Crowd Sourcing My Banner Design

Update: I’ve now experimented with Specwork to better understand the issue, and will be sharing the good –and bad –on stage on SXSW, read more

Despite the fact that I hired a designer to redesign my blog, I’m wanting to experiment with social tools as I encounter them, I recently deployed an ad on twitter using Magpie, see the results.

Part of my role as an analyst is to experiment with the social tools that I cover. You all know me as a practitioner, and that’s how I learn best –by doing (and making mistakes). Although very controversial, I’ve decided to experiment with outsourcing the creation of my header for my blog, I’m using a vendor called CROWDspring, and offering an award of $250 to the single designer that I’ll choose to accept the banner (and I’ll send them some traffic). Not everyone agrees, and perhaps the most vocal is Andrew Hyde who says spec work is evil.

The system requires me to put the requirements of the design, plus links to some examples, and I uploaded a logo which will be used, and some other background information. Although I just launched a few days ago a few designs have started to come in (see gallery), some I like, and a few that I’m not so hot on. It’s going to run for 3 weeks, and I know that there will dozens of other submissions and I can choose the right one for me.

I encourage you to read my post why I think Spec Work (work being done before getting paid, or not at all) is here to stay. Designers: Why Spec Work Is Not Going Away How You Should Respond. I’ll also be debating this topic at SXSW in one of the main halls, I encourage you to come (one of my panelists states why he’s grey). I’ll update this post as the project continues, to provide a perspective of what it’s like from the buyer side.

The internet is causing new business models to happen, and I’m a firm believer that this Groundswell example isn’t going away but will only increase.

I spoke to crowdspring, and they even have a corporate service for $1000, and they tell me that some large brands are starting to embrace this system, it’s a direct threat to large existing agencies.

Update: I need to mention that I’ll be doing a review of the experience, and will tell about the good –and bad of using crowdsourcing for design. This isn’t for everyone, more to come later.

Update: March 12 I’ve chosen a winner.

51 Replies to “Crowd Sourcing My Banner Design”

  1. I used them for my blog logo. For a “private citizen” with very little design experience it’s a fairly cheap resource for great looking results.

  2. Interesting blog you have. I like the practioner style. I practice it myself and am enjoying it.

    How nice to see you also added a free link to the designers web site from the blog they designed. It brings heavily targeted traffic.

    Out of which most not active, but still a very strong community delevering designs I ask for.

    All the best,

  3. I think creativity is individual, but innovation is collaborative. That’s why crowdsourcing has so much potential, especially in these times when we have so many challenges to overcome. ‘Looking forward to see the results of your banner design. Why not have your followers vote for our favorite since we’re the end users? 😉 Best, Kate

  4. – “it™s a direct threat to large existing agencies.”

    … and designers in general. I don’t approve of sites like crowdspring and elance for the very reason it saps value and credibility away from the design profession. Having 300 people work for nothing isn’t a good way to run a business – especially when the winning design is chosen based on a relative term like ‘best’. :/

    It’s also kind of a slap in the face for anyone that’s every studied for years and worked hard to build a folio. But for people that want something quick and cheap, it works.

    I’d like to help out, but I can’t this time. 🙂

    Jimzip 😀

  5. I’m an agency owner and agree with Andrew… spec work is evil. Working with clients for years, I know design is incredibly subjective. What’s the value of something not chosen? Is there no value in that design? Spec work in my opinion devalues the talent and skill of designers. If you give something away for free, that’s what people think it is worth… my 2 cents.

  6. Mike Nunez if this crowdsourcing works out, I’ll try 99designs next. I’m agnostic to the vendors, I care about the process, outcome, and impacts to industry.

    I first heard about Crowdspring through former colleague Charlene Li, and I trust her a lot, so I went with it.

  7. Len

    Exactly, the $250 is coming out of my own pocket, this ain’t a corporate expense, that actually is a seizable amount for me, in addition to my blog redesign.

    I believe that crowdsourcing design is serving an untapped market that many larger agencies could never serve. Most bloggers don’t generate ANY money from their blogs, and therefore could not afford a designer –this is serving a low end market (yeah I’m low end) by lower end designers (in some cases).

  8. Jimzip

    By your theory, designers that are well trained and seasoned, they should have no problem coming into CROWDspring and swooping up all the ‘contests’ as their work would be outstanding right?

    There are weaknesses with the crowd source process, and I’ll do a separate post later, there’s service I’m not getting that I don’t get from personal phone calls, scoping calls, etc.

  9. Ronda

    I hear you, but you can offer that spec designers cannot. Service, strategy, and support. My blog designer offers all of that, but for a banner? I simple don’t need it.

    I don’t think it’s an ethical issue at all, (evil) this is just a change in business. Is outsourcing Dell’s support to India evil? No. It’s business, but they ended up taking a hit for it later, as we saw from consumers who blogged about their horrible experience.

    The trick here is to segment your service offering seperately from others, develop a strategy to the ever changing market.

    Let’s be clear –everyone in the service industry is at threat to the internet, look what happened to newspapers.

    Respectfully, it’s ironic that you end the end of your comment with “your 2 cents”, was that a play on words on purpose?

  10. (I don’t have any issues with spec work, and think that strongly opposing it is like shouting at a rising tide).

    That said – my issue with this particular project is that you have placed so strong a restriction on the design by providing the logo that there’s too little for the designer to do.


  11. Zack

    This is filled under ‘advertising banners’ on the Crowdspring site, which means they’d often have to create IAB ads with logos. I don’t think this should be an issue.

  12. I have used services like CROWDspring with great success. What’s attractive to me is the options. A lot of the time a client has an idea of what they want without really being able to communicate it clearly. Services like CROWDspring allows clients to preview different interpretations. In some cases, the designer produces a design that works better than what you originally had in mind.

    As a programmer with 20 years slinging code, I completely understand how the “no spec work” crowd feels. We have seen our jobs virtually disappear and rates drop significantly. A book called “Confronting Reality” helped put things in perspective for me. A few points that are apropos for this conversation are (1) understanding and acceptable the current business situation (2) be honest about what you need to do to compete (3) make the decision to compete or pack up stuff and go home.

    So to the “no spec work” folks I hope you all decide to innovate and compete, because crowd sourcing ain’t going nowhere.

    Great post Jeremiah.

    Follow me @dejon97.

  13. Jeremiah,

    You are getting some great entries on your project. I have no doubt you will get a ton more. You will probably have a tough time choosing a winner.

    I am a creative on crowdSPRING, and have (tried) defending the site in the blogosphere. It is a polarizing issue in the design world. I understand the frustration of those in the professional design industry, but I hope they understand the people participating are not trying to put them out of business. Just as bloggers are not trying to put the newspaper industry out of business. (Are you?) We are just creative people who love to create. And I think I can speak for many creatives when I say this: We are not stupid. We are not lemmings. We are not being taken advantage of. We just create because we love to.

    I have seen the creators of crowdSPRING compare us to the musicians who play in their garages for hours on end. Are they trying to tear down the music industry? Are they evil?

    I think the entries you get on your project, Jeremiah, will show you the kind of effort people are willing to put in to do what they love. I hope you enjoy the process.


  14. Jeremiah, I recently used crowdspring to create a logo for my local real estate company. I would compare the business model to Temp agencies. I was able to get a project done for a fee and now I could possible use this design person as a resource going forward for larger progjects. Very similar to hiring a temp worker full time. The person who designed my logo will probably get referrals from me as well because he was responsive and professional. The crowd sourcing model should be looked at as a tryout for full time work by design professionals rather than a replacement model for existing design agencies. Just my opinion.

  15. Interesting, I was just thinking about using crowdspring to crack the toughest nut I’ve been trying to crack for over a year (using a few different designers). Namely, a simple graphic that conveys the core focus and features of our site. I’m surprised how many designs you’ve received so far. Thanks for keeping in the loop on your project.

  16. There are hidden problems in spec work that every client should be aware of. First, because the designer shoulders all the risk, spec demands that the designer invest as little time and thought as possible in any one piece. Second, and more importantly, the priority of spec work isn’t solving the client’s problem, it’s winning the job and recouping the time invested. If that’s what you value, Jeremiah, then continue to promote spec work.

  17. I’ve worked with many brilliant designers over the past twelve years and I know WHY designers HATE the idea of “spec work”. While I know WHY – I can also see the other other side – the CLIENT’S SIDE.

    Crowd sourcing effectively addresses almost ALL of the concerns of the CLIENT – who in the end is the one writing the check.

    In the end, crowd sourcing only serves as an introduction to an artist’s work. The artist then determines whether that project “blossoms” into a full blown business relationship.

    I’ll never forget the words of one of my first clients – a publisher who said, “I’d much rather work with an AVERAGE artist who understands the importance of a deadline than a BRILLIANT one who doesn’t.”

    Graphic artists need to recognize that spec work takes a lot of the “spec” out of the equation for the client.
    Will you deliver?
    Will you deliver on time?
    Will you deliver something I like?

    Those are three CRITICAL questions which are eliminated from the client’s mind when they use Crowd Sourcing.

    These up and coming crowd sourcing websites are answering those three critical questions asked by clients. Figure out a way to answer those questions WITHOUT using crowd sourcing – or be prepared to join the “dark side”.

  18. Chas

    Good points, I noticed the initial designs were simply toe dips to see what I liked. Then it started to get iterative, with minor changes to each design. It’s almost collaborative effort, a process.

    Another weakeness is that the designer can’t really interview me, to find out my business needs, text, is sometimes limiting.

    Listen. I’m learning a lot by doing it, both the strenghts and weaknesses. I promise to be objective.

  19. As a creative director, I am pretty certain that getting free design via a spec contest is not really crowdsourcing. It’s an exploitative marketplace. But I do believe that it will eventually sort itself out even if folks like you continue to “experiment.” This will happen by the age old principle of “YGWYPF” which used to adron the whiteboard of an old and respected boss, Alex Weil at Charlex.

  20. Bill

    Sort of. Like most enterprise sells, we show proof of concepts to clients, with demonstrations of products and services. What do we offer? Prospects get access to reports that are typically for clients. That’s not that custom is it? certainly not spec work. So we prospects sometimes get access to analysts, a 30 minute call where the analyst answers questions about their research –this isn’t a canned presentation so it’s a conversation that’s customized to each client.

    We’re certainly not doing a sample research projects and competing with other analyst firms to win the deal, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

  21. John Bell

    How am I getting free design? I’m only buying the one that I use, I’m not using the other ones.

    You’re right, there are different needs for different markets. Spec work is certainly suited for the low end market (like for bloggers like me)

    But we have to stop and consider, does the ameteurization of the web (like bloggers) create a new market for designs that did not exist before?

    I’ll say yes. The pie has gotten larger.

  22. It just sort of feels that doing it this way is taking advantage of the time and talent of these folks.

    Yes, it’s their choice to do it. But for example, I can’t put a spec request for research and let companies battle over who’s report I’ll choose. If it’s just time and talent and thinking, then this method of bidding or “crowd sourcing” should be considered in all industries.

    And for the record, our company also does proprietary research as well ( So this will be an interesting Monday morning water cooler topic 🙂

  23. Bill

    Don’t just stop at design or research, why not advertising, white papers, webinars, and every other service?

    This is what Doc Searls called a “VRM” system.

  24. I was curious why you are not using the designer you hired to design your blog to do the banner. It seems like that is a critical part of the design? It also seems like a way to strain a business relationship.

    One thing I’ve seen as I’ve followed a couple of these “high-profile” crowdsourcing examples is that some of the designs are not created using the best standards for the final output. For example, a t-shirt design that was multi-colored with lots of gradations, yet was probably going to be silk-screened? These are the types of extra expertise you get when you hire an experienced designer and go through the typical process of the designer researching your needs, etc. There is often knowledge & experience a designer can bring to a project that are basically unknown to the client. In the end it can save you money.

    Also, in response to: “How am I getting free design? I™m only buying the one that I use, I™m not using the other ones.” You are right, you are not getting free design, but the designers who are not chosen are working for free.

  25. Emily

    I talked with Mitch, my designer from first to get his opinion, he’s fine with it, and understood that experimenting with social tools is part of my job.

    Good points regarding ‘realistic quality’ and ‘designers working for free’

  26. As an bootstrap entrepreneur, these these design contests are a great alternative to those large design contracting firms.

  27. Jeremiah,

    The bottom line is this is a one-sided argument with no advantages for the talented thinkers you and others that support ‘crowd-sourcing’ are displacing.

    Maybe for pairing up entry-level designers to cut their teeth on D-level companies (as indicated in one of the linked articles) this makes sense. Your blog banner is one example where the design doesn’t matter one way or the other, so its fine.

    But assuming this works in any other scenario is an absolute disrespect of an entire industry of people who based their careers on more than putting pixels on a screen or page.

  28. > but the designers who are not chosen are working for free

    This is true in any instance, but you need to think more broadly than this. For a designer with talent, they will win some and lose others. Over a year (approximately 2000 hours), they might be able to submit 1000 ideas. A really good designer might win 500 of these contests, at say $250 each. SO, even though they would be “working for free” 500 times, they would still pull in $125K. On the other hand, a really bad desinger would rarely win, and would receive very little compensation. Over time that bad designer would probably leave the business for career opportunities that are a better fit for them.

    In the end, the good designers will win out over the poor designers, and will be compensated for their work.

    Note: this does not address the question about whether the overall level of compensation for designers will go down. I think it will, but that is what happens when your world opens up and competition scales up dramatically. Designers are facing the same challenges that others are facing when they have to compete internationally for work.

  29. It is very good and interesting post. It is really fruitful idea. Thanks for sharing all with us.

  30. spec work is a great way to start when you have no portfolio.
    no one in the industry will give you work when you have nothing to showcase. then you do some spec work to build up your portfolio to launch yourself in the graphic design field.

  31. I always find it interesting how people argue this like its the first time and this is only happening to them (designers). Well I got news for you buddy you are in pretty amazing company because journalists are fighting to maintain the value of their profession too. This is due to YOU reading all those shitty blogs and refusing to pay for quality. Sound familiar?

    You gotta stop whinging about the low budget cheapo's like Jeremiah (no offence), and realize like programming in North America, EMEA, etc you need something special on the table to get the pay you got in the 80-90's while living in a Western economy.

    Stop worrying about where the jobs are going and realize, I am not paying (like Jeremiah) for something I just need knocked out with out much skill. BUT when I need something high-value, guaranteed Jeremiah and I will be sitting across from your bitter ass asking for your help.

    Gone are the days that just anyone can be a designer and the truly talented amongst you are in even higher demand and able to get paid even more because their skills, knowledge and experience on are second to none.

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