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My personal experience

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The line has been drawn and there are 2 sides. Those who like crowdsourcing (sites like crowdspring and 99designs) and those who hate it. I am simply stating my experience. I’m not taking sides and I’m not talking badly about any site or anyone on the sites. Don’t let a lot of this get you down. My husband was a huge help in everything I did and accomplished. He gave up his dreams to help fulfill mine and I am very grateful to him for that.

This was a 4 year process, so for you to understand I must start from the beginning.

In the Fall of 2002 I started on a journey into graphic design. I began my associates program and had a blast doing so. Although I had a lot of struggle and hardship along the way, everyone helped me out. Unfortunately (but not unfortunate) I got pregnant right before my last 2 semesters. I was tough and graduated just a few months before I had my awesome little guy in February of 2006. This left me in something of a pickle. I was studying graphic design ever since I was a junior in high school. I planned on getting my associates and then eventually a masters with a minor in english, or maybe business psychology, color theory, typography, or web (I didn’t have it all set yet). Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

Anyway, what was I to do? I had a newborn at my side, I was too nervous to let anyone watch him. So I took to the web as a desperate attempt to prove to myself that it wasn’t all for nothing. I knew I couldn’t get a job with just an associates degree. I was reading a lot about getting paid to do projects like logos and ended up joining my first spec site, GetAFreelancer. I didn’t know too much about them (spec sites), and probably forgot what any teacher said about them in school, so I didn’t see any harm in it. Not to mention that I was pretty low on the income totem pole. So now we have a disaster formula. I was slightly derailed from my goal as a “real” graphic designer, I had a low-income, and I was desperate to prove myself in the design world.

I have to say that I didn’t quite understand the value of design. First off, GetAFreelancer wasn’t a “show it and maybe get paid.” It was a “put in a bid and a buyer might chose you based on your work” type of site. BUT, the bids are usually very low. A client would request X amount of work for no more than X amount of dollars. Most people would put in sill amounts to do a logo, like $20. I was indeed one of those people (don’t judge me, I do enough of that on my own). Well the first project I won there was for $45. I was so happy even though it took me 10 hours to finalize the logo, business cards, and letterhead design. The site had my logo up until recently too.

After having a little excitement, I went to find a more profitable site. I ended up at sitepoint. At the time, they did forum based submissions for logos through their marketplace. I’m pretty sure I won a couple logo projects (maybe like $150 or so) there, but I can’t really remember.  At any rate, it peeked my interest even more. Soon after, sitepoint turned into 99Designs and I like the interface and the change. I stayed to earn myself another 2 wins (one $210 and the other $130). I started getting tired of the lack of guaranteed pay, so I went in search of another place.

I eventually came across Crowdspring. They were only open for 2 months when I joined with them. They had a better interface, system, guarantee, etc, so I saw no harm. Plus they talk a good game. I went on to win 17 contests totaling $11,359 (out of 473 projects and 1,709 design entries) since April of 2008.

I got tired of the flood of designers that came from all over. Good, bad, happy, sad, all sorts just came from the woodwork. I went looking for somewhere else. I came across logotournament, hatchwise, geniusrocket and some other various sites, but they never stuck and I didn’t win anything.

I’m not too proud of the road I chose to venture down in design. I had a more glorious image in my mind of how it would all work out. I would work for a cool little studio, drink coffee late at night, argue with colleagues, have a break down, etc. I would eventually have my own at home place, or even my own small studio where my workers could wear jeans and t-shirts with my J logo, and we’d all have a blast. This was and is still my little dream.

I can give you a solid fact from personal experience though. There was only 1 time out of all the projects I won, that I was so grateful I almost cried, and it was on October 12, 2008 when I won $4,000 on crowdspring. I was in one heck of a situation bill wise, and if I hadn’t won that money, within one week we would have been out on our butts with no food or anything. But you can’t have good without some bad.

Shortly after I was awarded that project, I was told that I was only chosen as a winner because my design was so much like the design they chose from a design firm. The design I won was for A large corporation. Yeah the money was nice, but I really love brand design. I love it with everything I have. To hear that my design wouldn’t be used, it hurt me deeply. I had to keep telling myself that this is the price you pay for doing this stuff. Then I started to really loathe the whole process.

But like a problem gambler, I just couldn’t turn away from crowdsourcing. I still do it to this day. After a while, you get into an odd state of mind where you might feel like the next time is your lucky break. So I am here now to share all that I have learned with you. What you decide to do afterward is up to you.

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The way I do crowdsourcing is close to what I do for personal business. I do research on the client, I ask questions (if contact is possible between me and the client), I look into the competition, I research for a good font that can be used without too much cost or even try to make one, etc. I graciously do all the things a pro should do, but almost always for nothing. I try to only submit 3 or so designs and I don’t like concept copying.

The way I do personal business is just about the same, but without the stress of copy-cats and the bad influence of trendy designs. I am more free to think, and I have time to do better research and ask more question.

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Not everyone gets paid and that is just wrong. I don’t care who you are, you’re not likely to try and help someone you don’t know, for hours, for free. I know that’s the risk you take, but it needs to change. I’d love to show any of you how it’s done. All I need is a programmer and a site designer that will work for no guaranteed pay at least until I get some money from the idea (just thought I’d give it a try. I bet nobody will take me up on that offer).

One thing all you buyer/clients out that have to know, the logo does not make the business. So saying you like what a logo does for another place, or how you like the simplicity of another logo isn’t as much a help as a pain. It will create an unspoken limitation on any designer. Logo’s are meant to assist with the brand, not make the brand. If you do a good job with your business, no matter what logo you have, it can be well known.

The fact that anyone can join is a problem. It’s a waste of entries and a waste of any client/buyers time. Simple as that.

No feedback is the worst. How can any designer be a designer with no feedback? I don’t care about ratings or ranks, I want to know where I can improve.

Even if you the buyer thinks you’re getting a good deal, you’re not. There are many reason why you’re not, but the biggest one would be that most people on crowdsourcing sites don’t know what sort of designs will make you stand above the rest. They will design with trends in mind, and that is all. Not too much thought goes into scalability, color usage, costs, meanings, other mediums, etc. It’s one trend after another. Just because it looks cool doesn’t mean that’s what’s best.

I can’t complain all that much about the pay only because we all make the choice to take the project. Don’t complain if you’re doing it anyway. Just limit what you submit to what you think you’re worth I guess. It’s your call.

It seems fun at first, but I think it became an unhealthy addiction for me or something. I really hate it but I keep doing it? I don’t get it either. I live in Flint, MI so it’s not like jobs are jumping off the classifieds. It’s more like they are disappearing lol.

The amount of submissions is truly ridiculous. Everyone boasts about how crowdsourcing gets you a bunch of entries, but they never tell you how many are similar to others. You may get 250 entries, but only about 10 are unique ideas. Some food for thought. Not to mention the stress of trying to give so many people feedback, which probably won’t happen.

Concept copying, another thing I hate, but deal with in my own way. They copy me, I copy back. It was my idea first, or was it? Did you know that it’s possible for more than one person to HONESTLY have the same idea. But still, whoever does it first in a project should be able to use it I guess. I sometimes don’t care. If someone copies me now, I feel like my idea wasn’t unique enough and use that to push myself further.

Chances are you will have a favorite designer within a day or so. I would just end the project early and work with that designer. Saves everyone the effort. You have no idea how many project where I saw a favorite that stayed the favorite through the whole project. It would have been nice to be set free at the beginning.

Too many people use fonts that are not free and then say they are. Drives me nuts. You buyers will be the ones in trouble if anyone finds out, not the designer. Just ask for the name of the font after you pick someone so you can look it up yourself.

No offense buyers/clients, but you shouldn’t have to tell the designers what colors to use, or how small the logo might get. That’s something they should already know. The answer is, whatever color creates the best feeling or psychological feel the buyer is aiming to create in their company logo, black or white, and as small as an inch. It all varies based on the brief. A designer should feel it out and work accordingly.

This leads me to another problem. The buyers are basically doing all the designing. Why I don’t know, but if they have to tell you, the designer, what to do, then something is a little off. I guess that you really do get what you pay for.

Which leads me to yet another thought. These sites can be good for people with no education who want to be a designer. I have seen some people with raw talent and no degree, it’s possible. I mean you do develop a cutthroat attitude, and a sense of tight deadlines, it’s not all bad. But staying in it can actually have adverse effects. Get out after about 3-4 years. Start looking for the real you.

You will learn how petty you and other people can be when money is the object of the game. Just do like me and brush it off. I didn’t used to. I started a few spats, but had a nice chat with someone and found out that I should just design for myself. To improve was my goal. I don’t even think I will win going into it, I just do it for fun, which is how it should be.

Does crowdsourcing ruin the profession? Yes I think it does. I mean I don’t think it’s like “boom no more design careers” or anything like that. I just think it makes it so college isn’t a necessity, which means a lack of understanding about true design, which means no more graphic design careers, which indeed ruins it. When you have big companies like Forbes, LG, etc., going for a logo project on a crowdsourcing sites, it’s only a matter of time.

I can tell you that hiring one designer based on their successful portfolio will most likely be better than going to a crowdsourcing site. For one, not all designers have giant prices, but they charge what they do for a reason. Experience, time, research, and knowledge goes into that design of yours. It is invaluable, so it will cost accordingly. You could also work out payment plans or just ask. I’m sure because of the current economic state, any designer would like to try and accommodate you. Plus you’ll have someone you can go to for almost any design you need. It is a trusting relationship that can be built on.

If you really want to lower costs and stress, hire just one designer or studio. They will give you something you’ll like. I have seen a TON of clients/buyers get another design after just 1 year of their crowdsourcing project.

Contact is important and not unfair. It is vital to both the client and designer to be able to freely speak to one another about the project at hand. If you can’t do that, than the quality of your design can’t be guaranteed at all.

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Having said a mouthful, I suppose I will stop here. I hope that some of this information can be helpful to either side. I have had 4 years in crowdsourcing, so I know a bit about it from the designer side. If you have any questions feel free to ask. Try not to be too crazy with your comments. I like to run a tight ship here so keep it professional.

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6 responses »

  1. Quite the crowdsourcing experience you’ve had, Jamie. Good of you to share the tale, too.

    Here’s hoping your future designer/client relationships are of the more rewarding kind, and that you don’t need to worry about bills in the same way again.

    I hope your son is in good health, too. What is he now? 9 years old?

    Reply
    • My son is actually only 4 haha. I had him in 2006. He is doing very well. Looking at him makes me realize that life isn’t all bad. He is very carefree and a ton of fun. I’m already teaching him all about logos and brands lol.

      I actually think crowdsourcing is terrible, but I just can’t seem to find a single client who rather pay me over paying 50 different designers the same price. It’s tough, that’s for sure, but I have a gut feeling that in maybe 5 years or so, it won’t hold water anymore. Like I said, eventually people will realize that by paying 50 designers 1 price, you’ll see a lot of the same ideas, or end up changing your design in a few years. There’s no real benefit over paying 1 experienced designer who studies and specializes in branding. But I can’t stop crowdsourcing, I can only speak from experience and hope it helps someone.

      Thanks for the comments. I have been a big fan of yours for little over a year now. I get a ton of inspiration from your site, and all your advice helps me a lot. I hope to buy more books as well.

      J

      Reply
  2. Great post. I really admire you for the long path you’ve taken. I can relate, mine has had many bumps along the way as well. I’m still trying to get a foothold, as it were.
    I was recently researching “crowdsourcing” sites like logotournament and 99designs, and your article helped me quite a bit. It really solidified my understanding and the opinion I had formed as well – It’s a spec-work nightmare.
    Good for practice – and some portfolio pieces, maybe – but for the majority of designers the payout is little to none. Hardly worth the time. And, I also agree, the disconnect gap between designer and client is growing wider which is hurting this industry in a major way. Too many submissions creates a vast competive elitism within the comunity, too.
    I have noticed the current trends are; lots of bright colors, over-use of gradients, and smooth edges. On every logo. This isn’t design so much as it is similar to randomly throwing paint on a canvas and hoping to end up with a Monet. The good designers get lost in the mix.

    Reply
    • Yeah, crowdsourcing is definitely a spec-work nightmare. I’d like to think that it’s just a phase because of the rapid decline in the world’s financial crisis. Here’s hoping anyway. All in all, crowdsourcing isn’t a totally horrible thing. It’s just that the idea of having some random person design a logo for your company, who has no knowledge of logo design or what is does for you, seems odd to me. It’s like going to a doctor and then telling them what prescription you need. The doctors went to school and learned everything so they can make the best call for you right? So why would you tell them what to do?

      I guess it’s just something to think on, I could go on forever.

      Reply

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