My Issue With Crowdsourcing Among Creatives

For whatever reason, it’s not readily apparent to most people what is inherently wrong about crowdsourcing in the design industry.  Businesses that use this tactic see it as a way to garner a large pool of creative ideas without shelling out any money up front in the hopes that the reward they offer generates enough interest to those submitting content to make it worth their while.  This business model tends to attract a younger designer/illustrator/creative, most often one with little experience whom is looking to expand their portfolio and get a big name client under their belt.

You may be thinking “what’s wrong with taking some initiative and trying to get yourself some recognition in your field – it’s completely your choice and your choice alone to submit content and no one is forcing you”.  The problem is that literally hundreds if not thousand of submissions come from some of these cattle-calls and more often that not only one person will be getting the prize of being selected for the offered reward – which is usually a below standard grade paycheck and a cold, impersonal “thanks for the good work” e-mail from somebody in middle management.

Now where does that leave everyone else who submitted work – work that could have taken days or weeks to complete?  Unpaid, unrecognized, and right where they were when they started.   Dismissed without compensation you put your new work up on your portfolio with a big “unused concept” disclaimer for a client you technically never had to begin with.  Bummer.

It’s basically a voluntary form of internship sugar coated in promises of industry fame wrapped in a blanket of false hopes.   It’s where you get paid nothing and you submit free, creative, innovative ideas in hopes that maybe…just maybe you’ll get that job if you work hard enough.  All of these hundreds or thousands of people who submit work get no compensation and the business in turn gets countless man hours of legwork and creativity without having to hire a professional studio or agency.  So not only are under-informed and under-experienced creatives being taken advantage of, but established and respected entities in the industry as well.  As more and more companies move towards crowdsourcing, less and less guaranteed paid work is coming across the desks of professionals while lower pay and lower standards are becoming the norm and not the exception.

Yet still you say “well alright – I can see how it’s unfair to compensate a single person out of many…but it’s still their choice to enter so your argument is invalid”.   You would be 100% right there, but as more and more businesses are adopting this idea the worth of our industry declines.  As if most people don’t see it this way already – design is being looked at as a hobby more so than a true profession.  The world used to have pride and respect for such a craft where now it’s relatively under-appreciated and nearly ignored in most instances.  If you want proof just go look at your local shopping district – where beautiful hand painted signs once hanged above the displays over the shops, you now have pre-purchased, vector-pack garbage done by a kid in community college.  The point is to pay the artisans, the ones who know their craft better than they know themselves and you will have in turn purchased a timeless piece of artwork that speaks to your customers and demographic for decades.  Sure the expense may be higher for that one skilled individual than it is to just vacuum up a wealth of mediocre work from starving artists, but the return of income will be that much greater if it’s professionally done.  You wouldn’t take your car to be serviced by the freshman class of the local vocational school so why would you leave you brand image to same breed of designer?   First impressions only happen once – pay to have the best one possible.

The bottom line here is that crowdsourcing is lazy, cheap, unprofessional and above all just flat out insulting.  Companies thinking of utilizing this business model for their branding/image/etc. should really think again.  Do your homework, hire someone who fits both your budget and more importantly, your vision.   Don’t waste the time of hundreds of people you know you won’t be compensating for their efforts because you are too incompetent to do the heavy lifting and find someone who fits your needs.  Creativity is a skill believe it or not – much like athleticism, and it should be compensated accordingly.

Jason Carne


About Jason Carne

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Lettering guru, vinyl junkie and book collector.

  • I couldnt agree with you more. I partnered with a friend on a tshirt design and they wanted to use 99designs and (shudder) fiverr instead of paying the quoted price from an artist. I understand not paying more than what you can make back, but there’s a lot of value in getting real art. You have a great website by the way. Love the type work!

  • dbDESIGN

    “The world used to have pride and respect for such a craft where now it’s relatively under-appreciated and nearly ignored in most instances. If you want proof just go look at your local shopping district – where beautiful hand painted signs once hanged above the displays over the shops, you now have pre-purchased, vector-pack garbage done by a kid in community college.”
    ———Amazing point, man, very well written!

  • Seamus

    Jason, are you aware that the term crowdsourcing was directly inspired by Threadless? I see on your dribbble page that you submitted a design for one of their contests. Do you consider Threadless and DesignByHumans and similar companies to be crowdsourcers?

  • jaydsun

    Well what about YouTube? Aren’t they using crowd soured content to make billions? What used to be not as easily doable years past, is now readily available to anyone with an internet connection.. PS and Illy are basically free along with the training vids.. What was once passion and talent is now an idea and procedure.. What is a record industry to do? You’re not still using 35mm film in your SLR camera are you? Industries change- Sink or Swim..

  • jaydsun

    What thrreadless did is called recompeting.. Crowd sourcing was being done in the advert and other industries long before.. Take a business model from an unrelated, non competing industry and apply it to the industry you are a part of. You end up looking like a Maverick with a clear part to an untapped segment.. Touchdown