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Crowdsourcing your design: The arguments for and against

Wednesday, 17 October 2012 | By Oliver Milman

feature-crowdsource-thumbAlmost every start-up needs a logo, signage and business cards. So how do you get great design work for these things without paying a fortune?


Increasingly, businesses are turning to crowdsourcing sites such as 99designs, where briefs for work are posted online for designers to compete over.


But there are concerns that crowdsourcing may not be good for small businesses nor, for that matter, designers.


Here are the arguments for and against crowdsourcing:


The case against crowdsourcing




By Spencer Harrison, founder of design agency Happy Studio.


Recently in my co-working space at Hub Melbourne, I have witnessed more and more small businesses looking to 99designs and crowdsourcing sites for their design needs.


With many of my current clients that have used 99designs in the past I have to spend a lot of time redoing or fixing their logos and designs as there are many problems with what they received.


This leads to greater costs for them as they have to effectively pay twice for the logo, once to design and once to fix or redesign it.


All these problems could have been avoided in the first place if they found a local designer and worked one on one with them on their design.


Below are some of the reasons that crowdsourcing is not an effective option and some of the problems that are often encountered:


Effort and time spent


In order for a designer to make a living on a platform like 99designs they have to be able to do many logos for many competitions, as the odds of them ‘winning’ are low.


Because of this, they pump out designs and spend as little time as possible on entries submitted as there is no guarantee they will be paid.


For you, yes, you get many options, but the effort, research and attention to detail in those logos will not be there.


The best designs come from strong original ideas which require research (into competitors, the market, the target audience, etc), time and thought in order to come up with what suits your business.


Copyright infringement could be an issue


Time and time again I have seen people get logos from 99designs they were happy with only to find that ideas and parts of the logo are direct copies of other people’s logos (rendering them unusable).


Once again, with many designers on 99designs spending as little time as possible on the logos, they go looking at the work of other designers and copying parts of logos and designs they find online.


Working with a reputable local designer means you will avoid the risk of this happening and ensure you get an original design that is not plagiarised.


Quality and attention to detail lacking


I have seen many crowdsourced logos that are poorly drawn with little attention to the fine details of the logo.


This might be alright when the logo is small or on a website but when you go to use it in other mediums or blown up bigger (e.g. on a banner) it can cause problems as these rough details become apparent.


Different cultural contexts


In many cases, design works best when designed by someone familiar with the cultural context and business environment in which it will be used and displayed.


Many designers on 99designs and other crowdsourced sites are based in countries with lower cost of living (due to the low pay rates!), which means there may be language and cultural barriers involved.


Of course there is an argument that design should be universal, but there will always be cultural factors and influences involved that impact the design outcome.


Experience, or lack thereof


Anyone can participate in 99designs no matter their training, level of experience or knowledge of design.


This means that a high school student or anyone with a copy of photoshop could potentially be designing your logo.


These people lack skills and experience in areas such as typography (e.g. vertical type, squishing letters together, bad legibility), print production (e.g. incorrect specification of colours, wrong file formats) and general knowledge of the proper design process.


Costlier than you think


You may think you are saving money using a crowdsourcing platform but in the long run it can end up costing you more.


From what I have seen around the Hub and through my clients, they pay on average $300-500 for their crowdsourced logo.


Later on when that logo needs to be fixed or they find it does not work as they wished, they have to pay more to people like me to fix it or redesign it, which costs them even more!


For more around the $500-1000 mark you can find a young local designer or freelancer to work one on one with you and develop a bespoke, well thought-out, high quality logo for you.


If you consider the value added to your business from a good design that speaks to YOUR customers the small additional cost will come back many times in additional income for your business.


So if you do move away from crowdsourcing as an option, where does this leave you?


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Finding a good designer


Here is a bit of info on how to find a good designer and the process in working with them:


1. Find a freelancer/small studio locally if possible. Ask around and get referrals from people who have worked with them before.


You can find their folios of work online or email them to send a PDF of their work. Additional things to consider might be: Do they deliver on time? Do they reply promptly to emails? Were they nice to deal with?


These things can make your life a whole lot easier and mean you can focus on running your business.


2. Put together a design brief to send to the designer for a quote. Here is a great list of the type of info you can put in a brief.


As with anything, you can shop around and get a couple quotes from a few designers. Just remember, sometimes it can be better to pay a little more if you know (through referrals) that they are good to deal with and produce quality work.


3. Normally once a quote is approved the designer will ask for a deposit up front (30-50%) to ensure that both parties are committed.


This also assists in the cashflow for both parties, which can be a killer for small businesses! If you are worried about your own cashflow, ask if you can break the payments up into milestone payments (e.g. on delivery of first concepts) to reduce the total lump sum payment required.


4. The designer will then work on your design and normally present several concepts to you (on which they would generally spend a decent amount of time, thought and care developing) and then work with you to determine if these designs match your objectives and how they can be improved.


5. The designer will then take that feedback and further finesse the design, working with you to develop something you are happy with and is appropriate for your business and target audience.


6. Finally they will deliver to you a logo/design in high quality formats (normally EPS, PDF, JPEG and PNG) and in CMYK colour (for print), RGB colour (for online) and B&W that you can use on any application needed.


They will then send you an invoice for any outstanding payment (we love, love, love if you pay promptly as cashflow can be tough for a freelancer) and hopefully everyone is happy!


Design really is an iterative, conversational process involving a close, trusting relationship between the designer and the client with the back and forth of ideas and input leading to design that is effective for your business.


Ask yourself is it worth skimping a couple hundred dollars now for a design that might not be as effective as an original, well thought-out one and you may have to pay more for to fix in the future.


Working one on one with a designer ensures that both parties get more value and are able to work effectively together. Forming a closer relationship with a designer also means that they will get to understand you and your business better; so the more you work with them the better the design work will get!


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The case for crowdsourcing




By Jason Sew Hoy, Australian general manager of 99designs.


Whether we like it or not, the internet has changed the way we work. This is true for advertising, journalism and now design.


In most cases, this shift has allowed for more choice and more people to get involved than ever before. Take 99designs for instance.


We’re the largest online graphic design marketplace and, as a result, are able to put high-quality customised design work within affordable reach of small businesses and start-ups.


We’ve also generated new ways for designers all over the world to boost their skills, earn money and source new clients for ongoing work. Our success is proof that both designers and businesses find value in our business.


However, as with any young company that becomes successful by changing industry norms, haters are going to hate and a small yet vocal group of designers like Spencer Harrison crop up every now and then and call for the death of our business.


I’ll tackle Spencer’s concerns head on, and explain why we passionately believe that 99designs simply offers businesses and designers another choice in an increasingly competitive world.


How businesses benefit: An unparalleled matchmaking service 


Finding a good designer is really hard. While Spencer says businesses should enlist the services of a freelancer or local design studio, selecting the right third party always takes a lot of time and effort, with no guarantee of a satisfying result.


Even for companies who already have a designer’s name in mind or a solid referral, reaching agreements on budget, style and deadlines can suck up valuable time and energy that businesses – particularly those starting up – simply don't have. 99designs offers businesses instant access to thousands of talented designers, at a fast seven-day turnaround and an affordable price.


Instead of trying to choose a designer by what they promise or by the designs they’ve created for other clients, it’s about focusing purely on which designer can deliver you the perfect design. It’s literally “a design you love, or your money back”.


Quality design without cutting corners


Spencer says that designers who work on 99designs are forced to pump out work and spend as little time as possible creating submissions.


In fact, designers submit initial concepts in the first four days of the project, and the ones shortlisted by customers as having potential then have several more days to refine and polish their designs.


Customers are expected to give valuable feedback to designers and make specific design requests, which means high-quality custom design work.


Since man started drawing, plagiarism has been an issue and 99designs has strict guidelines on concept originality that we actively enforce.


Our dedicated design community team educates designers about what constitutes original design and if a design is found to have been plagiarised, we're quick to ban offending designers.


Ultimately, because 99designs is a transparent marketplace with 160,000 designers all eye-balling each and every design uploaded, there’s much more chance of a dubious design being called out here than in the offline world.


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A way to get up and running quickly


Our crowdsourced design model is a great fit for start-ups and SMEs who need graphic design work completed quickly and affordably.


Two Melbourne businesses who have used 99designs to successfully source their new logos are vacation planning website Adioso and restaurant Rockwell and Sons.


Thanks to 99designs, businesses like these are able to create a design brief, start receiving designs within 24 hours and guide designers to the perfect design in just seven days.


For companies looking to launch as soon as possible to see whether a new product or service can get traction, there’s no better way to get their brands out there.


There’s no wasted lead time in selecting a designer or waiting for a designer to become available and it’s definitely better than leaning on your mother-in-law’s nephew.


How designers benefit: The crowdsourced model levels the playing field


Our designer community is made up of more than 180,000 diverse designers from around the world.

From seasoned professionals to new designers to students; some have top-flight design credentials, while others are self-taught.


Some spend hours a day on the site and use it as their primary method of sourcing clients, while others drop in only when they can find some free time.


It doesn’t matter where a designer lives or learned their skills – all that matters is talent.


If a designer is skilled at helping customers bring their brand to life and adept at building long-term relationships, there’s a good chance they’ll be very successful. And they come back.


Significant earnings potential


We pay out more than $1.5 million a month to our design community – a total of more than $40 million since 2008.


That’s a lot of designers earning a lot of money whichever way you look at it. Some Australian designers have reported earning up to $12,000 a month on our site, with some like Arnesia Yada from Perth and her husband being able to give up their day jobs and work as full-time freelance designers after meeting long-term clients through 99designs.


A way to source new clients


Most skilled freelance designers will readily admit they don’t like selling and finding clients can be tough. 99designs solves this problem by getting them in front of potential clients and letting their work do the talking.


Our model’s remarkable success as a lead generation tool is rarely mentioned by those trying to hunt us down with pitchforks; more than 30% of our contests lead to additional work for designers.


While we offer a 1-to-1 invoicing system to make it easy for designers and customers to work together, they can also choose to work privately off-site.


If a customer needs a design alteration or merely a different file type down the road, a quick email is all it takes to enlist the designer for assistance.


Spencer’s claim that many designs sourced through 99designs need to be altered by outside designers after the contest has ended is just not true.


Opportunities for Australian designers


Australia is 99designs’ second largest market after the United States and home to some of our most successful designers.


In the last year, we’ve doubled the number of Australian graphic designers and hope this trend will continue.


With that being said, from our earliest days we have recognised how valuable it is to have a diverse pool of designers living all over the world.


We continue to encourage this diversity, which benefits designers – who learn a lot from one another – and customers alike.


At the end of the day, it’s really a case of horses for courses. As our business model and the industry continues to evolve, we encourage the wider community to keep an open mind, to embrace innovation and the global reach that the digital economy offers them.


We’re happy to work next to the traditional design process and strongly believe that we’re growing the market for design services as a whole.


All we’re aiming to do is give businesses and designers another choice.