The Missing Argument in the Crowdsourced Design Debate

Published:  December 16, 2013

Written by Ella Johnston
Illustration by Dez Pain

There has been much talk recently on how crowdsourcing design platforms are crippling the design industry. After The Loop released the results of its 2013 survey highlighting the alarming statistics of Australia’s struggling freelance creatives, co-founder Pip Jamieson wrote a response (see: desktop — Australia’s Struggling Creative Freelancers) stating crowdsourcing websites such as 99Designs and were key damaging influences in the negative results.

“These types of platforms exploit creatives, devalue their work and create an environment that encourages fast turn-around at the expense of the quality of work,” she reported. “Getting sub-standard creative from these channels only costs businesses more money in the long term.”

After the article was shared amongst the creative community, 99 Designs was quick to hit back in a statistical match – stating the ways in which they attest to positively contribute to the industry and assist freelancers in connecting them with clients. (See also: desktop — Blame For Freelancer’s Struggles). Regardless of how many numbers were thrown, there is no doubt that this sort of platform is not a positive thing for anyone except for 99 Designs’ wallet. One comment on the article simply said, “So….$63M paid for 28M designs. $2.25 per design that lands on their site?? Is that what they are saying? And this isn’t devaluing the trade?”

While both arguments were strongly positioned either for or against crowdsourcing, no one has mentioned the third party that is essentially the petrol that keeps crowdsourcing design motoring – the client. If sites like 99 Designs continue to grow and freelancers—like myself—continue to be bitter about it, there will be no resolution. What I believe we need to do is consider how we can educate the client and understand that it may not entirely be their fault.

After a quick survey I posted on my personal Facebook page, I asked “If you didn’t personally know a good designer and needed one, where would you go to find one?” The unanimous response was, unsurprisingly, the internet.

So, let’s do a little exercise: Assuming the best about our client and that they don’t know any better, their first instinct is to go to Google and look up ‘Hire a graphic designer Australia’.

The search results look like this:

1. ODesk
2. Elancer
3. Design Crowd

Even if you replace the word graphic and add logo or freelance, you still receive an overwhelming majority of negative top options. Now, the top three results are all sponsored, but regardless, they are still sitting at the top, and when our client doesn’t know what he is looking for, let’s face it, he is not going to continue scrolling.

Our beloved The Loop sits at number 8 on Google’s search results page. Its Google extract reads: Join Australia’s largest professional creative community. Therefore, it is unlikely our example client is going to click here. I wonder what would happen if the Australian design community pitched in on a site like Pozible to raise the funds to place The Loop as a sponsored number 1 ad on Google results and then monitor changes in statistics.

With the fantastic release of The Loop’s Freelance Pro, we can give this community a heave to the top and educate our middle-man, the client, about the right decision. And additionally, what we can do is educate our friends, our friends of friends and family about the value of our industry and why they don’t need platforms like 99 Designs. As a community that can be fairly self-involved, let’s make an effort to talk about these issues with those around us that aren’t designers or creatives.

While we will always exist and I don’t see a decline of crowdsourcing design platforms in the future, we can influence these statistics by educating those around us – those that will potentially be somebody’s client.

2 Responses

  1. Nathan

    This “post” reads like an advertisement. What happened to editorial standards?

    “With the fantastic release of The Loop’s Freelance Pro”… wow..

    Why is theloop “our beloved”? It is a commercial business – making a business off your details.

    Theloop is a business that uses overseas crowdsourced (whatever they want to call it), (second/third world) developers. Double standards much? Credibility out the door.

    This whole debate is null for the majority of the design industry. The crowdsourcing model only sustainably works at the scum end of the market.

    This whole “debate” is simply a PR attempt – by two companies trying to earn a buck off creative people’s talents. Pretty sad really.

  2. Ray

    Has anyone actually ever been on ODesk to look at the job ads? here are a selection, randomly chosen:

    “URGENT” – Looking for someone who can design a spectacular “Job Opening” poster

    Fixed Price Project – Est. Budget $10.00


    Entry Level ($) – I am looking for freelancers with the lowest rates


    Applicants: 63 (avg $5.54/hr)


    “URGENT” – Looking for someone who can design a spectacular “Job Opening” poster

    Fixed Price Project – Est. Budget $10.00

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