Should You Use Crowdsourced Design?

Crowdsourcing graphic design can be a fantastic option for small businesses, but it’s not the right solution for every situation. Crowdsourcing is the method of approaching graphic design by getting design options from many designers online, thereby increasing your options for design itself while minimizing the cost to. This sounds like a great deal! And it is, but only if used for the right projects and managed properly.

So how does it work? On any one of the websites that offer this service (99designs, Crowdspring, DesignCrowd, Logo Arena, etc.), you’ll start by selecting the type of project you want and the contest level. Each site differs slightly, but starting at just a few hundred dollars, they typically offer a few contest tiers, with the higher tiers attracting more experienced and talented designers. From there, you’ll fill in a number of prompts asking you to describe the project, what you’re looking to get at the end, how the design will be used when it’s completed, colors you like and dislike, fonts you like and dislike, and sometimes even selecting logos you like from a vast selection to help them get a sense of your style. Then over the course of approximately a week, you’ll receive anywhere from dozens to hundreds of submissions to your contest. At the end of the design period, you select your favorite, work with the designer to make any desired modifications, and then you receive your design files. Many sites even have guarantees where if, at the end of your contest, you’re not fully happy with the results they can either extend the time period to get more submissions, or give you a refund.

But when shouldn’t you use crowdsourced design? When you know exactly what you want. If you have a clear vision of what you want, but you need a graphic designer with the ability to make that vision come to life in design programs, you’re better off finding a good designer online or at your local college’s design program. That way your time and design budget can be spent focusing in on making your vision a reality. You also should consider other options if you’re looking to start the first of many design projects. It’s possible that your design contest winner could go on to be your graphic design partner beyond the initial contest and outside of the crowdsource site, but you can’t count on that.

And when should you use crowdsourced design? In circumstances where you don’t have an exact vision for what you want, but you know what colors, fonts, styles, and elements you like and dislike and you can describe them clearly. It’s situations like those where working one-on-one with a designer can get expensive as they spend hours exploring options and trying to hone in on a concept that works through trial and error on multiple rounds of revisions. Crowdsourcing instead gets you many ideas from many creative minds at a low, fixed cost.

Are there any other tips for successfully using crowdsourced design? Yes!

  • As mentioned above, be very detailed, clear, and thorough in your design brief and all your feedback. Sometimes you look at a design and you don’t like it, but you can’t put your finger on what it is that you want to change. That doesn’t give the designer any information about what to revise, and their next pass (and likely many subsequent passes) will be a shot in the dark. Other times you see a design and you don’t like part of it, but you can’t clearly explain what it is or how you want it changed. Challenge yourself to be as specific as possible and don’t be afraid to pull out a thesaurus to help you describe what you want changed (I’ve done it!). Telling a designer that you want it to “pop more” doesn’t really let them know what you don’t like about it and what exactly to change.
  • Nurture the contest, don’t set it and forget it. Many sites will let you rate and give feedback on submissions as they come in. If you review submissions in real time, you give that designer a chance to try again multiple times within the contest period and sometimes other designers can see existing feedback as well. Both of those will contribute to better submissions that more closely fit what you’re looking for.
  • Think through all the file types you need. Do you need RGB (for digital) or CMYK (for print) or both? Any monochrome versions, all black or all white? Different background colors like white, black, or transparent? Different file types like JPEG, PNG, EPS, or original design program file like PSD, AI, or INDD? The safest bet is to ask for all of the above and anything else you can think of in all the available permutations. Since you technically have a one-time arrangement with this designer, it’s best to get everything you may ever need up front, in case it’s not possible to track them down or they don’t want to help you out after the contest is over and they’ve gotten paid.

Under the right circumstances crowdsourcing your design project can be a great value, getting you dozens of design options down to the exact one you want for only a few hundred dollars.