correct off.

  • Graphic Designer 
Issaquah, Washington 
Kevin O'Conner
    Posted by Kevin O'Conner, Issaquah, Washington | May 22, 2011

    All of the bands I mentioned, plus some well-respected musicians I didn't, were made up of folks who were non-musicians when they started. Yet they were able to create work that not only had quality, but also inspired others.

    I'm deeply suspicious of anyone—regardless of qualifications—who feels it necessary to slag off others (however politely) in order to justify their positions. This is why, while I don't participate in crowdsourcing myself, I disagree with the stance of the AIGA, and with the basic premise of your article. Because, when it gets right down to it, both amount to complaints about not getting more money.

    If you (the general "you") are a good designer, then no amount of crowdsourcing on the part of others is going to make you any less of a good designer. And if your work really is that good, then clients are going to be willing to pay you accordingly—and if they aren't, then they probably aren't the type of clients you want to be doing work for in the first place.

    I think James Brown put it best: "I got mine—don't worry about his."

  • Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator 
St Louis, Missouri 
Lynn Alpert
    Posted by Lynn Alpert, St Louis, Missouri | May 22, 2011

    As a designer and illustrator myself, I agree with Marco's views on crowdsourcing. I just don't understand why artists are expected to be ok with doing work and possibly not getting paid for it. We are professionals just like anyone else. You wouldn't expect your doctor, lawyer, financial consultant or plumber to "enter a contest" and work for free and only pay your favorite, would you? To illustrate this point in a funny way, watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 22, 2011

    It's not a matter of getting more money but getting paid what the work is worth or even getting paid at all. Yes, competition makes prices go down. That's just the way of things, but driving down the value of our work to unreasonable and just flat-out ridiculously low rates, is not good for any designer who's trying to earn a living. If you somehow have not seen how crowdsourcing and spec work have impacted the industry then you're fortunate, especially if you are a freelancer. If you work full time for an agency you may likely never see the effects of it at all. But because you have not seen the problem first hand does not mean that it doesn't exist.

    Let's forget the issue of who is participating in crowdsourcing, their qualifications and what that means to the clients and focus on what crowdsourcing means for the design industry and designers. The fact is that crowdsourcing is essentially placing zero value for the time and skill of graphic designers, illustrators... That's because those sites have designers working for free and delivering completely finished work and then letting the clients decide whether they will pay one person out of all the people that worked on their project. That's if they even feel like picking a winner and paying the usually substandard rates that they award. You have to consider that crowdsourcing sites offer a no risk money back guarantee. That means that they don't have to select a winner at all. Then no one would get paid and it really ends up being a total waste of time for the 60, 70 or more designers that submitted work.

    That mentality of "Do the work and then I'll decide if I feel like paying you a few bucks for it," has transcended crowdsourcing websites. More and more people are expecting that to be the normal business practice for designers. I see it all the time myself. And that has nothing to do with what kind of designer I am or how good my work is or anyone else's for that matter.

    So, if people see all of these websites with designers working for free and usually for the chance at winning a fraction of the going rate for the work that the average freelancer charges, how does that not devalue our industry?

  • Marketing Consultant 
San Diego, California 
Michele  Engel
    Posted by Michele Engel, San Diego, California | May 22, 2011

    OK, I surrender. You're right: it's just not fair. So all of the artists of the world can stop producing great work unless they know ahead of time that someone will buy it. And I will stop spending considerable amounts of time putting together beautifully written and packaged proposals for prospects who may not buy my services. And all those government contractors out there should stop doing the same.

    If you see my point, then it appears that the ONLY thing new about the crowdsourcing you refer to is the arrival of the technology that makes it so accessible and manageable for the end user. But there has always been crowdsourcing, and there always will be crowdsourcing. And, they say, the cream always rises.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | May 23, 2011

    Artists? As in fine artists, like painters and sculptors? Talk about an industry that is rough shape. How many successful ones do you know besides those that rose to fame long after their death? How many actually do it full time as their primary source of income? If they do they are working on commission, which would mean they get paid for the work they do. Are they selling prints and reproductions of their work? Because designers can't design an ad, website, logo... for a client and then turn around and sell the same design again and again. At least not without running the risk of getting slapped with a massive copyright infringement lawsuit. There is a big difference between creating art for the sake of art and expression and graphic design, which is geared towards business, marketing strategies, sales, consumer products and services...

    I don't know anything about your business. What proposals do you write? What's involved in writing these proposals? How long do they take? I write proposals for projects every once in a long while, but I'm not going to spend 13 to 20 hours or more on a logo development project for free in hopes that the client will like it and pay me. Do you provide your services that way?

    Is crowdsourcing fair? I don't see it as a matter of being fair or not. It's more of whether it's good for business and the industry, which it isn't.

  • Marketing Consultant 
San Diego, California 
Michele  Engel
    Posted by Michele Engel, San Diego, California | May 23, 2011

    Please don't get me wrong, Marco, I recognize the fact that trained and talented designers who have a lot of experience and are particularly effective at getting the client's message across deserve to be paid well for their work.

    And there will always be designers who are just starting out and/or can't find a job who still want to pursue their vocation on a part- or full-time basis. And, yes, a business that works with one of those designers may purchase work that is not as effective (which is my definition of "good") as they could have found elsewhere by paying more for it.

    I'm a marketing consultant who often puts together proposals for my prospects. This can take one hour of my time or it can take much longer than that. I do my best to put together a winning proposal. And I do not get paid for any of that time.

    You say you are most concerned about whether crowdsourcing is or is not "good for business and the industry." It still sounds like you are unhappy about the competition undercutting your pricing.

    In any industry, there will always be competitors who charge less and those who charge more. (And some of those who charge less actually do work they could charge more for and some of those who charge more may be charging too much.) Those who charge more have the opportunity to sell based on value, which is the best way to sell.

    With all of these variables to take into account, it seems like the best path one can take is to keep her or his eye on doing excellent work for a fair price and ignore the competition.

  • Marketing Consultant 
San Diego, California 
Michele  Engel
    Posted by Michele Engel, San Diego, California | May 23, 2011

    By the way, Marco, I just checked out your website and your blog. You do fine work, and I especially appreciated the blog you wrote on 3/14 about crowdsourcing. It does a much more convincing job than the one you posted here; there's really no arguing with the insights and experience you brought to that research and the examples you provide. NOW I know why I'd be better off staying away from crowdsourcing sites.

  • Marketing Design 
San Rafael, California 
George Sandoval
    Posted by George Sandoval, San Rafael, California | May 26, 2011

    Hi Marco, I just have to address a misunderstanding with Kevin.

    Kevin, the "devalue" was with an RP environment and not online in a crowdsourcing venue.

    Generally speaking, in agreement with many of the comments regarding value. The distinction as I've found has been within industry role vs subsequent contributions.

    For instance Primo Angeli, Brody Hartman, and I believe another designer made a significant contribution to an industry standard in packaging, and therefore collect much higher fees than any other designer. The contribution is still in effect for the client and others.

    For designers turning to crowdsourcing environments, the opportunities to significantly effect changes in the markets and industry exists, as the tools once in possession of a few designers, then many (libraries, samples, travel) are now available to a great many.

    It would be a shame were we as designers in not appreciating as comparable the talent, miss the opportunity to spot like interest and dedication.

  • Video Specialist 
Bellevue, Washington 
Zheng Wang
    Posted by Zheng Wang, Bellevue, Washington | May 26, 2011

    Record companies may say that online music distribution is bad for the music industry, because it takes away their control of the market. But for consumers, it offers great opportunity to discover many more non-established artists.

    Yes, there is always the issue of fair compensation, as seen in online music distribution as well. But in general, I question business advantage that's only based on exclusivity.

    For designers that are really that good, then it's a matter of marketing before they attract the right level of clients and achieve the success they deserve. If they are really that good, why sweat over the type of clients who can only afford (or only willing to pay) a small amount?

  • International Software Guy 
Portland, Oregon 
Lynn Fredricks
    Posted by Lynn Fredricks, Portland, Oregon | May 26, 2011

    Interesting article Marco!

    Crowdsourcing is just one marketing technique to build value in the business of the site by granting interesting access to large groups of people, just like the many freelancer sites out there - the "retailer" is the site, the customer is the consumer (even if its a free vote, they are generating potential page views and click throughs). You are a "supplier".

    I can see why it is grating to designers because its a commoditization of your art, and also that you cannot really scale up "production".

    Your best bet is to hone your own marketing skills in order to get access to actual clients who are willing to pay, as Zheng Wang suggests. As an artist, you can't "crowdsource" your actual labor, so the best you can get is to get the highest return on your time investment.

  • Owner 
Seattle, Washington 
John Spiers
    Posted by John Spiers, Seattle, Washington | May 26, 2011

    What is missing in both of these anti-crowdsourcing polemics is "what do you propose?" A law? Forbid crowdsourcing? Licensing the profession? Deny by the power of the govt gun people the right to spend their money as they wish?

    As one whose business depends on designers, for 30 years I've done one of each at least in pursuit of good design. I've looked at kids who barge in from the street. I've solicited designers to work with me. I've crowdsourced (contest at an art school) before there was an internet. I've approached the best and contracted them.

    A couple of things: the designers I've watched become millionaires work strictly on royalties. If we make money, they make money. They know they are good, so although they do not work for free, they certainly work on spec. Complete designs, up front, not charge. You going to outlaw that?

    Genius is temporary. Designers generally have a good run and then they get out of touch. Others come in. Crowdsourcing is an efficient way to spot new talent. Peter Max, Marimekko, Robert Crumb... titans in their time, footnotes today. What happens when the pool of licensed designers is tired has beens?

    One here has mocked crowdsourcing and likened it to crowdsourcing for medicine. Well, why not? Medicine is expensive, short supply, low quality and and time consuming. What if we were free to post our complaints on a website and receive a few dozen offers from doctors worldwide. We could study their replies, their references and recommendations, and learn an awful lot very quickly. And no doubt the price is something we could afford out of our own savings. Why not? (Except it is illegal, but medical tourism is growing because it is a good value.)

    Designers work for people who serve customers, so you are not being paid by the end user. Complain all you want about what you are paid, and blame whoever you want, but if you want to be paid exactly what you are worth, then work strictly on a royalty basis. Make a business contract for 3% of all of their business stationary purchases, or some such. Stop working for $300 an hour, and work for a percent. Stop competing on price, and compete on design.

  • Blogger 
Marysville, Washington 
Kimberly Gauthier
    Posted by Kimberly Gauthier, Marysville, Washington | May 26, 2011

    I did something similar - I entered a contest for 1000 free business cards. The cards are wonderful, but it took two shipments to get them right and it turns out that the designer doesn't do brochures, post cards, or anything else that I need.

    I have great business cards, but I'll have to pay someone else more to finish up my marketing materials.

    Luckily I'm just in the beginning of building my photography business so business cards will work for me, but this was a valuable experience that taught me to learn more about the company and what they can do for me now and in the future before wasting their time and mine.

    The one thing that the designer did do is tailor my cards to me and my site and I love them.

  • Freelance Graphic Designer/Illustrator 
La Crescenta Montrose, California 
Sharon Hays
    Posted by Sharon Hays, La Crescenta Montrose, California | May 26, 2011

    Wow. I can see this is a heated topic. As a freelance designer/illustrator, I'm aware of AIGA'a stance on doing spec work, and I have also tried to use the on-line freelance sites to bid on work. I have considered entering contests in the past, but as a person that also has severe clinical depression, my energies are in short supply and the thought of spending such a valuable resource without the guarantee of return is not an option. However, if it works for some people, then by all means they should participate. Is that any different than the client who has a horrible logo that they are proud of because their child drew it while in high school, and as a designer, you have to smile and work with it? Some clients want to be involved in the design process, and some just pick something because they "like" it whether or not it's well designed. Lord knows there are a ton of bad logos, bad signage, etc. out there. Just check out the store fronts on any strip mall in your home town. Some clients want to just pay for the cheapest bid possible because they don't realize the value of a logo that's well designed. There are a lot of clients out there, and as designers, we need to find our market, where ever that may be. It's a big world, and it is unfair and uncaring and outsourcing is a reality. That's my two-cents, take it or leave it.

  • writer, coach 
Sanford, Florida 
Roxana Nunez
    Posted by Roxana Nunez, Sanford, Florida | Jun 02, 2011

    Marco,

    Your point of view is your point of view and I respect your write to defend your profession.

    I, for one, believe that in the end, if I am the one choosing the art work, I want someone with talent and whether or not they have a degree or are still at school is irrelevant.

    If a person needs supervision to complete a task, like an art director for example, that is still irrelevant because I am paying for a service and if you don't deliver, I go to someone else.

    In every profession, on every level, there are good people and there are charlatans. It seems to be a recurrent theme for me today. I would love for every person in the planet to do their best work and mind their own business. If you don't believe in the concept, that is fine. Where you lost a little credibility was when you offended the possible members of the "crowd". You could have had more impact if you had not assumed that a college student or a hobbyist would be any less dedicated to a project. It has been my experience that some called experts promise and under deliver just the same.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | Jun 02, 2011

    As offensive as it may be perceived to be, none of what I have said is made up. It's the reality of crowdsourcing and people need to know that before they try it.

    As far as needing supervision, that is in fact relevant. No good comes from someone who doesn't know what they are doing giving direction to another person that doesn't know what they are doing. So, you would go to someone else if the designer doesn't deliver? How do you know when they do or don't deliver? Therein lies the problem. Clients tend to select designs on what they think they like, which is hardly ever what is good for their business if left to their own devices. If you were commissioning a painting to hang up in your house that would be different. That is for just for you so, whether anyone else likes it or not doesn't matter. But when it comes to design for collateral materials, advertisements, web design, logo development it's a different story. What other people think actually does matter because it's what helps shape their perception of your business and they are comparing it to your competitors and not whether it's not too bad for having been done by a student. That's why it's important to have someone working with you that has experience and will help guide you in the right direction instead of just slapping together designs and or just taking direction from the client and doing whatever they are asked to do with no questions asked.

    Yeah, there are designers that are, or claim to be experienced and don't produce very good work. That goes for any industry. But if you show me 10 people that are going to work on a design with 4 being students, 4 others that just tool around with Photoshop every now and then and 2 that have been doing it professionally for a few years. Then my money is on one of the two professional designers.

  • Freelance Web Designer 
St Louis, Missouri 
Sloan Coleman
    Posted by Sloan Coleman, St Louis, Missouri | Jun 03, 2011

    As a designer, I 100% agree with you Marco.

    Another downside I noticed when I worked with a client who had used 99designs for their logo, was their posting for a cheap logo came up before their own site when their name was searched. That definitely doesn't look professional when someone is searching for your business and sees your logo design contest instead.

  • Graphic design, illustration, advertising, corporate identity design 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 
Marco Echevarria
    Posted by Marco Echevarria, Carlisle, Pennsylvania | Jun 11, 2011

    Here is a video of a panel discussion on this subject that pretty much says it all.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh5Ii6P1ix0&feature=youtu.be&a

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