It’s not often that I post a rant so I guess this is one of those rare occasions. This is something that all designers have to face in their professional career and it’s not showing any signs of going away soon.

Crowdsourcing is ruining the design economy.

I’m not saying this just because of a couple of bad experiences from my end, but this is something that is a constant irritation to professional creatives everywhere. Crowdsourcing and design competition websites are growing and becoming more popular but they’ve made the design field more difficult than it already is. They sell a myth to people that a professional design can be bought for something as little as £3 (this isn’t an exaggeration)! The system takes advantage not only of designers but also for clients who aren’t aware of the long term effects.

What is crowdsourcing?

I can only describe crowdsourcing by giving an example.

Let’s say someone or a company would like to have a design done. This could be a logo, website, flyer, book cover etc. The project brief gets posted online on a crowdsourcing website with a budget in mind, and then designers submit their ideas for the work. The best one is picked by the client and then the designer is paid. The other route is that a designer offers their service for a fraction of the price online, and the client reaches out to them. The company gets their design while the designer gets experience and payment, everybody wins. Sounds amazing doesn’t it?


Above: Diagram of Crowd Sourcing / Competitions from Design Crowd

Although websites such as Fiverr have their uses, in reality they do more harm than good when it comes to the economy and overall respect for designers. Everyone is free to use the websites as they please to get work done, but there are some dangers that need to be highlighted.

For the client

The reason that people tend to use crowdsourcing websites is that they tend to be cheap and promise to have a finished product delivered to you in a short amount of time. This isn’t a realistic expectation for any experienced person. Any respectable designer will be able to tell you outright that the work takes a lot of time to complete. When you factor in; research, sketches, developments, and final delivery into a project there’s no way that you can expect a unique and professional piece of work in your hands in just a couple of days! I would personally question any designer who promises this. Sure, they might be inexperienced and just want to get some work in their portfolio, but you, your business and your wallet deserve much better attention. Not only is graphic design about creating something that is visually pleasing, it’s also about the long-term message. Delivering this requires us to relate to the client and see things from their perspective. This can’t be done through a competition online, where there is little personal interaction.

You also have to factor in that anything that is timeless or iconic (in most cases) isn’t created overnight. This is especially the case with a logo. At the end of the day, it’s a custom job that you’re requesting. If you’re looking for something just to bide you for the meantime till you can invest in a better logo then fine, but don’t expect to have something that is top of the range and future-proof.

For the designer

I’ve had my own experiences with crowdsourcing and looking back I can’t say it was worth much, but I won’t try to convince designers to stay away from them. By all means give it a go to get your feet wet, but don’t rely on them to make a decent living. At some point, you’re going to want to increase your rates as your skills and knowledge improves. Knowing your self-worth, I’d be surprised if you would design something of value for the ridiculous rates on these websites, and in the short timeframe suggested. Even if you wanted to expand your design portfolio, the reality is that graphic design is more about polishing someone else’s vision than building your own, so most of the work that gets done don’t actually end up in your public portfolio. If you rush the work you’re doing and you know that it’s not to the standard of what you’re capable of, will you be happy putting average work in the public space? The choice is yours.

The long-term repercussions

The overall repercussions of using crowdsourcing sites are very damaging to the reputation of designers in the long run. What we offer is a bespoke service tailored to the client’s desires. The work takes a lot of thought, development, time, and skill, and this is what is factored into the price. However with the promise of fast turn around time and cheap labour, companies go for the cheaper option. We all want to save money, so I can’t blame them, but the more people go for the cheaper, lower quality option, the harder it becomes for hard working creatives to get decent work.

The creative field is already undervalued, and crowdsourcing only makes things worse for us by selling unrealistic dreams. Every time a design is done via crowdsourcing and design competitions it lowers the standard of design overall. As a designer, it makes it more difficult for me to get what my time and skills are worth when others are constantly underselling themselves and the community.

It’s also an issue of ethics. Making designers compete against each other for something that isn’t even a fraction of what their worth is already wrong, and on top of that the hard work that they put into the designs might not even get picked! That’s a lot of time wasted, time that could have been spent working on more secure projects with a higher return.

Some people have benefited greatly from crowdsourcing, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s damaging to the design community as a whole. For some reason, people are fine with this, but let’s apply it to another field of work.

A man wants a custom cake made. He puts out the request online with a detailed brief including; colours, reference images, wording and more. His budget is £5. Many bakers then compete by making their own vision of the cake, each different in their own way. The man receives the cakes and then chooses a winner from the selection. He returns the other cakes and keeps his favourite, paying the £5 fee as arranged. The baker is pleased knowing that they have a happy customer and work to show in their cake portfolio.

Crazy, right? You don’t need to be a baker to appreciate this, and you can apply this to any other respectable field. In the same way, you don’t need to be a designer to appreciate the time that’s put in.