Is Crowdsourcing Ever OK?

Graphic designers for the most part are united in their disapproval of crowdsourcing. I formed this opinion based on Twitter conversations and comments on design blogs – mention crowdsourcing, and graphic artists immediately get huffy, insisting professionals deserve to be paid.

“Crowdsourcing” occurs when a company asks outside people to contribute their work for consideration, and the company chooses a submission for use. For example, a city might hold a contest in which it asks designers to contribute a logo for one of its programs. Graphic designers submit their proposals, and a committee chooses a winner – the city gets a design for free, and the artist gets exposure and, perhaps, a prize. blog3image

Designers dislike crowdsourcing for a couple of reasons:

It devalues their work. Crowdsourcing design is seeing an uptick within marketing. Major companies have enlisted consumers to create ads under the guise that their marketing is consumer-driven. But what’s happening is businesses are learning they can sit back and have design proposals brought to them, and then business owners can have their pick for free. Meanwhile, all those designers who submitted a bid that did not win also did not get paid for the time spent creating the submission.

It decreases the amount of work available. A big part of a freelancer’s job is seeking out work. Everyone seems to be pinching pennies these days, and there’s only so much work and cash to go around. So when crowdsourcing rears its head and lets businesses think they don’t have to pay for design work, it leaves the freelancers fighting for fewer clients.

So, all that being said, is there ever an appropriate time for crowdsourcing?

Here is where I am conflicted: I follow a lot of nonprofits. They don’t have a ton of disposable cash and are mainly run by volunteers. Quite often, nonprofit organizations will hold a contest that calls for a T-shirt design, or a crowdsourced logo. Designers submit original works, and the nonprofit chooses a winner. The organization gets a free design, and the artist gets publicity. Is this OK? My feeling is that the nonprofit company is not exploiting designers if it really doesn’t have the cash to pony up for design work. And if it does, I would prefer its money goes to whatever cause it’s working on.

What do other professional designers think?

Jennifer Moline is a writer for PsPrint and the PsPrint Design Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company.


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