Crowdsourcing Is Poison to the Design Community

Pawning sites like Crowdspring,, GeniusRocket, and 99designs off as “crowdsourcing design networks” is covering the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s one thing to run a design contest online – a true contest where there’s an objective, a prize or prizes, and most importantly a singularity of purpose.

Don't get stuck moshing around for the scraps

It’s a completely different thing to build a contest factory that milks a large group of eager and hungry individuals for their best ideas with no promise of compensation. It, simply, is against design business ethics. This is spec work, plain and simple.

If you are a hungry designer, I promise, this will not keep you fed well. They say that they “pay cash for real work”, when in fact the client will pay a pre-determined amount of money (in other words, a budget set by someone who might have no clue what design budgets should be) to one (or more) winner(s). This is not “work”, this is a circus. This will not create a career for but a few people. Perhaps it’s a short means to an end for some people keeping food on the plate, but this it completely counter to the ethical guidelines for designers.

What these sites will do is drive the prices clients pay for design down, and allow companies to receive tons of unpaid-for design comps. Companies have an eager audience and can set low “prizes” for the winner, but are receiving tens if not hundreds of submissions – while they only own the winner’s concepts, do you think that they don’t take and incorporate other ideas they see in unselected submissions?

Hopefully you’re able to find work. Hopefully you don’t have to resort to throwing away great ideas for a chance to sit at the client’s table. I’m not judging anyone – times are tough and work is much more scarce than in years past – but I have little problem judging the companies who have the money to be paying proper rates and budgets to designers.

While the design contests will continue for sure, I hope that more designers take a long, hard look at their involvement in such practices. It runs counter to all of the groundwork designers have been laying for decades.

I pray the tides change, or who knows, in the future we all could be making our living through such competitions. With a bit of despair, I feel like I truly understand the feeling behind Murrow’s famous “Good night, and good luck.”

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.
There are 8 comments
  1. I can see how massive and continuous contests can be a big drain.

    Do you feel the same way about memes? Cause I’m tagging your site. If you want to play along, visit my blog at:

  2. New blog post: Crowdsourcing Design Is Poison to the Design Community

  3. RT @greghuntoon: New blog post: Crowdsourcing Design Is Poison to the Design Community

  4. @geniusrocket Thanks for the follow, but color me a little confused. as I just wrote a post flaming your business-model:

  5. My old boss once said, “if a client engages you because of price, they will leave you for the same.” I believe the clients, for the most part, who participate in crowdsourcing design either 1. don’t value design and are opportunists that want something for almost nothing or 2. really want to put an idea out there to the community.

    Does it devalue what we as designers do? To me, the jury’s out on that one. To me, this is a similar argument to user-generated content. I find it fascinating to see the collective creativity that is out there and there are certainly pros that participate. The clients that truly value the design process, will pay the moneys to get it done through the traditional channels.

  6. Jon

    Threadless certainly set the trend for this if you ask me.

  7. RT @greghuntoon: New blog post: Crowdsourcing Design Is Poison to the Design Community

  8.  Nice sharing ,You give us useful information indeed..Thanks for this great posting…

Your email address will not be published.