Is crowdsourcing good or evil?

Crowdsourcing is basically the act of obtaining a solution to a problem from a community of people. A few examples of crowdsourcing in the design industry are Design Crowd and 99 Designs. Let’s say that a business needs a logo design. The business can simply submit their brief to a community of designers and over a week’s time they will receive hundreds of logo designs from designers all over the world. They then pick their favourite logo design and that designer gets paid. It’s a very simple yet powerful concept that is growing rapidly and changing the design industry as we know it. But is this change for the better or worse, let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons.

Handy for small businesses

Small businesses don’t usually have a large budget set aside for logo and website design and going to design agencies can be quite costly. Crowdsourcing websites make it quick and easy for small businesses to get a logo and website design for a relatively cheap price. There is usually a good variety of designs to choose from too as so many designers are submitting designs.

Quantity not quality

One of the issues I’ve noticed with crowdsourcing designs is that the quality of submissions is sometimes not that great. Many of the logo designs for example look like stock logos. This isn’t surprising when you consider the relatively low rewards offered to designers for their work. Not to mention the fact that a designer isn’t guaranteed to win a brief. So they could end up putting a lot of time and effort into a design for no monetary gain. For these reasons I think many designers are spending minimal time on designs and thus the quality of the designs reflect this. I have however seen some great designs on these crowdsourcing sites, but these were for businesses that offered larger rewards.

crowdsourcing logo design

Well oiled machine

As far as business models go, the model employed by crowdsourcing websites is just about perfect. Businesses have a need for design work and on the other side of things, designers have a need for projects to work on. By mediating this relationship between designers and businesses, crowdsourcing websites can meet the needs of designers and businesses while also receiving a cut from each transaction. Like a well oiled machine, this business not only meets the needs of two groups of people, but it’s also highly scalable and low maintenance as it’s an automated system which thrives on growth. I guess the only main issue is the high initial start-up cost of developing the application.

Experience for young designers

crowdsourcing for young web designersWhen you’re first starting out as a designer you don’t have much experience, so there’s not a lot of work in your portfolio. It’s always a challenge to build up your portfolio and gain some momentum in your design career. Crowdsourcing websites can be a good avenue for young designers to gain experience and build up their portfolio while also making a bit of pocket-money on the side.

What are designs worth?

One of the issues designers have with crowdsourcing is the relatively low price of design work. Creating a logo design for example is a timely process which requires research, experience and a load of creativity. Yet logo designs are being sold for as little as $160 US!  As competition grows, the cost of design work on these crowdsourcing sites could get cheaper and cheaper which is a scary thought for designers everywhere.

Crowdsourcing is a powerful force which is already changing the way the design industry works. The question is, will it change the design industry for the better or for the worse? What do you think?

http://99designs.com/
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Adham Dannaway

Web Designer and Front End Developer with a passion for web design, coding, blogging, WordPress and chewing gum. Check out my web design portfolio and follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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  1. Johnny on November 1, 2010

    I agree that the prices for design work are pretty low, would be great if they increased them a bit. Might get more designers interested too.

  2. DesignCrowd | Design Crowdsourcing on November 14, 2010

    Some arguments why design crowdsourcing is good:

    - It gives opportunity to designers who don’t have jobs, helps them build their portfolios and win new clients
    - It reduces risk for clients (thus solving a major problem that has plagued the graphic design industry for decades i.e. businesses hire graphic designers only to be disappointed with results due to limited creativity or unavailability of 1 individual)
    - Crowdsourcing (and online outsourcing in general) can save businesses money which is important for making them more profitable which is important for supporting economies

    I think it’s also important to acknowledge that design crowdsourcing probably provides something quite different for designers in established economies like Australia, the USA and the UK and designers from developing countries like Romania, the Phillippines and India where the daily wage is much lower.

    In saying that there have been problems with design crowdsourcing.

    Please check out http://www.designcrowd.com/crowdsourcing to learn why we’re different to other crowdsourcing sites.

  3. Design Crowdsourcing on November 14, 2010

    To expand on “In saying that there have been problems with design crowdsourcing ” in my last post …

    Initial problems with design crowdsourcing include inconsistent results for clients and inconsistent earnings for designers due to the winner-takes-all contest process. We like to think we’ve addressed some of these things at DesignCrowd through offering participation payments (paying designers that don’t win) and giving clients the ability to invite top ranked designers (http://designers.designcrowd.com) to achieve a consistent result.

    In my view, the designers who complain about design crowdsourcing only come from developed economies (like Australia and the USA) and the the core, underlying grievance is the average amount of money on offer for each project – this is the bottom line. if every contest on offer was for $1M then the design community would not call it “evil”. If every participation payment on DesignCrowd was $800 and not $20, then no-one would be complaining. So, what is causing the low average costs? The issue is not crowdsourcing, the issue for western designers is the Internet, globalization and online outsourcing in general that is enabling western businesses that are asking western designers to compete with a cheaper alternative.

  4. Cre8ive Commando on November 14, 2010

    Thanks for your insights Alec. It’s great to hear from the Design Crowd man himself and even better to see that you are trying to look out for your designers.

    I like that you have included participation payments to ensure designers don’t go away empty handed. Hiding designs from participating designers to prevent “groupthink” is also a great innovation.

    I agree with many of the points that you have made and I understand that “crowdsourcing” itself isn’t to blame. I think that crowdsourcing in general is a great idea with many advantages, especially to western businesses. I guess it’s just tough for western designers to compete with the low pricing that design crowdsourcing provides.

    If crowdsourcing websites could make things more attractive to western designers, I’m sure that more would get involved and start supporting crowdsourcing. I also think that we would see even more creativity and variety on crowdsourcing sites.

    At this point I think there’s plenty of design work to go around. It will be interesting to see how the design industry evolves in the future. :-)

  5. Alexa on November 14, 2010

    I’m relatively new to graphic design and I have found these crowdsourcing websites to be good practice to help build my design portfolio. It’s not really about the money for me, it’s just great to get some real experience. :-)

  6. Alan on November 20, 2010

    Designers are doing work for free, only the winner gets paid. That’s the bottom line for me. I wouldn’t waste my time with these types of websites.

  7. Lisa on December 6, 2010

    In response to Alec’s comment, “It gives opportunity to designers who don’t have jobs, helps them build their portfolios and win new clients”

    I agree that crowdsourcing CAN work. However, I have tried DesignCrowd and I can say that it does not act in the best interest of the designer and it is purely client-biased. Sure, it gives us the opportunity to do work, but what does it matter if no one ever gets paid? There are several design contests on DesignCrowd that remain “closed” months after the deadline has passed with no winner selected even though payment is guaranteed. For some designers, this is their sole source of income – participating on crowdsourcing websites. On DesignCrowd, there is no such thing as guaranteed payments even though they like to claim so. There also doesn’t even appear to be a cap on the number of times a client can extend the deadline. I have seen some contests that have been open for months. By allowing clients to dictate the process, designers who put in the time and effort get no rewards and no closure as to whether or not they or someone else has won a contest.

  8. Brett Widmann on February 8, 2011

    This is a really interesting article. Thanks for the great info!

  9. Mikey on July 13, 2011

    In terms of crowdsourcing for designs, for me, I am quite on the fence regarding the use of a crowdsourcing site for a logo design. It is still a touchy issue for most designers who said that crowdsourcing is a no-no for obtaining a logo design. I have tried crowdsourcing before and I know the risks involved but it comes within the territory. But there are other no-frills logo design websites online such as http://www.logobee.com, http://www.logodesignstation.com, logoyes.com, etc. which are actually great in getting a professional logo design at a fraction of the price and minus the risks of crowdsourcing (plagiarism is one of them). Seeing that there are no consultation services, the price is significantly lower than that of conventional design firms. For instance, I have tried http://www.logodesignstation.com and the experience was indeed a positive one. I managed to get my business logo design at an affordable price and the turnaround time was great as well. Highly recommended. Although crowdsourcing for logo designs could be a bane for some, many find it to be a viable alternative to get a fast logo on the cheap. It all depends on the individual actually.

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