Yes, we are professional brand designers. Which means you can probably guess where our loyalties lie on this issue and what our conclusions are going to be. Bear with us here a moment though, because even if we think that crowdsourced design will fail to provide the quality and value of work expected from the standards of the profession, we’re convinced we can see some good in the idea of crowdsourcing.


Crowdsourcing, in any field (taxis, room for a night, banking etc) inevitably comes up against the established profession that previously owned the area. Think of the fights that Uber and Airbnb have had against the relevant professionals, and you can transplant that fight neatly to the design industry and the likes of 99Designs and Crowdspring.


Like half the world, I’m a serial Airbnb user. I love the review system, the sheer ubiquity of coverage and the range of places available. As my holiday rental needs have progressed (from a dryish place to put my head to current considerations like the availability of Egyptian linen and the GSM of the bathroom towels), Airbnb has proven flexible enough to cope with those demands. Behind all of those positives is the P2P democratised marketplace, the idea being that a totally level playing field will drive down prices and increase quality for the consumer, all the while giving hosts the chance to make a fair buck, outside of a rigged system.


I am, however, aware that perhaps I’m a happy user only because the upstart business doesn’t affect our business. Isn’t it simply hypocritical of me to love one disruption, to only see positives, because it isn’t our world being disrupted?


Let’s take a look at the pros:


  • Crowdsourcing, in all it’s uses, is more social than a binary relationship. Clients can, for instance, turn to the crowd not only for design but also for selection. It could (for suitable organisations at least) be turned into a marketing event in it’s own right – engaging customers with the choice.


  • Opening a design brief to more people will increase the quantity of choice for the client.


  • The upfront cost is likely to be cheaper.


  • There is less attachment to the brief with each crowdsourced design (and designer) being on a shot to nothing. Without any existing attachment to the potential client, they are free to be as creative as they like.


And the cons:


  • It drives a wedge between the designer(s) and the client. None of them are going to be able to take the time to understand the client (and their audience). The chance of a design being selected is so low, it’s just not worth spending the time on each project. If a design appears to have focus and vision, it’s likely to be luck given the time spent on it.


  • That wedge prevents a relationship developing between designer and client. A lot of our best design, for instance, has come about through a process of evolution. Snap design, that has little time spent on it is always going to feel superficial in comparison. The best brand design comes about through strong designer and client relations, which is why we want to get inside the head of our clients. Knowing their objectives, their environment and audience as well as we possibly can, is fundamental to our work.


  • You are going to receive a lot of amateur work. Now, some of that might be good, but your average highly trained designer (or chef or mechanic or lawyer etc) isn’t going to work for free, or even on the slim chance that their design will get picked up. The chances of a crowdsourced design being up to the standards of the profession are slim.


  • We care about the reputation of our clients as much as we do our own, and as a result have a rigorous attitude toward our work and ensuring that it is unique. There is far less onus on a crowdsourced designer to be as rigorous in the submission of a design. Designers are not getting paid to submit work to a crowdsourcing site, so they are under pressure to present as much as possible. The emphasis on quantity, and the lack of an on-going relationship with the client (whose reputation doesn’t mean anything to the designer) creates an environment that encourages plagiarism.


Designers and their clients can and should look at crowdsourced design as a positive. Competition is good! We believe that for every organisation tempted into crowdsourcing their next brief, a good number of those will consequently turn to a professional designer for the next step. The rise of crowdsourced design drives us to focus on what we see as our (professional) strengths: quality, consistency and an engaged relationship built on trust and familiarity. To see what our design and branding team can do for you, get in touch today!


By Oliver Brown