Crowdsourcing Won’t Help You

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This is a guest post by Dennis Salvatier, blogger at Tanoshiboy and designer at Salvatier Studios, an award-wining design studio located in Southern California. You can reach Dennis through his website or on Twitter.

Crowdsourcing Won’t Help You

In the last few years crowdsourcing has become the single greatest enemy to design, more so when it comes to logo design. Let’s start off with an explanation about what crowdsourcing is.

This is when a company or an organization offers a fixed amount of money as a cash prize for a chosen design. They define this as a contest. The designers then submit their logo designs for review with the hopes of the potential cash prize. When a specific designer’s entry is chosen, that designer and only that designer, gets paid for their work; leaving the hundreds of other designers twiddling their thumbs.

From a layman’s point of view this contest might seem like a fair trade, but it’s not fair at all. Not to the company and not to the designer.

Why It’s Not Fair To The Company

The company is looking for a logo that will best define their brand and all that that will encompass. The problem is that the designers that participate in this method are usually creatives who have a careless engagement with the project. They know they’re working for free, so they skip what’s important about the process and churn out a piece of work they hope will win them instant fame. This careless engagement bypasses the craft of logo design and gives birth to mediocre work that is then declared the ‘winner”. The company is oblivious to the fact that their new logo lacks effectiveness and value. What is skipped in the process is the engagement between client and designer, and the design brief. Without those two elements you are essentially writing a biography without knowing anything about the subject.

Why It’s Not Fair To The Creative

You just won X amount of money and recognition throughout the web, but what you don’t know is that you’ve just had some discount sushi. What this means is that your choice seemed like a great idea at the time, but it will come back to hurt you. Why? Because you haven’t delivered good work and it’s now searchable on the web. When it’s found it will be recognized for what it is to those who see it. Disagree with me? Name one designer who has gone onto have a lucrative career due to crowdsourcing. There isn’t any. Designers who participate in crowdsourcing continue to crowdsource in hopes to make it big. Let me tell you right now, you cannot skip the starving-artist phase. It is a part of your growth process. You must go through the hurdles of being a young designer, finding your clients, serving them and doing great work every time. You must add value to your work and design as a whole (it’s all of our responsibility), and crowdsourcing cheapens what you and the rest of the design community does.


When a moth emerges from its cocoon it can spin silk, something that the more popular butterfly cannot do. They’re also faster, stronger, but struggle twice as much when breaking through their cocoons. Without that struggle they would be too weak to survive. The struggle is nature’s way of strengthening it. As designers, we’ll go through some rough times and take on less than exciting projects at the beginning of our careers. I promise you that no matter how small the project may be, it is incrementally moving you closer to where you want to be. Crowdsourcing is not the answer. It won’t strengthen you as a designer whether you win or lose. Embrace the struggle and become exceptional.

  • Hello Dennis—thanks for the post,

    You have highlighted something designers that participate in crowdsourcing to build their portfolios lose out on—experience. They are not managing a project, dealing with committees, presenting, researching or defending their decisions as they would in the ‘real world’ of design.

    If you are involved in crowdsourcing, you are focussed on pleasing the client—delivering what they want. You have taken your eye off goal any a true graphic designer—to deliver what the client needs. Of course, designers want their clients to like the work, but more important to a designer is does the work succeed in the meeting the project goals? Does it connect with the audience? In ‘real life’ design this involves conversations, debates and sometimes being stubborn for the good of the client. Try getting that experience with crowdsourcing.

    Crowdsourcing is about pleasing people on a visual level and not a strategic one. If designers starting out want experience, do non profit work, or work in trade with a small printer struggling to stay afloat. Make sure it’s ‘real life’ experience and do your absolute best at making it matter to the client. You will be much better off than rolling the dice on a logo contest.

    • You hit the nail right on the head. Crowdsourcing is about making things pretty not effective.

    • That is exactly why the people participating in crowdsourcing are not real designers. Great comment Steve.

    • That is exactly why the people participating in crowdsourcing are not real designers. Great comment Steve.

  • I think it’s a great point you’ve made that by participating in #crowdsourcing, the designer, instead of gaining experience, actually loses out on gaining the real experience of the whole process that leads up to the result of a logo. What comes before is the bulk of the work, inspiration, and purpose of the final product. If you don’t learn that process, you’re not really developing experience and skills that will truly benefit a client. All crowdsourcing proves is that, on a given day, a designer can create something attractive according to orders received online.

    As for what companies lose by participating in crowdsourcing? Well…think the GAP, JC Penney, and countless other organizations large and small who not only adopted poorly conceived and executed crowdsourced visual identities, but received negative backlash as well from them. Clients and potential customers recognize when a company isn’t connecting with them! Some even discovered, after the big unveil, that their “unique” logo wasn’t unique at all, but plagiarized artwork. And it could have been averted if they chose a design firm that truly understood the process of creating a lasting and effective logo experience.

    • A design firm or a design professional. This all comes down to placing value on what you do, because if you don’t, neither will anyone else.

  • Thanks for the post Dennis. Working for crowdsourcing sites really doesn’t help. I used to join those contest sites until it finally got to me that it was a waste of time. My process then, if you could call it that, was check out the competition, come up with a few ideas (20-30 minutes), go with the “best” from those few, draw it in Illustrator, scroll through fonts. It didn’t make much sense to spend more time on these projects because I might not win anyway. It all just eats at your soul and enthusiasm and creativity is affected.

    When I stopped, it was like I had to start from scratch. You are right, crowdsourcing did not strengthen me as a designer. I did learn a few things, but I’d rather have learned those the proper way.

  • Ted Lin

    It reminds of this article that I read a couple months back.

    Ever since then, I have ignored every single design contest out there.

  • At the start of my career I entered 3/4 “contests” and I won one of them for some dollars. The company who choosed me lasted less then a year and now its domain name doesn’t exist no more.

    Companies which choose design crowdsourcing doesn’t care about themselves, they want to appear fast and cheaply and you can see the result in the end. This is a good starting for a study and see how many companies related to crowdsourcing design contest failed, and how much time it takes.

    • Yes, if they were serious about their business, they wouldn’t choose crowdsourcing. The sad thing is that these contest sites are recommended by some businesses to those just starting. They either don’t know about the evils of spec or just don’t care.

      • Until company feels that our work is a cost for them and not a true investment, they will act like that.

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Antonio. This is exactly what I was hoping for. First hand experience on the down falls of crowdsourcing. I’m going to have to do a follow up. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you capitalize from it.

      • This is a great contribute, you don’t have to thank me 😉
        About that logo I felt proud because holder closed before ending time (I still don’t know why). Anyway, no more contest for me, I prefer the old fashioned way of working, it’s more satisfying!

  • Anonymous

    I feel that companies that crowd source are also the ones that go for the cheapest person to get the job done 😉

  • Fiona

    Actually, this is exactly how most architects get work, by submitting an idea in a contest. It really isn’t fair on them either.

  • Actually I do know couple designers who used to take part in contests like mad and are doing fine now as professionals. It’s very rare but it happens sometimes. I’m agreeing with you though 🙂

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