Crowdsourcing design is a trendy way to get things accomplished these days. And when you think about it, there is certainly some appeal to the idea of getting dozens of high quality designers working on your project. As a business looking for a new design you get to set the amount you wish to pay and then sit back and pick the design that appeals to you most from designers producing design after design for your review.
But it gets even "better", as the project backer you don’t even have to pay for revisions or changes. You simply share with everyone the changes you want, the things you like and the things you don’t and the designers will rush off to create updates and new mockups. And it doesn’t cost you a cent. Sounds great. Sounds too good to be true. The problem is, as you’ve been told time and time again…if something is too good to be true; it probably is.
Crowdsourcing Cheapens Designers
What is a good design worth? Design can be a difficult thing to associate with a price. There are so many different factors to consider. The experience of the designer, their education, their years in the field, and a number of other qualifications are typically all taken into account when a designer bids on a design job. However when a job is placed out on a crowdsourcing site and the business sets the price this dynamic is demolished. No longer does the designer put out a thoughtful proposal. Instead the job goes to the designer who has the most time and values their abilities the least while still maintaining some resemblance to quality work. Of course there are good designers on crowdsourcing sites like 99designs.com and fiverr.com and similar. I would never imply that there aren’t good designers on these websites. But they are forced to work on spec (that’s a topic for another post) and they are forced to compete against many other under qualified designers delivering sub-par work simply to fit within a budget, a timeframe, or other limiting factor.
I understand the importance of competition and I understand the value of the market place setting the standard for prices and deliverables. But design is a mix of art and science. The truly great artists will seldom spend their valuable time creating work on spec in a public setting with no commitment or interest from the business securing their services. What remains are those designers eager to make a name for themselves or simply deliver a lesser quality of work for the purpose of winning a quick payment.
Crowdsourcing Kills Creativity
It seems ironic almost to think of crowdsourcing as killing creativity but it’s true. When a project is put out on display in public for design submissions as is the most common practice on crowdsourcing sites the result is often the same. The buyer places their ideas in a brief for how they would like to see the design, often specifying colors, similar logos they like, and any other aspects they would like conveyed. Everyone gets the same brief. But then things begin to unravel. The first “round” of designs which the buyer reviews will be the most original they will ever see. After this step they will have effectively destroyed all creative elements of the design process and it comes down to designs being iterated upon until one is selected. Again, this might sound great but it’s not. The reason this process is bad is simple. Everyone is able to see the feedback the buyer provides on the submitted designs. This means everyone sees which designs the buyer prefers and the feedback they like. Even if a site offers to hide the feedback but allows the selecting of good designs and the removal of rejected ones the result is the same.
Creativity dies as every designer must begin consolidating all designs around the few selected favorites by the business owner. No longer is the designer in charge of creating a unique and memorable design, but instead they are no relegated to mimicking the favorited designs. Goodbye creativity.
Crowdsourcing Encourages Stealing
Some may suggest that the previous point also deals with stealing in the sense that all the designs begin to converge and as a result similarities from the favorited designs begin to appear in every other designer’s work. There is, however, a much greater form of theft which plagues these crowdsourcing design websites. Crowdsourcing design has serious limitations as mentioned above. Time is tight, the payout is even tighter and the pool of designers is huge. All of these forces combine to make a compelling reason for designers to cut corners. The temptation to steal existing designs, make minor modifications and pass them off as original works of art is too great. This leads to very unfortunate outcomes. First, the designer has compromised their own sense of ethics by stealing the work of another designer. Second, the buyer suffers by unwittingly believing they are purchasing an original design when in fact they are merely receiving a stolen, plagiarized copy. This can lead to disastrous results. In the case of design work where the new design will represent a brand it is of utmost importance to have original, copyrightable designs.
Crowdsourcing puts unhealthy pressure on designers to steal previously created art and other copyrighted work in an attempt to meet the tight deadlines, high competition, and low payouts of design contests.
As I mentioned there are certainly benefits to crowdsourcing and even for crowdsourcing designs. But I would always insist that buyers be very cautious, and designers should be vigilant. If you are a business purchasing a new design my first word of caution would be to not rely on crowdsourcing for key design elements (think logo, brand identity, etc…); second I would encourage businesses to be very cautious of the origin of any design work chosen. A simple Google image search will often uncover the most blatant copyright infringements. And lastly I’d offer a word of encouragement to designers. Be true to yourself. Be true to your talents and abilities. Don’t sell yourself short, don’t trade your ethics for the possibility of a small payout.