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Things to Consider Before Crowdsourcing Design


I was trying to help a friend. His association needed a new logo.

Now, creative directors, designers, and everybody else who works in the visual arts have a term that we usually dread hearing – design-by-committee. Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing. In this case, after a couple rounds – with plenty of input from the committee – I came up with a logo that seemed to encompass all of the suggestions.

Weeks passed and I didn’t hear a word. Then, I saw an email from the association using a new logo. It wasn’t the one I designed based on feedback from the stakeholders. It was an icon purchased from one of those “buy-a-logo” websites, with my type treatment applied.

That experience prompted me to look deeper into the online design offerings for marketers. Most of them use a design crowdsource model. These sites work a couple ways. Marketers can make a request for a graphic (e.g., logo, custom image for a blog post) and artists can submit their work for consideration.

Crowdsourcing sites are gaining in popularity because they’re free or inexpensive (prestige of designing the winning one or incentive-to-participate prizes are often the only compensation earned by the designers). For the artists, it’s an opportunity to showcase their capabilities and market themselves on a high-traffic site.

Crowdsourcing comes with a mixed bag. It does have its benefits, but it also isn’t the best choice for long-term content success.

Crowdsourcing design isn’t the best choice for long-term #content success, says @jkkalinowski. Share on X

Members of the American Institute of Graphic Artists warned almost seven years ago in a Forbes article that crowdsource design sites often lack a vetting process. Because people can simply fill out an online form, the site is filled with inexperienced designers looking to build a portfolio.

Twist your crowdsourcing

If you’re using the same stock images as everybody else, crowdsourcing is a good first-step alternative to improve your visual content strategy, according to author and friend Roger C. Parker.

Crowdsourcing is a good first-step alternative to improve your visual content strategy, says @RogerCParker. Share on X

Mozilla found another benefit in design crowdsourcing when it tapped into its community for help with its new logo. Wired writes about how the software company teamed with a London-based agency to create logo concepts. Then they asked the online community for feedback on those logos. Over 3,000 comments and five months later, Mozilla had its new identity.

Mozilla Logo

Image source

Josh Miles, principal of branding agency Miles Herndon, expounds on the benefits: “Crowdsourcing is also a reasonable option for campaigns seeking contributing points of view, such as voting for a new flavor, or submitting to a customer-driven storyline.”

Crowdsourcing is a reasonable option for campaigns seeking contributing points of view, says @JoshMiles. Share on X

Velocity Partners’ creative director Doug Kessler isn’t an advocate of crowdsourcing but he recognizes that budget constraints force some companies to use these design sites. If that’s your situation, Doug offers this counsel: “Skew the brief towards super-simple solutions. Don’t be too ambitious. Just go for simple clarity (which in itself is harder than it looks).”

If you have to crowdsource due to budget constraints, skew brief towards super-simple solutions. @dougkessler Share on X

Buddy Scalera, author of multiple books on creativity and visual storytelling, says a prerequisite to working successfully with crowdsource sites is having a strong design background. His advice may seem contradictory, but it’s not. “If you have a strong design sense but no time to do the designs, these crowdsourced solutions could help you get things done on a tight schedule with a modest budget,” Buddy says.

A prereq to working successfully w/ crowdsource sites is having a strong design background, says @buddyscalera. Share on X

Go for quality design

Crowdsourcing design reminds Doug of the line – “Fast, cheap, good: Pick any two.”  As he says, “Crowdsourced sites offer fast and cheap. Do the math.”

If you don’t have the experience to guide a quality crowdsourced design, you should work directly with an experienced artist. “Great designers do more than follow your directions. They use their abilities as visual storytellers to help you tell your story,” Buddy says. “You need to invest in the right places. If you’re looking to get designs made for less than you pay for shoes, you should reevaluate what your customers want from you.”

Great designers do more than follow directions. They use their abilities to help tell your story. @buddyscalera Share on X

Even with a smaller budget, you may be able to afford a customized experience. Find a talented freelancer or small design-focused firm to help. Then, track the results of the content using their creative to build the business case for quality graphic work. Buddy says it well, “Cheap, non-specific designs may not evoke the emotion you need to drive your business. I wouldn’t hunt for the cheapest solution for my design needs, especially now when it’s getting more difficult to capture attention and engagement.”


Crowdsourcing your design work can be an option to consider if you seek active community feedback, can provide detailed design briefings, and have a good sense of design and structure. In the long run, though, consider the value of working one-on-one with a design expert who can help deliver your content goals. As Doug says, “A good relationship with a talented design resource is a long-term asset for your business. It pays to invest in that.”

Find a talented freelancer who can help deliver your #content goals, says @jkkalinowski. Share on X

Want to hear from these experts on visual storytelling and many more? Register for Content Marketing World, Sept. 5-8, Cleveland, Ohio. Use BLOG100 to save an additional $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute