Design Crowdsourcing

Design Crowdsourcing

As many of you know, there has been a rise in crowdsourcing websites such as 99designs that allows a designer or design company to compete in contests for web design, logo design, brand stationery, tshirts, and more. These are not typical contests mind you, they are set up on any given crowdsourcing website by actual companies and individuals in need of design services. These companies or individuals may need a logo, a website template, a t-shirt, or some other type of brand collateral. Many of these individual contests feature literally hundreds of designers clamoring for the winning spot.

For many freelance or beginning designers, this may seem like a dream come true. In many ways, they've found a place where they don't have to wait for clients - they are readily available and spelling out exactly what they want done. Even to an experienced designer, a crowdsourcing website may be just what the doctor ordered for an in-between project design fix with a possibility of cash.

There are many good things about these crowdsourcing websites - a designer can design for whatever client they want, when they want, based on the type of project they are interested in at that moment in time. The designer also gets lots of practice designing for a variety of different projects that, winning or not, can still be added to personal or company portfolios. This type of design experience can be invaluable to many designers that are trying to grow their versatility or hone their specific style.

Unfortunately, these crowdsourcing websites may also be the worst thing to ever happen to the design profession and community. AIGA (the American Institute for Graphic Arts) is currently fighting the very concept of design crowdsourcing, saying that it is against everything the institute has been fighting for and has believed in for decades. AIGA has been fighting for designer rights, pay rate and respect ever since its creation in 1914. Currently, AIGA has more than 22,000 members nationwide.

Instead of hiring a designer (short or long term) for design projects and paying them for comps, revisions, and final outputs, companies are now able to use these crowdsourcing websites to pay a fraction of the cost for design services that it would in normal circumstances, in return for literally hundreds of designers to supply them with free design comps and their associated revisions.

In AIGA's opinion, this hurts the entire design community by creating a system where the designers work for free. Worse, many new or "green" designers don't know any better and are needlessly throwing away hours of work and buckets of cash that they have earned because companies want free design services. These companies are (understandably) taking advantage of new technologies - but design crowdsourcing has proven only to undermine an entire profession and industry.

Sure, it feels good to win a contest. If a person was to win a contest out of hundreds of other designers, it makes them feel good about themselves, simple as that. But you won't find experienced, professional designers spending more than a few minutes on a logo or website for a contest on a crowdsourcing website. No way, no how. They're designers by trade, and they should get paid for what they do.



21 comments (Add your own)

1. Matt Mickiewicz wrote:
I noticed that you're using a $1 stock photo in this blog post rather than commissioning a custom photo shoot with a professional photographer, or paying $500-$1000 to Getty Images.

The photography market has dramatically changed in recent years thanks to professional amateurs who are happy to contribute to sites like Shutterstock and iStockPhoto and earn 20% commission when their work sells for a buck or two. The change has been massively positively overall - people who would have never bought stock photography before are all of a sudden spending money on these sites because it's cheap & convenient.

Freelance graphic designers and design agencies are here to say. There will always be clients who want a full strategy behind their design, who want to see a 20-page proposal and go to hour-long meetings to discuss concepts.

On the other hand, there are millions of small, bootstrapped businesses who can use 99designs design contests, or our ready-made store done quickly, and on the cheap in a risk-free environment with a 100% money back guarantee. There's a clear market for both, and one doesn't necessarily cannibalize the other.

Wed, May 5, 2010 @ 4:42 PM

2. Arora Designs wrote:
You definitely have a point there. Crowdsourcing websites definitely help out small businesses and start-ups that need high quality design options at low cost.

The problem is, potentially hundreds of designers per contest are doing actual design work - free comps and revisions, with absolutely no pay for what they're doing. This is not 99designs or any other specific website's fault. It's a concept that is a bit lopsided to favor one party over another. It favors the contest holder - one individual - over potentially hundreds of designers. While it's "risk-free" for the contest holder, it is not for the designer.

So, who is to blame in such a predicament? No one? Everyone? In the end, I'd say it's the designers choice to work for free. Our article was not to tear down 99designs or any other website or company, but to inform freelance designers that they may have much better luck (and much more fairness to them) if they begin freelancing the old fashioned way - the tried and true way - without doing hours of work for free.

It's a personal choice to participate in any of these contests, and we recognize that there are very good arguments on both sides. Thanks for your comment!

Wed, May 5, 2010 @ 5:00 PM

3. Read wrote:
Personally, 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,,, 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 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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