04 Feb 2015
A couple of days ago I got a highly critical message from a well-known designer, one that prompted me to write this blog in defense of crowdsourcing.
Why would any self-respecting designer do that? Before we come to that, let me give you some background.
Eight Years Ago
It was 2008 and I was studying to be an engineer. But I was strongly attracted to the creative space, especially graphic design, and used to learn by watching tutorials on the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator.
I really wanted to work on some professional projects for the experience. I tried to pitch for freelance work, but nobody gives work to a beginner. If I wanted to get freelance work, I needed a “portfolio”. Seriously, that was the first time I heard this term!
I had no idea where to start and asked my friends for help. That was when one of them suggested 99designs. The site had just been launched - I browsed it, learned how it works and said to myself: “This is it!”
I signed up as a designer and began participating. I would learn the basics of design - how to use fonts, how to choose colors, how to present the design - the takeaway was great for a beginner like me. Every day after college, I would login and participate in contest after contest! It was great to connect with fellow designers from across the world - from Romania to Serbia to Philippines to Indonesia.
Initially, I never used to get any ratings or feedback. But I never cared. Winning or not didn’t matter to me.
All I wanted was a chance - an opportunity to learn more, design more and build my very own portfolio.
More than 270 contests later, it happened. I was getting ready to sleep and a mail from 99designs popped up on my screen:
“Congratulations! You’ve won a design contest.”
I literally jumped! It was a logo design contest for $400 (17,000 Indian Rupees at that time), and it changed my life forever. I would go on to win 8 more contests before graduating from college.
One Year Ago
After 8 years as freelancers, lead designers of a startup and then founders of a creative studio, my co-founder and I launched CrowdStudio - a curated crowdsourcing platform for graphic design. After a year of testing, we opened it to the public in November last year. Through word-of-mouth publicity, we’ve been able to successfully host 44 contests so far, receive applications from more than 1500 designers and approve 280 of them.
One Week Ago
One of our practices is to browse design galleries and send invites to selected designers. So far, most of them have responded positively and agreed to give CrowdStudio a try.
But recently, I got this message from a designer -
As a designer of more than 20 years I strongly oppose to websites and businesses that promotes speculative work. Your site simply prey and exploit young (often naive) and amateur designers which turns them into a faux 'working team' so that you may profit from just as naive consumers.
This is NOT what design is about and what you are doing is purely following what other crowd sourcing and spec work sites are doing, trying to get a slice of this cake.
I do not condone it and will not support it.
I will be posting this on Logopond for fellow designers to see so that they may be educated further so that business structures like you are promoting will not flourish. Without us designers, you are nothing.
With not much regards,
This is not the first time I’ve heard allegations against crowdsourcing ( “spec work” in their words). There are many well known designers and organisations who are campaigning against it.
I completely understand their concerns and respect their opinion. They might have their own reasons to worry about this model. But what they don't see (or ignore) is the other side of the story - the one I just told! There are hundreds of thousands of freelancers like me who support themselves, earn extra income, explore the world of design and go on to build a career as a professional designer - all with the experience, portfolio and client list developed from these so-called “spec work” sites. These designers are neither naive nor stupid. They know exactly what they’ve signed up for, and they know how to make it work for their benefit.
If crowdsourcing is so horrible, why does the number of creatives on these sites stand at a staggering 3 million (and growing), even after all these allegations?
Established designers and agencies don’t have to rely on crowdsourcing because they have plenty of work. But to an extent these sites have drastically reduced the rates of design works, and taken away a good chunk of business. I suspect that’s one of the reasons why they’re fighting so hard against it.
From my point of view, these protests are natural reactions from the incumbents, just like we’ve seen in the case of Airbnb and Uber.
Dear designers, let me tell you something: crowdsourcing sites are an option, one of the many available to clients who need a design and designers who need work. From my experience over the years, I've learned one thing for sure - the design landscape is big enough to hold all of us and still have plenty of room for new players, platforms, business models and designers.
That’s why we dared to build a curated crowdsourcing platform in India, because it was our dream! We're building it with absolute pride and confidence, and we have already started making a difference.
Let’s keep calm and carry on with what we are good at - design!