How does crowdsourcing affect your freelancing?

There’s a very lively debate about “crowdsourcing” taking place recently on the Creative Freelancer Conference LinkedIn group discussion section.

It originated with Justin Knechtel of NW Freelancers Association, who asks: “With 99Designs recently securing $35m in venture funding, how do you feel this will affect the freelance and design community? Is this a positive or negative addition to the freelance marketplace?”

Add your two cents here.

25 thoughts on “How does crowdsourcing affect your freelancing?

  1. Bruce Handler

    I actually took the time to see what 99Design is all about and was digusted
    how they use a “design contest” to get cheap labor.

    This isn’t design. They really don’t go through any real kind of strategy process
    but throw many designers who use variations of clip art to “create” a design.

    And you pay what you want.


    I need a suit. I will have 12 tailors have a contest and the winner will have my business but I will pay what I want to pay. Mmmm, maybe $20? No, $15.

    Corporations will still work with professionals but smaller ones may bite at this.
    It cheapens our craft, our skills and lets anyone who can type a company name and apply clip art become a designer.


    1. Tammy Stanley

      I agree totally. It is ridiculous, however, I know there are those that will do this. A certain percentage of them will find a small studio like us and it re-done and be sorry they wasted their time and money. Clip art and text does not make a logo. This IS and will significantly impact and HURT our industry greatly. Having said that, I am sure 99designs will be successful and make lots of money…my theory is that is business we do not want anyway. We want clients who know they are spending money for a real designer to design something creative and unique WITHOUT using clipart or templates for websites. We are in this to make money bottomline, so doing free work with the CHANCE to get chosen is not an option I allow for myself or my designers. I value my time and theirs way more than to ask them to do free work in this kind of situation.

      We all have to face our industry is changing, so we have to find a way to peacefully co-exist with all this do-it-yourself, website tonight mentality. It works for some and we often suggest it to clients who are not a fit for us.

      That’s my two cents…take it for what it is worth…I know we all have opinions and now you know mine.

      Thanks for listening,

      Tammy Stanley

  2. heather parlato

    i feel like this debate is suddenly happening everywhere. there’s another one on biznik that i chimed in on yesterday:

    my feeling is, it only affects the people who participate in it. there is a new marketplace for indignant, entitled small business people who are very quick to justify not paying for things they can’t afford but think they need to get their businesses started. most of the people arguing for it talk about the one bad experience they had with a designer, and how they feel it’s better to have a hundred options to choose from rather than just three. and what it sounds like to me is that most of these people are more interested in artifact and artifice, as though legitimizing their business is some kind of scavenger hunt where they still need to grab “logo” and “business card” and throw it into their bag to be taken seriously, caring very little about what those artifacts actually say or do for them in reality.

    a few other voices i hear tend to complain that designers are paid too much, or that we’re selling labor, and a sign of the times is that labor is going overseas or becoming commodified. one guy, who buys crowdsourced work and resells it to clients called not using this business model “a race to the bottom.” but i don’t run my business like a race, and i don’t sell labor, so another issue here is that many inexperienced potential buyers of crowdsourced design see it as buying a thing and not a service. what can i say to that, it sounds like the marketplace for crowdsourcing would have emerged regardless, because there’s a lot of demand to fill.

    so it comes right back down to people who don’t really value design in the first place are being led to believe they’re getting design cheaply. and that’s paired with a lot of unfortunate designers who somehow believe the hype that they should be doing this. in general, i don’t like it, but i also don’t think traditional design is simply going to go away. many people are smarter than that, and like working with professionals who deliver service with care and thoughtfulness [a big shout-out to my fantastic clients]. my main point i try to make in these threads is, know what you’re buying. it’s fine if you’re cool with cheap design, i can’t stop that from happening, but don’t compare what you get from 99 designs to my work and tell me you’re getting the same thing for less.

  3. Speider Schneider

    This subject has been discussed ad nauseum. Let the small businesses use crowdsourcing to their hearts content because designers such as myself will be waiting for them to call again, after having acted aghast at fees over $50 for a logo, when they are stuck with a low quality product or something not researched properly and is in copyright violation with an existing logo. Let them ask me how much to fix misspelled names when someone in Malaysia spells “plumbing” as “pluming” and let them call me when they understand the difference between a logo and a brand. If they don’t know or care, or even need a brand, they don’t need me or my over $50 fee.

    Let the large corporations run contests in which they own all rights to every submission. It hasn’t worked, as far as I can remember. Do you ever see the winning logos and such published heavily?

    I wrote an article in August of 2010 about this problem ( — read the comments for an insight into how designers feel about the subject) and for all my trashing of these practices, 99Designs started following me on Twitter. Either they felt my words were a threat to them or they were just blowing raspberries at me, knowing there will always be those who will participate. In an industrialized nation where $12 an hour is the minimum offered by agencies like Aquent and The Creative Group, there are those who can compete in nations where $12 buys a month of living well. Welcome to the new global economy!

  4. Ken Dyier

    Based on what I’ve read about crowdsourcing, I can’t, as an artistic professional, get behind the practice. Art and design drive our popular culture and to the degree that art and design are cheapened and devalued, our culture is devalued and a rather cheap, course, banal quality becomes the rule rather than the exception in our lives. I ran across a client who wanted to use this approach earlier in my career. I ended up dropping that client, and the insult that I felt lasted a while. 99Designs getting funding is another example of the market making a cynical bet playing a zero-sum game that nobody wins. Let others play that game if they want to. I refuse.

  5. Charles Shill

    It first started out with companies like logoworks and the, and has been a downward spiral ever since. The good news for us professional designers is that hopefully it can’t get any lower than this, unless they decide not to pay the “winner” of the contest anything at all. Hopefully there are not enough stupid people out there that would do the contest for bragging rights only. If not, then that is probably where it is heading next.

    I’ve worked as a designer for 15 years now and am amazed at how many people out there think that creative services are the exception and will exploit and take advantage of that industry without a second thought. Aside the whole ethics of it all, you can never build a relationship with a client that will be loyal or long-term if it is based on the lowest price. You end up devaluing your talents and skill set. As soon as someone comes up with a cheaper model, that customer will drop you in a second. I’ve seen the type of bad work these business models produce. I guess the only justice here is that the client is usually getting what they paid for which is a pathetic, non-conceptual and unoriginal logo thrown together with clip-art.

    It is sad that there are designers that are willing to support a model that cheapens the craft of design and allows people to engage in unethical business practices.

  6. Web Design

    CrowdSourcing is very Risky for Designers , but good for buyers,
    its a big fad .

    as i am a designer but i dont have any stable Income source if i only depend on the CrowdSourcing, where as a freelancer u have the option to secure your job then put your best effort.

  7. Lisa K

    I too am disheartened. It’s like those companies that offer a ‘logo’ for $25. Real graphic design is about investigating the heart of a business and communicating that living brand in visual ways, not about a quick slick veneer.

    Fortunately you can see and feel the difference, so it will just separate further the wheat from the chaff.

    Besides do we really want to do work (at any price) for an individual or a company that doesn’t know the real value of good design and who would go to someone cheaper if they found them? No. So let ’em start a bidding war. Let them see how easy it is to work with someone who doesn’t have the experience or the knowledge to do it the right way. My door will be open when they are ready to do it right the next time.

  8. Sabine

    I also have read about this topic extensively in the last couple of months.

    To expand a portfolio, a designer is often recommended to volunteer work for a choice non profit. Unfortunately, I have seen such design requests moved to Crowdsourced sites as well. Increased output to choose from and a PR buzz.
    A local nonprofit I support, was looking for a new logo. Unfortunately they chose a contest with a contest site. After giving it a long thought I joined in. The contest drew 500 designs also fueled by submissions from local supporters like me. I won the contest but I am not proud. I can put the logo in my portfolio and the name of the organization creates a buzz, but some people think I am the “contest designer”.

    I am seriously concerned about the glut of crowdsourcing.
    Contest sites highly advertise and try to feel hip in the height of social media. It is not the local grocer or tiny startup anymore who uses these sites for designs. More desirable clients read the news as well and strive to join in. I have seen well known companies, such as the GAP, Unilever or Barilla. A contest is used as part of social media to make a brand known. In cases such as the GAP, the contest sourced logo was not even used.
    Expect more of this to come in the future. Young designers who participate will not learn how to work directly with clients and may consider this a normal way to work. The idea that design is a cheap thing to get, is spreading. I can only tell designers to “not participate”.
    The lowballed contest prices, that are nowhere near a living wage in the US, will later get you when you are trying to quote your real prices for follow up orders.

    I suggest legislation to make contest sites to pay the income taxes for every completed design, as most likely none of the contest designers abroad will declare their income to the IRS here.

  9. Natalia

    I have to agree with Bruce here. This is not design, it’s a sick parody of design that is not profitable for anyone involved.

    It’s not profitable for the designers involved, who only have a poor chance of receiving any money for their troubles. It’s merciless exploitation – willing slavery, even.

    It’s not profitable for other designers, who see the cost of their work steadily falling down because of crowdsourcers. Soon, the profession of logo designers will become completely obsolete and all we’ll have left will be those unprofessional so-called “designers”.

    It’s not profitable for the client, who receives a batch of oftentimes poor quality logos to choose between, with absolutely no guarantee that some of them are not ripoffs or straight-out stolen (how can you effectively manage a horde of designers overseas?)

    It’s absoultely repugnant, really, what kind of concepts people are ready to exploit to get more money. And it’s absolutely baffling that such a concept can work. It smothers all hope for our profession.

    1. Speider Schneider

      There was recently some banter about this, although it might be a design urban legend, that a mid-sized company had to throw away tens of thousands of dollars in stationery and signage because their logo was a rip off of an existing conglomerate’s identity.

      Many years ago, NBC had to pay off a small public broadcasting station because the new NBC logo was almost an exact copy. They got off cheap, but imagine what would have happened if they had to scrap everything with their new logo?

  10. Scott

    99 bad choices are worse than one good one. This is why 90% of new businesses fail within 5 years. These startups really don’t value their own business to actually invest in it.

  11. Elizabeth Donnenwirth

    Hi, this is called working on spec (speculation) my art teachers warned us 30 years ago to not participate in this when I was in school for my BFA. And for the student or designer not making enough to live on yet it is a tease. It has been a threat and probably always will be. Everything you have said is true. Other industries deal with some form of cheap labor attempts too. We all know a story or two about the incapable homeowner who tried to repair something only to make a bigger mess.

  12. Des Igner

    Crowdsourcing is nothing more than the short end of the stick for designers. First of all, the “budgets” for crowdsourced projects are usually nothing short of insulting, not that it would make it okay of they paid more. This just furthers the perception that our work is easy and not worth very much. How much value could there be in design work when everyone is busy doing it for free?

  13. Lisa Raymond

    I agree with my colleagues on this point of using crowdsourcing and wrote my own blog post last year about similar design contests: Yes, I see it as a viable threat in the short-term because of the current perception of “value”. Most still equate “value” with “price” – two entirely separate issues. Also, the way the “contests” (if you can call them that) are run, several problems can occur:

    1) no winner is ever awarded and the company holding the contest gets all the work for free;
    2) a winner is awarded, the contest holder is charged for the design but never receives the work (I noted this in a LinkedIn search earlier this week);
    3) the “winning” design may be repurposed clipart that has been slightly modified to “become original” – another theft;
    4) as noted above, it may have been stolen from another similar company;
    5) saddest, it is usually not a true reflection of the mission, vision, and values of the company.

    As stated over and over, graphic design is a communication between image, typography, and color combined in harmony to create an image truly representative of your company’s values. We will be around when these companies cry “foul!” and have to now pay more to have the design fixed or redesigned. I understand with the economy many are on hard times and looking to keep income flowing, but there must be a better way to utilize the talents of these folks without stealing it. If a customer is willing to have work crowdsourced, what kind of client are they truly? Yes, they deserve to watch their bottom line and save a few bucks, but ask them if they would discount their product or services similarly and watch them laugh.

  14. Roth

    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.

  15. Jessica Greenwalt

    Crowdsourcing has not been a problem for my freelance business. Most of the potential clients who contact me are aware of crowdsourcing and have opted to work with an individual freelancer, usually due to a negative experience with crowdsourcing in the past, or because they know it will produce less than desirable results. The clients I’ve had the opportunity to work with also understand the value of building a relationship with the designer who will be shaping their company’s image, and know that they will not get the same attention and understanding from a crowdsourcing site.