The Crowdsourcing Quagmire

The Crowdsourcing Quagmire

Crowdsourcing is one of those things that designers hate to hear mentioned. It ranks up there with “Spec Work” and “My little cousin’s friend Tony can design me a logo cheaper than that!”

Since designers are a pretty vocal bunch on the subject, there are many debates about crowdsourcing. Trying to make sense of it all can be more daunting than trying to catch a greased pig. Let’s look at it from several angles, shall we?

What is Crowdsourcing?

The term “crowdsourcing" came from an article written by Jeff Howe in the June 2006 issue of Wired Magazine.

When someone shifts a project from the hands of one capable individual or creative team to capable masses, that’s crowdsourcing.

Why Businesses Like Crowdsourcing: Perfect World

Why Businesses Like Crowdsourcing: Perfect World

Crowdsourcing Produces Great Results

Crowdsourcing allows businesses to solicit the best ideas from a community. Usually through a voting system or a strict set of criteria, the business can separate the wheat from the chaff. By rewarding the great ideas, eventually all submissions will become better.

Crowdsourcing is Cost-Effective

It’s considerably less expensive than hiring a freelancer or creative team.
By using the business’ influence or in the case of small business, a crowdsourcing
web service, the company can put forth a contest with a prize to motivate the crowd and still come in costing less than the traditional route.

Businesses Are in Control

Everyone has an ego, and businesses are no different. By using a strict set of rules for the crowdsourcing project, the business can maintain control of the finished project and maintain their original vision.

Why Businesses Like Crowdsourcing: Real World

Why Businesses Like Crowdsourcing: Real World

Some Businesses Are Uneducated

Some businesses just don’t know that spec work and crowdsourcing are evil and counter productive. These businesses end up using crowdsourcing services multiple times or use their “kill clause” to terminate the contest because they aren’t satisfied with the outcome, resulting in no one getting paid.

Some Businesses Are Cheap

Sometimes, even if a company knows that crowdsourcing isn’t fair, they still engage in it because of the price. In their minds, if (and that’s a big if) they can get a quality product for a cheaper price, they are saving money.

Some Businesses Like Buzzwords

Crowdsourcing is a hip, fashionable buzzword in the business world, just like Web 2.0 or cloud computing. It portrays their business as being modern.

Why Designers Participate in Crowdsourcing: Perfect World

Why Designers Participate in Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing Can Get Designers Recognition

Big companies utilize crowdsourcing as much as smaller companies. By having the best idea, an unknown designer can quickly make a name for themselves.

Crowdsourcing Can Generate Extra Income

Besides the recognition, money is always a motivating factor. What designer doesn’t want more money? For a few hours of work, a little extra cash can (potentially) be made.

Crowdsourcing can Beef Up a Designer’s Portfolio

Most of the designers who engage in crowdsourcing contests are fresh out of college or have only been designing for short period of time. These contests are an easy way to pad a portfolio and to make a portfolio more interesting for prospective clients to look at.

Why Designers Participate in Crowdsourcing: Real World

Some Designers Are Uneducated

Some designers don’t know that spec work is wrong. They are either just starting out or are hobbyists looking to make side cash without much commitment.

Some Designers Are Lazy

Then there are the really good designers that usually win the contests. These talented individuals usually don’t like the rigor of a client/designer relationship and would rather throw it all out on the table.

Some Designers Undervalue Their Talent

There are designers out there are great, but they don’t know it. They undervalue their work. They enter these contests as a way to make money without charging the rates that they deserve.

Who Does Crowdsourcing Hurt the Most?

Who does crowdsourcing hurt the most?

Does it hurt the designer who can’t get work because companies are using crowdsourcing websites to get their sites and logos made?

Does it hurt the participants of crowdsourced projects?

Or does it hurt the companies/businesses that use a crowdsourcing model?

The short answer is that it hurts everyone.

Without the normal client/designer interaction, a project is just a jumbled, one-sided affair. While good things can be produced from just the client’s brief, truly great things come from the reciprocal relationship between a client and designer.

When Crowdsourcing Backfires

When Crowdsourcing Backfires

Usually the general public only hears about the virtues of crowdsourcing, while the missteps and blunders get swept to the side.

Recently, Cadbury, a large company that produces chocolates, was on the
receiving end of one of those blunders.

Cadbury initiated a campaign to have “the crowd” design the wrapper for one of their products instead of the traditional approach of hiring a professional design agency.

It wasn’t until a winner was announced that it was concluded that the winner of the contest had plagiarized their submission.

When Crowdsourcing Backfires

Cadbury had made a mistake. They had to retract their statement about who actually won the contest.

Would this have happened if Cadbury went the traditional route of hiring a designer or an agency? Probably not. Will Cadbury use the crowdsourcing model again? Definitely not.

When Crowdsourcing Backfires

Ways That Crowdsourcing Hurts Designers

By participating in crowdsourcing, you not only hurt yourself, but also the industry as a whole.

Spec Work

Crowdsourcing hurts designers by asking them to design work that may not be used. They put in the work and their ideas, but very often never get a cent for their efforts. This is known as “spec work”.

This is different from design mock-ups in the fact that a client pays the designer to create mock-ups. With spec work, no money changes hands.

Essentially, designers work for free, hoping that their design gets picked so they can get paid.

Customer Confusion

If an uninformed business wants a logo made, who do you think they will pick: A crowdsourcing website that guarantees them a logo for $99 or the designer who charges a lot more than that? Crowdsourcing devalues the heart and soul of the art being made by the designer.

Devaluing of the Craft

Crowdsourcing hurts the community as a whole by perpetuating a mindset in businesses that designers are merely a service that can be bought for the cheapest amount possible and not skilled professionals whose time, effort, creativity, and ideas are worth compensating.

Ways That Crowdsourcing Hurts Clients

Crowdsourcing also hurts businesses that participate in them.

It’s Not Cost Effective

When paying a designer, the client is also paying them to oversee the project to make sure it falls into budget and timeframe.

With crowdsourcing, someone has to oversee the contest usually at the behest of other duties.

It also becomes costly when you end up with a design that needs to be redone by a professional.

Another way crowdsourcing becomes costly is if a plagiarized design is used. Sure, there are safeguards within crowdsourcing to avoid this, but the whole crowd can’t be held accountable.

Let’s use the Cadbury example from earlier: What if the design had made it to the printer? Thousands of these images would have been made and paid for, not to mention any sort of litigation of the copyright holder.

It’s Not Time Effective

A design is rarely 100% correct the first time around. It takes communication between client and designer. If a minor revision needs to happen, it may take weeks instead of what could normally take one designer a few hours.

Since the crowdsourcing contestants are trying to impress the client to win the bid, they are less likely to pay attention to functional requirements.

It Shuts the Door on Creativity

By engaging in crowdsourcing, the business is only limiting itself to the flashiest work of a contestant. This may be fine if your business needs a logo with a lens flare in it. After a certain point, designs that are entered in a contest are just interpolations of the first few original designs.

So If Crowdsourcing is So Bad, Why is it Still Used?

That’s like asking why people still eat junk food: junk food’s bad, but the temptation is hard to resist.

Crowdsourcing is still around because it’s perceived as a cheap means of producing a good product. Designers keep participating in crowdsourcing because they perceive it to be an easy way to get a paycheck, even if it’s a not guaranteed paycheck.

Ways to Stop Crowdsourcing

If you believe designers and businesses shouldn’t participate in crowdsourcing, here are things you can do to help.


Educate clients and aspiring designers alike. I personally wish someone was there to show me the evils of spec work when I was starting out.

It’s not hard to set someone straight by having a quick conversation and then pointing them to reading material about the subject (like the one you’re reading now).

Show Your Worth to Your Clients

It has been said many times before that “Price is what one pays, Value is what one gets.”

Show the added value in your services, and the prospective client won’t even think about crowdsourcing.

When a business/client comes to us asking for a quote, they are actually saying, “I have a problem, I can’t fix it, and I realize I need someone with your skill set to help me out.”

Show them how a problem-solver truly acts. Ask questions, really get in there
and let your personality, passion for the craft, and intelligence shine through.

easy for a price quote to become a long-term client through respect and a job well
done. Great personable service and a stellar finished product is something that
the crowdsourcing model can’t replicate.

Letting a Client Walk Away

We learn by experience. Sometimes we forego the route of experience, instead settling on the wisdom of others’ experience. If a client wants a lower price or thinks they can benefit from crowdsourcing after you have said your piece, let them walk away. Unfortunately, they’ll have to learn the hard way.

You’ve already established yourself with them as a knowledgeable source of information and when it all goes pear shaped, most likely, you’ll be the first person they will call.

Is Crowdsourcing Here to Stay?

Will crowdsourcing ever go away? Probably not. It will most likely rank up there with the “my kid sister can design that” jokes and the other hurdles we have to overcome.

Personally, that’s what I love about design. After the design process is explained in a passionate and professional manner, to see the
light bulb turn on in a young designer or client’s mind is priceless.

By showing your personal passion for design and your clients’ projects, the “creative fire” that burns in us all gets passed from designer to client, from client to product, and from product to customer. That’s something that crowdsourcing can’t hold a candle to.

Related Content

About the Author

Jeff Boshers is a freelance front end web developer from Tennessee. You can find his work on his site, BOUNDBYSTARS. When he’s not prettying up the web or writing about things, you can find him restoring vintage razors and classic cars. You can find him on Twitter.

This was published on May 25, 2010


abhishek May 25 2010

I heard about this word a while ago. I think its an extension of out-sourcing. Where out-source was used for reducing cost(mostly) but croudsourcing has some another purposes too like increasing income, gaining popularity, visitor to buyer conversion etc.
This field is new to gain expertise

Sanchit Thakur May 25 2010

Is their a Group which is Anti-Crowdsourcing?
How are they promoting it as bad.

James May 25 2010

The worst thing about crowdsourcing is the perceived “value” and the whole “throw enough shit at a wall and some will stick” type approach.

It’s scattergun at best and clients unfortunately never really realise the downside as you mention. They just see the potential of getting 100 versions of their brief from 100 different people.

Often the people (possibly a generalisation here) are working from countries where the average wage is lower than the likes of UK, US etc so would be happy to do some spec work for a “prize” of $250.00.

In reality, it’s probably worth it for them because you often see the same sorts of logos and designs submitted to multiple contests on these sites which suggests they’re churned out at a high rate.

I don’t mind these sites in principle because I don’t feel like I have to compete with the people who submit work to them and if I get a client who trots out the line about it being cheaper on crowd sourcing sites – I’d try to educate them but ultimately, you have to let them go. You’ll save yourself a world of pain.


Dejan Jacimovic May 25 2010

I hope you are right about future of crowdsourcing. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for the great article Jeff.

Jordan Walker May 25 2010

That is indeed an excellent article.

Michael Mior May 25 2010

What about ways crowdsourcing can help designers? For example, Five Second Tests ( I mostly agree with your assessment of crowdsourcing design, but I think it’s important to note that crowdsourcing isn’t all bad.

In some cases, I also don’t think it’s bad to crowdsource. What about a mom and pop shop that needs a one-off design for a promotion? They may not know any competent designers, and probably don’t have much of a budget. Crowdsourcing can get probably get them a decent design quickly, and cheaply.

I can understand the concern with devaluing the skills of designers, but I think if people are aware of what they’re getting when using crowdsourcing, there is a place in the market.

RussellUresti May 25 2010

I dislike the idea that designers who participate in crowdsourcing are stupid and lazy. To that I say this:


I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ve never actually participated in the process; so where does your expertise on the subject come from? You’re an outsider looking in giving your opinion on something you have zero first-hand knowledge about.

There are a vast number of designers who participate in crowdsourcing because they enjoy doing design for its own sake. They can pick and choose the jobs they want to design for instead of having to accept every freelance offer that comes their way. Many don’t even care, or put very little value, into the actual monetary prize.

This is the problem with freelance designers who speak about crowdsourcing. You focus on the money because that’s all you really care about; but this isn’t the case with many crowdsourcing designers.

I also dislike the idea that the same process is going to work for every single client project out there. Aren’t you supposed to be creatives? You can’t realize that sometimes a different approach may be a good thing?

Just so you know, I’m a freelance designer / front-end developer who also works full-time as a front-end developer for an interactive agency; and I have in the past, and plan to in the future, particpate in crowdsourcing whenever I feel the urge to.

Nicole Foster May 25 2010

@Russel: While I agree with your point because it can be beneficial as much as it can be a negative, try not to swear. It ruined your point again because I imagined you yelling at everybody instead of calmly explaining your point. Just an opinion though, don’t take it personally.

Anyways, as somebody who has participated in design contests in my previous years, I see the benefits for both if you are confident about your work and you can produce great work for the client. Nonetheless, there are designers who have poor quality work that put no thought into the client’s needs that participate in design contests. I condemn those who don’t take other aspects of design into consideration when making something for a client. I praise those who take the time to study their client’s needs and design with that in consideration.

Nonetheless, it varies between sites. Don’t go to Digital Point because, no offense, the contests often have designers creating poor quality work and trust me I know, I used to be one of those designers. and are good examples of sites that crowdsource with a fantastic bunch of high-quality designers.

I don’t completely agree that crowdsourcing will not stay around. I think it works well when executed well. Competitions are great ways to find talent, freelancers, and fresh ideas. But as you say, it can be a big mess if not done properly.

ddeja May 25 2010

And there is always the second end of the stick. What about people that are creating those contests? If you want something good, you have to reach to the big number of people. And it always costs. Poor advert, poor results…

And one more thing i do not believe in the term ‘uneducated designers’ – you are a designer or you are not.

Young May 25 2010

I agree with Nicole in that your anger is uncalled for. By making the assumption that Jeff is an “outsider” you subject yourself to the same pigeonholing pitfalls you accuse him of.

Honestly, I admire that you’re one of those MGM guys (i.e. Ars Gratia Artis) but some people really “do it for the mortgage.” It’s a noble thing to pursue art fully knowing that you may disappear into the vast majority of artists who never get recognized, but I know that’s not for me. I’m just starting out and freelanced for a while before settling in at a start-up, still struggling to make ends meet. When you’re insecure about your living you can’t really afford the time or money to dabble in crowdsourcing.

I also feel like web design is a rather peculiar field of “art” since we make things for functionality, not just their beauty. Websites are not something you can hang on a wall and forget about – we make them for web surfers to “use,” and in this way, our work is more product-natured than artwork.

You wouldn’t say “fuck you for caring about the money” to the microwave designers, would you?

I thought the article was well-organized and made some good points about crowdsourcing. If the article makes you judgmental about it, then blame your mentality.

Jacob Gube May 25 2010

Great comments everyone.

@RussellUresti: I’ll have to agree with what @Nicole Foster said, that your message may be lost to many people because you opened up with an unnecessary personal attack. But maybe it may drive your point across because it really seems you feel strongly about your opinion. At the very least, I appreciate your honesty and your passion for your viewpoint. I also appreciate where you’re coming from.

Though I can’t speak for Jeff, I can say that I’ve participated in design contests when I was just starting out. I was broke, uneducated, and desperate. I did it for the prizes and recognition; neither of which happened (for me). Maybe it was the contests I joined, but looking back now, it was such a sleazy and abusive system. They treated the producers (the design participants) like dirt and with no respect. The only people I saw benefiting was the site owners and the companies (well, not really, because more often than not, they’d get unprofessional designs).

That’s my experience, and I’m glad your experience was more positive than mine. If you’d like to write about your experiences with crowdsourcing and design contests in a different angle, email me.

That invitation is open to anyone with the capacity to approach the subject in a professional and passionate manner.

Jeff Boshers May 25 2010

I honestly believe that no one wins with crowdsourcing save for maybe a third party that moderates the crowdsourcing for a fee.

@Russell If you are doing it for the sake of design. I understand that. I LOVE design too. We all do that’s why we are here. I found it to be a way I could do what I love and make money at it.

If it’s not about money then why not put together some tutorials for those starting out or donate your services to a non-profit(as most of those need all the help that they can get.)

Full Disclosure: I work for an agency too. I freelance in my downtime, most of the articles I write center around helping those starting out in freelance design.

Crowdsourcing is a big pitfall to those just starting out, they put all their proverbial eggs in one basket. It just never pans out. Even if they do win then they are still robbed of any sort of client interaction, which you’ll agree they NEED in order to grow.

@everyone Thank for your comments and I will respond back to them as time permits.

Jeff Boshers May 25 2010

I forgot to mention that like @JacobGube I did my share of “contests” when starting out. Like Jacob said with his experiences, they never really amounted to anything. I even participated in a contest where I worked for 6 hours or so on two different logos designs, just to have the “contest” killed. That’s when the client pays the third party administrator(site) to stop the contest. In that instance I didn’t even get the chance to win.

I would love to see an article showing the other side of crowdsourcing. I hope someone writes one, it should be a good read.

Jacob Gube May 25 2010

@Jeff Boshers:

If it’s not about money then why not put together some tutorials for those starting out or donate your services to a non-profit

Great point. The way I’ve satisfied my design crave outside of paid work, after graduating from design contests, is by putting out freebies and writing tutorials. I also mock stuff up when I’m really bored, but don’t want the pressures of writing on the Web.

Zoe Feast May 25 2010

Very interesting article. I recently lost a client to a Crowdsourcing site and to be honest it was no great loss as they were not the easiest of clients!
They had their logo created by a very popular logo design contest site and I was intrigued to see the result. The logo did have some pop but was full of gradients that would never work on the type of signage they require and certainly would not degrade nicely for black and white applications.
You get what you pay for!

Nikos May 25 2010

Nice thorough article Jeff! I agree to most of your points but I don’t think that crowd-sourcing is necessary bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that people and their work MUST get appreciated and respected and this is not the case with crowd-sourcing for sure. On the other hand, I don’t thing that anyone serious about his design is going to use a crowd-sourcing service. You have to have that designer/client interaction to reach to a design that satisfies you or your business needs. You have to pay enough for the designer to feel satisfied to give his best to what he is designing for you.

BUT… if someone hasn’t got a huge budget, doesn’t want a top quality design and just wants something more beautiful than a clipart…(remember those?) why not pay 200$ or 300$ for 5-6 hours worth of work? This client wasn’t probably going to pay anything more… because he didn’t want a top class design or concept.

I hear you saying… what about the spec work designs that people spend time on and get nothing in return? Could it be that design marketplaces be the case and designers get paid for each download of those?

Could crowd-sourcing be the solution for the low end of the designs pile..? Could it be just opening a market to some new customers with “something to get the job done” needs?

RussellUresti May 25 2010

The perceived anger comes from the accusation that designers who participate in crowdsourcing are stupid (vaguely masked by the term “uneducated”) and lazy. As a person who participates in the occasional crowdsourcing project, I’m going to say that’s offensive. Though the sentences under those titles don’t really reflect the titles themselves.

You say a designer is uneducated if they don’t know spec work is “wrong”. The true case here is that someone has an opinion that differs from yours. They either a) don’t believe spec work is wrong, or b) don’t see “crowdsourcing” and “spec work” as interchangeable terms. Either way, you’re saying that if someone has a different opinion, they’re “uneducated”.

Then you say that if a designer doesn’t like the “rigor of a client/designer relationship” they’re lazy. Again, I don’t quite see the same connection you do. I don’t see a preference for community or competitive design as a sign of laziness. This is probably more along the lines of a “different strokes for different folks” thing.

So different / better terminology could have been used to describe the designers who participate in crowdsourcing; though choosing the language you did definitely adds some personality to the article, and opinion articles are typically more popular than just factual ones. But as I stated, you deliberately chose to use insulting language, and that’s what my response was to.

My own negativity was also a deliberate choice, which, as @Nicole and @Young say may put people off, but I’m not too concerned with that. The topic of crowdsourcing is one of those where people are strongly polarized, and you’re unlikely to change anyone’s opinion through a comment on a blog post.

Here are my personal opinions on crowdsourcing:

A) The quality of work is arguable. While there are a lot of great designers out there that could produce work that’s better than crowdsourcing, I’ve also seen a lot of design agencies that produce work that is below the quality of what you could get on a crowdsourcing site. Going directly to a designer doesn’t magically guarantee better work. But going to a good designer is more likely to get you a product you’re happier with.

B) The people who participate in crowdsourcing, both on the client side and on the designer side, are just normal people. They’re not idiots and they’re not evil. Different clients are going to have different needs, and sometimes crowdsourcing is the right tool to fill their needs. And of course money is factor here. But not every client needs a Paul Rand logo, most can get by with with an average or even below average logo. As for the designers, they’re not out to destroy your life; they’re just looking for an easy, accessible way to do some design stuff, and perhaps get paid from it. As the article points out, there are the cheaters and jerks who go nuts about winning and will down vote other designs and what-not, but those jerks also exist in the freelancing world to.

C) I don’t agree that crowdsourcing and spec work are the same thing. With what’s typically referred to as “spec work”, a client usually comes to you and asks you to do something for them for free, or the vague promise of compensation later. To me, the negatives with spec work are the unknowns. It’s the unknowns and the lies that make spec work so frustrating. But with crowdsourcing, all the facts are laid out before-hand. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, and you can choose whether to participate in a contest or not. For freelancers, turning down work is often a foreign concept, because most work doesn’t come around often enough for you to have that luxury, but a person participating in crowdsourcing is likely to ignore 80 or 90 percent of contest postings, just because there’s too many to realistically do them all. That’s another reason spec work is so frustrating to a freelancer, you feel like you had a fish on the hook and you’re going to have to cut the line and let it go; it’s aggravating.

D) I believe that the hatred for crowdsourcing stems more from fear than anything else. Freelancers know how to compete against other freelancers, it’s a practice they’re used to, but crowdsourcing is relatively new, and with more and more big name companies going to it, it’s gaining more attention and growing pretty quickly. It’s a whole new business model that freelancers don’t know how to compete with. You can’t match their prices, and you now find yourself having to justify your fee to a client who says “I can get this crowdsourced for well under half the cost”. You’re now afraid that you’ll be losing business to these services that you can’t really adjust to. So the outspoken hatred towards these groups is really just propaganda designed to ostracize the people who choose to participate.

Chuck May 25 2010

I totally relate to Russell. Yes he is adamant, but we were just told in ‘the real world’ he is either ‘Uneducated, Lazy, or Undervalues His Talent’. I mean WTF? What do you expect him to say.

Look: their are BMW’s and Kia’s in this world. There’s the Corolla and the Lexus. Wal-Mart and Tiffany.

Yes people get what they pay for. I paid a good amount for a logo. But also have clients that didnt. I charge premiums for what I do. But some people need ‘less for less’. Crowdsourcing is less premium than ‘your designer’. Wal-Mart is less premium than Tiffany’s.

Every business has this.
– Professional lawn guys vs. Neighbors son cutting the lawn, etc etc.

There really is room for both.

Carlos May 25 2010


Who are you kidding mate, if this is indeed true

“You focus on the money because that’s all you really care about; but this isn’t the case with many crowdsourcing designers.”

I don’t know what delusionary drugs your on but the vast majority of the spec work community choose projects that earn them the most for their efforts. Why do you think that the contests with a higher prize money always receive the most submission, and the contests with little prize money, little submission. Why, Because the dollar drives more people to enter the contest in the hope to win! Or are you going to tell me it was ‘just the breif’?

I think these types of competitions can help a designer even if you end up not submitting your work! Under pressure and with a chance of real money will aid some people into pushing themselves. Maybe I am a bit contrived….

If the crowdsourcing is quamire, why 99designs, a crowdsourcing website, has won at Webby Awards 2010?


“You focus on the money because that’s all you really care about”

No offense, but isn’t that just a bit too easy for you to say.

You said you were “a freelance designer / front-end developer who also works full-time as a front-end developer for an interactive agency”

Freelance isn’t your career, it’s your side project. You don’t have to rely on freelance as your whole income.

“I don’t agree that crowdsourcing and spec work are the same thing.”

Spec is short for speculative, so work done where compensation for time and effort is very questionable is spec work in my opinion.

I don’t hate crowdsourcing or people who submit designs in crowdsourcing. I recently went to and there was some design that were very nice. I saw a logo design project with a prize of $600, which is nice pay in my opinion. My problem was with the 556 entries and only one will get compensation for their time and effort.

Lets say each entry spent 5 hours on the design (I know logos need more then 5 hour to develop through and design, but for the sake of this argument lets say 5 hours). So that would be 556 entries with 5 hours each, which is collectively 2780 hours or about 115 days of work done if not more. That just doesn’t seem right to me, everyone should be compensated for their work and effort. Maybe if every design entry was to be given a small amount of money instead one individual getting everything it would seem more even-handed to me, but the way the crowdsourcing sites I have seen are not set up that way.

I don’t think they design entries in crowdsourcing sites are uneducated. I know that there are probably many people that fully know what they’re getting into. I also know that there are also possibly many people who want to be full-time freelance designers on crowdsourcing sites, but don’t know how to go about it. Those who are looking to be full-time freelance designers who don’t know how to get into the world of full-time freelance could be considered “uneducated” in the way to becoming a full-time freelance designer or “uneducated” in how to be a full-time freelance designer.

Bertrand May 26 2010

I salute @RusselUresti for his honest point of view and the balls he had to post here.

I think @Chuck nailed it : this market has and will continue to grow following the market’s need. I think this kind of “process” will answer to some and not to others.

Maybe people should try to up your talents at selling your skills and whine less about what is good and bad about crowdsourcing. It’s here and will stay.

I think there is a community yout not considering here.

Some would never hire a design agency because they have a want for design but not a need that justifies the cost. I have done a few projects through crowdspring which does allow for designer relationships as you quickly notice who has a chance to win and you can give them feedback on what you do and dont like and they can resubmit.

But my point is I dont technically need the designs as i can make stuff myself that is perfectly fine for corporate level design but I do want it. So when I crowdsource because I want better designs, I am adding money to the design community that I would never otherwise do if more expensive agencies were my only option.

So even if you are completely jaded and see no value in crowdsourcing, I am atleast keeping what you would call bottomfeeders busy and not competing with you for clients whom would normally hire a freelance or design company.

Mark Fidelman May 26 2010

Sorry, I couldn’t disagree more. Crowdsourcing was not responsible for plagiarism, the submitter was. In fact, I’ve had personal experience with a designer submitting a design that was directly plagiarized from another site. It had nothing to do with the crowd.

Sounds like you’re throwing a red herring out there to see who’ll bite.

I’m was having the same thinking as @hiep as well when I was half way through the article: 99designs is a crowdsourcing service and it is doing really well.

I would like to hear what Jeff and others say about this case. Is it just an exception or in fact there are ways to create a successful crowdsourcing service as long as you know how to. But first, do you think it is successful (at least I do)? Or there are many bad things behind it too but just I’m not aware of?

I think one aspect was completely left out of the article, even though it is most probably also a question of one’s background and nationality: A great amount of the participants are from countries in which winning only one crowd-sourced project means the pay for a month or more.

There are many countries in this world that have an average salary of $200 or even less and rather than working like a slave in some fabric or elsewhere, I can totally understand that someone that happens to have access to a pc with a internet connection chooses to crowd-source.

If you’re from one of these countries it’s almost also impossible to get hired as a regular freelancer to acceptable rates, even if you know what you’re doing and are talented. You won’t get hired for high-profile work that pays properly, but only because people want cheap, third world work.

If you have a look at different freelance bidding sites you’ll see that things such as logo design or psd to html/css-coding have an average bid of $30-$50 and even if you bid the lowest possible price, there are still 100 people which have the same price, so I can fully understand why someone would choose to crowd-source full-time in the hope to win one or two contests.

Just a few words about my background, so you know where I’m coming from. I was born and raised in a Western European country, but visited many third-world countries and currently live in one of the poorer Eastern European ones, so I think that I have a somewhat different perspective than many others.

Leandro May 27 2010

great words! thanks a lot

Matt Witt Jun 05 2010

I enjoyed your article and having taken part in crowd sourced projects I understand the pros and cons that effect me directly. It’s useful to read other peoples views and see how crowdsourcing works (or not) for each individual.

My experience has been positive. I went freelance a year and a half ago and one crowd sourcing site inparticular helped me a great deal. It’s a case of carefully choosing the projects you take part in. I tended to go for those that offered the posibility of ongoing work following the inital contest and I ensured that I built a working relationship with the contest holders while the project was on.

This method really helped my business get off the ground and now over a third of the projects I work on (charged at my standard hourly rate) are derived from three or four sucessful contests, not only from the contest holders themselves but from clients they have referred me to.

It has been a great networking tool, has put me in touch with people from all over the world and has allowed my business to grow in a way that otherwise would not have been possible, especially at such an early stage.

I am not entirely pro crowd sourcing and see how it can be detrimental to the industry and designers but I believe that this is balanced by the benefits it can offer start-up freelancers and smaller business by helping them to gain a footing in the industry.

David Jun 10 2010

I guess the biggest change that needs to happen (instead of just saying “crowdsourcing sucks” is to change the expectations of those running such a contest. If crowdsourcing was just part of the selection process and less emphasis was given on creating a “complete and ready to use” logo or graphic, then it could be a much better experience for everyone.

Real designers could post scanned sketches, or photos of sketches. The prize would be a first round fee for submissions. Proof that the designer has the understanding needed to complete the project, rather than trying to make designers try to complete high quality projects in a week for next to nothing.

I am getting ready to start a logo contest for a Library, and they don’t have five figures to play with. They barely have four figures, but they still want to connect with someone that can help them build a new branding initiative.

We will run the crowdsourcing event as a way to pick someone to work with over a longer period of time. We don’t expect to get a “COMPLETE” logo that we can use. I think this is a nice compromise, as even the best portfolios might not really sell you on what a designer could do for a particular project.

Christian Logan Jun 14 2010

Crowdsourcing is here to stay. More businesses are turning towards getting more ideas for their projects via crowd sourcing. But doesnt that help the business to get a huge collection of ideas generated by different people. The final decision is made by the client.

As a college student the thing I need most is practice. I don’t really care if I get paid for it or not, I just want to practice while seeing how I compare to the people who currently work in the field I will one day be in. The prospect of maybe getting a bit of money for something I need to do anyway is just a bonus.

Ambrose Jan 18 2011

The article mentions “For a few hours of work, a little extra cash can (potentially) be made.” This is a vast underestimation. There is no way a project can be done in less than at least 16–20 hours of work, not counting the extra hours that one has to go through after “winning”.

So I would say the biggest reasons why designers would do crowdsourcing projects is they don’t know the going market rate, “they don’t know what they’re worth”, and/or they don’t know about spec work. If they don’t know what to charge in the first place, the rates paid by a successful crowdsourcing project can be very attractive, especially if the designer is fresh out and has done projects that are even worse.

George Birbilis Mar 17 2011

I think @ximi is right in their comment, crowdsourcing is like outsourcing in the matter of cost. May sound few money for say an outsourcer in the US, but a designer in Africa will find the money to be a real lot

Jonathan B Mar 17 2011

This article makes some very good points, and so do the other commentators; but if Jeff Boshers and Jacob Gude feel that design contests are detrimental to the design industry, then why did Six Revisions hold a promotional contest with a crowdsourcing website like

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.

JIm M Sep 12 2011

Innovation and creativity require diverse views of the same opportunity. For those who are too cheap to pay, they’ll get what they get, sometimes good and sometimes bad. But, probably not great solutions. There is a designer for everyone just as there is a finance person, a marketing person a CEO or sales person that fits the culture of the company. Some are sneaky and manipulaive and others are too honest to make money. Crowdsourcing is not limited to the capability of the designers, but to the skill and execution of the business proceses and the people that deliver good design to the market in the form of a profitable end product. The idea or design sucks, no matter how good or pure, if the execution is poor. It’s that simple.
I’d like to see someone successfully crowdsource the strategic direction of a company or the creative accounting or the manufacturing. We would probably eliminate a whole lot of MBA’s and others who have no ability in running a company. Innovation and design is the differentiator in the company’s end product and ultimately their long term viability. When we commoditize any part of the business model we compromise the sustainability of our business if just a little.
As for me, I would rather my competition not know my strategy nor the tactics I am using to get their. I prefer not to be a “flash in the pan” and I call on good, qualified people to partner with. To me, crowdsourcing is a mediocre solution for a world class company. It’s a bit like a clothing company only selling beige because beige sells. Crowdsourcing is a great way to explore a value proposition in a category you are not familiar with. But once you have success in that category, you need to build the expertise that will sustain the results.

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